Archaeologists working on a conservation project at the Colosseum in Rome have discovered ancient frescoes of gladiators and erotic scenes, Agence France Press reports.
The brightly colored fragments were found on the walls of a corridor currently closed to the public for restoration. The scenes show gladiators being honored with laurels. There are also erotic scenes, although the researchers didn’t go into detail about what they showed.
The popularity of erotic art in the Roman Empire has led to the perception that it was a permissive society. Actually that was only half true. Many Romans were straight-laced and sexually conservative. A good parallel is the modern United States, where a large number of people frown on public displays of nudity or sexuality, while on the other hand Americans produce and consume vast amounts of pornography. Often these are the same Americans. A 2009 study found Utah has the highest per capita consumption of online porn.
Archaeologists are still working on uncovering the delicate pictures and hope to have them preserved and on view to the public by 2014.
Ancient, Renaissance, and early modern graffiti was also found, raising the question of how old graffiti has to be before it stops being vandalism and starts being of historic interest.
There are plenty of museums around the world dedicated to sex. Besides the now familiar Museum of Sex in New York, the Czech Republic has a museum centered solely on sex machines and Iceland has one concentrating on the study of phallology (complete with hundreds of… ahem… male specimens). In Peru, however, an archaeological museum shows that our fascination with sex is far from a modern phenomenon.
One third of the exhibition space at Museo Larco in Lima is devoted to showcasing the world’s largest collection of ancient erotic artifacts, an aspect of pre-Columbian life that many people might turn a blind eye to. Spread throughout two rooms, the artwork is so explicit that no one under the age of 18 is allowed to enter the halls. The Moche civilization, who flourished from 100 A.D. to 800 A.D., represented pretty much every aspect of their lives in ceramics, and the ways in which they made love (and, as the exhibit shows, self love) were not exempt from being embodied in clay.
As you’ll see in the gallery below, not much of what happens behind closed doors has changed over the ages. What the erotic art gallery really teaches us is sex is a part of life, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of – although, admittedly, it is something many of the museumgoers couldn’t help but giggle at.
Ah, Valentine’s Day. It’s a loaded holiday, one with high expectations. This year, though, I got into the spirit of things: I decided to rustle up a list of the world’s great sex museums. Even if you can’t pay a visit, their websites are informative and loaded with photos of exhibits. And best of all? You can indulge all by yourself, no relationship needed.
Erotic Heritage Museum, Las Vegas
The somewhat bizarre collaboration of a “Preacher and a Pornographer,” this pleasure palace houses over 17,000 square feet of artistically expressive erotica. Behold, ye Larry Flynt and “Ho-Down Mural” exhibitions.
Sex Machines Museum, Prague
Call me a perv, but how cool is this? A museum devoted entirely to the history and display of, to quote the website, “mechanical erotic appliances, the purpose of which is to bring pleasure and allow extraordinary and unusual positions during intercourse.” Okey dokey. There’s also a small theater for viewing old erotic cinema.
Museum of Sex, New York
It may not be the among the best-known of the city’s museums, but this monument to sex education, history, and cultural significance isn’t just for academics. It’s a good time, too. With rotating exhibits and virtual installations on everything from the “Sex Lives of Animals” and “Kink,” to a tribute to American pin-up photography, there’s something for everyone. Don’t forget to stop at the OralFix Aphrodisiac Cafe for an erotic elixir.
The Dutch are known for their rather laid-back attitude toward things the rest of the world tends to frown upon, which is one reason they’re so much fun. The famed “Venustempel” in Amsterdam is focused on “the theme of sensual love.” And hey–the four euro entry fee is a lot cheaper than the Red Light District.
Museu de l’erotica, Barcelona
Dedicated to the exploration of erotica in all its various forms: anthropological, archaeological, sociological, artistic, literary, and something called “plastic arts.” Hm. Located in Barcelona’s architecturally stunning La Rambla neighborhood. [Photo credit: Flickr user SWANclothing]
The Icelandic Phallological Museum, Husavik (northern island)
This collection of over “two hundred and nine penises and penile parts” represents nearly all of the land and marine animals native to Iceland. Not as creepy as it sounds, the museum provides a base for modern research on the study of phallology. If that offends you, please consider the multi-billion-dollar male sexual enhancement/aid industry.
