On the Beauty of Women
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First published in 1548, On the Beauty of Women purports to record two conversations shared by a young gentleman, Celso, and four ladies of the upper bourgeoisie in the vicinity of Florence. One afternoon Celso and the ladies consider universal beauty. On a subsequent evening, they attempt to fashion a composite picture of perfect beauty by combining the beautiful features of women they know. The standards of beauty established in the garden give way to the artistic, creative imagination of the human spirit, and the group's movement from garden to hall seems to echo the dialogue's movement from Nature to Art, from divinely to humanly created beauty.
Konrad Eisenbichler and Jacqueline Murray have provided the first translation into English of Firenzuola's dialogue since the nineteenth century. In their introduction, they argue that Firenzuola's work presents a useful point of entry into the society and values of the mid-sixteenth century. In its discussion of beauty, the dialogue reveals the intersection of Neoplantonic philosophy and mathematically based artistic theory, both inherited from classical antiquity. Indeed, Firenzuola's treatise has been assessed as one of the most significant expositions of Renaissance aesthetics.
Anthology (New York: Harper and Row, 1971), 132-33. See also Petrarch's letter to Homer, Epistolae familiares XXIV, 12, ibid. 131-84. 2 I . Pilatus's connection with Petrarch and Boccaccio has been examined in depth in Agostino Pertusi, Leonzw Pilato fra Petrarca e Boccaccw: le sue verswni omeruhe negli autografi di Venezia e La cultura greca del prim Umanesimo (VeniceRome: Istituto per la Collaborazione culturale, 1964); see, esp. ch. I, pp. 1-42. 22. Edgar De Bruyne, The Esthetics of the Middle
on top of another straight line that comes out from the lowest part of the chin, and must go and meet another straight line that comes out from the top of the head; and the height of a man who is reasonably shaped and well proportioned both in height and width will be nine times the length of that line. And what vr7esay about men, we always understand to be the same for women, be it in this or any other measurement. Still, there have been many learned and worthy men 24 On the Beauty of Women
it is born with enough grace and enough beauty so that there is 26 O n the Beauty of Women no reason for you to go into hiding, but rather to show yourself more than you do. And your handsome little sons and elegant little daughters will attest to it to all those people who will not have had opportunity to admire you, for all your features are reflected in your children. Mona Anwworisca: Well then, if Nature may have failed me in some little part, you supplement it so fully with your words
is awakened in some mysterious way by a special union of parts, so that we cannot say, "It is these parts, it is those parts," that are brought together, joined, and arranged together with every consummate beauty, or rather perfection. This splendor strikes our eyes with such keenness on their part, with such satisfaction for the heart and pleasure for the mind, that they are immediately obliged quietly to turn our desire to those sweet rays. And thus, as we have mentioned before, many times we
like. But if you would nevertheless like an example, what more beautiful or true example do you seek than that offered to us by Mona Lampiada? She is not just a vase, but certainly an entire treasure chest a gentlewoman. ~ But since of all the virtues that adorn the spirit ( a n i m ~of) ~ you could say to me that you want an ancient vase, not a modern one like hers, I will satisfy you.49 62 On the Beauty of Women You see that the handles start by rising a little, and then they gently