Antinous, residing at the Vatican.
The photo featured on this page is of a beautiful statue that stands today in the Vatican. The likeness is of Antinous, the boy lover and beloved favorite of Roman emperor Hadrian.
Hadrian commissioned countless works of art that immortalized Antinous; his face adorns many of Hadrian's minted coins and his body was hewn in marble across the empire.
Reading Shakespeare's sonnets, I often think of Hadrian and his Antinous.
Of 154 sonnets, there are 126 in which the "I" (the poet) speaks to a much younger man. Shakespeare would have been writing these poems at the tail end of his career, in his mid-to-late forties. He died at fifty-one.
It's clear that these poems are not just idealized male friendship, as many have tried to claim. W.H. Auden famously said "of course these are male-male love poems, but we must not say so."
The young man from the sonnets, whose identity is still unknown to scholarship, has been preserved and immortalized by Shakespeare, quite deliberately.
While Hadrian preserved his love in marble, Shakespeare preserved his on the page.
"In black ink my love may still shine bright"
- Sonnet 65