Back through the centuries for this piece of al fresco reverse cowgirl (as it would not have been called at the time!) action. In a sylvan landscape a lady guides her lover's erection into her vagina while her companion gazes at it raptly. We confess that this is still a sight that fills us with delight even after nearly forty years! No scrabbling around on the grass for this couple as they have a luxurious looking cushion and a large piece of fabric on which to desport themselves.
This picture has a rather convoluted history. It is one of a series of erotic engravings of sexual positions produced in book form under the title I Modi by Marcantonio Raimondi (1480-1534) in 1524. An engraver, he based his pictures on a series of paintings produced by Giulio Romano (1499-1546) for the Duke of Mantua, Federico II Gonzago's new palazzo in Mantua. Romano was unaware that Raimondi had used his paintings as the basis for his engravings until Raimondi was imprisoned by Pope Clement VII for producing them. The Pope ordered all copies of the books to be destroyed. Romano escaped imprisonment as his paintings were a private commission and were not, unlike Raimondi's book, for public consumption.
Pietro Aretino by Titian
The poet and author Pietro Aretino (1492-1556), after going to see Romano's originals, then composed sixteen erotic sonnets to accompany the pictures and he also helped get Raimondo released from prison. A second edition of I modi was then published in 1527 which included Raimondi's illustrations and Aretino's sonnets, in the first known example of erotic pictures and text being included in one publication.
Apart from a few fragments in the British Museum the 1527 edition is lost, although Aretino's sonnets survived. Later Agostino Carracci (1557-1602) reconstructed the illustrations (he must have had access to at least a partial copy at that time, as his illustrations are very close to the British Museum fragments). In 1798 another edition of I Modi was published in Paris with Carracci's engravings reworked by the French artist Jacques Joseph Coiny (1761-1809). These are the illustrations we have today.
The story of Angélique et Médor (all the illustrations in I Modi were of famous lovers of myth and history) comes from Orlando Furioso by Ludovico Ariosto (1477-1533). Based on the much older Song of Roland (Roland and Orlando are the same person) it tells the story of Orlando's love for the pagan princess, Angélique who he married. However, she began a passionate affair with the Saracen called Médor. He carved her name into the bark of a tree but Orlando discovered it (you can just see his figure at the right of the engraving at the top of the post). It was her betrayal that made him furioso. Perhaps Roland, who as a Paladin of Charlemagne is a sort of French equivalent of Lancelot of King Arthur's round table, was boring in bed and didn't indulge in athletic al fresco girl on top bonking. Orlando carved the inscription off the tree and imprisoned his wife in a tower. However, she told Orlando that he couldn't carve away her love for Médor and eventually Angélique killed herself, in a typical end for the sexually aggressive woman in European literature.