The Belvedere Antinous
The number of statues of athletes or ephebes, from the 16th to the 18th century, and even beyond, that incorrectly bore the name of Antinous is astonishing. The Belvedere Antinous (Vatican) and the Capitoline Antinous (Rome) are the most famous.
Discovered in 1543 in an almost perfect state of conservation and at once exhibited in the Belvedere – a landmark, if not the ultimate destination, for every Grand Tourist –, this statue immediately caught the attention: the grace of its pose, the absence of other antique marble of young man that could compare in quality, and, undoubtedly, the supposed place [disputed today] of its discovery whose name pointed out at Hadrian, all contributed to its identification as Antinous.
Certainly, the comparison with the coins at his effigy would have avoided this identity mistake, but only a few owned a cabinet of medals somewhat plentiful or had access to one. True marbles of Antinous appeared only later. The first one to be accessible to a vast public was that in the Galleria degli Uffizi, in the middle of the 1670s, or shortly after. The few other portraits of Antinous belonged to scarcely visited private collections (Farnese in Rome, Bevilacqua in Verona, Casali in Rome). It is undoubtedly the Albani bas-relief, discovered in 1735, due to its fame, that imposed the true features of Antinous.
In-between, the identification of the statue of the Belvedere with Antinous was so much consolidated – and the diffusion of its replicas was so widespread – that it would endure until the end of the 18th century.
Due to the number of its replicas, in all sizes and materials, the Belvedere Antinous, we dare say, generated a vast descent – two centuries later, its alter ego in the Capitol would spread out in the same way. Works of sculptors intended for or offered to such or such palace; works of founders sometimes taller than the original; drawings of pupils and of noted artists who had the honour of being engraved on copper and an insertion in a collection of etchings; reduced copies done in bronze, mouldings of the bust, cameos and intaglios in semi-precious stone and their imprints in plaster: memorabilia of the Grand Tour that nowadays appear regularly in antics markets, and find buyers. The Belvedere Antinous was everywhere, to the point of appearing as decor in many paintings, here a park in Italian style, there the cabinet of an amateur, a scholar, a conceited person.
Today, deprived of its famous identity, the original is back in the shade. The guides of tourism, even those intended to be comprehensive, hardly list the statue amongst the major works in the Belvedere. In situ, the ciceros more readily comment the Laocoon, they mention in passing Canova's Perseus and the Apollo, ignore this sobre Meleagre. There is not a single word on this statue that, during two centuries, bore the name of Antinous and personified him in the eyes of several generations of travellers who approached it, i.e. him, Antinous. But its copies, innumerable, produced until the very end of the 18th century, always bear the name of Antinous without intention of yielding!
The list that follows depicts the best known of them, and we invite our readers to take part in its development. But, we will not be able to show the innumerable plaster mouldings nor the small bronze copies, unless they belong to a famous collection.
Second to seventh photo © 2008 Photo by Sergej Sosnovskij at
Castle Howard, Yorkshire. This is one of the lead copies of classical sculptures that in the early 18th century were placed in the gardens, supplied by John van Nost (1686-1729), Andrew Carpenter (1677-1737) and John Cheere (1709-1787).
Champs-sur-Marne (France). The estate has changed hands several times in the last centuries, and the garden, created in two phases: 1703-1707 and towards 1740, was restored at the end of the 1890s. Beyond a doubt it was in one of these occassions that the statues that decorated it (re)appeared.
Dijon, Musée des Beaux Arts. Marble by Nicolas Bornier (1762-1829), sculpted in 1790, while in Rome.
St. Petersburg, Peterhof, Grand Cascade. Copy 1800 by the sculptor Fedor Gordeevich Gordeev (1744-1810) and the founder Vasily Petrovich Ekimov (1758-1837).
Versailles, palace, la Terrasse. Bronze copy done between 1684 and 1685 by the founder Jean-Balthazar Keller (1638-1702).
Versailles, park of the palace, rampes de Latone, rampe du Nord. Marble copy created in Rome ca. 1680 by the Franco-Flemish scultor C. Lacroix.
Versailles, park of the palace, rampes de Latone, rampe du Midi. Marble copy done in 1686 by Pierre Le Gros the Elder (1629-1714).
