Saturday, May 5, 2012



Heading to Rome in the next six months? Then you MUST see the unprecedented and spectacular Antinous exhibition at Hadrian's Villa near Rome -- but plan carefully, because huge throngs of tourists are already converging on the venue outside Rome. 

Running now through November 4th, hundreds of Antinous-related statues and other artefacts from around the world are on display. The exhibition is entitled "Antinoo: Il fascino della bellezza" (Antinous: A Fascination With Beauty) -- and reviewers in the Italian press say the exhibition lives up to its name.

Amazingly, this is the first time EVER that the curators of Hadrian's Villa (the Superintendence for Archaeological Heritage of Latium Villa Adriana Antiquarium) have launched an exhibition solely devoted to Antinous.

A huge coterie of dignitaries, Italian arts-scene luminaries and the paparazzi were on hand for the grand opening of the exhibition at the Villa east of Rome on April 4. Glowing reports in the Italian media since have spawned traffic jams and long waiting lines of tourists seeking admission. 

Even bigger crowds are expected once the foreign media begin reporting on this exhibition -- remember that you read about it here first.

Despite the traffic and long lines, the wait is worth it, for once inside, visitors see 50 incomparable Antinous-related treasures, including sculptures, reliefs, gems and coins -- all testimony to the love of the Emperor Hadrian for the Bithynian youth.

The exhibition is accompanied by a catalog published by Electa which explains in loving detail not only the objects on view in the exhibition but also the ardent same-sex relationship between Hadrian and Antinous. Click here for catalog details:

Only a few years ago, academic historians were reticent to use the word "gay" to describe that relationship. But that reticence was swept aside in 2008 when the curator of the British Museum opened the historic "Hadrian: Empire and Conflict" exhibition with the words: "Hadrian was gay -- we can say that now!"

The new Antinous exhibition has echoed that coming-out sentiment, and Italian media coverage candidly refers to Hadrian and Antinous as homosexual lovers -- something of a breakthrough is staunchly Roman Catholic Italy.

An Italian arts blog put it straightforwardly: "In memory of Antinous, the beautiful, young, lover of Hadrian, who he met in Bithynia, and brought with him to Rome, Hadrian built the Antinoeion.  It came to light in excavations conducted by the Superintendent between 2002 and 2005, when it was recognized as the tomb-temple designed to honor his lover Antinous' memory."

Tours of the Antinous exhibition include a walk to the archaeological dig site of the Antinoeion pavilion at the Villa. Hadrian designed this shady hideaway as a recreation in miniature to Canopus, the town on the western arm of the Nile Delta where Hadrian and Antinous sought refuge from the hustle and bustle (and religious strife between Christians and Jews) which they had encountered at nearby Alexandria in the hot summer of the year 130 AD. Their days together in Canopus were a final moment of unalloyed joy for Hadrian and Antinous only a few weeks before tragedy struck along the Nile in Upper Egypt. 

The exhibition is divided into four sections, which display works from an array museums and collections. On view are items which for the most part were originally found at Hadrian's Villa or which the curators hope to encourage the current owners to hand over to the Villa.

The first section includes a series of portraits Hadrian and Antinous, including the marble bust of the Vatican Museums and the beautiful bronze from the Archaeological Museum of Florence.

The second section focuses on the many divine aspects of the young "Bitinio" (Bithynian Boy), such as his association with Apollo and Dionysus as well as his portrayal as a priest of Attis.

The third section focuses on the recent discoveries at the Antinoeion dig site, primarily representation of Antinous in the guise of Osiris. Hadrian had made a point of associating Antinous with Osiris, who died in the Nile and rose from the waters of the Nile, the chief Egyptian deity of fertility and transfiguration. In the exhibition you can admire the breathtaking red quartzite statue of Antinous-Osiris, on loan from the Dresden State Art Collections (Staatliche Kunstsammlungen zu Dresden).

The last section focuses on the continuing and unabated influence of Antinous in art and literature throughout the centuries. Among the loans, you can admire one of the precious volumes of the "Viaggio pittorico di Villa Adriana" (Pictorial Journey to Villa Adriana) by Agostino Penna of 1831-36, which contains a beautiful portrait of Antinous now located in the Vatican Museums, in the Sala della Rotonda.

The exhibition runs through November 4. For more information (in Italian) check out details at the bottom of this link:

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