From image to word: the making of Pietro Aretino's satire in I sonetti lussoriosi (c. 1527)

Lavery, Hannah (2013). From image to word: the making of Pietro Aretino's satire in I sonetti lussoriosi (c. 1527). Genre, 33 pp. 117–148.


The political and religious context of early sixteenth century Rome is crucial for our interpretation of Aretino’s production of the Sonetti lussoriosi (c. 1527). Without this, we might mistake the sonnets as simple bawdy, when in fact Aretino’s exploration of the relationship between word and image opens up his satire against the censorship enacted on Marcantonio’s earlier release of an engraved set of Romano’s I modi nudes (1524). A broader view of Aretino’s reputation suggests the usefulness of reading these obscene sonnets in relation to his later ‘moral’ works, to better understand his drive to satirise religious corruption. This allows me to reassess the sonetti as primarily satiric, as opposed to simplistically ‘pornographic’. The sonetti lussoriosi are Aretino’s representation in poetry of excessive lust, which ultimately invokes and denies the sexual, and is used to highlight the comparative freedom and positivity expressed in the original images. His publication of these sonetti, from his position in exile in Venice, is intimately tied up with the original production of the images; the church’s attempted censorship of ‘the positions’; and the related imprisonment of the engraver Marcantonio Raimondi. This then comments not just on the way in which Aretino responds to the issue of how best to translate image to word for his satire against censorship, but on the issue of what it means for the reader / viewer to be placed in an interpretive position in relation to both image and text, at a time of enormous change for church and society in Europe.

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