Wiki defines Erotic Art as “a broad field of the visual arts including any artistic work intended to evoke erotic arousal, usually depicting human nudity and/or sexual activity.” We’ve had a connection about it for a long time, bringing together WHS where examples of Erotic Art can be seen. Both “Erotic” and “Art” have to be taken broadly here: it includes what we now consider overtly sexual depictions or symbols, but weren’t necessarily seen as such when they were made. The Meaning of Erotic Art seems to be a popular study object, shown by the number of Wikipedia pages and scientific articles devoted to it. Using these sources, I have been able to add some additional sites to the existing connection and better describe the ones that were already there.
Erotic Art is of all times, and the earliest examples can be seen in Rock Art across the world. While Tsodilo’s “Dancing Penises” may just be geometric designs, the Saharan sites of Tassili n'Ajjer and Tadrart Acacus hold numerous examples of explicit rock paintings. The artists specialized in depicting men with large or erect penises. <here is where I disappeared into a rabbit hole about Round Head Period rock art>. Later on, this feature disappeared from the common depictions of men and only “privileged individuals” were shown with an exaggerated phallus.
Both at Valcamonica and Serra da Capivara, rock art showing sex between a human figure and an animal can be found. The meaning here may lie in hunting rituals or the domestication of animals. The Rock Carvings in Tanum have scenes of sexual intercourse at the Varlö location (“the bridal couple”), as well as figures having sex with animals.
Mesopotamia and Egypt
Ashur had a temple for the cult of Inanna, the goddess of sex and prostitution, where many explicit sculptures have been found. The occurrence was much rarer in Ancient Egypt, though the Turin Erotic Papyrus scroll discovered at Deir el-Medina (Ancient Thebes) had twelve vignettes showing men and women in various sexual positions. Both however have been taken away to museums.
Etruscans, Romans, and Greeks
Two of the Etruscan tombs in Tarquinia have explicit sexual scenes: two men whipping a woman, and Hercules having sex with another man. These are explained as to keep demons away from the tomb. Similar scenes are more common in Roman and Greek settings, for example, the Columns with Phallus at the Stoivadeion in Delos and the Erotic Scene mosaic at Villa Romana del Casale. At Pompei and Herculaneum many scenes were discovered, notably graphic paintings in a brothel advertising sexual services. Most of the other original explicit artworks have been relocated to the National Archaeological Museum in Naples.
Christian and Islamic
With the rise of Christianity and later Islam, the display of sexually explicit scenes in public surroundings became rare. An exceptional remain is the Fresco of a bathing woman at Quseir Amra: a wall painting of a topless woman is visible on the walls of this private bathhouse of an Umayyad dignitary. It was possibly painted by a Christian or Egyptian artist. At the Cathédrale Saint-Étienne de Cahors (French Route to Compostela), an erotic scene between a man and woman can be seen above its portal.
Hindu and Buddhist
Your best bet nowadays to admire sexually explicit scenes at WHS will be in India. Here the erotic art is religious and executed on the temples themselves. Hindu temples at Pattadakal, Ellora, Hampi, and Konarak have them. The best examples are the sculptures at Khajuraho: its Devi Jagdambi temple has rows of erotic sculptures including mithunas (couples participating in Tantric sex).
Not all Asian countries can appreciate the display of Tantric murals: at the Mogao Caves, Chinese authorities have declared a number of the caves off-limits, because they are considered too sexually explicit for visitors.
For more background reading on this subject, I'd like to point out the Erotic Art Connection where I have linked to the articles that I came across during my research. And to more explicit pictures!
Els - 19 December 2021
Astraftis 19 December 2021
I remember very nice buddhist erotic reliefs at Mrauk U and am just waiting for its inscription to see it in the connection! This makes me wonder if there are other somewhere, e.g. at the Shwedagon pagoda or Pagan, even if time periods are very different...
Els Slots 19 December 2021
Kathmandu and Hampi were already there, see the full connection. Will add Sigiriya.
Jarek Pokrzywnicki 19 December 2021
Probably you could also add Sigiriya with its frescos...
Clyde 19 December 2021
You can add Kathmandu Valley too with erotic wooden carvings and Hampi in India.
Els Slots 19 December 2021
I've found it hard to find any references to erotic art at the Kakadu rock art sites, maybe because it's more taboo than at other places around the world where the images are from a very distant past. The image of Barginj at Nourlangie could count https://www.gettyimages.nl/detail/nieuwsfoto%27s/australia-barginj-woman-of-narmarkon-aborigines-rock-nieuwsfotos/549745031
Zoë Sheng 19 December 2021
Interested topic :)
You did not mention anything about Aboriginal and Maori art by the way, Kakadu has plenty and one is considered offensive to women so taking photos is highly advised against (allowed but you'd be the bad guy on the tour!) Totems frequently feature erect penises and get a good giggle out of any visiting high school group :p