Vitrine EXTRA #3
exciting – fulfilling – startling
The series Vitrine EXTRA, which presents at regular intervals different ancient artefacts temporarily in the permanent exhibition of the Collection of Greek and Roman Antiquities at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, lets visitors explore the ancient world's approach to nudity and sexuality in its third edition.
Gem: Girl with Phalli
Hellenistic, 2nd cent. BC
Inv. IXb 1362
The tiny semi-precious stone, which was probably set in a ring, depicts a young lady, probably a maenad, one of the ecstatic companions of the god Dionysus, carrying a pendant in the shape of a phallus in her right hand and leading a flying phallus behind her on a ‘leash’ in her left. Phallus pendants were worn to protect against evil. On the gem, however, a playful approach to the theme seems to be intended. The maenad holds the ‘reins in her hand’ and plays with male arousal.
Depictions on works of art and everyday objects testify to an open approach to topics that we would in many cases describe as taboo in this form today. Heroic nudity of male bodies was omnipresent in the visual arts. Sport and physical training also usually took place without clothing.
The female body was initially always shown covered. Nudity appeared first in mythological images of maenads or nymphs in vase painting, and in sculpture with statues of Venus only in the 4th century BC.
Explicit depictions of sexuality were also initially limited to the world of myths and gods, but in Roman times they found their way into almost everyday imagery. The erotic wall paintings from the thermal baths in Pompeii, for example, are well-known today, as are the numerous clay lamps that must have belonged to the average household of Roman families. The objects on display highlight some of the aspects mentioned here.
With the kind support of
6 October 2023
to 11 February 2024
Collection of Greek and Roman Antiquities, Room XIV
Tue – Sun, 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Thursday, 10 a.m. – 9 p.m.