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Naples | Art & Culture | Exhibition & EventAugust 4, 2008

Neapolis Secret Cabinet

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Among the many interesting historical sites in Naples that I recommend visiting is the Archeological Museum. Here is a short list of my favorite collections with a special emphasis of the recently inaugurated "Gabinetto Segreto" (Secret Cabinet) with the museum links if you wish to know more.

The photography was taken by me on my visit, to give you a better sense of what this is really like... But if you wish, once in a lifetime, to take a trip and go back in time, this surely is the place to be.

The Meridian Room is spectacular. One of the most imposing roofed rooms in Europe, its construction was begun between 1612 and 1615 but was hindered by structural problems and was only completed in 1804. It's also the place where the G7 dinner took place back in 1994.

Ancient Naples : The collection is arranged in chronological order, contains some of the most important finds from the cemetery of Parthenope, the first Rhodian or more probably Cuman settlement situated on the hill of Pizzofalcone - which was occupied from the mid-seventh century to the mid-sixth century BC and from Greek and Roman Naples.

Frescoes and Mosaics from Pompeii:The collection, one of the most famous in the Naples museum in terms of the wealth of evidence, comprises part of the paintings detached from the houses of Pompeii and the surrounding area between the mid-eighteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth, and it represents an exceptional insight into the development of Roman painting from the Late Republic to the Empire.

House of the Faun The mosaics of the House of the Faun represent the most precious part of the Neapolitan collection in terms of quality and figurative variety and the fame which followed its discovery. The splendid works on display include the famous “mosaic of Alexander”, depicting the battle between Alexander the Great and Darius III.

Magna Grecia

The collection comprises a significant amount of materials discovered during the excavations carried out in the southernmost regions of the Bourbon Kingdom, ancient Magna Graecia, or which came to the Naples museum, especially in the nineteenth century, either through the acquisition or donation of antiquarian collections; of these, one of the most important and largest is the Santangelo Collection.

Farnese Collection -Sculptures , Bath of Caraca, Roman Busts -Stunning!! This important collection of antiquities, begun by Alessandro Farnese, the future Pope Paul III, was formed in the sixteenth century, as a result of the purchase and confiscation of the collections of noble families, donations and, above all, by finds from excavations conducted on behalf of the Farnese family in Rome.

Finally... The Secret Cabinet The collection, known historically as the “Gabinetto Segreto” (Secret Room), consists of a series of materials with an erotic theme assembled during the eighteenth century.

However, they were removed from public view for a long period because they were considered obscene and therefore became famous and an object of curiosity. One of the most famous pieces is the marble group with Pan and a goat, which was found in Villa dei Papiri in Herculaneum.

Ancient Roman culture had no sense of a shameful nature for all sexuality, and viewed sexually explicit material very differently to most present-day cultures. Ideas about obscenity developed from the 18th century to the present day into a modern concept of pornography. Although the excavation of Pompeii was initially an Enlightenment project, once artifacts were classified through a new method of taxonomy, those deemed obscene and unsuitable for the general public were termed pornography and in 1819 they were locked away in a Secret Museum.

These even included the un-explicit statue Venus Kallipygos, only erotic to 18th and 19th century eyes due to her partial nudity and the exposure of her eponymous "beautiful buttocks". At Pompeii, locked metal cabinets were constructed over erotic frescos, which could be shown, for a modest additional fee, to gentlemen but not to ladies.

This peep show was still in operation at Pompeii in the 1960s . The cabinet was only accessible to "people of mature age and respected morals", which in practice meant only educated males. The catalogue of the secret museum was also a form of censorship, where engravings and descriptive texts played down the content of the room.

The excavation of Pompeii was important to a range of powerful, and often conflicting, interests who saw the discovery of Pompeii as validating their own view of history, but at the same time excluded anything that did not fit the preferred model. Later Mussolini saw the excavation of Pompeii as validating the continuity of a Nova Roma. The presence of sexually explicit material, however, was problematic.

Re-opened, closed, re-opened again and then closed again for nearly a hundred years, the secret room was briefly made accessible again at the end of the 1960s before being finally re-opened in the year 2000. Since 2005, the collection is kept in the Museo Archeologico in this separate room. Enjoy the photo gallery!

Joelle's Tips:

The Museum: Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli : Piazza Museo, 19 Napoli / hours : 9.00 - 20.00/ Closed on Tuesdays - Tel. + 39.081.440166 - Fax 039.081.440013- e-mail:

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