Reactor

Wait, Raphael Painted Porn at the Vatican?

by Hrag Vartanian on June 27, 2011

A colorful view of the Raphael bathroom at the Vatican. (via Wikipedia)

I don’t know how I missed this detail in Renaissance art class, but here’s a first-hand account of visiting a Renaissance bathroom painted by one of the masters of the High Renaissance:

[Tony] Perrottet … [is] here to confirm it’s real: a bathroom in the papal apartments painted with erotic images by the Renaissance master Raphael.

Seeing the Stufetta del Bibbiena took exhaustive research, a flurry of e-mails, and tense interviews with Vatican officials.

… The two dozen images painted in 1516 — which feature the goddess Venus in various poses with Cupid — aren’t shocking by modern pornographic standards, but they are provocative and were meant to be erotic, Perrottet said.

Perrrottet, the author of a recent book on historic European erotica, The Sinner’s Grand Tour: A Journey through the Historical Underbelly of Europe, discusses some details of the work over at The Rumpus:

Rumpus: The Vatican bathroom had me thinking again of how it’s the mental aspect, the presence of opposing poles, that leads to so much of the excitement. The forbidden, the taboo …

Perrottet: The chase. When you get into the room, which was no small task, it’s an amazing room, but you’d see more striking hardcore stuff in porn any day of the week. TheSimpsons is ruder than most of the stuff in the Vatican bathroom, yet to have it right in front of the very citadel.

Rumpus: You speak of how the erect phallus on the depiction of Pan had been scraped out, effaced, and yet that rendered that section of the painting even more outstanding, more obvious. I love that irony.  The more you try to stamp it out …

Perrottet: The more it comes out some other way …

And then there’s an excerpt from his book about the bathroom on his blog:

In 1516, Raphael executed the drawings for two dozen raunchy scenes, which were painted on fifteen-inch stucco panels across the walls and ceiling of the vaulted bathroom. Some images the maestro painted himself, other were completed under his supervision by his workshop staff. Several were framed by seashells.

News of the entangled lovers, priapic satyrs and curvaceous goddesses spread around Rome, and friends of both Raphael and Bibbiena came to admire the work. But after the untimely deaths of both patron and artist in 1520, visits by outsiders grew less common. Thirty years later, even Giorgio Vasari, the famous biographer of Renaissance artists, was unable to gain access at all, lamenting that “the frescoes are still in existence, but are not open to the public.” Still, Raphael’s students circulated a number of engraved copies of the panels, providing tantalizing clues. The most notorious image involves the half-goat god Pan with a monstrous erection about to leap from some bushes upon a luscious naked nymph, who is casually combing her hair, her legs slightly apart.

My question, why the hell would you need erotic materials in a bathroom, unless … oh, nevermind.

  • Subscribe to the Hyperallergic newsletter!

Hyperallergic welcomes comments and a lively discussion, but comments are moderated after being posted. For more details please read our comment policy.

Previous post:

Next post: