Pompeii is famous for its frescoes depicting intimate scenes. Of particular fame are explicit images of lovemaking which decorated not only the notorious bordellos but significantly the homes of both the rich and the less wealthy who aspired to the elite lifestyle.
The fresco rectreated here comes from a house in Pompeii belinging to the freedman banker L. Caecilius Iucundus. When the fresco was first revealed by archaeologists in 1875 it was considered too obscene to remain in situ as was cut from its wall and places in the Pornographic Caninet, also known as the "Secret Room", in the Naples National Archaeological Museum. The painting depicts a man and woman together, not necessarily sexually engaged, but rather in the moments just prior to or post lovemaking. The couple is situated in a bed with richly coloured coverings. The original fresco even had other opulent details such as the woman's yellow covering and jewellery inlaid with gold, which was lost during its extraction from the wall. A variety of interpretations have been put forward regarding the couple's relations in this scene. It is possible that the woman is rejecting the man as he desirously entreats her to stay in bed or that they have already done the deed and the woman is retiring for some refreshments from a servant while the man aids her retreat from the bed by pulling back the coveres. The serving boy or girl, typically features in such love scenes, symbolized wealth and luxury.
While the image is of a bedroom scene, it was not found in the bedroom, but in a colonnaded garden partico on the wall bewteen the entrances to two rooms used for entertaining guests. The larger of the two rooms was a triclinium (dining room), the smaller one a cubiculum (bedroom). Why place this rather intimate scene in such a conspicuous spot? Some scholars have argued that erotic pictures in Roman houses reflected the activities taking place in their surroundings. Based on this view, we can assume that the room was the scene of erotic congress as well as dining? Was the location of a bedroom right next door designed for convenient after dinner sexual engagements? While these possibilities cannot be entirely ruled out, they cannot be proven as the key purpose of the spaces. The mythological scenes decorationg the dining room do not seem to reflect the social act of dining. Also there is evidence from literary sources that the placement of cubicula in close proximity to dining areas was to facilitate meetings with high ranking guests.
The prominent and rather public loaction of the painting in the vicinity of entertainment areas of the house speasks not only to the home owner's taste, but also to his prominent place in local society. Just as the elite of the Roman capital adorned their homes and villas with decadent scenes of lovemaking in luxurious surroundings, the Pompeiian Caecilius Iucundus wanted his guets to think that his status and personal wealth, which were in fact much more modest, were comparable to those of high aristocracy.
Fresco of couple on bed
date AD 62-79
provenance pompeii, house of l. caecilius iucundus, north wall of peristyle between rooms o and p
medium painted wall plaster
dimensions approximately 45 x 40 cm
replica painted plaster on wood backing
by carrie allen