Room III. Reconstruction of the Serapeum of the Canopus of Hadrian’s Villa, Tivoli

Room III still conserves part of the original eighteenth-century museum decoration, with walls painted in tempera depicting exotic environments and false alabaster, frames with cyma moulding and a ceiling painted with stars.
It houses various statues found in Tivoli in the area of Hadrian’s Villa, the renowned residence constructed at the behest of the emperor Hadrian (117-138 A.D.). They probably adorned Egyptian-inspired spaces inside the villa.
The layout of the room follows the hypothetical reconstruction of the Serapeum of the Canopus of the villa, as drawn up by the Egyptologist Jean-Claude Grenier, who was curator of the museum. In 1700 the tomb of Antinous was sought here, in the area defined as a Serapeum and therefore an Egyptian place of worship within the villa. It was a complex structure formed of a circular exedra and a long bath full of water. Grenier interpreted this as a symbolic reproduction of Egypt, from Upper (the bath) to Lower Egypt (the exedra), flooded by the Nile. In this place, an authentic Serapeum, the worship of the God Serapis would have been associated with the worship of Antinous, deified post mortem as Osiris-Antinous. The water of the Nile that inundated Egypt would have flowed from a colossal statue of Isis-Demeter, positioned in a large niche. Various other statues decorated the niches around the bath and the exedra.
Grenier’s theory has been questioned in recent years following more recent excavations in the villa, also in this sector. It would appear, instead, that this was a banqueting area, following the discovery of two triclinium-type pavilions, a stibadium and latrines. The name Canopus would therefore more correctly derive from the city on the Egyptian Delta, not far from Alexandria, known in the Roman Age as a place of pleasure, with a salutary atmosphere, good cuisine and plentiful entertainment.
In addition, more recent excavations carried out by the Archaeological Superintendency of Latium have identified the so-called Antnoeion, built by the emperor in memory of his favourite Antinous, who died by drowning in the Nile during his visit to Egypt as part of Hadrian’s entourage in 130 A.D. The Pincian Obelisk was likely to have stood in this area, along with the two large telamons also conserved in the Vatican Museums and numerous Egyptian statues unearthed in the villa.