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A ROMAN BLACK CHALCEDONY INTAGLIO PORTRAIT OF ANTINOUS
THE MARLBOROUGH ANTINOUS
A ROMAN BLACK CHALCEDONY INTAGLIO PORTRAIT OF ANTINOUS

CIRCA 130-138 A.D.

Details
A ROMAN BLACK CHALCEDONY INTAGLIO PORTRAIT OF ANTINOUS
CIRCA 130-138 A.D.
1 3/8 in. (3.4 cm.) long
Provenance
Count Antonio Maria Zanetti (1679-1767), Venice, acquired by 1740.
George Spencer, 4th Duke of Marlborough (1739-1817), Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire, acquired from the above by 1767; thence by descent to his son, George Spencer-Churchill, 5th Duke of Marlborough (1766-1840), Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire; thence by descent to his son, George Spencer-Churchill, 6th Duke of Marlborough (1793–1857), Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire; thence by descent to his son, John Winston Spencer-Churchill, 7th Duke of Marlborough (1822-1883), Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire.
The Marlborough Gems: Being a Collection of Works in Cameo and Intaglio Formed by George, Third Duke of Marlborough, Christie's, London, 28 June-1 July 1875, 1875, lot 500.
David Bromilow (1809-1898), Bitteswell Hall, Leicestershire, acquired from the above; thence by descent to his daughter, Julia Harriet Mary Jary, Bitteswell Hall, Leicestershire, 1898.
The Marlborough Gems: A Collection of Works in Cameo and Intaglio Formed by George, Third Duke of Marlborough, Purchased by the Late David Bromilow, Esq., of Bitteswell Hall, Lutterworth, the Property of Mrs. Jary, Christie's, London, 26-29 June 1899, lot 500.
with Francis E. Whelan (1848-1907), London, acquired from the above (according to auctioneer's book).
Charles Newton-Robinson (1853-1913), London.
Catalogue of the Valuable and Important Collection of Engraved Gems Formed by Charles Newton-Robinson Esq., Christie's, London, 22 June 1909, lot 66.
Antiquities, Sotheby's, London, 15 January 1952, lot 136.
Forrer, acquired from the above (according to auctioneer’s book).
Giorgio Sangiorgi (1886-1965), Rome, acquired and brought to Switzerland by 1952; thence by continuous descent to the current owners.
Literature
A.M. and G.F. Zanetti, Delle antiche statue greche e romane, che nell'antisala della libreria di San Marco, e in altri luoghi pubblici di Venezia si trovano, vol. I, Venice, 1740, pl. 23.
A.F. Gori, Gemmae antiqae Antonii Mariae Zanetti, Venice, 1750, pp. 43-44, pl. 22.
P. Cle´ment, Les Cinq anne´es litte´raires, ou Lettres sur les ouvrages de litte´rature qui ont paru dans les anne´es 1748, 1749, 1750, 1751 et 1752, Berlin, 1755, pp. 124-125 and 476.
P.D. Lippert, Dactyliothec, Leipzig, 1767, vol. 2, p. 206, no. 729.
T. Worlidge, A Select Collection of Drawings from Curious Antique Gems; most of them in the possession of the Nobility and Gentry of this Kingdom; etched after the Manner of Rembrandt, London, 1768, pl. 55.
P.D. Lippert, Supplement zu Phillip Daniel Lipperts Dactyliothec, Leipzig, 1776, p. 148, no. 304.
J. Bryant, Gemmarum antiquarum delectus ex præstantioribus desumptus, quæ in dactyliothecus ducis Marlburiensis conservantur, Choix de pierres antiques grave´es du cabinet du Duc de Marlborough, vol. 1, London, 1780, no. 21.
D. A. Bracci, Memorie degli antichi incisori che scolpirono i loro nomi in gemme e cammei con molti monumenti inediti di antichità statue bassirilievi gemme, vol. 1, Florence, 1784, pp. 108-113, pl. 20.
R.E. Raspe, A Descriptive Catalogue of a General Collection of Ancient and Modern Engraved Gems, Cameos as well as Intaglios, taken from the most Celebrated Cabinets in Europe, and cast in Coloured Pastes, white Enamel, and Sulphur, London, 1791, vol. 2, p. 649, no. 11701.
K. Levezow, Uber den Antinous dargestellt in den Kunstdenkmaelern des Alterthums, Berlin, 1808, pp. 77-79.
T. Cades, Descrizione di una Collezione di 8121 impronte in Stucca posseduta in Roma da Tommaso Cades, Incisore in gemme, cavate accuratamente dalle più celebre gemme incise conosciute che esistino nei principali Musei e Collezioni particolari di Europa, divisa in due parti…, Rome, 1836, p. 256, vol. 4, no. C 482.
