An exquisite pair of ‘Grand Tour’ bronze busts, one after the Lansdowne Antinous (modelled as Bacchus), the other one after the Capitoline Dionysus (Bacchus); on marble columns, by Georges Émile Henri Servant
Superb quality, original condition. Stamped GS for George Émile Henri Servant (1828-1890).
Why we like them
Coveted by the 19th century intellectuals and aesthetes, such exquisite objects were not mere decorations, but symbols of their owner’s classical values and refined taste.
Both busts are representations of the Greek god Dionysus (or his Roman counterpart Bacchus), a nature god of fruitfulness and vegetation, especially known as a god of wine and ecstasy. While Apollo was responsible for intellectual activities, Dionysus represented the sensual aspect of human life.
One is modelled after a Roman copy of a Hellenistic example, now preserved in the Capitoline museum in Rome. The god of wine is depicted as a beautiful young man, wearing a fillet across his forehead, his luxuriant curls of hair crowned with vine leaves. His downcast gaze is fixed in a calm expression, and his youthful features are characterised by softly modelled cheeks, a straight nose and full lips. This arguably feminine representation of the god has resulted in the bust’s former identification as a woman, usually a Bacchante or Ariadne.
The model for the other bust is known as the Lansdowne Antinous, found at Hadrian’s Villa near Rome in 1769, now in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge. Antinous, from the province of Bithynia on the Black Sea coast, was the beloved companion of the Roman Emperor Hadrian, and in October 130 CE he drowned in the River Nile. Hadrian was grief-stricken and, soon after, he declared that the youth had been reborn as a god. In death, as in life, Antinous’ appeal lay in his youth and beauty, and his face became one of the best known in the Roman world. The handsome, sensual features of this statue – with its round face, almond eyes, strong brows, full lips and thick, tousled hair – are found on many other representations from all over Hadrian’s empire. In art Antinous was often assimilated with other, more traditional gods. Sometimes he is represented as Apollo, sometimes as Dionysos (Bacchus). The identification between Dionysos and Antinous went beyond the visual. Like the Greek wine god, Antinous was believed to have died and been reborn.