In Cavalcanti and Muscia, the disfigured woman is cynically presented as therapy for the illness of love

In Cavalcanti and Muscia, the disfigured woman is cynically presented as therapy for the illness of love

In comic-realistic poetry Rustico Filippi, drawing on Latin poetry and medieval Artes dictandi, vituperates the ugly woman for her disgusting body and bad odour, which obliquely reveals immoderate sexuality

perfection, decorum, fruition of divine love, ultimately truth. A study of literary female ugliness must necessarily take into account the classical aesthetic models dominant in the Western canon and then focus on exploring instances of infringement on this canon. The transgression of models of feminine beauty works at different levels, from the subversion of distinctive conventional elements (old age, dark hair or skin) to parodistic remakes of the most common models. 7 In the Renaissance, the transgression of the canon no longer targets age and morals but social groups and manners. Therefore, ugly women are associated with lower social classes, such as peasants, and are ridiculed for their oversize, disproportionate bodies, and filth. Their ugly bodies contravene the rules of proportion and perfection glorified in the refined environment of Renaissance courts and do not conform to the dictates of decorum, elegance, and cleanliness. In baroque poetry, canonical disruption is often minimal. Women are no longer portrayed as ugly and disgusting, but rather as beautiful in their imperfection: canon infraction here targets in particular the colour of the hair and skin. The dark-haired and dark-skinned lady becomes fashionable, while those who are deformed and attractive become fascinating and intriguing, for the sake of poetic witticism. Chapter 1 of this work opens with general remarks on misogyny, on feminine old age, and on rhetoric and the ugly. Physical description of the ugly woman was already present in classical antiquity and in the Latin Middle Ages. These sources provided valid models for vernacular texts. In Italian medieval poetry the ugly woman, in opposition to the beautiful, angelic figure of the Stilnovo and later of Petrarch, is an old hag whose disgusting body is the object of fierce verbal attack by the male poet. Misogyny and the obsession with women’s deceitfulness lead authors like Cecco Angiolieri to criticize women’s use of make-up and Nicolo de’ Rossi to attribute to woman a devilish nature. Although Guido Guinizzelli’s and Guido Cavalcanti’s comic-realistic sonnets on ugly women are generally read simply as self-parody or parody of Stilnovismo, there is an antifeminist bias in such texts, where female unattractiveness and old age signal a transgression of codes of conduct.

In the literature of the Middle Ages, an infraction of the canon is embodied in the shift from youth as a symbol of purity, beauty, and morality to old age as a symbol of decay, evil, and sexual excess

In the latter part of the fourteenth century there emerges – along with the guardian of the young beloved and various other types of hybrid female figures of power who transgress the codes of looking and speaking – the subversive type par excellence: the witch/prostitute, who is the object of the invective. The verbal attack on this feminine figure includes both contempt for her dishonesty and lascivious behaviour and rage against her body, which can no longer provide male pleasure. Burchiello, Giovan Matteo di Meglio, and Angelo Poliziano all illustrate this attitude towards the ugly woman. Renaissance poetry about the ugly woman follows the paths laid down by the comic-realistic poetry of the Middle Ages, which had established a true genre of the old hag. However, the most notable trend inaugurated in the Renaissance is the paradoxical encomium of the ugly woman. Interestingly enough, moral contempt and the topic of old age, which were the trademarks of medieval texts dealing with the old hag, dwindle in the sixteenth century with the onset of Renaissance secularism; the ugly woman becomes less the object of invective or attack and more and more the parodistic counterpart of the aesthetic model glorified by Petrarchists such as Pietro Bembo. Authors like Francesco Berni and Anton Francesco Doni present with their sonnets the anti-Laura, a comic variation on the perfect beauty of the Renaissance lady. Between the fourteen and sixteenth centuries the codification of feminine beauty, conceived as physical perfection, leads to an orderly and detailed anatomization of the woman’s body in descriptive praise or blazon. The process of fragmentation/domination that feminist theory has detected in the descriptive praise of the female body reappears in its negative counterparts. Paradoxical encomia of feminine beauty in the burlesque capitoli of Niccolo Campani (Strascino), Francesco Berni, and Agnolo Firenzuola subvert the canon, producing feminine portraits that reify and dismember the female deformed body.8 Standards of beauty define the discourse regarding social class: hence in the Renaissance ugly women are primarily members of lower social classes, such as peasants and mountain-dwellers. Bakhtinian discourse on the grotesque body, illuminated by Stallybrass and White’s reading of politics and the poetics of transgression, clarifies the reversal of hegemonic rules in the representation of female types from lower social classes in Renaissance poems on ugly women. The parody of traditional feminine beauty, embodied by Laura, involves both criticism of the rigid and abstract models of Petrarchan beauty and a derisive look at the appearance of peasant women. Paradoxical exaltations of peasant beauty in Campani, Berni,

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