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Pietro Aretino (1492 - 1556)

Lifespan: 1400s - 1500s

Although there are depictions of erotic scenes in medieval illuminated manuscripts, it is not until the invention of the printing press that so called pornographic images entered into mass culture. A classic example of this is the scandal caused in the sixteenth century by Pietro Aretino and Marcantonio Raimondi, who produced the I Modi, an illustrated book of "postures" or sexual positions. [Jun 2006]

Related: Italian literature - bawdy - ribaldry - poetry - erotic art - erotic fiction - history of erotica

Contemporaries: François Rabelais

The image above by Giulio Romano (engraved by Marcantonio Raimondi) is supposed to be the only surviving image from the original "I MODI" collection. And so the images that follow are ones that directly take after the lost engravings. Since they first appeared in 1524 many artists have sought to recapture the classic decadence of the originals, and the images that follow are a choice sampling. --http://www.pornokrates.com/aretino.html [Aug 2004]


Pietro Aretino (1492 - 1556) was an Italian author, writer, poet and satirist.

He wrote a collection of 16 ribald poems called Sonetti Lussuriosi to accompany Giulio Romano's 16 explicit drawings.

Falling into the hands of the engraver Marcantonio Raimondi, the poems and drawings received wider distrubition, which lost him the public patronage of Pope Leo X. -- adapted from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pietro_Aretino [Jan 2005]

I modi

If anyone can be called the originator of European pornography, it is Pietro Aretino, the man responsible for what has been called the premier stroke book of the Western world. -- I modi. -- or "The Ways." Aretino’s work combined 16 sexually explicit sonnets with 16 engravings of couples having sex in varying positions. --http://www.libidomag.com/nakedbrunch/europorn01.html [Aug 2004]

Giuliano Romano

Giulio Romano drew some of the most beautiful pornography ever known, which was expertly engraved by Raimondi, a project that landed Giulio in jail in Rome. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Giulio_Romano [Aug 2004]

Pietro Aretino and his Sixteen Postures, 1524

The career break of Pietro Aretino (1492-1556) came when he wrote a mock last will and testament in 1516 for Pope Leo X's pet elephant, Hanno, complete with bequeathing the beast's genitals to one of the lustier cardinals. From then on, he became infamous in Italy as one of the lewdest and wittiest writers, the Renaissance mouth that roared.

In 1524, Aretino wrote sonnets to accompany the drawings of sixteen sexual positions by Giuliano Romano, Raphael's talented twenty-five-year-old pupil. Their collaboration produced one of history's most notorious works of erotic art.

Casanova in his memoirs mentions spending New Year's Eve 1753 with a nun doing Aretino's "straight tree" position, which he says featured the man standing and holding the woman upside-down for mutual oral sex.

Aretino barely escaped prison for his involvement in the Sixteen Postures, but it certainly didn't teach him to mend his ways. -~ from History Laid Bare, by Richard Zachs via http://www.pornokrates.com/aretino.html [Aug 2004]


Pornodidascalus, seu colloquium muliebre (c. 1535) - Pietro Aretino
Image sourced here.

Pornodidascalus Seu Colloquium Muliebre ...De Astu Nefario Horrendisque. Dolis. Quibus Impudicae mulieres juventuti. incautae insidiantur, Dialogus. Ex Italico In Histranicum Sermonem versus Ferdinando Xuaresio Seviliensis. De Hispanico In Latinum Traducebat, Ut Juventus Germana Pestes diabolicas, apud exteros...Caspar Barthims, Addita Expuonatio Urbis Romae Ab exercitu Caroli Quinti historia paucis nota...

