This reduced-sized bust is based on a marble statue of a young nude male found at Hadrian's Villa in Tivoli. Bought by Pope Clement XII in 1733, the statue went on to form the nucleus of the Capitoline Museums, Rome, where it remains. In the 18th century it was considered to be one of the most beautiful Roman copies of a Greek statue in the world. It was then thought to represent Hadrian’s lover Antinous, owing to its fleshy face and physique and downturned look. It is now considered to be a Roman Imperial era copy of an early 4th Century BC Greek statue of Hermes. This replica is a reduced bust taken from the original, which was a full, life-size statue. Hermes was believed to have been the son of Zeus and Maia and the brother of Apollo. Although Hermes is best known as the messenger god, he was also the god of herds and flocks, music, travellers and accompanied the dead on Charon's boat to Hades.
Antinous drowned mysteriously in the Nile before his 20th birthday. The Emperor, in his grief, commissioned busts and statues of his beloved, and as the cult of Antinous spread throughout the Roman Empire, many more were erected by his subjects. Today Antinous has more sculptures to his name than almost any other figure from classical antiquity. The earliest of these finds were identified by comparison to tiny coin-portraits, each with an identifying legend, so that by the sixteenth century his aquiline nose and full lips were well known. Yet such was his appeal that as more and more heads, busts and statues were unearthed, there was a temptation to call those of any young pretty boy ‘Antinous’. Into the modern age, archaeologists and scholars have worked studiously to define the corpus of Antinous portraiture, basing their identification primarily on his hairstyle.