Vesuvius Was Hot, But This New Exhibition of Erotic Art Excavated From Pompeii Is Hotter. See Images Here

Apr 22, 2022

It turns out the eruption of Mount Vesuvius was not necessarily the hottest thing to happen in Pompeii.

A new exhibition in Italy brings together the many examples of erotic art that once hung in the razed Roman city. Some 70 objects, including sexy frescos, marble sculptures, and bronze medallions, are on display in the show, which opens today at the Pompeii Archaeological Park. 

Many works have been excavated from the site in recent years, such as a wall painting discovered in 2018 that depicts Priapus, the god of fertility, weighing his penis on a scale. Another, unearthed in 2019, shows the Greek princess Leda being impregnated by a Roman god disguised as a swan.

Greek myths like that of Leda and the swan were commonly depicted in ancient Roman life, as were more quotidian scenes of intercourse, explained Gabriel Zuchtriegel, the director of Pompeii archaeological park, in an interview with the Sunday Times. 

“Eroticism was everywhere,” the director said, “in houses, baths, and public spaces thanks to the influence of the Greeks, whose art heavily featured nudity.”

With new discoveries like those in the show, experts are reconsidering their assumptions about the significance of erotic imagery to ancient Roman culture. “Scholars have tended to interpret any rooms decorated with these scenes as some kind of brothel,” Zuchtriegel told The Guardian. The images, he went on, were once thought to be like menus of the services offered at the site. 

But applying a modern-day morality to these scenes of the past is not always prudent.

“It looks a bit like this as you have scenes above each single door, but it is always very risky to make this kind of simplification,” Zuchtriegel said. “The ancient daily life was just as complex as our own, and it’s risky to reconstruct what happened in these places just by judging from the images.”



Illustrating the commonality of sexual imagery, curators have recreated Roman homes within the exhibition’s galleries. Visitors, including young ones (children are encouraged to attend), are also invited to explore the show through an interactive app, which helps contextualize the images and the figures that appear in them. 

See more examples of work on view in the exhibition below:

A sculpture representing Priapus, the Greek god of fertility. Photo: Marco Cantile/LightRocket via Getty Images.

An installation view of “Art and Sensuality in the Houses of Pompeii.” Photo: Marco Cantile/LightRocket via Getty Images.

A sculpture in the exhibition “Art and Sensuality in the Houses of Pompeii. Photo: Marco Cantile/LightRocket via Getty Images.

A large fresco in “Art and Sensuality in the Houses of Pompeii.” Photo: Marco Cantile/LightRocket via Getty Images.

A bas-relief on view in “Art and Sensuality in the Houses of Pompeii.” Photo: Marco Cantile/LightRocket via Getty Images.

“Art and Sensuality in the Houses of Pompeii” is on view now through January 15, 2023, at Pompeii Archaeological Park.