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“The Sixteen Postures”: Sex At The Vatican

June 16, 2016

The legal kind.  A most interesting story that furthers the distance between how the Vatican wishes to be portrayed and how the facts prove the case for just the opposite.   This story was in my news feed today and as it was knew to me I post on CP.

Any pilgrims visiting Vatican City will spend some time in the Raphael Rooms. Decorated with iconic frescoes by Raphael and the artists of his workshop, these reception rooms in the Palace of the Vatican have left generations of tourists awestruck. They may also have inspired awe in the less high-minded.

According to legend, these Vatican showrooms, the apartments of the popes, once contained the now-lost artwork for the western world’s first pornographic blockbuster. (Note: explicit imagery accompanies this story with the link above.)

The Sala di Costantino is the largest of the rooms. It now depicts scenes from the life of Constantine, the first Roman emperor to convert to Christianity. Some art historians believe that other, more salacious sketches once adorned the walls. If those were still around, this room would be considerably more famous.

Though it is one of the Raphael Rooms, Raphael was dead by the time work began on it. At least some of the work was left in the capable hands of Raphael’s pupil, Giulio Romano. Soon much of Italy was buzzing over exactly what those hands were capable of doing. Romano designed palazzos and decorated the apartments of cardinals, but he gained infamy as an artist who drew a series of 16 explicit paintings of lovers in different sexual positions, or “postures.”

According to Lynne Lawner, an art historian who focuses on Renaissance Italy, “In 1523 Giulio began the decoration of the Sala di Costantino in the Vatican. It is said that in a moment of anger at Clement VII for a tardy payment, Giulio drew the sixteen postures on the walls of that unlikely place.”

This is not quite as insane as it sounds. Sex, art, and the Catholic church spent the 16th century as closely entwined as the lovers in Romano’s paintings. Rumor has it that Raphael was to be made a cardinal by Pope Leo X, but that he died of a fever caused by a night of sexual excess with his young mistress before the Pope could bring these plans to fruition. Records show that houses owned by the church or its officials were often occupied by young women with no last names, most likely the mistresses of church officials, kept quietly and anonymously near their lovers.

Even erotic art on the walls of the Vatican was not unprecedented. In 1516, a certain Cardinal Bibbiena earned himself a place in church history by commissioning Raphael himself to decorate a bathroom with naked nymphs bathing while anatomically correct satyrs spied on them.

Subsequent godly tenants whitewashed the bathroom, but art eventually won out over religion and Raphael’s paintings were uncovered and preserved—though to this day not made available to the general public. (Some art historians believe that Romano was actually commissioned to paint the sixteen erotic postures for Bibbiena, not Pope Clement VII, and that they depict 16 famous Roman courtesans–a sort of 16th century pin-up calendar.)

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