The Royal Museum at Naples,
BEING SOME ACCOUNT OF THE EROTIC PAINTINGS, BRONZES, AND STATUES CONTAINED IN THAT FAMOUS "CABINET SECRET"
BY COLONEL FANIN.
(Stanislas Marie César Famin, b. 1799 d. 1853)
The ancient Roman and Greek cultures had a very different attitude about sexuality than successive European cultures, more akin to that of the Kama Sutra. This, of course, was unimaginable to latter day Europeans, who rigidly compartmentalized body, mind and spirit, and to whom any sexuality was sinful and morbid.
Some of the best artistic expressions of this can be found in the recovered city of Pompeii. Pompeii was frozen in time by the volcanic eruption of Vesuvius in 79 A.D., and not unearthed until 1748. Pompeii was a seaside resort, devoted to the arts, relaxation, and the pursuit of pleasure. The excavators were horrified to discover erotic frescos, mosaics, statuary and phallic votive objects. The moveable erotic artifacts were taken to Naples and kept in seclusion in the Royal Museum. The erotic wall and floor art had lockable metal boxes constructed over them and were displayed to tourists for an extra fee (women and children excluded). When I visited Pompeii in the late 1960s, this peepshow was still in operation.
This work is a translation of a book by a 19th Century French antiquarian César Famin. In 1816 (according to a citation in the Library of Congress catalog) he published (under the initials M. C. F.) Musée royal de Naples; peintures, bronzes et statues érotiques du cabinet secret, avec leur explication containing sixty lithographs of the best erotic artifacts in the Naples collection. The name of the artist is unknown. The volume was published with the cooperation of the Naples museum in a very limited edition. The French authorities confiscated and destroyed most known copies of the original book. One ended up in the 'Private Case' of the British Museum. There is also a copy in the Special Collections of the Library of Congress.
In 1871, an English translation of Famin's work was published in England under the byline of 'Colonel Fanin'. Privately printed in a limited edition, this translation became one of the rarest erotic books. A photographic reprint of this was published in 1969 in paperback by 'Collectors Publications' (City of Industry, CA), under the title The Secret Erotic Paintings. Collectors Publications was a fly-by-night pulp publisher whose line consisted mostly of stroke books, 'marriage' manuals, pirate editions of Grove Press books, and a few reprints of rare erotic books. The 1969 paperback edition, with atrocious color separations, was the source of this etext and the accompanying images. Originally priced at $15 (an astronomical price for a poorly printed 150 page paperback at the time--a more typical price was 50 cents), used copies of this run up to $50 on the Internet.
Famin's text to accompany the images is deeply conflicted. He is obviously drawn to the subject matter and has a deep understanding of the significance of the artifacts. He also takes every opportunity to condemn Classical sexual practices and cultural values. Whether this is a figleaf or a sincere reaction is impossible to determine. However, in spite of the 'shocked, shocked' attitude in Famin's text, it contains quite a bit of valid and well-researched information, including quotes from classical authors and details of mythology, artistic methods, spiritual practices, architecture, and literature.
These pictures are fairly explicit and aren't for everyone. Few of the items on display here are excessively purient by contemporary standards. These are historical cultural artifacts, not pornography. Nonetheless, consider yourself warned.
Introduction © 2003 J. B. Hare