This month’s masterpiece from Hadrian’s Villa is a series of heavily restored mosaic panels depicting bucolic scenes with animals. The first panel depicts a rocky landscape with a flock of goats peacefully grazing by a stream. A standing bronze statue dressed in a long tunic is standing on a rock. It holds a bunch of grapes in its right hand and a thyrsus in his left hand. The statue is probably an image of the god Dionysos meant to evoke a sacro-idyllic landscape. Dionysus was also considered to be a god of fertility and there seems to be a human phallus represented on the tablet next to the statue. The phallus was a symbol of his power, the ability to create new life.
This month’s sculpture from Hadrian’s Villa is a dark grey limestone relief decorated with mythological scenes. The Lansdowne Relief was unearthed in 1769 during excavations undertaken by the art dealer and archaeologist Gavin Hamilton, who sold it to Lord Lansdowne. The latter was an avid collector of antiquities who owned a fine collection of classical sculptures until most of it was sold and dispersed in 1930 (including the Lansdowne Antinous, the Lansdowne Amazon and the Lansdowne Hercules).
This month’s sculpture from Hadrian’s Villa is a marble statue of a dancing female figure, thought to be a portrait of Praxilla of Sikyon. Praxilla was a female poet writing in the mid-fifth century BC. She came from Sikyon, a city situated on a fertile coastal plain beside the Corinthian Gulf in the northeast Peloponnese (see images of the archaeological site here). She wrote, dithyrambs, hymns to the Greek gods as well as drinking songs (skolia). Her skolia were among the most celebrated of her time and were sung at banquets and festivals for over three hundred years.
While Hadrian was visiting the province of Egypt in late 130 AD, his favorite Antinous drowned mysteriously in the Nile River. This tragic event led to the creation of a new divinity: Osirantinous, or Antinous as a manifestation of Osiris, the god who died and was reborn. One of our best primary sources for information about the new deity Osirantinous and the founding of Antinopolis, the new city created by Hadrian near the spot of Antinous’ death, is the Obelisk of Antinous, found in Rome outside Porta Maggiore at the end of the 16th century. The Aswan pink granite obelisk, which now stands in the Pincian Hill Gardens, was commissioned by Hadrian after 130 AD to honour the deceased Antinous.
This week’s sculpture from Hadrian’s Villa is a red-marble statue of a satyr, the so-called “Fauno rosso” (red faun).
This week’s sculpture from Hadrian’s Villa is a marble head of Hypnos, the Greek god of Sleep. Hypnos is represented as a young man with wings attached to his temples (now lost). The head must have been part of a full length statue showing Hypnos running forwards, holding in his hands poppies and a vessel from which he presumably poured a sleeping potion. One of the most complete representations of Hypnos is a bronze statuette from the collection of the Roman Museum in Augst (see an image here).
This week’s sculpture from Hadrian’s Villa is a marble head of Antinous depicted as the god Dionysos, 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. The latter 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.