Secretum (British Museum)

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The Secretum or secret museum was a section of the British Museum created officially in 1865 to store all historical items deemed to be obscene.[1]

History[edit]

Many items considered obscene were kept under key as early as 1830.[1] One of the earliest artefacts was the Statue of Tara which was hidden for thirty years from the 1830s.[2] The Secretum was officially created in 1865 to store all historical items deemed to be obscene. It is said to have been formally created in answer to the requirements of the Obscene Publications Act of 1857.[1]

From the 1960s onwards, the artefacts were removed from this special collection and incorporated to the pertinent sections in the rooms open to the public. Nowadays only few items remain under key in the Cupboard 55 and 54 in the Department of Medieval and Later Antiquities.[3] Among many other items, it previously contained the collection of ancient erotica given to the museum by George Witt (1804–1869), physician and collector of phallic antiquities. Inaccessible by the public, it was a repository for exhibits of an erotic nature.[4]

A more recent example of problematic content is the Warren Cup which features scenes of homoerotic acts. The cup was offered to the British Museum but because of the subject matter it was thought to be too contentious to purchase. The cup was eventually purchased at a much higher price and is now one of the museums important artefacts.[5]

Appearances in popular culture[edit]

The Secretum may be the inspiration for the "secret annexe" of the British Museum, the base of operations for "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" in the eponymous series of comics. Exhibits there include a yahoo skull (from Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels and given the scientific name Homo gulliverus) and statues labelled "Cult of Ayesha" (from H. Rider Haggard's She), continuing the high game of literary allusions throughout the series.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Gaimster, David (2000). "Sex and Sensibility at the British Museum". History Today 50 (9). Retrieved 14 May 2012. 
  2. ^ Episode 54 - Statue of Tara, BBC, retrieved 25 July 2014
  3. ^ Perrottet, Tony. "The Pervert's Grand Tour". Slate. Retrieved 14 May 2012. 
  4. ^ Petrides, Olivia (March 2009). Anthem Guide to the Art Galleries and Museums of Europe. Anthem Press. p. 321. ISBN 978-1-84331-273-4. Retrieved 17 October 2010. 
  5. ^ "The Warren Cup". The Times. 12 May 1999. "Mr Sandy Martin, McWhirter Works of Art: In the early 1960s I bought the Warren Cup, a Roman silver wine goblet (report and photograph, May 5), and offered it for sale at £6,000. In those days (before the enactment of the Wolfenden report) the homosexual scenes decorating the cup precluded its acquisition by any museum and most collectors. Now, thirty-five years or so later, it is being acquired by the nation for Pounds 1.8 million and its true "value" as a work of art is now realised." 

References[edit]

  • Johns, Catherine (1982). Sex or Symbol: Erotic Images of Greece and Rome. 

Coordinates: 51°31′08″N 0°07′37″W / 51.519°N 0.127°W / 51.519; -0.127