The statue shows a nude young man with a cloak ‘chlamys‘, thrown over his left shoulder and wrapped round the left forearm. He is standing at rest in a contrapposto pose gazing downwards.
The statue is made out of a soft wood and was originally covered in a layer of stucco, which would have been painted most likely in white to imitate marble. With the stucco surface gone, we can beautifully see how the statue was made. The body was carved out of one piece of wood and the head and arms were attached separately to make it easier for the sculptor to work. The purpose was to make it look like a heavy marble classical statue. The white surface would cover any restorations, imperfections and from a distance it would have been impossible to see the difference. An added bonus was the weight of the soft wood; it could be placed on a lighter structure made of a different material than stone or marble.
Taken in consideration the material used and the technique of sculpting, it is not such a far stretch to imagine it on top of a balustrade in a Renaissance theatre. The best comparable is the Teatro Olimpico in Vicenza (1580-1585). It was designed by Andrea Palladio and it is today one of the three Renaissance theatres remaining in existence. (the other two being the Teatro all’antica in Sabbioneta and the Teatro Farnese in Parma).
The ancient Roman statue is also known as the l'Admirable, Admirandus, L'Antin, Hercules, Meleager, Mercury, Milo and Theseus.
It was apparently recorded for the first time on 27 February I543 when a thousand ducats were paid to 'Nicolaus de Palis for a very beautiful marble statue ... which His Holiness has sent to be placed in the Belvedere garden'. By April I545 it was certainly in the statue court. Writing a few years later Aldrovandi said that it had been found 'in our time' on the Esquiline near S. Martino ai Monti, but Mercati in the 1580s said that it had come from a garden near Castel S. Angelo- where the Palis family seems to have owned property. It remained in the statue court until 1797 when it was ceded to the French under the terms of the Treaty of Tolentino. It reached Paris in the triumphal procession of July 1798 and was displayed in the Musée Central de Arts when it was inaugurated on 9 November 1800. It was removed in October 1815, arrived back in Rome on 4 January 1816, and was returned to the Belvedere courtyard before the end of February.
The statue won immediate fame and it was already known as Antinous (a title frequently given to figures of male youths) in 1545 when Primaticcio, on his second visit to Rome from Fontainebleau, had a mould made from it for François Ier. Alternative theories that it might represent Milo or the Genius of a Prince were suggested not long afterwards but won little support. The Antinous was mentioned with enthusiasm in virtually all accounts of the most famous statues in Rome. It was reproduced in all the leading anthologies and was also much drawn by visiting artists. It was copied both in marble and in bronze and in rare occasions in wood, as we can see here. In the catalogue of the sculptures of the Musée in Paris it was described as 'one of the most perfect statues that has come down to us from antiquity - an opinion that continued to be very widely held for most of the nineteenth century.
Moreover, the Antinous was as popular with artists of all persuasions as it was with collectors and connoisseurs. Bernini was as enthusiastic as Duquesnoy and Poussin who (possibly with the assistance of Charles Errard) made measured drawings of it which were reproduced in Bellori's Lives of the Modern Painters, Sculptors and Architects. Two more measured engravings were published by Audran in his prints, made for the use of artists, on the proportions of the ideal human body, and in his portrait of Charles Lebrun (now in the Louvre) which Largillière presented to the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture in 1686 a reduced version of the Antinous (and also one, in bronze, of the Borghese Gladiator) was prominently displayed in front of the president's easel. Nearly seventy years later in his Amalysis of Beauty Hogarth (who, of course, never saw the original) claimed that in regard to the utmost beauty of proportion' it is allowed to be the most perfect of any of the antique statues'.
Before he saw the marble itself Winckelmann agreed that 'our Nature will not easily create a body as perfect as that of the Antinous admirandus'. He expressed passionate admiration of the statue for its sweetness and innocence of expression
which, following a critical commonplace, he contrasted with the godlike majesty of the Apollo nearby. It was Winckelmann, however, who challenged the theory that the statue portrayed Antinous, suggesting instead, with not much force and with no evidence, that it was a Meleager.
A number of alternative hypotheses were also made. Mengs proposed verbally that it was a beardless Hercules; for others it was a Theseus; while Visconti (who greatly admired the figure) produced a strong case, which won general acceptance in his own day and has retained it ever since, that the Antinous was in fact a representation of Mercury, as had been proposed much earlier by Stosch and rejected by Winckelmann. Visconti's most cogent argument depended on the existence of another version of the same figure wearing winged sandals and holding a caduceus. This version (since 1546 in the Farnese collection and acquired for the British Museum in 1864) had been noted without special enthusiasm by some writers and draughtsmen since the sixteenth century, but it seems not to have been related to the Belvedere Antinous before the Richardsons: they, however, accounted for the fact that it was "the very same Figure on the grounds (which they deduced from numismatic evidence) that Antinous was sometimes identified with Mercury. By the end of the nineteenth century, however, it was the Farnese statue in the British Museum which attracted most scholarly attention, but this in turn was eclipsed by the replica found at a tomb in Andros (now in the National Museum in Athens). Some scholars consider that these statues are copies of a work by Praxiteles, but the Belvedere Antinous is catalogued in Helbig as a Hadrianic copy of a bronze original possibly by one of his pupils.
Our provenance goes back to when it stood in the historic Chateau de la Crois des Gardes, “the jewel of the French Riviera”. this legendary Belle Epoque property is an homage to the glory days of the French Riviera. With unparalleled 360-degree views, the Lérins Islands and the Mediterranean Sea, and the snowy mountains, this property embodies the enduring romance of the Cote D'Azur. Situated high above Cannes on the lush Crois des Gardes hill, the property became infamous in 1955 as the set of Hitchcock's "To Catch a Thief", starring megastars Grace Kelly and Cary Grant. The iconic scene in the film showcases the drive up the winding mountain road that leads to the Château de la Croix des Gardes, passing through 25 acres of French formal gardens, filled with eucalyptus and cypress trees, dwarf palms, cacti, and aromatic laurel and lavender shrubs.
Legend has it that Grace Kelly immediately fell under the spell of this unique castle, positioned a few minutes from the port of Cannes and the Palais des Festivals. Dating back to the early 19th century, this villa was built alongside a series of outstanding properties in the region (Villa Rothschild, Castle Vallombrosa, and Villa Romée, among others) that became known as Quartier des Anglais.
In 1919, Swiss industrialist Paul Girod purchased the property and built a Florentine style villa atop the hill. In 1960 the property was purchased by Gustave Leven, Chairman of the French sparkling water company Perrier. The villa was decorated by the renowned decorator for the rich and famous ‘Colefax & Fowler’. They most likely bought the statue for the villa and as far as the provenance goes before that, we can only guess it stood somewhere in a now lost Renaissance theatre in Italy.