ANTINO. IL FASCINO DELLA BELLEZZA (‘ANTINOUS: CAPTIVATED BY BEAUTY’) Emperor Hadrian ordered the construction of the ‘Antinoeion’ at Villa Adriana in memory of Antinous, a young and sublimely beautiful man whom Hadrian had met in Bithynia and took back to Rome with him. The building only recently came to light, following excavations conducted by the Lazio Archaeological Superintendency between 2002 and 2005. This archaeological exhibition offers a look at the remains of this Antinoeion – a tomb/temple designed to honour the memory of Antinous. It is now quite possible to see the perimeter and layout of where a large exedra was built, fronted by two temples separated by the obelisk which is now found on the Pincio hill in Rome. The buildings were elaborately decorated with statues, including some of animals, and Egyptianesque bas-reliefs – some of which are on show here.
The exhibition is divided into four sections containing works from various museums and collections, especially artefacts that were – or are very likely to have been – found at Villa Adriana (‘Hadrian’s Villa’). The first section brings together a series of portraits of Hadrian and Antinous, including the marble bust from the Vatican Museums and the fantastic bronze held by the Museo Archeologico in Florence. The second section focuses on the deification of Antinous, variously depicted as Apollo, Dionysus, or even as the Priest of Attis. The third section looks at recent discoveries from the Antinoeion at Villa Adriana and hence on the representation of Antinous as Osiris. Hadrian deified his favoured companion as the highest Egyptian god who, according to legend, was reborn in the waters of the Nile, a symbol of fertility. This splendid depiction of Antinous-Osiris in red quartzite is on view at the exhibition thanks to the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen of Dresden. The final part of the exhibition examines how Antinous has been seen across the centuries. The items received on loan include one of the precious volumes of "Viaggio pittorico di Villa Adriana" by Agostino Penna (1831-1836), containing a stupendous portrait of Antinous, which is now held in the Sala Rotonda of the Vatican Museums.
ANTINOUS IN HISTORY
Antinous arrived in Rome as a young man in around 125 AD, after Hadrian probably met him in 123 AD during a stop on his long, two-year journey across the Empire. It is thought that the villa was then the site of extensive building work, as shown by the brick stamps in the walls which reveal frenetic construction activities there in those years. We know that the Teatro Marittimo (‘Maritime Theatre’) was certainly usable at the time, having been planned while restoration work was taking place in the old Villa Repubblicana, as well as the so-called Heliocaminus Baths, which were built quickly in order to meet the needs of the new residential building. However, even though the imperial residence had certainly not been completed, Hadrian could already live there and rule the Empire from his grand Tiburtine residence, which was also designed to host visiting courts. Antinous was Hadrian’s favourite and constantly at the Emperor’s side. He even accompanied Hadrian on official journeys, including the one which began in 128 AD and ended in tragedy with the death of young Antinous two years later. We know from ancient sources – which speculate about the event alluding to rather mysterious circumstances surrounding it – that Antinous drowned on the way back up the river Nile. It is said that Hadrian, wracked with grief at his loss, founded the city of Antinopolis near where the tragedy struck, and declared that Antinous’s birthday (27 November) was to become a feast day. Antinous was deified by Egyptian priests and represented as Osiris – the highest religious deity, to whom pharaohs were also likened. Returning from Egypt after 133 AD, Hadrian decided to honour his lost paramour at Villa Adriana by building a large apsed edifice identified as the Antinoeion, which is located along the monumental entrance leading to the Vestibule. Since then, Antinous’s memory has been added to and kept alive over the centuries, with the effigy of the youth also used for marble busts – as in Pisa’s Museo dell'Opera del Duomo, where it is readapted in a Christian manner – or bronze busts, such as Guglielmo Della Porta’s sculpture (on show here) from the apartments of the Royal Palace in Naples. His visage is also reproduced in many old publications, from Winckelmann to Penna. In modern times, the work that has most contributed to the wider fame of Antinous is without doubt the novel “Memoirs of Hadrian” by Marguerite Yourcenar, who wrote: “In sleepless hours, I roamed the corridors of the Villa, and wandering from room to room (…) I would stop before likenesses of Antinous. Every room had its own; every portico, even. I would make a screen with my hand against the flame of my torch, and brush his stone chest with my finger."