The Hall of the Emperors
If last Saturday was a rather painful visit to the Vatican, then Sunday’s trip to the Capitoline Museums was pleasure: space, great display, some places to sit down and food for thought.
I had gone to see two things in particular. First was the statue of Alessandro Farnese, in the Palazzo dei Conservatori, dating to 1593.
This is a well documented statue, and a great example of the hybridity I am talking about in my book, because it is a bona fide ancient imperial body, believed to be (but probably not) Julius Caesar, combined with a late sixteenth-century head (so giving Alexander the legitimation of a Caesar). I have to say it is one of the least admired pieces in the Museum, but a favourite of mine.
The other was the Hall of the Emperors (above), one of the original installations of the “new” museum on the 1730s.
This is always talked about (and I had bought this line) as a frozen moment of eighteenth-century display — a line up of Roman rulers and their families in chronological order, from Julius Caesar on. It didn’t take much work, and a look at earlier drawings and photos to see how illusory that idea of continuity is. From the very beginning, pieces have been going in and out of the line up as they fall from, or gain, favour (there are now fewer than 60 busts in all, there were once more than 80). But even more interesting is the change of the centre piece.
What you see now is the so-called “Agrippina” which has been there since the early nineteenth century. But before that the emperors were I am afraid ogling the Capitoline Venus who took centre stage in the late eighteenth century (before her involuntary trip to Napoleon’s Paris). And before that it was a figure believed to be Hadrian’s boy friend Antinoos.
But which Antinoos? I have just been reading an otherwise good book (let it be nameless), which gets in a right muddle over this. Showing a drawing by Jean Grandjean of the so-called “Capitoline Antinoos” , it waxes lyrical about the imaginative aspects of this representation.
The drawing of the Antinoos statue isabove, but interestingly the background isn’t the Hall of the Emperors, but a much more general evocation of the museum as a whole — as if to put the central figure in the Hall of the Emperors at the centre of whole museum show.
A brave try. But you really have to be careful about the changing names. The “Antinoos” who stood amongst these Roman emperors was not “our” famous one as in the picture at all, but a completely different work of art (semi kneeling and semi clad), now neglected and no longer for a moment identified as Antinoos.
You have to be careful about these names (and the truth is that this drawing is too late anyway… done in 1780, the Venus was the star of the Hall by then).