Versailles, park of the palace. Marble copy by an unknown artist. It belonged to the "Collections Royals" of Louis XIV and was placed in 1681 in the gallerie des Antiques, transfomed in 1704 in salle des Marroniers. The double exposure: before and after the act of vandalism of november 2006.
Rousham House, Oxfordshire, England. General James Dormer (1679–1741) inherited this estate from his brother in 1737. To adorn the garden, he acquired this contemporary statue (among a few others), had it symbolically placed on a column of reeds such as the ones of the river in which Antinous lost his life and minutely located at the top of the long straight Elm Walk. “The General would have enjoyed closer and ever closer views of the statue's buttocks.” (Timothy Mowl, 2006)
Madrid, Prado, Room 80. Inv.N. E00181. Hight 75 cm. Diego Velázquez (1599-1660) brought this magnificent bronze bust from Italy, where he stayed from 1648 to 1651, entrusted by King Philip IV with the purchase of sculptures and paintings to decorare the Alcázar. The palace was completely destroyed by a fire in 1734 and with it, lots of works of art that could not be evacuated on time. This bust escaped the disaster.
Vienna, Liechtenstein Museum. Inv. No. SK611. Mercury c.1630/1640, bronze, height 63cm, created in Rome by François Duquesnoy (1597-1643), who followed statue of the Belvedere Antinous but heightening the figure’s contrapposto. First mentioned in 1658 in the collection of the Prince Karl Eusebius of Liechtenstein (1611-1684).
Rome, Capitoline Antinous, MC 0741. Found 1723/24, in an unknown location, possibly the Villa Hadriana. By far the most famous statue of Antinous from its discovery until the end of the 19th century. After a long debate among scholars, the statue was finally considered as Hermes just before 1900, and subsequently fell nearly into oblivion within a few decades. Innumerable copies in marble and bronze have been made for collectors, in life size and various reduced sizes, as well as plaster casts down to the present day. Exhibited in the Capitoline Museum.
«Lair pensif calme, affectueux, le charme indéfinissable, ce front uni et serein ; la forme heureuse des sourcils ; le contour élégant de la ligne que forment ces lèvres en se fermant ; lharmonie de tous les traits ; en un mot, et lensemble, et chaque partie prise séparément, nous présentent un homme sans pareil»
(Gaspard Lavater, 1807)
Florence, Palazzo Pitti. Palatine Gallery, scalone principale. Marble copie done by the Tuscan sculptor Francesco Carradori (1747-1824), in this emplacement since 1785.
London, University College, Wilkins Portico . This bronce statue in the façade of the main building was presented by the philantropist and writer Robert Fellowes (1771-1847) in 1829, and was placed on the portico in 1872.
St Petersburg, Peterhof. The original statuary decoration of the Grand Cascade, conceived in the 1730’s, gave way in 1800-1801 to copies of classical statues. Many artists contributed. This gilded bronze is by the master founder Vasily Petrovich Ekimov (1758-1837). During WWII, Peterhof was severely damaged and most of today's statues are modern restorations.
St. Petersburg, Peterhof, lower gardens, eastern section, "Monplaisir" alley. 19th century marble copy.
Peterhof, Chinese garden. This 18th century marble copy stands in front of the bath house of Monplaisir palace in the garden designed in 1866 by the architect Eduard Lvovich Hahn (1841-1891).
Paris, Louvre Museum. 19th century stone copy. First floor of west façade of the cour Carrée. Photo © Marie-Lan Nguyen/Wikimedia Commons
Private collection, Brussels. Copy of the Capitoline Antinous, marble, 60 cm high with base. Students'work, 19th century.
Almería, Andalusia, Spain, Museo Arqueológico Provincial. Ephebe of Chirivel (locally called “Chirivello”). This 1,30 meter high white marble sculpture of the end of 2nd century CE was found in 1985 by Julían Martinez García in the nearby Roman site of El Villar, Chirivel. The anatomy of the naked youth is sketchy and the execution rather coarse, pointing out to a local artist despite some Hellenistic characteristics. The statue is a representation of Bacchus but could have been intended to depict Antinous. It probably adorned a fountain. A replica can be seen in the "Parque del Chirivello", in Chirivel.