Antinous: the face of the Antique

24 May – 26 August 2006

Exhibition in Galleries 1, 2 and 3

The first exhibition dedicated to Antique sculpture at the Institute explores the mythical image of Antinous.


“But I have been more preoccupied by the face of another. As soon as he began to count in my life art ceased to be luxury and became a resource, a form of succour. I have forced this image upon the world: there are today more portraits of that youth than of any illustrious man whatsoever, or of any queen.”

Marguerite Yourcenar, Memoirs of Hadrian

Quote courtesy of Editions Gallimard, Paris

The Emperor Hadrian’s young lover was Antinous, a beautiful youth who drowned mysteriously in the Nile before his 20th birthday. The Emperor, in his grief, commissioned busts and statues of his beloved, and as the cult of Antinous spread throughout the Roman Empire, many more were erected by his subjects.

Today Antinous has more sculptures to his name than almost any other figure from classical antiquity. The earliest of these finds were identified by comparison to tiny coin-portraits, each with an identifying legend, so that by the sixteenth century his aquiline nose and full lips were well known.

Yet such was his appeal that as more and more heads, busts and statues were unearthed, there was a temptation to call those of any young pretty boy ‘Antinous’. Into the modern age, archaeologists and scholars have worked studiously to define the corpus of Antinous portraiture, basing their identification primarily on his hairstyle.

As a subject, Antinous works not only to provide a very human way into looking at Antique sculpture, but also as an introduction to some of the thorniest issues surrounding work of this period. Issues of recognition, restoration and re-naming are all present, and to a degree we can deal with these by simply asking: does it look like him?

This exhibition has been selected by Dr Caroline Vout, of the University of Nottingham.

Venue details

Venue address

Henry Moore Institute
The Headrow
United Kingdom
T: 0113 246 7467

Opening times

Galleries: Tuesday to Sunday, 10am - 5pm

Research Library: Monday to Saturday, 10am - 5pm; Sunday, 1 - 5pm
Archive of Sculptors' Papers: Tuesday to Friday, by prior appointment

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