A Homosexual Scene at the British Museum

From the title of this post, you might think I’m going to talk about that scene from Maurice set at the British Museum. Considering there’s a movie adaptation of Maurice, there’s a chance I still might. No, in this Museum Adventure, I’m talking about another homosexual scene at the Museum. This one.

A homosexual scene on a Greek vase
A homosexual scene on a Greek vase

I found this vase in a part of the museum I had never visited before; room 20a. It’s a mezzanine floor that is always closed off whenever I seem to be around. I’ve been at the museum for years now, so finally being able to go up there was quite something!

The walls were densely crammed with Greek pottery and the mezzanine gave me a view of the Caryatid from the Acropolis that I had never seen before. I took my time, savouring the views and keeping an eye out for any interesting pieces.

It’s clear why this one jumped out at me!

The longer I looked, the more questions I had about the depicted scene; what’s going on with those crowns? what is that walking stick for?

As I usually do in times like this, I turned to the label for more information. It told me this:

“Homosexual scene


Dinos Painter, about 420 BC

From Capua.”

Then, in smaller type it said: Hamilton Collection. As in Sir William Hamilton, the well known diplomat, archaeologist, antiquarian, vulcanologist and husband of the notorious Emma Hamilton. I remember studying Hamilton briefly at university, but all that really sunk in was that he liked volcanoes.

Other pieces from his collection were in the room too, but nothing quite like this one.

I still had questions about the vase, so I did what I normally do when I want to find out more. I hit the books. In this case, these books.

An Introduction to Greek Art and A Little Gay History
An Introduction to Greek Art and A Little Gay History

Susan Woodford’s tome has never steered me wrong with Greek Art and Parkinson’s A Little Gay History is the go to book for this topic, so they felt like the right choices.

When I first read the label, I found the use of the word ‘homosexual’ very interesting. Parkinson avoids it as “it can sound as if it is reducing people to scientific curiosities.” He finds ‘gay’ to be the best fit, but avoids this for ancient societies preferring ‘same-sex desire,’as it has fewer modern overtones.

Annoyingly, I couldn’t find the vase in either book, so in the dark I stayed. The British Museum’s online collection database was much more helpful. The joys of the internet, eh?

I shared the image of the vase on my Instagram account, and received some interesting comments.

Found this #Greek vase at the British Museum today. They describe it as “a homosexual scene.” It was made in 420BC2

A post shared by Jack Shoulder (@museumadventures) on Feb 20, 2017 at 2:03pm PST


The conversation I had went like this:

  • nebulatropeCheck out the voyeurism too but the scene might be a parody of straight mating scenes…
  • museumadventures@nebulatrope maybe! There wasn’t much space on the label so they couldn’t go into details.
  • nebulatropeThis will be in the forthcoming LGBT trail at the BM in may. We’ll make sure it says this!
  • museumadventures@nebulatrope cool! 😄 looking forward to seeing the trail!

There’s a lot more to this scene than is apparent at first sight, or even first search. It’s encouraging to know that the British Museum team are actively looking into the LGBTQ histories of their objects, and I’m very much looking forward to seeing that forthcoming trail.

Now… I wonder how it wound up in, and more importantly stayed in William Hamilton’s collection.


7 Comments Add yours

  1. lyndakelly61 says:

    There’s an interesting chapter about the origins of this display by Richard Sandell (uni of Leicester) in this book: http://www.cambridgescholars.com/hot-topics-public-culture-museums-15
    I can email you a copy if you like??

    1. Hi Lynda – that would be fantastic! Thank you!

      1. lyndakelly61 says:

        No worries (at least I’m pretty sure it’s about that, if not it’s a great read anyways). Give me yer email address and I’ll send when I get a chance.

      2. Haha – Richard Sandell is always a good read. Best email would be adventuresinmuseumland@gmail.com 🙂 Thanks again Lynda!

  2. Roshni R. Nair says:

    I stumbled by your blog today and I am glad I did. You have a really interesting take on artefacts. I will surely take a closer look when I’m at the british museum the next time 🙂

    1. Hi Roshni, thank you. Have you had a chance to get to the British museum yet?

      1. Roshni R. Nair says:

        I am going to visit this sunday 🙂

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