Art Around the World

Roman Erotica Exposed

By Tom Gross, August 01, 2000

A collection of sexually explicit art from Pompeii and Herculaneum, which was locked away nearly 200 years ago when it shocked Prince Francis, the heir to the Neapolitan throne, is to open to the public in Naples. Prudish attitudes which have prevailed since then are finally to be overturned, despite vociferous protests from the Roman Catholic Church, which has accused the museum authorities of “reconstructing a brothel.”

Ancient art features strikingly explicit sexual imagery. Unlike modern pornography, however, which is generally ugly, this art is rich in beauty. The works include erotic objects from Pompeii and Herculaneum, the Roman cities that were destroyed when the volcano, Mount Vesuvius, erupted in 79 A.D.

The pictures, including various images of the male phallus, were painted or engraved on a wide array of objects in the ancient world bracelets, necklaces, lamps, bedroom walls, shop fronts, tavern signs, and so on. They were widely regarded as a good luck charm in Roman times.

For the past two centuries, strict puritanical attitudes meant the 206 pieces of art kept in a closed room in the Naples Archaeological Museum were deemed too lewd for public display. Organizers say the public is now to be given “free and full access” to view the art world as it was 2000 years ago, “without the prejudices of our own times.”

Article copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.