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A satyr and nymph embracing each other, having intercourse | by Kintzertorium
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A satyr and nymph embracing each other, having intercourse

Lascivie: Engraving made by Agostino Carracci, Italy, 1585-1600.


► 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. The prints which have conventionally been seen as forming Agostino's Lascivie are on the whole less explicitly sexual than Marcantonio's and they represent biblical or mythological subjects, which give them an additional dimension of meaning.


It is unclear, however, what exactly the Lascivie were. Were they a series, or were they just a number of different prints with erotic subject matter, which were subsequently given a group name? Baglione wrote of Agostino having composed a small book, and this was to be echoed later by Bellori. Estimates of the number of prints that might be said to constitute the Lascivie vary. Richard Symonds thought there were 24, for he owned a: 'Booke of 22 pieces of Venus & Cupid & Satyrs etc. want 2 the plumet & the satyr chyavando as large as the paese'. The book formed part of the collection of prints that he acquired in Rome in the years 1650 to 1651. Bellori thought that Agostino's libretto consisted of 16 pieces. Malvasia seems to have been uncertain about the precise number, writing that there were either 16, or 17.


But they are not homogeneous in subject matter: two are biblical, six are mythological narratives, while five are unspecific satyr stories. The 1648 shop inventory of the De Rossi copperplates includes: '13 - Pezzi de lascive de Caracci in quarto' (Consagra, who argued that they were copies).


Their dating is also a problem. Arnoldus Buchelius bought one of them, the Venus chastising Cupid in 1599. It is sometimes said that Clement VIII rebuked Agostino for his part in the business, an idea that has been used to argue for a dating in the 1590s (Clement VIII was elected in 1592); but that depends upon a misreading of Malvasia's text, for his mention of a Pope Clement was not a reference to Clement VIII, but to Clement VII (1523-34) and to the events surrounding the scandalous I Modi of Marcantonio. On stylistic grounds, many of the core group of 13 could be dated to the mid to late 1580s.


According to his account, the printer and print dealer Donato Rascicotti, driven by a desire for profit, was the principal engine of their production and he continued to print and sell them despite many promises to destroy the plates. His address does indeed appear on the second state of the Orpheus and Eurydice.


However Malvasia's testimony may not be reliable, for he was trying to minimize Agostino's responsibility for the group. His conventionally censorious attitude may be gauged by his expressions of regret that Agostino was not castigated for what he had done.


Agostino himself may have anticipated trouble for none of them has any indication of authorship, nor any address in the first state. Venice, if that is where they were published, was not officially welcoming to erotic images. It may be recalled that the Senate, when granting Titian a privilege in 1567, revealed that they were concerned above all else with discouraging indecent images. And the prosecution of Domenico Zenoi and Camocio in 1568 for their involvement in publishing obscene sonnets accompanied by images shows that the legislation to that effect did not remain a dead letter.


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Taken on November 29, 2008