The Wrestlers

Raffaello Romanelli, Artist

This is one of the sculptures in our collection. It was made in Florence, Tuscany, Italy in 1914.
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Object Detail

About the Work
The Wrestlers, a three-quarter sized copy of the Greek original from the 3rd Century BC, was purchased from the studio of Raffaello Romanelli in Florence in 1914 by Mr and Mrs John and Ellen Neame for the Sarjeant Gallery.
Ellen Neame (née Stewart) had previously been married to Henry Sarjeant, who died in 1912 leaving a substantial trust fund to the then Wanganui Borough Council for the establishment of an art gallery. Ellen and John Neame played a substantial role on the Sarjeant Gallery committee that initially saw the building come to fruition and then purchasing work for the Gallery’s collection.
John Armstrong Neame wrote to the Wanganui Town Clerk from the Hotel Berchielli, Florence, on March 26, 1914: “We have also secured for the gallery a very beautiful full-sized marble copy of the celebrated group called The Wrestlers. This is perhaps one of the six most famous works of Greek art in the world. We have been at very great pains to secure this and examine the studio where it was made, and are taking steps to have a history of the original and of the copy prepared to place before the Borough Council and the Committee of the Sarjeant Gallery . . .”
A three-quarter sized marble copy of a Greek original does not attract such high praise in New Zealand today, but the work held a central position in the Dome of the Gallery for sixty years. In 1979 the artist Billy Apple proposed that The Wrestlers be moved. At the time the proposition was controversial and unpopular but the decision was made to move the sculpture and Billy Apple’s work Towards the Centre which documented the intervention took their place. From that time the Gallery’s impressive central Dome space has been used for site specific installations. The most recent being in 2009 - 180° x 2 Whanganui by Bill Culbert who is currently representing New Zealand at the Venice Biennale.
Despite being removed from their central position, The Wrestlers have remained on permanent view at the Sarjeant Gallery and currently they are a key work in the recently opened exhibition The fine art of giving which showcases a number of significant gifts to the Gallery’s collection that have been acquired over nearly a century.
- Chronicle article, June 2013

Text in 1915 correspondence file between the Neames and Town Clerk. Author is unknown.
This group is considered to be the best specimen of Ancient Greek sculpture.
One of the two athletes has thrown the other to the ground, and is still threatening his conquered antagonist. In each muscle and vein the violent efforts of the wrestling are wonderfully represented. The victor seems to rejoice in his victory, while the other, forced down by the vigorous arms of his fortunate rival, bears the expression of impotent wrath. He strives to get up again, but his conqueror prevents his stirring by strongly grasping and pressing both his arms.
The head of the victor is supposed not to be antique and seems at least to have been retouched, but in all the other parts of the group some pieces which are evidently new are small and of a little importance.
This group was found in Rome in the year 1677 with the statue of the Niobe.
It is supposed to be the best piece produced by the School of Rodi, where all the Greek artists went during and after the civil War and the Masters of this School were Phidias and Praxiteles.
The reproduction is made under direction of Commissioner Professor Raffaello Romanelli; professor of the Academy of Fine Arts of Florence whose talent and fame are known all over the world.
The most important works produced by him are.-
The Statue of King Charles Albert in front of the Quirinal, the statue of Garibaldi of Siena. The Monument of Piruzzi in Piazza Independenza in Florence, ... [obscured]
The last commission obtained by him was the order for the monument to the Tzar Alexander II of Russia to be erected in St. Petersburg where 162 artists from all over the world competed.
This record has related works.
Figures 940 x 1220 x 560 mm
Pedestal 990 x 1310 x 740mm
white marble on black marble pedestal
Marble sculpture of two men wrestling on black marble pedestal
Credit Line
Collection of the Sarjeant Gallery Te Whare o Rehua Whanganui. Gift of Mr and Mrs Neame, 1915
Collection Type
Permanent collection
Acquisition Date
11 Nov 1914



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