Antinous: The Emperor's Beloved - CO LAB Magazine
Surviving bust of Antinous.
Surviving bust of Antinous, the emperor’s lover. Photo by Gonzalo Pozo.

Art, science, history, mythology, mystery, and romance: San Antonio Museum of Art’s exhibit showcasing a sculpted portrait of Antinous, the lover of Roman Emperor Hadrian, has it all. This seemingly simple display of classic Roman portraits and artifacts is not your everyday classical art presentation.

The installation is the first to be showcased in SAMA’s newly renovated 4th floor exhibit hall. The space is modern and airy – an interesting and pleasing contrast to the dramatic and romantic feel of the sculptures within.

Antinoum in Aurum

Antinous exhibit space.
Antinous exhibit space. Photo by Gonzalo Pozo.

This exhibit is also the first of its kind for the Museum, focusing on the history and research of a single work – a partial sculpted portrait of Antinous himself. The science enthusiasts among us can appreciate the depth of information available about the sculpture and its composition. After its discovery, a thorough examination and scientific analysis of the piece revealed that it had been partially gilded, or encased with gold. This was highly unusual for portraits of this kind from the era, and provides the notion that this piece might have been in the personal collection of Hadrian himself.

The exhibit is curated by Jessica Powers, PhD. She gave CO LAB Magazine a thorough and passionate retelling and explanation of the processes involved in the examination of the portrait, specifically the use of X-Ray fluorescence, which uncovered the presence of traces of gold within the statue’s marble surface. Powers explains, “the phenomenon has been recorded on only a very few Roman statues, and its documentation on the Museum’s Antinous marks an important contribution to the understanding of gilding and polychromy on Roman sculptures.”

Latium is for Lovers

Bust of Roman Emperor Hadrian.
Bust of Roman Emperor Hadrian. Photo by Gonzalo Pozo.

For the romantics among us, the story behind the art is intriguing. After Antinous mysteriously drowned in the Nile while traveling with Hadrian and his wife Sabina, Hadrian went into a lifelong period of extravagant mourning. Hadrian’s obsession with his lover was amplified after his death, and eventually Antinous was deified. It was common for Emperors to have lovers of either gender, but none were nearly as notable as Hadrian’s beloved, nor celebrated in the same way. Antinous was worshiped throughout the Roman Empire for centuries after his death in AD 130.

Because of this very public relationship and Hadrian’s dramatic display of affection for his lost love, Antinous has remained a historical icon for the LGBTQ community. Artists and writers across centuries have been inspired by Antinous, increasingly so as modern society recognizes the history of homosexuality through the ages.

Antinous exhibit banner
Antinous exhibit banner. Photo by Cassandra Dann.
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This experience is so much more than an art museum exhibit; it engages the curiosity of a wide variety of museum patrons, and it is truly something to be experienced firsthand.

Antinous: The Emperor’s Beloved opens on Friday, September 1st and will run until November 26, 2017. During this period there will be several exhibition-centered events and lectures available to the general public, several of which are free to the public or available for a discount with Museum membership. Make sure to visit the SAMA website and mark your calendar in order to experience everything this exhibit has to offer.


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