C.W. King, "Notices of Collections of Glyptic Art Exhibited by the Archaeological Institute in June, 1861," Archaeological Journal 19, vol. 1, p. 106, no. 389.
M.H. Story-Maskelyne, The Marlborough Gems: Being a Collection of Works in Cameo and Intaglio Formed by George, Third Duke of Marlborough, 1870, pp. 84-85, no. 500.
C.W. King, Antique Gems and Rings, vol. 1, London, 1872, pp. xii, 18.
L. Dietrichson, Antinoos: Eine kunstarchäologische Untersuchung, Christiania, 1884, pp. 280-281, no. 95.
C.W. King, Handbook of Engraved Gems, London, 1885, p. 243, pl. 84, no. 1.
S. Reinach, Pierres gravées des collections Marlborough et d'Orléans, Paris, 1895, p. 114, no. 21, pl. 110.
F. Bartolozzi and G.B. Cipriani, One Hundred and Eight Plates of Antique Gems Engraved by Francesco Bartolozzi, London, 19th century, Series 1, no. 21.
A. Furtwängler, Die antiken Gemmen, Leipzig, 1900, vol. 1, pl. 65, no. 50; vol. 2, p. 362, no. 50.
Burlington Fine Arts Club Exhibition of Ancient Greek Art, London, 1904, pp. 253-254, no. 87, pl. CX.
G. Lippold, Gemmen und Kameen des Altertums und der Neuzeit, Stuttgart, 1922, p. 180, pl. 74, no. 2.
C. Seltman, "Greek Sculpture and Some Festival Coins" Hesperia 17, 1948, p. 83, pl. 27, no. 6; pl. 28, no. 20.
M. Yourcenar, “Carnets de notes des ‘Mémoires d’Hadrien,’” Mercure de France 316, December 1952, p. 427.
M. Yourcenar, Me´moires d'Hadrien: suivis des Carnets de notes des Me´moires d'Hadrien, Paris, 1953, pp. 448 and 450.
C. Seltman, Approach to Greek Art, London, 1960, pp. 112 and 130, pl. 96a.
C. Clairmont, Die Bildnisse des Antinous, Rome, 1966, pp. 30-32, pl. 1e,f.
F. de la Maza, Antinoo: el último dios del mundo clásico, Mexico City, 1966, pp. 285-288, pls. 32b-e.
M.L. Vollenweider, Die Steinschneidekunst und ihre Künstler in spätrepublikanischer und augusteischer Zeit, Baden-Baden, 1966, p. 79.
G. Richter, Engraved Gems of the Romans, London, 1971, no. 550.
P. Zazoff, Die antiken Gemmen, Munich, 1983, p. 321, pl. 95.5.
R. Lambert, Beloved and God: The Story of Hadrian and Antinous, London, 1984, pp. 242-243, fig. 7.
E. Zwierlein-Diehl, Glaspasten im Martin-von-Wagner-Museu der Universität Würzburg, Munich, 1986, pp. 253-254, no. 764.
H. Meyer, Antinoos, Munich, 1991, pp. 157-158, IC7.
J. Charles-Gaffiot and H. Lavagne, eds., Hadrien, Trésors d'Une Villa Impériale, Milan, 1991, pp. 261-262, no. 101.
G. Seidmann, "The Grand Tourist's favourite souvenirs: cameos and intaglios," RSA Journal 144, no. 5475, December 1996, p. 63.
G. Seidmann, "An Eighteeneth-Century Collector as Patron: The 4th Duke of Marlborough and the London Engravers," in Engraved Gems: Survivals and Revivals, Washington, 1997, pp. 263-264, 267-268, 275 and 277.
M. Goslar, "Antinou¨s, de la pierre a' l'e´criture de Me´moires d'Hadrien," Revue litte´raire en ligne, 1 February 2006, no. 40.
E. Zwierlein-Diehl, Antike Gemmen und ihr Nachleben, Berlin, 2007, p. 444, pl. 148, fig. 662.
J. Boardman, et al., The Marlborough Gems, Formerly at Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire, London, 2009, cover, pp. 21-22, 206 and 304-305, no. 753.
M. Henig, "Review: The Marlborough Gems," The Classical Review, vol. 61, April 2011, pp. 278-279.
H.J. Rambach, "The Antinous Braschi on Engraved Gems: an Intaglio by Giovanni Beltrami," LANX 15, 2013, p. 112.
M. Chehan, "Muses en abyme: Marguerite Yourcenar et les arts," in Quand les e´crivains font leur muse´e…, Bruxelles, 2017, p. 208.
J. Boardman and C. Wagner, Masterpieces in Miniature: Engraved Gems from Prehistory to the Present, London, 2018, p. 165, no. 151.
R.R.R. Smith and M. Melfi, Antinous: Boy Made God, Oxford, 2018, pp. 9 and 108, no. 14.
M. Magrini, ed., Lettere artistiche del Settecento veneziano: Anton Maria Zanetti, Venice, 2019, ns. 40-43.
Beazley Archive Gem Database no. 753.
Exhibited
Burlington Fine Arts Club, London, Exhibition of Ancient Greek Art, 1904.

