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HOME : Classical Antiquities : Roman Art : Bronze Bust of Antinous as Dionysos
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Bronze Bust of Antinous as Dionysos - JL.007
Origin: Roman Empire
Circa: 130 AD to 391 AD
Dimensions: 5.5" (14.0cm) high x 5" (12.7cm) wide x 1" (2.5cm) depth
Collection: Classical Art
Medium: Bronze
Condition: Very Fine

Location: Great Britain
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The loss of a loved one defines lives. Sometimes the loss can even effect whole communities. Every now and then this loss can shake whole Empires.

Then there are those few who are loved so fervently that their loss redefines whole cultures and religions.

The young man believed to be depicted here, Antinous, was the great lover of the infamous roman Emperor Hadrian. Hadrian’s reign (117 to 138) was marked by the development of stable, defensible borders, and the unification, under his overall leadership, of the empire's disparate peoples. He is known for building Hadrian's Wall (which marked the northern limit of Britannia) as well as initiating, through the jurist Salvius Julianus, the first attempt to codify Roman law. Edward Gibbon includes Hadrian among the Empire's "Five good emperors", a "benevolent dictator". He has been described as enigmatic and contradictory, with a capacity for both great personal generosity and extreme cruelty, and driven by insatiable curiosity, self-conceit, and above all, ambition. Unlike most emperors Hadrian spent over half his reign outside of Italy  Whereas previous emperors had, for the most part, relied on the reports of their imperial representatives around the Empire, Hadrian wished to see things for himself.

Little is known of Antinous' life, although it is known that he was born in Claudiopolis (present day Bolu, Turkey), in the Roman province of Bithynia. He was probably introduced to Hadrian in 123 and became the favourite of Hadrian by 128, when he was taken on a tour of the Empire as part of Hadrian's personal retinue. Antinous accompanied Hadrian during his attendance of the annual Eleusinian Mysteries in Athens, and was with him when he killed the Marousian lion in Libya. In October 130, as they were traveling along the Nile, Antinous died amid mysterious circumstances. Various suggestions have been put forward for how he died, ranging from an accidental drowning to an intentional human sacrificeor suicide.

Hadrian’s response to the death of his male lover was remarkably forthright and open. Following his lover’s death, Hadrian deified Antinous, named a city, Antinopolis, after him and founded an organised cult devoted to his worship. This cult spread throughout the Empire. Hadrian also founded games in commemoration of Antinous to take place in both Antinopolis and Athens. What Antinous became was a god as well as the symbol of Hadrian's dreams of pan-Hellenism. As a result depictions of Antinous, such as the one above, have been found the length and breadth of the Empire. And many of the images of Antinous remained in public places until the official prohibition of pagan religions under the reign of Emperor Theodosius in 391.

Antinous has since become a feature of Western culture - a ready made figurehead for ideals of male desire and beauty. References to Antinous have appeared in notable literary work such as that of Oscar Wilde and Fernando Pessoa as further afield. In Les Miserables, the character Enjolras is likened to Antinous. "A charming young man who was capable of being a terror. He was angelically good-looking, an untamed Antinous.” Caroline Vout remarks in Power and Eroticism in Imperial Rome (2007, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.) that Antinous is "arguably the most notorious pretty boy from the annals of classical history” and the quintessential "gay icon”. A bust of Antinous is a testament to the unambiguous, non-prejudicial, power of love.

"The way that Hadrian took the boy on his travels, kept close to him at moments of spiritual, moral or physical exaltation, and, after his death, surrounded himself with his images, shows an obsessive craving for his presence, a mystical-religious need for his companionship.” - Royston Lambert, (1984). Beloved and God: The Story of Hadrian and Antinous. 1984

Chris Scarre writes (Chronicle of the Roman Emperors, London, 1995, pp. 101-102): "Hadrian took him with him on his visit to Egypt in AD 130, and it was there that Antinous met his untimely and rather mysterious end. In his lost autobiography, Hadrian related the simple story that Antinous had fallen from a boat during a trip on the Nile. Other people saw a more sinister event, in which Antinous offered himself as a sacrifice for Hadrian in some bizarre rite. Whatever the case, Hadrian was deeply grieved by the death of his favorite and founded a city, Antinoopolis, on the spot where he had died. He even identified a new star which he believed embodied Antinous's soul."
- (JL.007)


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