Monday, November 16, 2015


THE exquisite Lansdowne bust of Antinous has been singled out as one of the five must-see ancient sculptures of Classical art in Britain by that nation's most prestigious art charity.

The announcement was made today by THE ART FUND, which is an independent membership-based British charity that raises funds to aid the acquisition of artworks for Britain.

"Britain is home to some spectacular ancient sculptures, from Roman bronzes that inspired Hollywood films to ancient Greek statues. We've chosen five of our favourite works to see across the UK," the charity announcement said.

The Lansdowne bust originally came from Hadrian's Villa  and is a marble head of Antinous depicted as the god Dionysus, the closest Greek equivalent to the Egyptian god Osiris. 

It was  unearthed in 1769 during excavations undertook by the art dealer and archaeologist Gavin Hamilton who secured it for Lord Lansdowne, who was an avid collector of antiquities and owned a fine collection of classical sculpture until most of it was sold and dispersed in 1930 (including the Lansdowne Amazon and the Lansdowne Hercules). 

Today the Lansdowne Antinous graces the “Greece and Rome” room of the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, England.

This portrait head of Antinous was once part of an over life-size statue showing Antinous as the Greek god of wine, Dionysus. 

As was custom of the period, the missing pieces on the Lansdowne Antinous were restored in the 18th Century and the head was mounted on a modern bust. The facial restoration included the tip of the nose, the upper lip, part of the ears and part of the chin.

Through the elaborate and luxuriant hair runs a wreath of ivy, very much undercut, so that the several leaves are almost detached. The head is also bound with a broad "taenia," a  ribbon for the hair which passes across the forehead.

Here is the Art Fund's full list of the five must-see world of Classical art in Britain with the fund's explanations:

1. Bust of Antinous as Dionysos, about AD 130–158
Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge
Around 2000 years ago, a young man of humble Middle Eastern origins died and was worshipped as a god. The man wasn't Jesus, but Antinous – the companion and lover of the Roman Emperor Hadrian. Antinous drowned tragically in the River Nile when he was 18 years old, leaving Hadrian distraught. Shortly after Antinous's death, Hadrian declared that his lover had been reborn as a god, and established a cult that lasted hundreds of years.

This bronze portrait of Marcus Aurelius was discovered in a field near Barckley, Northamptonshire, in the 1970s. The valley where it was found had been the location of several significant Roman villas, but despite the clear influence of images of the emperor made in Rome, there are features that suggest this sculpture was made in Britain or Gaul. The portrait's striking blue eyes – bronze inlaid with cobalt-coloured glass – is unexpected in Roman portraiture, as are the conical coils of beard projecting from the chin. It was acquired with Art Fund support in 2011.

3. The Strangford Apollo, about 500–490 BC
British Museum, London
Known as the Strangford Apollo after its former owner Viscount Strangford, this statue shows a youth standing in the 'kouros' pose. Kouros were marble statues of men produced in Greek from 600 to 480 BC, ranging in scale from miniatures to colossi. This smaller-than-lifesize example depicts a youth with long hair, braided around the back and with a formal arrangement of curls at the front. It dates to the end of the Archaic period, where the smiles that had been prolific in sculpture were replaced by solemn pouts.

4. Portrait bust of the Empress Livia, 1st century BC
World Museum, Liverpool
Livia was wife of Augustus, founder of the Roman empire and its first emperor. This sculpture, which was created by a contemporary of Livia's, depicts her as a young woman. Livia's son Tiberius, a child from her earlier marriage to Tiberius Claudius Nero, became emperor following Augustus's death. (According to Tacitus, there were rumours that Livia murdered Augustus with poisoned figs, but that may have been a fabrication.) This sculpture was acquired by the World Museum in Liverpool with support from the Art Fund in 1988.

5. Figure of an Eagle, 2nd century AD
Reading Museum
While this statue has been separated from its wings and the globe it was believed to perch on top of, it was nevertheless hailed by JG Joyce as 'the most superbly naturalistic rendering of any bird or beast as yet yielded by Roman Britain'. It was discovered at the Roman town of Calleva Atrebatum near Silchester, Reading, which was a regional capital following the Roman invasion. The belief that the eagle had been torn from a military standard inspired Rosemary Sutcliffe's novel The Eagle of the Ninth, which tells the story of a Roman officer's search for the lost sculpture. It was acquired thanks to an Art Fund grant in 1980.

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