This medallion was made by the Scottish gem engraver and modeller, James Tassie. It features an image of Antinous, the favourite lover of the Emperor Hadrian (born AD 76, died AD 138).
Antinous was a youth of renowned beauty from Bithynia in north-west Asia Minor (Turkey). Hadrian became enamoured with Antinous, inviting the youth to accompanying him on tours of his Empire. Antinous drowned in the river Nile in AD 130. Homosexual relationships were not considered unusual in ancient Rome. However, the intensity with which Hadrian mourned Antinous’ death was without precedent. The outpouring of grief on the part of Hadrian made public, what was normally kept private. The extent of their love for one another was indicated by reports that Hadrian wept for him ‘like a woman’. It is thought that Antinous might have sacrificed himself to the Gods to ensure Hadrian’s prosperity.
James Tassie (born 1735, died 1799) was a Scottish gem engraver and modeller. His best known original works were portrait medallions (round or oval tablets bearing figures), of well-known people. He invented a new medium, vitreous glass paste, with a physician, Henry Quin. His portrait medallions were modelled in wax and then cast in the white paste. The paste was also used to reproductions of antique gems and cameos. His products were sought by collectors all over the world. Catherine the Great was one of his most important patrons.