The Secret Histories of Naples

Among the artworks and sculptures recovered from Pompeii were a number of sexually explicit frescoes and statues, considered scandalous at the time. These “dirty” works of art were removed to a “secret cabinet” in Naples, locked away from the general public for decades. In the mid 20th century they were made accessible by appointment only to a limited number of people—but not to women. More recently, however, these artworks have been made available to the general public within the spectacular Naples’ Archaeological Museum. We will visit this “secret cabinet” to see what we can glean about gender and sexual norms in ancient times. After our visit to the Archaeological Museum, we will take a tour of a seemingly different but in fact oddly similar “archaeological museum”—the Bourbon Tunnels, which (much like those things recovered from Pompeii) contain everyday objects discarded as trash from the 19th and 20th centuries, but now preserved as an historical record of those eras. In our trip down into the tunnels we will ask similar questions as we asked in the Archaeological Museum: what can historical artifacts tell us about the gender and sexual ideologies of their times?

Academic objectives:

  1. Explore the “Secret Cabinet” in the Archaeological Museum, consisting of a variety of frescoes and statues depicting sexually explicit scenes
  2. Consider the cultural norms of gender and sexuality in antiquity and contrast them to contemporary beliefs and representations
  3. Explore the “archaeological” remains of a more recent culture (19-20th century Italy) as found in the Bourbon tunnels, and consider the ways in which gender and sexuality are “archived” in everyday objects.