Monday, November 27, 2017

The Secret Museum or Secret Cabinet (Gabinetto Segreto) of Naples is the collection of erotic art in Pompeii and Herculaneum, held in separate galleries in the National Archaeological Museum, Naples, Italy, the former Museo Borbonico. "Cabinet" refers to a cabinet of curiosities, a well-presented collection of objects to admire and study.

Throughout ancient Pompeii and Herculaneum, erotic frescoes, depictions of the god Priapus, sexually explicit symbols and inscriptions, and even household items (such as phallic oil lamps) were found. The Ancient Roman understanding of sexuality viewed explicit material very differently from most present-day cultures. Ideas about obscenity developed from the 18th century to the present day into a modern concept of pornography (see History of erotic depictions). Although the excavation of Pompeii was initially an Enlightenment project, once artifacts were classified through a new method of taxonomy, those deemed obscene and unsuitable for the general public were termed pornography and in 1821 they were locked away in a Secret Museum. The doorway was bricked up in 1849. At Pompeii, locked metal cabinets were constructed over erotic frescos, which could be shown, for an additional fee, to gentlemen but not to ladies. This peep show was still in operation at Pompeii in the 1960s. The cabinet was only accessible to "people of mature age and respected morals", which in practice meant only educated men. The catalogue of the secret museum was also a form of censorship, as engravings and descriptive texts played down the content of the room.

The excavation of Pompeii was important to a range of powerful, and often conflicting, interests who saw the discovery of the buried city as validating their own view of history, but at the same time excluded anything that did not fit the preferred model. In the 1930s the Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini saw the excavations as validating the continuity of a Nova Roma. The presence of sexually explicit material, however, was problematic.

Re-opened, closed, re-opened again and then closed again for nearly 100 years, the secret room was briefly made accessible again at the end of the 1960s before being finally re-opened in 2000. Since 2005 the collection has been kept in a separate room in the Naples National Archaeological Museum.


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Further reading

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  • Michael Grant and Antonia Mulas, Eros in Pompeii: the Erotic Art Collection of the Museum of Naples. New York: Stewart, Tabori and Chang, 1997 (translated from the original 1975 Italian edition).
  • Walter Kendrick, The Secret Museum: Pornography in Modern Culture (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996) ISBN 0-520-20729-7
  • "Colonel Fanin" (Stanislas Marie César Famin), The Royal Museum at Naples, being some account of the erotic paintings, bronzes and statues contained in that famous "cabinet secret"(1871) On-line translation of Musée royal de Naples; peintures, bronzes et statues érotiques du cabinet secret, avec leur explication, 1836. Brief introduction by J.B. Hare, 2003.

External links

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  • Erotica collections photographs
  • BBC Radio: Pompeii

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