The Secret Cabinet of Banned Erotic Art From Pompeii

Atlas Obscura
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

Atlas Obscura on Slate is a blog about the world's hidden wonders. Like us on Facebook, Tumblr, or follow us on Twitter @atlasobscura.

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.

Advertisement

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.

TODAY IN SLATE

Culturebox

The Ebola Story

How our minds build narratives out of disaster.

The Budget Disaster That Completely Sabotaged the WHO’s Response to Ebola

PowerPoint Is the Worst, and Now It’s the Latest Way to Hack Into Your Computer

The Shooting Tragedies That Forged Canada’s Gun Politics

A Highly Unscientific Ranking of Crazy-Old German Beers

Education

Welcome to 13th Grade!

Some high schools are offering a fifth year. That’s a great idea.

Culturebox

The Actual World

“Mount Thoreau” and the naming of things in the wilderness.

Want Kids to Delay Sex? Let Planned Parenthood Teach Them Sex Ed.

Would You Trust Walmart to Provide Your Health Care? (You Should.)

  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 22 2014 9:42 PM Landslide Landrieu Can the Louisiana Democrat use the powers of incumbency to save herself one more time?
  Business
Continuously Operating
Oct. 22 2014 2:38 PM Crack Open an Old One A highly unscientific evaluation of Germany’s oldest breweries.
  Life
Gentleman Scholar
Oct. 22 2014 5:54 PM May I Offer to Sharpen My Friends’ Knives? Or would that be rude?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 22 2014 4:27 PM Three Ways Your Text Messages Change After You Get Married
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 22 2014 5:27 PM The Slate Walking Dead Podcast A spoiler-filled discussion of Episodes 1 and 2.
  Arts
Culturebox
Oct. 22 2014 11:54 PM The Actual World “Mount Thoreau” and the naming of things in the wilderness.
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 22 2014 5:33 PM One More Reason Not to Use PowerPoint: It’s The Gateway for a Serious Windows Vulnerability
  Health & Science
Wild Things
Oct. 22 2014 2:42 PM Orcas, Via Drone, for the First Time Ever
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.