Thus Beatrice; and I, who at the feet
Of her commandments all devoted was,
My mind and eyes directed where she willed.
Dante Alighieri, Divine Comedy, Canto XXXIII.
In Middle Ages Christianity changed woman prototype with respect to the Classical Antiquity. The figure of the Virgin Mary became a model, with all the symbolic and religious connotations. White skin, long blond hair, blue eyes and red cheeks were the most common woman attributes we could find not only in Virgin Mary’s representations but in literature as well. In this sense, beauty canons have also worked as a way to represent love, but does really love understand about beauty canons?
Donna angelicata is a literary topic created by Guido Guinizelli that symbolize the pure woman and collect the attributes commented previously. It represents the spiritual perfection, the virtuosity and the honestly of a woman. Moreover, the external beauty was considered the reflection of the inner beauty and, at the same time, her image was close to divinity, so physical appearance was not the most important in love.
This beauty canon had its own evolution until Dante and Petrarch consolidate it with the figures of Beatrice and Laura, respectively. In the case of Dante, Beatrice’s conception has its origin in the Occitan literature. This literature, composed by troubadours, expressed the idea of a Courtly love, in which woman was superior to man. Love was understood as a serfdom relationship, so the lover had to serve to the woman as a man served the feudal lord. The woman was inaccessible and his love was unrequited, but the lover never stopped adoring her because love was considered something deep and spiritual.
In the Divine Comedy, the author relate his descent to the Hell, the rise to the Purgatory hill and the trip to Paradise. In his travel, Beatrice, who is dead, becomes his guide in the Paradise. In this case, the woman is able to do it because is spiritually superior to man and she is also, as we said, closer to God, so Beatrice is a beatified character and its concept it is repeated during Middle Ages and the Renaissance.
Beauty canons have changed through history and nowadays Internet is doing part of this job. Since the nineties, fashion industry and publicity have reaffirmed extremely thinness, but does love really matter beauty canons?
Author: Paula Mateo (@paumatbar)