Monday, July 2, 2012



 SOMETIMES you find the most extraordinary things on eBay pertaining to Antinous. The latest is a 19th Century French pink conch shell ANTINOUS CAMEO BROOCH in an ornate gold setting.

We can quibble about the artistry and whether it resembles Antinous at all — but we have to remember that it was carved by hand on a very, very tiny shell 60 mm tall — a little over two inches!

The seller says it appears to be Antinous/Vertumnus, god of the bountiful gifts of nature in summertime. But it more likely is Antinous/Dionysus since clusters of grapes are just visible through the leafy wreath. Antinous/Dionysus is the god of wine and ritual frenzy, of transformation and transcendence. 
The face calls to mind Coleridge's warning about the visionary in Xanadu: 
"Beware, beware/his flashing eye, his floating hair/ Weave a circle round him thrice/And close your eyes in holy dread/For he on honey-dew hath fed/And drunk the milk of Paradise." 
We know that there was an Antinous fad in the 18th and 19th Century, and Victorians avidly read saucy novels about Hadrian and Antinous (these novels often show up on eBay). 

The story of "hedonistic and unnatural" sex which ends in tragedy for a beautiful boy was suitably romantic and prurient to appeal to uptight Victorians.

So cameos and jewellery pertaining to Antinous were popular — the most gorgeous Classical bod and face with a "naughty" story to go with it. What a conversation piece!
Many fine ladies (even some gentlemen "dandies") wore Antinous cameos as brooches or rings. They were more sought after than ordinary cameos.

And they still are. The starting bid is 395 pounds Sterling over $600. It will be interesting to see how high the bidding goes.

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