Si quis non vidi(t) Venerem na...
pupa(m) mea(m)aspiciat talis et c...
Expressions of sexuality in the ancient world have been a topic of discussion and debate amongst scholars for centuries. The archaeological excavations at Pompeii and other Roman sites have brought to light numberous artworks, many sexual in nature. While the shocked viewer may be inclined to place images of Roman sex in the modern category of pornography, we must ask whether the Roman viewer considered them pornographic. The Sex? in the City exhibit seeks to address this question: Why did Romans produce these images and why were they deemed popular for the decoration of Pompeiian urban structures, in particular domestic ones? The exhibit suggest that the contexts in which these explicit images were displayed show that they conveyed meanings that were more than simply sexual; they tell more about social usages and religious beliefs than about the sexual activities of the Romans.
During extensive excavations of Pompeii in the 19th century, archaeologists discovered numerous sexually charged images decorationg the homes and businesses of the ancient urban inhabitants. These discoveries no doubt excited the scientific interest of those who first laid eyes upon them, but their potential to shock and offend meant that the images were deemed best removed and closed away in a Secret Room, also known as the Pornographic Cabinet, in the Naples Archaeological Musuem. The Secret Room has been opened and closed to the public several times over the course of almost two centuries until it was again re-opened in 2000. Some of the works, such as the Priapus fresco from the House of the Vettii, and other examples of Roman sexual art have been recreated for this exhibit.
The inspiration for this exhibit can be found in the largest of the pieces recreated, a panel from Room 5 of the Villa of the Mysteries at Pompeii. Many of the Museum's student volunteers have been fascinated by the artistic brilliance and the historical significance of this fresco. Most of the artefacts in the exhibit, including the Room 5 fresco, have been recreated by students in the Museum's volunteer program, whose artistic talents are displayed here. A sincere thank-you to these volunteers, who have made this exhibit possible. A special thank-you as well to the W.G. Hardy Museum of Classical and Near Eastern Antiquities at the University of Alberta and the Diefenbaker Canada Centre at the University of Saskatchewan for the loan of artefacts. Last but not least, the Museum of Antiquities extends its congratulations to the Department of History, which is celebrating its 100th Anniversary this year. The Museum also offers its deepest thanks to the Department for sponsoring this exhibit.
The department of history and the museum of antiquities
the musuem of antiquities has prepared the exhibit "sex? in the city: images of sexuality in roman domestic space" as its contribution to the centennial celebration of the department of history, "bringing history home," on october 2-3, 2009.
The department and the museum have enjoyed a happy and productive collaboration for the past 35 years. in part the museum had its origin in the department. it was p. michael swan, now professor emeritus of (ancient) hostory, and the art historian professor nicolas gyenes of the department of art and art history who in 1973 conveieved the idea of a museum of greek and roman antiquities here on the cananadian prairies, so that, far from mediterranean lands, far even froma major museum, students and people of saskatchewan could enjoy and learn from the arts of these cultures. thus was born the musuem of antiquites. Beginning with exact replicas of some of the most famous pieces of art from antiquity, like the Charioteer of Delphi, purchased from I'Atelier de moulages de Louvre, the collection has expanded over the years to include original artefacts, and the arts from other ancient cultures such as Egypt and the Near East. Long monadic, the Antiquities collection has had since 2005 a fine home in the restored College Building. The Museum's use has also evolved with the times. Originally, its main uses were as a teaching tool to demonstrate the origins and evolution of style in classical art, and as a collection of models for drawing classes. New theories and menthods have enriched the way we see classical art: we encourage students to look at the contexts of the production and display of art in order to understand the visual cultures in antiquity. The current exhibit Sex? in the City does just this, exploring the multi-faceted meanings behind the erotic arts displayed in domestic spaces in a Roman city.
Students and the faculty of the History Department are and have been enthusiastic users and supporteres of the Museum of Antiquities. Students in ancient history classes have since its inception visited the Museum as part of their course work and have used its art and artefact collection as bases for papers and assignments. They have aslo been enthusiastic participants in the Museum's student volunteer program, doing research on artefacts and their interpretation -- some of the fruits of their labour and on display here in the Sex? in the City exhibition. They have also led tours and run children's summer workshops. Many have been stimulated bu their musuem experience to pursue graduate work. The past and current directors of the Museum of Antiquities, Cathy Gunderson and Tracene Harvey, are alumnae of the History Department. The faculty of the History Department have also been key users and supporters of the Musuem. It is an excellent resource for hands on teaching -- there is nothing like seeing the thrill of students handeling ancient silver coins and trying to decipher their inscriptions. The Museum is also a space where faculty can display their research. Generous dontations to the Museum by faculty of the History Department over the years have enriched the collection enormously.
Professor Angela Kalinowski
Department of History -- Univeristy of Saskatchewan