The Birth of “I Modi”
By the 1520’s Europe was in the grip of a revolution in communication: the printing press. By 1500, more than 20 million books had been produced across Western Europe alone. By the 1520s, the number was increasing as presses became ever more efficient. By this time, the printing revolution had gone beyond mere words. Now pictures could also be reproduced en masse as the technique of etching on copper plates allowed the reproduction of existing works of art to be mass-produced on paper.
Marcantonio Raimondi began his career apprenticed to a goldsmith. However, he quickly moved into the field of engravings, launching his new career making copies of the woodcutting of Albrecht Durer and experimenting with his own designs. In 1510, Raimondi moved to Rome. Here, he fell under the wing of Raphael, who trained him and acted as his patron. Together, the two men started a printing enterprise, with Raimondi making engravings based not only on Raphael’s work but other notable artists such as Michelangelo.
By 1524, Raimondi had a respectable reputation in his field. He knew Romano through his links with Raphael. So, to reproduce his work would have been perfectly natural. So, in 1524, as Romano made his way to Mantua to begin his new life, Raimondi published his sixteen Vatican sketches collectively in a book. The Volume quickly acquired several names: ‘The Sixteen pleasures”, De omnibus Veneris Schematibus, or more commonly Di Modi- ‘the ways.” All of the titles reflected the way the book was received: as a guide to the wide variety of sexual pleasures.
I Modi was a revelation. For the first time, for just a few coins, ordinary people could enjoy the sort of racy art on display on the walls of the wealthy and privileged. The book was ogled lewdly in taverns- or used for inspiration in bed. Here was how the other half had sex: not as an impulse to be endured or to feel guilty about or as a way of having children but as something to enjoy, and savor. It was the antithesis of what The Church had always told the general populace.
I Modi also displayed the blatant hypocrisy of an institution that preached the sinfulness of lust while its prelates looked at similar pictures on their private walls. So the book had to be suppressed. Pope Clement ordered every copy confiscate and destroyed. While Romano, the source of the original sketches remained untouched because he had produced his work for a private, privileged audience, the Vatican arrested Raimondi for daring to shed light on the secret mores of the aristocracy and the church. For a year he languished in the Vatican jail, his reputation and business in ruins. However, help was at hand.