Waldeeck never missed an opportunity to cash in on popular public taste, and though he may never actually have studied art with the great Jacques-Louis David he was an accomplished draughtsman and artist in the classical style. He was also a convincing entrepreneur, and rarely missed an opportunity to give a gullible public what they wanted.
In the 1850s the British Museum put on display the few surviving fragments of the sixteenth century prints by the engraver Marcantonio Raimondi, based on drawings by Giulio Romano, to accompany the infamous Pietro Aretino’s Sonetti Lussuriosi, sixteen poems extolling the rewards of sexual experimentation. You can read the full story of Aretino’s poems and their accompanying illustrations here.
No known original printings of the Sonetti Lussuriosi (also known as I Modi, or The Positions) have survived, the British Museum fragments consisting of two copies of a single print and a woodcut copy. This did not stop Waldeck filling in the spaces, and he claimed to have found a set of tracings of the I Modi prints in a catholic convent near Palenque in Mexico wile researching Mayan history and archaeology. However, there never was such a convent, and we know that he had seen the fragments in the British Museum because elements of his drawings can be matched to them. Waldeck would also have known the set of engravings based on I Modi by the Italian engraver Agostino Carracci.
So the 1856 Waldeck interpretations of I Modi, like so much of his biography, are clever inventions – he even went one better than Raimondi, adding an additional four plates to the original sixteen, including an ever-popular ‘Leda and the Swan’.
We have shown here the set of plates held by the British Library; the Bibliotheque Nationale de France in Paris holds a portfolio which includes another, slightly different, set of I Modi plates, together with another twenty Waldeck erotic scenes; the whole volume has been digitised and you can see it here. Waldeck was always willing to offer his public too much of a good thing!