Bit under the weather this week, but the highlight of my week was a Collection Spotlight talk at the Lady Lever Gallery in Port Sunlight, Wirral. These talks are short but enjoyable and insightful--usually around half an hour, followed by questions--and they give the public a fantastic understanding of some of the objects on display at the gallery.
|The Lady Lever Gallery|
Dr Gina Muskett, curator of Classical Antiquities at the Liverpool World Museum, gave an insightful and engaging talk on one of the most magnificent pieces of sculpture on display in the North rotunda of the gallery: the statue of Antinous. Antinous, a youth favoured by Hadrian, even after his untimely death in the River Nile, was the subject of many Classical statues commissioned between 130 AD and the death of Hadrian in 138 AD. Such was the emperor’s devotion to Antinous that not only was a city in Middle Egypt, Antinopolis, named after him, but he was even deified, and given the locus of his unfortunate demise, linked with the Egyptian god Osiris. This kind of cultural fusion, intended to establish common ground between the Romans and their territories, was far from unique in the Roman world; there are many examples of Romans linking their deities with local cults in Britain, such as the goddess Sulis Minerva, a combination of the local deity Sulis and the Roman Minerva, who had a temple in modern day Bath. It was particularly interesting to hear about the deification of Antinous, since the deification of someone outside the Imperial family was very unusual. This led to conspiracy theories, suggesting an element of foul play in his death, though there is little evidence to support their claims. The lengths taken by Hadrian to deify his young friend demonstrate once again the devotion felt by the emperor towards Antinous, and the grief felt after his death.
|The Antinous Statue|
The talk not only covered the subject of Antinous, but also the history of the sculpture itself. Rediscovered in the late 18th century, during a revival of interest in the Classical World, the statue, purchased in Italy by Thomas Hope on the aristocratic Grand Tour, was eventually bought by Lord Leverhulme, the famous soap manufacturer, in 1917. As part of my volunteering at Liverpool World Museum, I have worked on several collections databases. While checking and updating records, I have often looked at the provenance of objects (such as a very sweet little oil lamp, which turned out to be from Pompeii, possibly smuggled out of the ruined town in someone’s pocket) and wondered where they came from before they were bequeathed to the museum: so to hear such a detailed account of this sculpture’s long journey to the Lady Lever Gallery, where so many can enjoy it, was very satisfying.
|An 18th century bust of Hadrian, also on display in the North Rotunda.|
|Some of the cracks and marks from the statue's restoration.|
The questions asked at the end of the talk were varied and thought-provoking, and I could tell that I was not alone in my excitement. I always find it interesting to hear other people’s trains of thought. In this case, the discussions and the explanations provided by Dr Muskett included; examples of other depictions of the young Antinous in the guise of an Egyptian priest (complete with headdress!), the use of court-authorised ‘types’ to ensure uniform representations of figures such as Antinous, and the importance of the judgement of the sculptor when restoring pieces of sculpture such as this, to mention but a few examples. The range of questions asked demonstrates that Classical sculpture and the Classical World draw interest from people from many different academic backgrounds. The level of interest and engagement at this talk also confirms the need for more talks like this, in order to satisfy the enthusiasm and curiosity of the public, and to encourage even greater interest in the collections that the Lady Lever Gallery has to offer.