Publications

International Journal of Art & Design Education

The Warren Cup: Highlighting Hidden Histories

Volume 26.1   2007

FROST, STUART

 

Contemporary artists and art galleries have been more active than museums in representing gay and lesbian culture in public spaces in recent decades. However same-sex relationships have a long history that is reflected in the collections of museums that have material from the classical world. The culture of ancient Greece and Rome was less inhibited about the representation of sexual acts than many nineteenth-century museums would have liked. Objects with frank images of sexual acts were discreetly censored or hidden away in secret cabinets. This article draws on one object as a case study, a Roman silver cup dated to the early years of the first century AD acquired by the British Museum in 1999. The cup is decorated with beautifully realised scenes in relief decoration which show two pairs of males engaged in love-making, each pair consisting of one older male and a youth. The object could never have been acquired or publicly displayed earlier in the twentieth century. The vessel known as the Warren Cup (after a previous owner) provides a provocative stimulus for debate about male-to-male lovemaking. Discussion of the meaning of the scenes, and the possible reasons why they were represented on such a high-status object, generates more questions than answers. This uncertainty contributes to the power of this object to open up debate. This article will raise questions for educators and students to consider about the Cup, an object which society has only recently ceased to regard as pornographic or obscene.