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CULTURE

Phallus of Pompeii: Italian art exhibition reveals ancient sexuality

Raunchy scenes may redden faces at a new exhibition in Pompeii on art and sexuality in the ancient Roman city, where sculptures and paintings of breasts and buttocks abound.

Phallus of Pompeii: Italian art exhibition reveals ancient sexuality
A vistor walks next to a "Hermaphrodite asleep" sculpture, in Pompeii's site during a new exhibition entitled "Art and sensuality in the houses of Pompeii" on art and sexuality in the ancient city. (Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP)

 Archaeologists excavating the city, which was destroyed by the eruption of nearby Vesuvius in 79 AD, were initially startled to discover erotic images everywhere, from garden statues to ceiling frescos.

Since those first digs in the 18th-century site, racy images have been found in taverns, thermal baths and private homes, from huge erect penises to a statue with both male and female physical attributes.

READ ALSO: Roman chariot unearthed ‘almost intact’ near Pompeii

It became clear that “this is a city where sensuality, eroticism, are ever-present,” Pompeii’s site director Gabriel Zuchtriegel told AFP as he stood in front of statues of bare-chested Centaurs.

The discoveries initially caused “dismay, embarrassment, and curiosity, and were seen by some as a great opportunity to think about the relationship with their bodies and nudity in a very different way”.

Pompeii’s site director Gabriel Zuchtriegel, poses during a new exhibition in Pompeii’s site entitled “Art and sensuality in the houses of Pompeii”. (Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP)

The Neapolitan King Charles VII, who financed the excavations, shut some of the more bawdy finds away in a secret cabinet in Naples, only showing them to those of proven moral standing, Zuchtriegel said.

READ ALSO: Italian archaeologists uncover slave room at Pompeii in ‘rare’ find

That secret cabinet still exists today in the archaeological museum in the southern Italian city.

The exhibition, which runs until January 2023 and brings together some 70 works, begins with the vast erect penis on a statue of the god Priape – a Roman symbol of fertility and prosperity.

This photograph shows a “Statue-fountain of Priapus, symbol of prosperity” during a new exhibition in Pompeii’s site entitled “Art and sensuality in the houses of Pompeii”. (Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP)

Priape and his phallus was traditionally placed in the atrium, the large central hall of Roman houses.

Suitable for children?

Visitors are told this has nothing to do with eroticism, “though the modern imagination gives it this meaning”, says Tiziana Rocco from the Pompeii exhibition office.

The smirking of embarrassed tourists is proof enough of that, despite some wishing it otherwise.

“I think modern American culture is a little bit too prudish, and uncomfortable with the human body,” says Seattle tourist Daniel Berglund.

“It’s nice to see ancient culture that was more open and willing to display and glorify the human body,” the 40-year-old said as he lingered in front of paintings from a “cubiculum”, or Roman bedroom.

Various scenes are shown, including a man and a woman having sex. Further on, a series of oil lamps shine light on images to make pulses race – though the curators have not forgotten that some people will be bringing their children to the exhibition.

“Families and children make up a large part of our public,” says Zuchtriegel, who has put together an illustrated guide for them.

READ ALSO: IN PHOTOS: Pompeii’s treasures go on display at reopened Antiquarium museum

“The theme may seem difficult, but it is omnipresent in Pompeii, so it must be explained to children in one way or another,” he said.

In the guide, a centaur – a creature from Greek mythology that is half man, half horse – searches for a mate.

A visitor walks during a new exhibition in Pompeii’s site entitled “Art and sensuality in the houses of Pompeii. (Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP)

On the way he meets Narcissus, who fell in love with his own image, Dionysus, the god of wine, and Hermaphrodite, the child of Aphrodite and Hermes, who had both male and female sexual organs.

“It’s a playful way to meet the different figures of Greek myths present in Pompeii,” Zuchtriegel said

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CRIME

Accused forger of Old Master paintings wanted in France arrested in Italy

A well-known art collector sought by French authorities for allegedly operating a sophisticated forgery network for decades turned himself in to Italian police on Friday, his lawyers said.

Accused forger of Old Master paintings wanted in France arrested in Italy

Giuliano Ruffini, 77, is accused of cheating museums, auction houses and individuals for decades with dozens of forgeries of old masters.

He turned himself in to police at Castelnovo ne’ Monti, a town in the Reggio Emilia region of central Italy, his lawyer Paul Le Fevre said in a statement.

Italian news reports said Ruffini, who lived nearby, was subsequently arrested by police.

Ruffini’s arrest comes after years of judicial efforts to extradite him back to France, following an investigation begun in 2014 and the issuance of a European arrest warrant five years later.

A Milan appeals court authorised Ruffini’s extradition to France two years ago to face charges of fraud and counterfeiting, but it was put on hold until a parallel procedure for tax evasion in Italy was complete.

Ruffini was acquitted in May of those tax evasion charges.

Well-known in the art world, Ruffini sold dozens of paintings since the 1990s by such masters as Parmigianino and El Greco to some of Europe’s most prestigious museums, including the Louvre, often through intermediaries.

His fakes also attracted wealthy buyers, such as the Prince of Liechtenstein, who bought a forged Lucas Cranach the Elder painting of Venus for seven million euros ($7.24 million).

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