History of Erotic Art

Roman Erotica

The excavation of the mummified city of Pompeii in 1748, while uncovering a perfect picture of Roman life, also uncovered a number of erotic objects which horrified the 18th-century excavators. Such was their disgust that they hid the finds from view in what became known as the Secret Cabinet (Gabinetto Segreto), a secret museum in Naples. It was possible to view these finds on payment but was only open to men who were of a mature age and of respected morals. These finds remained hidden until after 2000.

Pompeii Erotica Among the many artefacts found at Pompeii, there were vases, lamps and tableware that were made displaying sexual imagery and phallic symbols. Rooms were discovered in houses that were devoted to sexual practice, mirrors that may distort images to make the male member look bigger and art which included the voyeur as a means of exciting a couple. To the Victorians it was pornographic, while to the Pompeii population these objects and sexual referencing may just have been symbols of good luck and fertility.

In 1524, in Rome, a book was published that outraged the Roman authorities and church. I Modi or The 16 Positions was a book of erotic poems written by Pietro Aretino. It was accompanied by explicit paintings by the architect Giulo Roman and then engravings by Marcantonio Raimondi, a pupil of Raphael. The book's pictures showed people taking part in various sexual practices, but what angered the Roman authorities so much was that the illustrations depicted contemporary people. Up to this point it was accepted that artists used the charade of mythology and religion to depict scenes of an erotic nature. In 1527 it was republished under the English title of Aretino’s Postures. Again it was not well received and it is believed that no original copy exists. In terms of erotic history, it is the first time erotic text and imagery was combined.