(An excerpt from an ongoing essay that will not be in the stage show)

One of Carracci's plates from I modi

In 1527, the first work was published that might be labeled “pornography” in modern sense of the word, in that it was mass produced, sexually explicit and intended to stimulate arousal.

I modi (or The Ways) consisted of sixteen engravings of couples modeling various positions for copulation, each picture accompanied by a sexually explicit sonnet. The project had its origin in erotic frescos that Guilio Romano created for Frederico II’s Palazzo del Te in Mantua. Marcantonio Raimondi based the prints on these, and hawked them to elite clients in Rome.

However, when the Vatican caught wind of this venture, Raimondi was jailed. Romano claimed ignorance of the enterprise and escaped punishment; interestingly, his corresponding paintings were not considered transgressive because they were not intended for public distribution.

Then, Pietro Aretino, a writer who had won high connections by producing biting satires of Church corruption, took an interest in the case. He prevailed on his friends to secure Raimondi’s release, and then, he had the audacity to compose the verses that accompanied a second edition of the work. In the preface he wrote:
“…let the hypocrites take a flying leap; I’m sick of their thieving justice and their filthy traditions that forbid the eyes to see what most delights them. What harm is there in seeing a man mounted atop a woman? Must beasts be more free than we are?…”

The Pope ordered this edition destroyed. Only a few fragments of it remain in the British Museum, although Aretino’s text survives and Agostino Carracci illustrated a later edition. Marianna Beck recently wrote that this work evoked “an earthly utopia—a world of limitless sex and possibility, in which women expressed their desires as vociferously as men. His work is a paean to sex, a celebration of eros, and reflects a powerful reaction against centuries of Church repression.” Since pornography is a surrogate for repressed needs, it has frequently accompanied anti-authoritarian impulses in literature…