“Beautifully but shamefully printed up”: Reading the erotic in sixteenth century book culture

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“Beautifully but shamefully printed up”: Reading the erotic in sixteenth century book culture

August 14 @ 1:00 pm - 2:00 pm



“Beautifully but shamefully printed up”: Reading the erotic in sixteenth century book culture

Lecture by Dr Linda Grant

This lecture will be online only. 

In this talk, I will start by looking at an infamous ‘obscene’ book from sixteenth century Italy: Pietro Aretino’s sonnetti lussuriosi and the ‘pornographic’ engravings that accompanied them, together known as I Modi. The first edition was burned on the orders of Pope Clement VII – but a defiant second edition was produced in 1527 in Venice.

Using this volume as a launch pad, we will explore the concept of the ‘erotic’ in sixteenth century European poetry. ‘Erotic’ is a notoriously difficult term to pin down whether as a description or a critical term. What is deemed ‘erotic’ in literature is relative and subjective. It is also shaped by, and understood through, historicised cultural and aesthetic norms. Distinctions between what is defined as ‘erotic’, ‘pornographic’ or sexually explicit are difficult to delineate and tricky to enforce. The contention of this paper is that the tensions between the erotic and transgressive may be used to interrogate, contest, possibly even subvert social, political and cultural hierarchies.

This argument nuances the idea that a coherent theory of literature existed in the Renaissance, derived from the commendation of virtue and condemnation of vice, that literature should ‘teach and delight’. Instead, we will explore the complicated, even contradictory, responses to the erotic in poetry: on one hand, it is seen as frivolous, wanton, lascivious and scurrilous; on the other, it is the site of an eager and, perhaps, unruly readers’ and writers’ pleasure. By uncovering the hermeneutic possibilities of literary eroticism, we will explore the cultural potential of the ‘erotic’ in sixteenth century European book culture.

  • Registration is essential.
  • Once you have registered we will be in touch regarding how you can join via Zoom video-calling.
  • The event will also be live-streamed to YouTube here, so you can watch along if you prefer
  • Places through zoom will be allocated on a first-come, first-served basis.
  • The event will begin at 13.00, British Summer Time.

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August 14
1:00 pm - 2:00 pm
Event Category:


Society of Antiquaries of London
Burlington House, Piccadilly
London, W1J 0BE United Kingdom
020 7479 7080


Society of Antiquaries of London
020 7479 7080