The statue represents Antinous, the favourite of the emperor Hadrian, who died in the waters of the Nile (130 A.D.). In the area where the tragic event occurred the emperor founded the city of Antinopolis in his honour.
Antinous was deified and his cult as Osiris-Antinous rapidly spread through all the provinces of the Empire, especially between 133 and 138 A.D., the year of the emperor’s death. Around one hundred images of the youth are now known to archaeologists, who have classified them according to different typologies.
The iconographic model of this statue is that of Osiris-Antinous, by which it was intended to express the regal and divine nature of the figure. Other statues of the same type have been unearthed at Hadrian’s Villa, and are now dispersed in various museums throughout Europe. Their sacral aspect would reconnect them to the vast sacred area recently identified by archaeological excavations and known as the Antinoeion, a “special” place of worship consecrated to the young man, and possibly also including his tomb, that emerges along the final stretch of the paved road that leads to the so-called Great Vestibule of Hadrian’s Villa. The statue, unearthed in 1740 at the Casino Michili, may instead have come from this area of worship, where the image of Antinous would have been associated with other Egyptian deities.
Donated to Pope Benedict XIV, the statue was placed in the Capitoline Museum in 1742. Gregory XVI requested for it to be transferred to the Vatican in 1838 so it could be displayed in the new Egyptian Museum.