Antinous, the lover of the emperor Hadrian, was certainly a beautiful young man. This was one of the reasons why, so soon after his early death, he was deified and a cult in the form of sculptures, reliefs and coins arose around him. This stunning youth of the ancient world was then rediscovered during the Renaissance, and for many centuries he was worshipped as a divine icon, an ideal of beauty. A statue of him was part of the rich figural decoration that adorned the Berlin Palace. From 2019, he will return to his ancestral place as a reconstructed sculpture among seven other allegorical Greek and Roman figures on the palace facade in the Schlüterhof courtyard. But what is actually the origin of the Antinous sculpture?
The copy of the sculpture of Antinous from the ruined Berlin Palace is enormous – almost three metres tall and weighing 1443 kilograms. The body is made of Silesian sandstone. Given the eventful history of the original Antinous sculpture from the Berlin Palace and, moreover, its mythological significance, his reconstruction poses an exciting task for the team building the new palace.
In 1543, a Roman copy of a Greek sculpture of Hermes was found near the Castel Sant’Angelo in Rome. It was then purchased by Pope Paul III for the Vatican’s sculpture garden. In 1624, the French sculptor Francois Duquesnoy used this as a model to fashion a small bronze that can today be admired in the Bodemuseum in Berlin. It was this work that Andreas Schlüter had in mind when he created his Antinous for the Berlin Palace in 1699. Schlüter’s sculpture was lost, however. A copy erected in the palace in the late nineteenth century was probably created in the workshop of Reinhold Begas. After suffering damage during World War II, but before the Berlin Palace was blown up in autumn 1950, this sculpture was salvaged and taken to the Bodemuseum along with other surviving sculptures.
In 2013, as part of the reconstruction of the Berlin Palace with three of its external facades and the Schlüterhof, negative impressions were taken, using silicon moulds, of all the original sculptures and fragments which had been preserved. The originals were then completely restored in preparation for being exhibited in the Humboldt Forum’s future sculpture hall. In 2017, the sculptor Andreas Hoferick restored Antinous’ missing left arm, and the stone sculptor Wojciech Rostocki then used a plaster cast with the arm added to make a sandstone copy. After 300 years, a complete Antinous sculpture will once again stand on the third column from the north in front of Gate 6 in the newly constructed Schlüterhof.
In fact, though, the sculpture is still only partially complete, since the model from the late nineteenth century was “snatched away” from the sculptor before he could finish it and put up on the facade – probably to coincide with the Great Industrial Exposition in Berlin in 1896. This historically half-finished state with its finely worked head and shoulders, pre-modelled body and roughly hewn back has been transferred to today’s sandstone copy. Even the original system of stipple dots could be exactly replicated because it was so easily visible on the original.
In the future, the original will be on display to the general public in the sculpture hall of the Humboldt Forum. Sculptors, members of the Committee of Experts and all others involved have been surprised how much art history and how many art secrets lie hidden under the black patina of the original work’s sandstone surface: “The figure speaks to us. We can understand how the old masters must have worked.” The reconstructed figure will be situated at the initial location of the original piece, in the Kleiner Schlosshof (Small Palace Courtyard), which is known as the Schlüterhof.
Built between 1698 and 1706, the Schlüterhof was considered one of the most beautiful examples of Baroque architecture north of the Alps. Andreas Schlüter based his design for the courtyard on a clear rhythm consisting of two small and one large avant-corps – architectural elements that jut out from the facade. He joined them with an elegant two-storey gallery construction. An approach from the west gives a view of the five-axis avant-corps containing the Large Stairwell, which used to lead to the elector-king’s parade halls. In the future this will form the entrance to the sculpture hall and the passage through to the bank of the River Spree. The eight colossal figures of Greek and Roman allegories will stand at a height of approximately eight metres as part of the reconstruction of the facade. Two of the eight figures, Antinous and Borussia, have now been reconstructed.
Like all the facades, the Schlüterhof, too, with its rich figural decoration, requires donations to make the construction possible. We are therefore delighted that an entrepreneur from southern Germany has decided to make a gift of a reconstructed figure to the Stiftung Humboldt Forum im Berliner Schloss. In choosing the statue of Antinous, he has himself become part of the history of the Berlin Palace.
You, too, can play an active role in the history of the Berlin Palace by supporting the reconstruction of the magnificent palace facade with your donation!