By Jean Marie Carey

Antinous, the young man who became first the companion of the Emperor Hadrian and then a deity, was born 27 November 111 in Claudiopolis (present day Bolu, Turkey), in the Roman province of Bithynia.

The art that flourished during the reign of Hadrian (117-138) was replete with representations of antinous after the youth mysteriously drowned in the Nile River in 130 while accompanying Hadrian on a tour of Egypt. Grief-stricken, the emperor declared antinous a god and founded the city Antinoupolis where Antinous was identified with the Egyptian god of death and resurrection, Osiris. Although it was not uncommon for his predecessors to have taken male lovers alongside a female spouse, Hadrian was unique in making his love official in a way that no other emperor had before him.

Images of Antinous, with his signature curly hairstyle, began to appear on coins and medallions, and the youth became the subject of numerous sculptures. Antinous was also frequently represented in sculpture not just as Osiris but sometimes as Apollo or Dionysus.

An exhibition dedicated to Antinous in celebration of the reunited parts of a luminous marble portrait continues through mid-January at the Palazzo Altemps in Rome.  “A Portrait of Antinous, in Two Parts” brings together the long-fragmented second century sculpture. Egyptologist W. Raymond Johnson in 2013 discovered that the original face, held by the Art Institute in Chicago where the exhibition began, belonged to the original bust, held at Palazzo Altemps.

Reference: Ian Chilvers, “Antinous.” In The Oxford Dictionary of Art and Artists.: Oxford University Press, 2009.

Roman Colossal Statue of antinous, c. 200. Farnese Collection, Museo archeologico nazionale di Napoli (inv. 6314).

Pierre Legros, The “Antinous Belvedere,” c. 1700. The Versailles: Palace Grounds. Photo: University of California at San Diego.

Bust of Antinous as Osiris, c. 135. Musée du Louvre, Accession Nr. MA 433.

Ring with cameo of antinous, c. 135. Michael C. Carlos Museum, Emory University. accession Nr. 2008.031.072.

Antinous, c. 130-138. Delphi Museum, Greece.

Roberto Juarez. Figs/Antinous, 1997. Robert Miller Gallery, Larry Qualls Archive.

The recently reconstituted marble bust of Antinous, c. 150. Palazzo Altemps, Rome. Photo: ANSA, Rome.

Further Reading: Royston Lambert. Beloved and God: The Story of Hadrian and Antinous. Viking: New York City, 1984.

Thorsten Opper. Hadrian: Empire and Conflict. Harvard University Press: Cambridge, 2008.

Ruby Blondell and Kirk Ormand. Ancient Sex: New Essays. The Ohio State University Press: Columbus, 2015.

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