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The Notion Of Modern Eroticism In The Imagery Of Ancient Greece And Rome.

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Sex and the City

The notion of modern eroticism arose from the imagery of Ancient Greece and Rome. Art was most commonly found in the homes of upper-class citizens and usually in the bedroom. This does not necessarily mean that the Romans associated eroticism with privacy. Pompeii provides most useful examples of both public and private art. The reason for this is that the volcano preserved vast amounts of useful evidence. It is most important to consider the social class of either patron or viewer, and the varying intentions of artists when analysing Roman art. Different classes had different attitudes towards erotic images; artists had various agendas. Art could be found not only in the bedrooms of villas or aristocratic dining rooms, but also in public baths and brothels. Many household objects also conveyed erotic imagery. It is also important to understand the principles of the Evil Eye: the Romans believed that jealousy and envy from another man's eyes was capable of sending forth particles that could make you ill or even kill you. For this reason much art attempted to counter these envious emotions. There were indeed differences between public imagery and the artwork of private civilians, however there were far more similarities. It shall be demonstrated that there were essentially 3 purposes for erotic art-to establish an amorous atmosphere through fantasy (often created by depicting wealthy lovers and not necessarily graphically depicting intercourse); to act apotropaically; and to provide amusement. It shall also become clear that contrast between the art of different classes was less common than might be expected even though art often focused on wealthy people.

The Villa under the Farnesia in Rome had many painted panels placed in the cubicula, providing examples of Augustan erotic art in highly decorated bedrooms of the upper classes (Fig 1). Here women were portrayed as tall figures with somewhat disproportioned heads. Erotic art was obviously most commonly found in the bedroom. Its primary purpose was to stimulate those copulating within the walls of the room, and for this reason couples depicted making love often have erotic images on their bedroom walls (Figure E). The villa at Farnesia was a lavish house decorated roughly around 19 B.C. .The House of the Beautiful Impluvium at Pompeii was decorated about sixty years later. Here a house in an insignificant town close to Naples still reflected the taste of the wealthy Roman . Figure 2 sheds light on the artist's approach to the female form. The woman is unnaturally tall with a tiny head and an ample rear. This approach was common in the first two centuries B.C. and continued after Augustus' death. The terra cotta statue of two women from Myrina confirms this artistic impression of the female body (Fig 3). In this case social status did not contrast the form of artwork.

The house at 1.13.16 in Pompeii confirms the irrelevance of class concerning the content of artwork and also the stimulating aspect of wealth. The villa had only 3 rooms on its ground floor and the building was constructed as cheaply as possible. In spite of this the house did have a summer triclinium attached to it- a feature rarely found outside of a luxurious villa. Here the north wall was originally overwhelmed with paintings as the owner of the house was clearly a man intent on impressing his guests. There were amateur representations of Venus and Priapus (Fig 9), possibly a marble head of Hercules painted dark red, as well as a crowned Dionysus. There is also an image of a couple engaged in intercourse with a door in the love-making chamber and drapery covering the tope edge of the painting (Fig 10). All these works would easily have been found in a wealthy man's villa. The House of Centenary at Pompeii offers examples of erotic imagery striving to associate itself with wealth. This house takes up an entire city-block and thus was owned by a wealthier man than say the Beautiful Impluvium. The figure from room 43 (Fig 4) illustrates more active love-making than the scene in the villa under the Farnesia. Another painting from an unknown house in Pompeii shows how the artist strived to portray the landscape as rich and vast conforming with the notion of wealth being part of the erotic fantasy.. (Fig 5).

This idea of fantasy in artwork was in fact sometimes affected by class differences. In Pompeii there were vast numbers of lupanaria and single room brothels known as cellae meretriciae. There is one particularly useful excavation at VII.12. 18-20. It is important to recognise the fact that wealthy Romans purchased slaves who took their fancy and thus had no need to frequent brothels. It was the lower classes who made trips to the lupanaria and this undoubtedly effected the artwork within these establishments. For example the image of Figure 11 found in a brothel is sexually stimulating for those with more deviated fantasies. Also common in the lupinar were pictures depicting scenes of love-making that were not in fact lewd. Figure 12 illustrates a couple engaged in physical contact but the scene is neither coarse nor similar to how copulation was practised in the brothel itself. Cellae meretriciae were essentially single rooms with stone beds on the roadside hidden from onlookers by simply a wooden shutter or curtain. Figure A illustrates one such room at VII.11.12. The room is extremely solitary and cold, hardly creating an amorous setting. In this respect the art served to lighten the atmosphere and compel the client to think of more amorous situations-it was fundamentally fantasy.

The erotic imagery in bedrooms obviously served to decorate, to demonstrate wealth through the quality

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