From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
From the dawn of printmaking, prints have depicted erotic scenes and these prints are often the only surviving renditions of lost artworks. Beginning in Italy, there were I Modi (1520s) by Marcantonio Raimondi and the Lascivie (1590s) depicting the loves of classical gods by Agostino Carracci, work by Parmigianino, Giulio Bonasone, Jacopo Caraglio Rosso Fiorentino, Perino (del Vaga), Cristofano Robetta, Giulio Campagnola and Giovanni Battista Palumba. In the 17th century, there was the work of Rembrandt.
- "Explicitly erotic prints are known to have been produced from the fifteenth century on. The survival rate will have been particularly low because of the likelihood that they would be destroyed in outbreaks of moralizing. The most famous sixteenth-century example is the series of I Modi or the Positions, engraved by Marcantonio Raimondi, of which only a few mutilated fragments remain. -- Michael Bury
In the 16th century an attempt to print erotic material caused a scandal when Italians Pietro Aretino and Marcantonio Raimondi produced the I Modi in 1524, an illustrated book of 16 "postures" or sexual positions. Raimondi had actually published the I Modi once before, and was subsequently imprisoned by the Pope Clement VII and all copies of the illustrations were destroyed. Raimondi based the engravings on a series of erotic paintings that Giulio Romano was doing as a commission for the Palazzo del Te in Mantua. Though the two depictions were very similar, only Raimondi was prosecuted because his engravings were capable of being seen by the public. Romano did not know of the engravings until Aretino came to see the original paintings while Romano was still working on them. Aretino then composed sixteen explicit sonnets ("both in your pussy and your behind, my cock will make me happy, and you happy and blissful") to go with the paintings and secured Raimondi's release from prison. The I Modi was then published a second time, with the poems and the pictures, making this the first time erotic text and images were combined, though the papacy once more seized all the copies it could find. Raimondi escaped prison that time, but the censorship was so complete that no original copies have ever been found. The text in existence is only a copy of a copy that was discovered 400 years later.
The Loves of the Gods
The loves of classical gods, especially those of Jupiter detailed in Ovid provided many subjects where actual sex was the key moment in the story, and its depiction was felt to be justified. In particular Leda and the Swan, where the god appeared as a swan and seduced the woman, was depicted very explicitly; it seems that this - rather strangely - was considered more acceptable because he appeared as a bird. Nonetheless, the most famous painted depictions of the subject, by Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci were apparently later destroyed by the French royal family, and a further version by Correggio was attacked by a cousin of the King in a fit of depression. For a period ending in the early 16th century the boundaries of what could be depicted in for display in the semi-privacy of a Renaissance palace seemed uncertain. Michelangelo's Leda was a fairly large painting showing sex in progress, and one of the hundreds of illustrations to the book the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili of 1499 shows Leda and the Swan having sex on top of a triumphal car watched by a crowd. It is hard to imagine equivalently prominent works outside the specialized genre of erotica from about 1530 until the 19th century. After the early fifteenth century both large paintings for palaces, and small prints for collectors, cease to show either actual sex or explicit female pudenda.
Rembrandt's etchings include Ledikant, but also Woman Under A Tree, 1631, The Monk in the Cornfield, 1644-1648 , Jupiter and Antiope, Joseph and Potiphar's Wife. These rare erotic or ribald compositions have no equivalent in his paintings.