Connect with us

DailyArtMagazine.com – Art History Stories

Erotic Art in Pompeii and Herculaneum (NSFW!)

Woman wearing a strophium bra during sex, Casa del Centenario, Pompeii, Italy. Wikipedia.

Bodies And Erotic Art

Erotic Art in Pompeii and Herculaneum (NSFW!)

Erotic art in Pompeii and Herculaneum is a phenomenon often omitted from textbooks about ancient history. These famous Roman cities destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 CE were discovered with preserved buildings and artifacts in the 18th century. Archaeological work has revealed that the cities were full of erotic artifacts such as statues, frescoes, and household items decorated with sexual themes. It was so shocking to scholars that a large number of erotic artifacts from Pompeii were locked away from the public for nearly 200 years.

Re-opened, closed, re-opened again and then closed again for nearly 100 years, the Secret Museum, which is a part of the National Archaeological Museum, Naples now presents erotic artifacts from the excavations that for years were perceived as obscene, or at least problematic.

What can we see in Pompeii and Herculaneum?

A lot of phalluses

Phallus set in a small temple (carved of tuff), from Pompeii, c.1-50 AD, photographer: Kim Traynor Erotic Art Pompeii Herculaneum
Erotic Art in Pompeii and Herculaneum: Phallus set in a small temple (carved of tuff), from Pompeii, c.1-50 CE. Kim Traynor/Wikimedia Commons.

The phalluses, as an independent phenomenon or as a body part of Pan, Priapus, or a similar deity were a common image. Priapus was the god of sex and fertility and was often shown with an oversized erection.

Fresco of Priapus, son of Aphrodite and god of fertility and growth, found in a villa in Pompeii
Erotic Art in Pompeii and Herculaneum: Fresco of Priapus, son of Aphrodite and god of fertility and growth, found in a villa in Pompeii, Italy. Theoi.

The phalluses might have also been treated as a ward against the evil eye, which sounds like a quite interesting concept nowadays.

Brothels

Fresco from the Pompeii brothel,  Erotic Art Pompeii Herculaneum
Erotic Art in Pompeii and Herculaneum: Fresco from the Pompeii brothel. Thomas Shahan/Wikimedia Commons.

In Pompei and Herculaneum you can see a lot of big erotic frescoes on walls. They might have been advertisements for brothels. Brothels also had many erotic paintings and graffiti inside. The most interesting of which was The Lupanar which had 10 rooms (cubicula, 5 per floor), a balcony, and a latrine.

Scene from the Lupanar Erotic Art Pompeii Herculaneum
Erotic Art in Pompeii and Herculaneum: Scene from the Lupanar, fresco in Pompeii. Gabinetto segreto, National Archaeological Museum, Naples, Italy.

Prostitution was relatively inexpensive for the Roman male, but it is important to note that even a low priced prostitute earned more than three times the wages of an unskilled urban laborer. However, it was unlikely a freedwoman would enter the profession.

Suburban baths

Two men and a woman making love; Pompeian wall painting, from one of the Therms (baths), the south wall of the changing rooms - painted around 79 BC. Erotic Art Pompeii Herculaneum
Erotic Art in Pompeii and Herculaneum: Two men and a woman making love; Pompeian wall painting, from one of the Therms (baths), the south wall of the changing rooms – painted around 79 BCE. Gabinetto segreto, National Archaeological Museum, Naples, Italy.

These pictures were found in a changing room on one side of the newly excavated Suburban Baths in the early 1990s. The function of the pictures is not yet clear: some authors say that they indicate that the services of prostitutes were available on the upper floor of the bathhouse and could perhaps be a sort of advertisement, while others prefer the hypothesis that their only purpose was to decorate the walls with joyful scenes, which was a popular thing in Roman culture.

Fresco from the suburban baths depicting cunnilingus Erotic Art Pompeii Herculaneum
Erotic Art in Pompeii and Herculaneum: Fresco from the suburban baths depicting cunnilingus, Pompeian wall painting. Gabinetto segreto, National Archaeological Museum, Naples, Italy.

There is also one more interesting explanation; that they might have served as reminders of where one had left one’s clothes. Well, whatever works!



Discover more curious erotica from different times:


Art Historian, founder and CEO of DailyArtMagazine.com and DailyArt mobile app. But to be honest, her greatest accomplishment is being the owner of Pimpek the Cat.

Comments

More in Bodies And Erotic Art

To Top

Just to let you know, DailyArt Magazine’s website uses cookies to personalise content and adverts, to provide social media features and to analyse traffic. Read cookies policy