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Next entry: Pompeii

Previous entry: Vesuvius

Monday, 27 September 2010
An Italian Courtyard


At the Museo Archeologico in Naples, the most important archaeological museum in Italy. It was originally a cavalry barracks, and then housed the University of Naples from 1616 to 1777. There’s an excellent guide to the museum here.

The museum holds the so-called Secret Cabinet, of erotic frescoes which were retrieved from Pompeii.

Throughout ancient Pompeii, erotic frescoes, depictions of the god Priapus, sexually explicit symbols, inscriptions, and even household items (such as phallic oil lamps) were found. Ancient Roman culture had a different sense of shame for sexuality, and viewed sexually explicit material very differently to most present-day cultures. Ideas about obscenity developed from the 18th century to the present day into a modern concept of pornography. Although the excavation of Pompeii was initially an Enlightenment project, once artifacts were classified through a new method of taxonomy, those deemed obscene and unsuitable for the general public were termed pornography and in 1819 they were locked away in a Secret Museum. For good measure, the doorway was bricked up in 1849 (Garcia y Garcia et al. 2001). At Pompeii, locked metal cabinets were constructed over erotic frescos, which could be shown, for a modest additional fee, to gentlemen but not to ladies. This peep show was still in operation at Pompeii in the 1960s. The cabinet was only accessible to “people of mature age and respected morals”, which in practice meant only educated males. The catalogue of the secret museum was also a form of censorship, where engravings and descriptive texts played down the content of the room.

From Wikipedia, which reminds us that the practice of locking away “erotic” objects was also practised by the British Museum in London.

Posted by bigblue on 27/09/2010 at 08:34 AM
Filed under: EuropeItaly • (0) CommentsPermalinkBookmark or Share

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