The future Emperor Hadrian, Publius Aelius Hadrianus, was born in Rome on the 24th of January in 76 A.D. His father Aelius Hadrianus Afer was a Roman Senator and a native of the Roman settlement of Italica in Spain, while his mother, Domitia Paulina was from Gades (modern Cadiz). When, at the age of nine, Hadrian lost his father, guardians were appointed, one of whom was another native of Italica, the general Marcus Ulpius Traianus, who was soon to become the Emperor Trajan. At the age of eighteen the young Hadrian began his distinguished career of public, and later, military service. In 117 A.D., on his deathbed, Trajan officially adopted Hadrian as his son and heir.
Much of the modern view of Hadrian's reign (117-138 A.D.) has been corrupted by the immensely popular and well-researched historical novel, Memoirs of Hadrian, by Marguerite Yourcenar (1951). The recent volume by Thorsten Opper, Hadrian, Empire and Conflict, (2008) which accompanies the exhibition at the British Museum, has rectified many of the distortions. Contrary to Yourcenar, Hadrian was not a philhellenic pacifist, but rather a political pragmatist. At the moment of his succession, the Empire was in turmoil. Trajan's last Parthian campaign ended poorly, so Hadrian had no choice but to reverse course on Rome's expansion, renouncing recently acquired territories in order to solidify the Empire's borders. He traveled extensively to achieve this goal. His legions built impressive walls in Britain and Algeria, and vanquished the Jewish revolt led by Simon Bar Kokhba. He created a Panhellenic League and completed the Temple of Zeus in Athens in order to secure the loyalty of the Greek aristocracy.
For political and dynastic considerations, Hadrian initiated an unparalleled building program throughout the Empire. In Rome he built the celebrated Pantheon in the Campus Martius, the Temple of Venus and Rome in the Forum, another to the deified Trajan, and his own Mausoleum (now Castel Sant'Angelo).
In 130 A.D. his companion Antinous drowned in the Nile, which inspired the grieving Emperor to encourage the locals to venerate the deceased as Osiris. Hadrian founded the city of Antinoopolis in his memory and the Antinous cult spread throughout the Empire. A large Antineion flanked the entrance of Hadrian's enormous villa at Tivoli, and was likely the source for many of the Egyptian and Egyptianizing statues recovered there.
The Cobham Hall Hadrian was formerly in the Villa Montalto-Negroni-Massimi, Rome, and was acquired in the late 18th century by John Bligh, 4th Earl of Darnley, for his home Cobham Hall in Kent, England. At the time of its first publication in 1955, Vermeule informed ("Notes on a New Edition of Michaelis: Ancient Marbles in Great Britain," p. 133) that this important collection of ancient marbles had been entirely overlooked by modern archaeologists.
As was the taste during the 18th century, the statue was restored to create a "complete" figure. There can be no doubt about the authenticity of the head, based on the presence of a distinctive physiognomic detail, a diagonal crease in his preserved left earlobe. This feature may have been the symptom of coronary artery disease, and was generally not recognized by later copyists. The chiastic stance of the ancient muscular body recalls the works of the Greek sculptor Polykleitos. The addition of the mantle around the hips and over the arm suggests that the individual being honored was already deceased. The type was first adopted by the Romans during the late Republic, probably first for a figure of the deified Julius Caesar in the Roman Forum. For related examples from the Julio-Claudian period see the draped figure formerly restored with the head of a bearded god, no. 21 in Angelicoussis, The Holkham Collection of Classical Sculptures, and two statues in New York, nos. 416 and 417 in Picon, et al., Art of the Classical World in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The head and body of the Cobham Hall Hadrian are both approximately contemporaneous with each other, but it is impossible to know if the two parts had been together since antiquity.
The statue was acquired at Sotheby's in 1957 by the New Orleans dealer J. Wilson Raker, who sold it to IBERIABANK. Hadrian's Iberian ancestry was the inspiration for the bank's acquisition; the statue was placed on a pedestal outside the St. Peter branch of the bank in the town New Iberia until 1980, when it was covered by a domed glass enclosure.