Looking at Lovemaking: Constructions of Sexuality in Roman Art, 100 B.C. - A.D. 250
What did sex mean to the ancient Romans? In this lavishly illustrated study, John R. Clarke investigates a rich assortment of Roman erotic art to answer this question—and along the way, he reveals a society quite different from our own. Clarke reevaluates our understanding of Roman art and society in a study informed by recent gender and cultural studies, and focusing for the first time on attitudes toward the erotic among both the Roman non-elite and women. This splendid volume is the first study of erotic art and sexuality to set these works—many newly discovered and previously unpublished—in their ancient context and the first to define the differences between modern and ancient concepts of sexuality using clear visual evidence.
Roman artists pictured a great range of human sexual activities—far beyond those mentioned in classical literature—including sex between men and women, men and men, women and women, men and boys, threesomes, foursomes, and more. Roman citizens paid artists to decorate expensive objects, such as silver and cameo glass, with scenes of lovemaking. Erotic works were created for and sold to a broad range of consumers, from the elite to the very poor, during a period spanning the first century B.C. through the mid-third century of our era. This erotic art was not hidden away, but was displayed proudly in homes as signs of wealth and luxury. In public spaces, artists often depicted outrageous sexual acrobatics to make people laugh.
Looking at Lovemaking depicts a sophisticated, pre-Christian society that placed a high value on sexual pleasure and the art that represented it. Clarke shows how this culture evolved within religious, social, and legal frameworks that were vastly different from our own and contributes an original and controversial chapter to the history of human sexuality.
Clearly Argued, Captivating Book on an Unusual Topic
By A Customer - January 26, 2001
Clarke's book provides very clear analysis of the purpose and nature of ancient Roman erotica. He uses a wide range of sources--literature, instructive manuals, precedent in Greek and Roman art, setting, etc.--to back up his arguments, which he presents in a lucid style that is as pleasurable to read as it is easy to follow. I particularly recommend the chapter on erotic art in public locations in Pompeii.
Lavishly illustrated, unconvincingly argued
By A Customer - September 25, 1998
Clarke claims he is going to reach down from the Roman elite (which produced the literature) to the masses and to reveal a totally alien (to a presumably homogeneous "us") sexuality. The illustrations are plentiful and may be interpreted in many ways--so many and with so little evidence that any Romans saw any of the ways Clarke does that the reader is left to choose with no real guidance from the author. (And rather a lot of the images come from luxury objects so we remain in the world of representations for the upper stratum of Augustan Rome.)
Boobs and phalluses et al.
By A Customer - March 21, 2002
Only one problem (I think): Clarke doesn't really follow up very well on his early-proposed problem, i.e. just how it is that textual representations of sex don't allow us the same latitude of insight into Roman practices as visual works might otherwise. Still, it might be argued that these thousand-word-speaking pictures do the talking for him, and if that's the case, then I'm fine with that. Get this, though. It's a very worthy study.