Collection of Pornographic Art from Antiquity (1785)


Veneres uti observantur in gemmis antiquis. By Pierre d’Hancarville; 1771; in Naples.

A collection of pornographic art from antiquity, presented by the French “art historian” Pierre-François Hugues d’Hancarville (1719-1805). A bit of a drifter, d’Hancarville ended up in Naples where he operated as an amateur art dealer and came in contact with the British ambassador to Naples, Sir William Hamilton (1731-1803). For a time d’Hancarville worked as an intermediary for Hamilton and assisted him in the acquisitions of various antiquities, including over 700 vases, as well as more risqué objects. Described as a libertine who was in and out of money trouble (as well as prison), d’Hancarville fell into trouble over the publication of his pornographic volumes entitled Monumens de la vie privée des douze Césars, Monumens du culte secret des dames romaines, and the work featured here, Veneres uti observantur in gemmis antiquis, which according to Joscelyn Godwin were published in 1780, 1784, and 1785 respectively. The works proved popular and spread in both the original French (featured above) and English translation (featured below). As to why the images are presented so small? D’Hancarville states in the preface that at such a size they are closer to the originals and, perhaps more importantly, that they “would have still been more indecent and they been otherwise.”

Housed at: Internet Archive | From: Getty Research Institute
Underlying Work: PD Worldwide | Digital Copy: No Additional Rights
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English version Housed at: Internet Archive | From: Wellcome Library
Underlying Work: PD Worldwide | Digital Copy: No Additional Rights
Download English version: PDF | Full Text | Kindle | EPUB