The Secret Cabinet of Banned Erotic Art From Pompeii

Your Guide to the World's Hidden Wonders
Jan. 30 2014 11:35 AM

Pompeii Perversions: The Ancient Erotica Locked Away For Over a Century

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Citizens of Pompeii and Herculaneum believed penises provided protection, prosperity, and good luck, and incorporated them into everything from furniture to oil lamps. Frescos on the walls of homes depicted erotic encounters between wood nymphs and satyrs. Erotica was everywhere.

After the excavation of Pompeii and Herculaneum in the 19th century, the sexy objets were put on display in the National Archeological Museum of Naples. But when the future King of the two Sicilies Francis I visited with his wife and young daughter in 1819, he was shocked by the explicit imagery. He ordered all the erotic items removed from view and locked in a secret cabinet, where access could be restricted to mature gentleman of high moral standing.

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All of this fervor only served to make the collection more famous, and it became a rite of passage for European gentlemen to view the secret collection on their Grand Tours.

For a century and a half the secret cabinet remained out of sight, on view only during brief liberal periods under Garibaldi and again in the 1960s. The Gabinetto Segreto finally opened to the public in 2000 and moved into a separate gallery in 2005.

Among dozens of stone penises, phallic wind chimes, and naughty mosaics, one item became the most notorious: The Goat. It is a detailed carving of a satyr in flagrante delicto with a female goat, her cloven feet pressed against his chest as she gazes at him fondly.

More titillating collections to peruse:

Ella Morton is a writer working on The Atlas Obscura, a book about global wonders, curiosities, and esoterica adapted from Atlas Obscura. Follow her on Twitter.

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