Seeing such a range of artistic and archaeological artefacts from the Ancient World under one roof is a rare occurrence, not least one that centres on the idea of Roman sexuality. This exclusive exhibition – located in the Weston Gallery on University Park campus – focuses on images of homosexual and idealised love and how the Romans viewed themselves and their own sexual conduct within society. The collection was inherited and expanded by the British Museum, University of Nottingham, Nottingham City Museums, and the University of Cambridge.
The Romans are perhaps not the first populace that spring to mind when one thinks of sexuality, but this display debuts a myriad of artefacts from the Roman world which focuses on this exact subject. Not only does the exhibition delve into homosexuality in Ancient Rome but also love between gods and immortals; an ivory plaque from Alexandria can be found amongst the gems, depicting Jupiter as a swan copulating with Leda (AD1-200). It’s fair to say then, conventional ideas about sexuality are hard to glean from such an object.
The Roman World, like many facets in history, is difficult to date exactly, however to focus on historical accuracy alone would be to miss the point here. What these artefacts do offer is an overview of the essence and era of Rome in all its grandeur. The relics may not be as decadent and impressive as some great monuments associated with Ancient Rome, such as the Coliseum, Aqueducts of Agrippa, and Pagan Temples, but what they do succeed in doing is reviving the subject of sexuality. They are simple and yet impressive artefacts which to the untrained eye may appear overtly sexual, but to a Roman they expressed their ideology through subtle and widely accepted messages.
The collection is a superb achievement in the blending of artistic and archaeological forms; the displays of mythical sexual activity along with those of Roman reality contribute to its overall appeal. They provide historical documentation that only a visual medium can convey and emphasise the power of sexual relations. To miss the opportunity to immerse oneself in this melodious wealth of art and history from the people who, in many respects, gave us the world we live in today, would be a great shame.