[Photo credit: Elín Eydís Friðriksdóttir]
World Erotic Art Museum, Miami
WEAM is home to the largest collection of erotic art in the United States, including sculpture and art objects. Rest assured it’s a lot more tasteful than what you’ll see parading on Ocean Drive.
China Sex Museum, Tongli
Located 50 miles outside of Shanghai in a former fishing village, this museum is dedicated to “over 9,000 years of Chinese sexual history,” with over 1,500 exhibits and artifacts. I am most definitely curious about the “Women and marriage” exhibit. Does it have a headache?
Condom Museum, Nonthaburi (approximately one hour from…hee…Bangkok)
The Ministry of Public Health opened this little museum, located in the Department of Medical Sciences building, in 2010. Its purpose is to develop awareness about HIV/AIDS and eliminate negative public perception about condom use (ironic, given that Thailand is the world’s largest producer of condoms).
If all that condomizing leaves you famished, perhaps you’d like to grab dinner at Cabbages & Condoms in Bangkok? Founder Mechai Viravaidya is a sexual awareness activist who has promoted condom use for the last 30 years. Partial proceeds go toward projects for the Population and Community Development Association (PDA). Watch Mechai give a restaurant tour and explain his mission in the below clip. Have a “safe” Valentine’s Day!
Visitors to the ancient Roman city of Pompeii are already familiar with the eye-popping art in the brothel, but most miss another naughty site–Pompeii’s suburban baths.
The changing room in these baths had cubbyholes for storing clothing. Each one was decorated with lively scenes of straight sex, group sex, oral sex, and just plain acrobatic sex. The example to the right, with two men and one woman enjoying each other’s company, is a typical example.
While many Roman baths segregated men and women, this suburban bath was a mixed one, so perhaps it served as a place for amorous trysts. Another theory is that the pictures were advertisements for prostitutes. Both men and women in ancient Rome uses prostitutes, although of course the majority of customers were men. A third theory holds that the pictures were a way to make the customers remember where they left their clothes.
“Where’s my toga? Ah yes, in the cubbyhole with the bisexual orgy.”
A large amount of erotic art has been found in Pompeii, from explicit graffiti to phallic dinnerware, and the city had a reputation for looseness before Mt. Vesuvius erupted and covered it with ash in 79 AD. The ash preserved many artifacts and buildings, making Pompeii and her sister city Herculaneum two of the archaeological treasures of the world.
The baths were closed for decades after their discovery, first out of prudishness and then for conservation work. Only small groups with special permission may enter, so you’ll need to book through a tour. You can check out all the images here, and if you want to wander through the city check out Pompeii on Google Street View.
When you think of art exhibits, you probably don’t think of scenes of group sex, gigantic phalli, and barnyard animals, but the Eros exhibition ain’t your grandma’s art show.
In fact, when this art was made, your grandma wouldn’t be born for another two thousand years.
The Museum of Cycladic Art in Athens, Greece, has just opened “Eros: From Hesiod’s Theogony to Late Antiquity”. This exhibition is dedicated to ancient love in all its manifestations from the early years of Greek civilization to the waning of the Classical world during the decline of the Roman Empire. It includes 272 artifacts from fifty museums in Greece, Cyprus, Italy, and France, and will run for six months.
Eros was the god of love, but he was also the god of lust, jealousy, and all the other good and bad emotions connected with desire. One statue shows him dragging Psyche, the goddess of the soul, by the hair and hitting her with a mallet. That sums it up nicely.
The ancient Greeks were anything but prudes. The civilization that gave us theater, literature, poetry, and the ideals of democracy liked things a bit raw. Their art was full of images of sex, from the more vanilla varieties involving husbands and wives to older men with young athletes to randy farmers doing objectionable things with the livestock.
The Romans were more prudish than the Greeks, but still made room for the randy side of life. Although they turned Eros from a lascivious young man into a cute innocent cherub, their art often expressed deeper urges.
This exhibit isn’t like what you’d see in the Amsterdam Sex Museum; it’s history with a point. It shows us that the two great Western civilizations that created the foundation for our own culture weren’t all that different from us. Sure, they didn’t have the Internet, but they made up for it with paintings, poetry, and sculpture. The things that some people get shocked by nowadays have always been around. They aren’t a sign of the decline of morality or the approaching Armageddon. They are, like it or not, part of the human condition.