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The Sinner’s Grand Tour: A Journey Through the Historic Underbelly of Europe


May 25, 2011

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    Sex and travel have always been intertwined, and never more so than on the classic Grand Tour of Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries.  Today, the continent is still littered with salacious remnants of that golden age, where secret boudoirs, notorious dungeons and forbidden artifacts lured travelers all the way from London to Capri.  This lecture will recount how historian Tony Perrottet journeyed across Europe, using initial inspirations from the archives – in The New York Public Library, the National Library of Paris and the Archivio Segreto of the Vatican – to discover a string of legendary historical sites and relics, traditionally kept far from public view.  Perrottet will discuss how an 18th century text on Provence led him inside the château of the Marquis de Sade, now owned by French fashion icon Pierre Cardin.  A copy of The Pretty Women of Paris , an 1883 prostitute guide kept in the Rare Books Division of The New York Public Library, provided clues to finding the legendary “fantasy brothel” Le Chabanais, and to discover the lost “sex chair” of King Edward VII.   Ancient tomes on Renaissance art pointed the way to the Pope’s very own apartments in the Vatican, wherein lies the off-limits “Stufetta del Bibbiena,” a pornography-covered bathroom painted by Raphael in 1516.   

    En route, Perrottet visited a cache of forbidden Victorian erotica known as the Secretum in the British Museum, a haunted village descended from sex-crazed medieval heretics in the Pyrenées Mountains of France, the perverse relics of the 18th century sex clubs in Scotland, the prison cell of Casanova in Venice and exotic pagan shrines of Capri, still in use.   The talk will be enlivened by photographs from Perrottet’s research.
    A Writer in Residence in the Library’s Allen Room, Tony Perrottet is an Australian-born historian and travel writer living in New York City.   A former foreign correspondent in South America, he now specializes in arcane history, seeking out the corners of the world where the past survives in improbable ways.   Perrottet is a regular contributor to the New York Times, Smithsonian Magazine, Condé Nast Traveler, Slate and other publications, and is the author of four previous books, Off the Deep End, Pagan Holiday, The Naked Olympics and Napoleon’s Privates.

    The Sinner’s Grand Tour  will be available for sale and signing after the lecture.