Erotic art of old Peru

Although we may have a very conservative view of sex these days, this erotic pottery shows its important role in the cultures of ancient Peru

Written by Michael Turtle

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle. He has been a journalist for more than 20 years and has travelled the world full time since 2011.

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle and has been travelling full time for a decade.

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Erotic Art Gallery, Museo Larco, Lima, Peru

A man and a woman, wrapped in an intimate embrace, connected as one. A natural act that should be celebrated as a bringer of life and an ultimate symbol of our reason for being.

These days we seem to have a very conservative view of sex but, for the ancient cultures of Peru, it was not something to be hidden away. They saw a power in the physicality of love that transcended just the act itself.

It represented a sacred offering to the gods and brought strength to their whole community.

Erotic Art, Museo Larco, Lima, Peru

That’s why, when you look at the artwork of many of the Pre-Columbian civilisations of Peru, you find sexual activity depicted. One of the most obvious ways they illustrated this was through their pottery.

At the Larco Museum (Museo Larco) in Lima, you can see this for yourself. Away from the main building of the museum, in a smaller section behind some vines, is the Gallery of Erotic Art.

Erotic Art, Museo Larco, Lima, Peru

I find it slightly odd that it’s in its own section, seeing as the people who made these pieces saw these depictions as something intertwined (quite literally) with the rest of their culture. But perhaps it’s a nod to our own sensitivities. There is a lot of shame in the idea of the erotic today.

And, it’s true, the artwork seems graphic and a bit shocking by today’s standards. Not only are various forms of sexual activity portrayed in full detail, but they often involve demons or gods.

This, however, is one of the reasons why researchers are able to say that this artwork has a deeper significance than just being Peruvian pottery porn. There are rituals behind the images and they’re related to everything from agriculture to funerals.

Erotic Art, Museo Larco, Lima, Peru

Not everything about this art is known by today’s researchers, though, and you can use a certain amount of personal interpretation when looking at them.

Do they depict actual people or is it slightly more symbolic than that?

Were these pieces displayed only in places where rituals were held or were they a more accepted general form of art?

How did people living in these cultures behave in their everyday lives in relation to sexual activity?

Erotic Art, Museo Larco, Lima, Peru

The Larco Museum’s own description of the gallery is interesting in itself and says a lot about how our culture interacts on an academic level with these ones. It says that the Erotic Art Gallery “offers a unique and fascinating opportunity for the study of sexuality, free of our own myths and prejudices”.

That’s probably a good way to think about it as you have a look through this collection of my photos from the gallery.

Erotic Art, Museo Larco, Lima, Peru
Erotic Art, Museo Larco, Lima, Peru
Erotic Art, Museo Larco, Lima, Peru
Erotic Art, Museo Larco, Lima, Peru
Erotic Art, Museo Larco, Lima, Peru
Erotic Art, Museo Larco, Lima, Peru
Erotic Art, Museo Larco, Lima, Peru
Erotic Art, Museo Larco, Lima, Peru

5 thoughts on “Erotic art of old Peru”

  1. This pottery is fascinating – and beautiful. And I agree, totally different from the way we think about sex in our own culture.

    I remember seeing the sculpture of Pan and the Goat (from Herculaneum) in the British Museum, which is actually a surprisingly tender erotic sculpture of the god Pan with a goat. It’s weird that the sculpture now has to be covered in warning signs about its ‘sexual content’.

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  2. We really enjoyed visiting the Museo Larco and the exhibits they had there. The erotic pottery section was enlightening and was a good reminder to have an open mind and not let expectations cloud your experience. We could just assume it’s all pornographic, but as you point out, it could and probably does mean so much more.

    Did you wander around the archives at all? That was a real treat since most museums keep them closed off from the public.

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