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Sex and Sensibility at the British Museum
David Gaimster reveals the origins and contents of the British Museum's Secretum, a hidden repository of artefacts deemed pornographic and unfit for public gaze by Victorian curators.

Sex and Sensibility at the British Museum

Since the introduction of the printing press at the end of the Middle Ages with its ability to replicate the visual image, the dividing line between art and obscenity has been constantly changing. Today we are surrounded by the sexual image, on television, in magazines, on video and on our home PCs. Pornography is becoming an increasingly accepted part of British popular culture and remains the only business that consistently turns a profit on the net. But the political and moral dilemma between access to sexual culture and its regulation has a long heritage in Britain going back to the decades before the drafting of the first obscenity legislation in the mid-nineteenth century.

If museums are a physical metaphor for the way in which the present sees the past, then their collections reflect the cultural and moral attitudes of successive generations of curators in both their choice of artefacts and in the strategies used to classify them. Perhaps it is here that we can best trace the origins of public delicacy towards the erotic and the development of the strict division between art and obscenity. The British Museum ‘Secretum’ or ‘secret museum’, founded officially in 1865 in the wake of ...




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Articles in Volume: 50 Issue: 9
Sex and Sensibility at the British Museum
The Spitfire Legend
The Port Royal Earthquake
Britain 1600
Justice on Behalf of Heaven
Access to the Countryside
Teachers Rule OK
No Shadows
The Turin Shroud
The Sussex Network
Prize Writers
The Birth of Urho Kekkonen
The French Surrender Malta
California becomes a State of the Union
Digging for Joy
Cover image September 2000
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