Secret Museum, Naples
The term Secret Museum or Secret Cabinet (Gabinetto Segreto) principally refers to the collection of erotic or sexually explicit finds from Pompeii, held in separate galleries in the Naples National Archaeological Museum, Naples, Italy, the former Museo Borbonico. The British Museum also contained secret rooms.
Throughout ancient Pompeii, erotic frescoes, depictions of the god Priapus, sexually explicit symbols, inscriptions, and even household items (such as phallic oil lamps) were found. Ancient Roman culture had a different sense of sexual morals, and viewed sexually explicit material very differently to most present-day cultures. Ideas about obscenity developed from the 18th century to the present day into a modern concept of pornography. 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. For good measure, the doorway was bricked up in 1849. At Pompeii, locked metal cabinets were constructed over erotic frescos, which could be shown, for a modest 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 males. The catalogue of the secret museum was also a form of censorship, where 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 Pompeii as validating their own view of history, but at the same time excluded anything that did not fit the preferred model. Later Benito Mussolini saw the excavation of Pompeii 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 a hundred years, the secret room was briefly made accessible again at the end of the 1960s before being finally re-opened in the year 2000. Since 2005, the collection is kept in a separate room in the Naples National Archaeological Museum.
- For Roman views of sexuality, see Paul Veyne, "Pleasures and excesses" in A History of Private Life: From Pagan Rome to Byzantium, Philippe Ariès and Georges Duby, eds. (Harvard University Press) 1987:183-207.
- See History of erotic depictions
- Laurentino García y García, Luciana Jacobelli, Louis Barré, Museo Segreto. With a Facsimile edition of Herculanum et Pompéi. Recueil général des peintures, bronzes, mosaïques... (1877) (2001) Pompeii: Marius Edizioni On-line Bryn Mawr Classical Review
- Hare 2003[unreliable source?]
- 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 (Berkley: 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.
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