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Erotic art in Pompeii

Ancient Pompeii was full of erotic or pornographic frescoes, symbols, inscriptions, and even household items. The ancient Roman culture of the time was much more sexually permissive than most present-day cultures and apparently had no concept of obscenity or that such art should be hidden from minors.

When the serious excavation of Pompeii began in the 18th century, a clash of the cultures was the result. A fresco on a wall that showed the ancient god of sex and fertility, Priapus with his extremely enlarged penis, was covered with plaster and only rediscovered because of rainfall in 1998. [1] In 1819, when king Francis I of Naples visited the exhibition at the National Museum with his wife and daughter, he was so embarrassed by the erotic artwork that he decided to have it locked away in a secret cabinet, accessible only to "people of mature age and respected morals." Re-opened, closed, re-opened again and then closed again for nearly 100 years, it was made briefly accessible again at the end of the 1960s (the time of the sexual revolution) and has finally been re-opened in the year 2000. Minors are not allowed entry to the once secret cabinet without a guardian or a written permission.

[1] As reported by the epd press agency in March, 1998.

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Erotic art

As previously mentioned, some of the paintings and frescoes became immediately famous because they represented erotic, sometimes explicit, sexual scenes. One of the most curious buildings recovered was in fact a Lupanare (brothel), which had many erotic paintings and graffiti indicating the services available -- patrons only had to point to what they wanted. The Lupanare had 10 rooms (cubicula, 5 per floor), a balcony, and a latrina. It was one of the larger houses, perhaps the largest, but not the only brothel. The town seems to have been oriented to a warm consideration of sensual matters: on a wall of the Basilica (sort of a civil tribunal, thus frequented by many Roman tourists and travelers), an immortal inscription tells the foreigner, If anyone is looking for some tender love in this town, keep in mind that here all the girls are very friendly (loose translation).

Also, in the Termae suburbanae (near Porta Marina - [1] (http://www.repubblica.it/gallerie/online/cultura_scienze/terme/6)), the only known Roman artwork describing a sapphic (lesbian) scene was recently discovered.

The function of these pictures is not yet clear: some authors say that they indicate that the services of prostitutes were availiable on the upper floor of the house and could perhaps be a sort of advertising, while others prefer the hypothesis that their only purpose was to decorate the walls with joyful scenes (as these were in Roman culture). The Termae were, however, used in common by males and females, although baths in other areas (even within Pompeii) were often segregated by sex.

Collected below are high quality images of erotic frescoes, mosaics, statues and other objects from Pompeii and Herculaneum. Lower quality images can be found on a separate page.

Erotic images from Pompeii

See also: Gallery of Pompeii and Herculaneum

Tile Mosaic, Satyr & Nymph, House of the Faun

Wall Painting, House of the Epigrams, Reign of Nero

Wall Painting of Priapos, House of the Vetti

An older reproduction of the same painting, from Schefold, Karl: Vergessenes Pompeji: Unveröffentlichte Bilder römischer Wanddekorationen in geschichtlicher Folge. München 1962. Schefold explains (p. 134) that the picture was locked away "out of prudishness" and was only opened on request. Also note the much more brilliant colors in this only slightly older version. Here is a retouched version of the younger, higher resolution image to use the same colors.

Tile Mosaic, Pan & Hamadryad

Wall mural of Mercury

Marble Bas-Relief[?]

Erotic objects from Pompeii

Bronze windchimes of "phallus-animals" that were apparently common household items. Note the child on one of the windchimes -- the large phallus was not seen as threatening

Bronze Sculpture, Stupidus

Erotic objects from Herculaneum

Marble sculpture of the God Pan copulating with a goat



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