Sonetti lussuriosi

A translation, ascribed tentatively and ridiculously to Oscar Wilde but more probably by Samuel Putnam, of Aretino's celebrated Sonetti lussuriosi, sometimes also known as La Corona di Cazzi, which were written to accompany a suit of erotic illustrations designed and engraved by Giulio Romano and Marcantonio Raimondi respectively in 1524. The sonnets originally numbered 16, but here there are 19, together with an introductory sonnet entitled 'A Garland of Pricks,' which is the 'Corona di Cazzi' of the alternate title. --http://www.alta-glamour.com/cgi-bin/glam/7123.html [Aug 2004]

The School of Whoredom (1500s)- Pietro Aretino

The School of Whoredom - Pietro Aretino [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

Hesperus Press, as suggested by their Latin motto, Et remotissima prope, is dedicated to bringing near what is far—far both in space and time. Works by illustrious authors, often unjustly neglected or simply little known in the English–speaking world, are made accessible through a completely fresh editorial approach and new translations. Through these short classic works, which feature forewords by leading contemporary authors, the modern reader will be introduced to the greatest writers of Europe and America. An elegantly designed series of genuine rediscoveries. --From the Publisher

Bawdy and thoroughly risqu&#eacute;, this 16th–century masterpiece is the work of Pietro Aretino, widely regarded as the originator of European pornographic writing. With a Foreword by Paul Bailey. Determined that her daughter should not be ignorant of the ways of men and love, Nanna seeks to “educate” the naïve Pippa. She tells of women—whores, housewives, and nuns all being essentially the same; and of how to win men—discreetly and with good manners. But mostly, she reveals to Pippa the secrets of her art as a courtesan. The ensuing dialogue, laden with satiric twists and naughty puns, offers a fresh and lively example of the harlot’s world, displaying a frankness that confides in today’s reader as shrewdly as it was intended in 16th–century Rome. Italian satirist and poet Pietro Aretino (1492–1556) was one of the most versatile writers of the 16th century; the author of plays, poetry, and letters, he is now principally remembered as the originator of European pornography. --Book Description via Amazon.com

If you want to read a work that is literally pornography, you are in luck. Remember, pornography literally, etymologically, is "whore writing", or writing about or by prostitutes. Of course we have grown away from this literal standard, but _The School of Whoredom_ (Hesperus Press) by Pietro Aretino meets it. It consists of a classic dialogue (from the time when dialogues where the choice way of explaining ideas in astronomy and philosophy) between a whore and her daughter who will become a whore. This makes it sound quite a bit coarser than it really is. While the book is not without frankness and the translator has not spared four-letter words, it is a sophisticated satire on the morals of men and women. It is full of jokes, robust humor at the expense of courtiers, clerics, men, women, and different ethnicities of the sixteenth century. It has some advice to a daughter that works just fine in modern and less meretricious settings.

_The School of Whoredom_ (written around 1535) is not a work like Aretino's famous _I Modi_, called the world's first "stroke book". While it treats of the erotic endeavors of men and women, it could hardly be called an erotic work itself. Basically, it is instruction more on how to be a courtesan than how effectively to engage in coitus. As such, it is more about manipulation of the emotions of men than of their anatomy, and might be read as a prescient call to feminist solidarity. Whoring, mother Nanna reminds daughter Pippa, isn't easy: "So, you see, becoming a whore is no career for fools, well I know it..." She also advises, "You'd need more skills than a doctor to be a courtesan." There is plenty of other advice, some proverbial. "Never mock at the truth and never do harm with a joke." "Don't take pleasure in upsetting friendships by reporting gossip; avoid scandals; and whenever you can make peace do so." By such means, Pippa is to ensure her position of relative esteem in society, but always she is to be mindful of the bottom line: "... a courtesan whose heart pounds for anything other than her purse is like a greedy, drunken tavern-keeper..." who eats his own fare instead of selling it.

While the liveliest parts of the book are the descriptions of ruses for parting punters from their extra cash, there are many pictures here of a vibrant society, one which valued good food and entertainment. Aretino's work shows they also liked satire. There is much here to expose those in power, and plenty that makes fun of the sexual peccadilloes from cardinals to monks and nuns. Nanna discusses the merits (or lack thereof) between Frenchmen, Spaniards, Romans, Florentines, and Germans, giving pride of place to the Venetians ("If I said everything they deserve to have said about them, people would tell me: 'Love has blinded you.'"). Nanna has triumphed over men for years, and is delighted with Pippa's prospects: "My heart swells so much with pride at seeing you at home in these affairs that I'm in raptures." Careful reading, though, almost five centuries later, shows she has instructed about far more than the ways of whoredom. --R. Hardy "Rob Hardy" via Amazon.com

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