I Modi or The Ways was a book of engravings depicting sixteen sexual positions. Think of it as The Joy of Sex for Renaissance times. The book, also known as The Sixteen Pleasures, was published by the engraver Marcantonio Raimondi in 1524. Raimondi based his explicit illustrations on a series of erotic privately owned paintings by Giulio Romano. The book was widely circulated. It led to the first prosecution for pornography by the Catholic church. Raimondi was imprisoned by Pope Clement VII. All copies of the book were destroyed.
Our story doesn’t end there, as the poet and satirist Pietro Aretino heard of the book and wished to see Romano’s original paintings. Interestingly, Romano was not prosecuted by the Pope as his paintings (unlike Raimondi’s book) were not meant for public consumption. Aretino decided to write a series of erotic sonnets to accompany the paintings. He also successfully campaigned to have Raimondi released from prison.
In 1527, a second edition of I Modi was published with Aretino’s sonnets. Once again the Pope banned the book and all copies were destroyed—only a few small fragments of I Modi or Aretino’s Postures survive which are held at the British Museum.
In 1798 a completely new version of I Modi was published in France under the title L’Arétin d’Augustin Carrache ou Recueil de Postures Érotiques, d’Après les Gravures à l’Eau-Forte par cet Artiste Célèbre, Avec le Texte Explicatif des Sujets (The ‘Aretino’ of Agostino Carracci, or a collection of erotic poses, after Carracci’s engravings, by this famous artist, with the explicit texts on the subject) based on engravings by Baroque painter Agostini Carracci was published.
These 18th century engravings mixed classical myth and history within a contemporary setting—though their intention is still the same—to arouse and “educate” users to the joys of sex.