Lot Essay

Superbly engraved on this unusually large black chalcedony gem is a portrait bust of Antinous, the young favorite of the Emperor Hadrian (76-138 A.D.), who drowned in the Nile in 130 A.D. Traditionally identified as depicting him in the guise of a hunter, Antinous wears a chlamys over his shoulders pinned in place by a circular fibula and carries a spear. His idealized facial features display a rounded chin, full lips and thick hair arranged in luscious curls that cover his ears and fall along his neck. Stylistically, this gem is exactly that of his main portrait types in marble. The extraordinary quality of the engraving has led many to proclaim this the finest surviving portrait of Antinous in existence in any medium. Some of the missing portions of his bust were restored during the Renaissance in gold. Behind his shoulders three letters are preserved, ANT […], plus a portion of a fourth letter and possibly parts of the others, the inscription either identifying the subject or perhaps an artist’s signature.

The Marlborough Antinous is one of the most famous gems to survive from antiquity and has a long list of owners since its rediscovery in the Renaissance. So great was the mania inspired by this gem that its first documented modern owner, Anton Maria Zanetti (1679-1767), who had pursued the gem for some time before acquiring it, supposedly saying that he would have sold his house to buy it. From him the gem was purchased by George Spencer (1739-1817), the 4th Duke of Marlborough, who wrote that it was “of an incredible beauty,” making it the highlight of perhaps the most extraordinary collection of antique gems ever assembled. The entire Marlborough Collection of gems was first sold at Christie’s en masse to David Bromilow in 1875. The collection remained intact until his daughter sold the gems, again at Christie’s, in 1899. The Antinous was acquired in that sale by Charles Newton Robinson, whose collection was in turn dispersed at Christie’s ten years later. Its owner for the first half of the 20th century is unknown. The gem would reappear at auction at Sotheby’s in 1952, and then it was acquired by Giorgio Sangiorgi, who considered it “excellent work of courtly art comparable with the most celebrated portraits of Antinous…”

About Antinous, ancient sources record that he was born near the provincial city of Bithynion (northwest Turkey) sometime after 110 A.D. He was a member of Hadrian’s large entourage on an inspection tour of the Empire. While travelling in Egypt in 130 A.D., Antinous drowned in the Nile, either the result of an accident, intrigue or suicide said to have been committed to counter a prophecy in order to save the Emperor’s life. In his honor, Hadrian founded Antinopolis, a new city on the east bank of the Nile. In addition, Antinous was posthumously venerated, in some places as a god, in others as a hero, throughout the Empire, including at the Imperial Villa at Tivoli. His memory was honored in temples, festivals, games, poems and hymns. The large number of surviving statues, busts, reliefs, coins and gems depicting Antinous indicate the popularity of his cult as promoted by Hadrian (see pp. 11-16 in R.R.R. Smith and M. Melfi, Antinous, Boy Made God).

As in the case of this gem, most of the surviving portraits of Antinous must date to the eight years between his own death in 130 A.D. and that of Hadrian in 138 A.D. Often Antinous was depicted in the guise of a pre-existing Greco-Roman or Egyptian god, depending on where the image was created. He can be shown as Osiris, as in the example from the Antinoeion at Hadrian’s Villa, now in the Vatican Museums (fig. 156 in T. Opper, Hadrian, Empire and Conflict), as Dionysus, also in the Vatican (fig. 166 in Opper, op. cit.) and as the hunting and agricultural god Aristaios, now in the Louvre (fig. 168 in Opper, op. cit.). In this last example, he holds a hoe over his shoulder, in a position that recalls that of the spear seen on the gem, and while it has always been called a spear in the vast literature, its identification as a hoe is equally plausible.

The use of black chalcedony for the gem may mean that this portrait was connected to mourning, as suggested by Furtwängler (op. cit.), and indeed the color was already emblematic of mourning for the Romans, who considered a dark toga pulla the appropriate garb for burial ceremonies (see p. 141 in J.L. Sebesta and L. Bonfante, eds., The World of Roman Costume).

Since it was first published by Zanetti in 1740, the gem has unceasingly been the subject of scholarly interest, particularly concerning its incomplete inscription. The first three letters ANT are clearly visible, and the beginnings of a fourth letter can just be made out. Lippert thought it was for Gnaeus, the name of an ancient gem engraver; Bracci regarded the gem a work by another ancient artist Anterote; Raspe believed the inscription could be completed as “ANTI[nous].” Levezow postulated an abbreviated “ANT[inous] H[eros],” a creative solution that drew few supporters. The discovery in 1907 at Lanuvium, south of Rome, of a relief depicting Antinous as the agrarian god Silvanus (now in the National Museum of Rome, fig. 30 in Smith and Melfi, op. cit.) lead to further speculation. The Silvanus relief is signed by the Greek sculptor Antonianos of Aphrodisias. Some years after its discovery, Seltman suggested that the Antonianos who created the Sylvanus relief had also engraved and signed the gem, believing the fourth letter in the gem’s inscription to be a “rather angular” omega. While the identification of the inscription may never be decided, what is clear is that the Antinous portrait presented here is one of the finest gems to have survived since antiquity.

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