Often regarded as the first modern pornographer, the poet and satirist Pietro Aretino (1492–1556) penned some of the most lurid and salacious verses of the sixteenth century, most famously the sixteen sonnets he wrote to accompany Giulio Romano's I modi and the erotic dialogues featuring a worldly-wise puttana (prostitute) Nanna conversing in explicit and lively detail about endless and infinitely varied sexual adventures—her own and those of innumerable others that she surreptitiously witnessed.
Marcantonio Raimondi's engraved portrait of Aretino was probably designed by the Venetian painter Sebastiano del Piombo, although the name of Giulio Romano—with whom Marcantonio collaborated on I modi—has also been proposed. It may date from the early moment of his career, when Aretino was still an unknown newcomer to Rome and he and Giulio were working for the wealthy papal banker Agostino Chigi; an alternative view is that the print was executed about 1525 as an expression of gratitude by Marcantonio to Aretino, who had negotiated the engraver's release from prison after the scandal of I modi.
Aretino's dignified mien and elegant costume impart to him the refined aspect of Renaissance courtier. That facade is belied by his conspicuous hat badge—an invocation of the satirist's transgressive, obscene pronouncement that the phallus should be venerated and displayed as proudly "as a medal in one's hat."