Monday, March 1, 2010

A Wild Tiger and A Twit

Leonardo's Ginerva

Roald Dahl's The Twits

Two (entirely different!) books that I am currently reading: Leonardo Da Vinci: Flights of the Mind, A Biography, by Charles Nicholl, and The Twits, by Roald Dahl, speak in part about inner and outer beauty. Nicholls writes of the notion that "'Virtutem forma decorat' ('The form adorns virtue')," which expresses "the Platonic-Petrarchan commonplace that outward physical beauty embodies inner spiritual virtue." He states this regarding Leonardo da Vinci's first portrait, that of Ginerva de' Benci, daughter of Amerigo de' Benci, the second wealthiest man in mid-fifteenth century Florence. He goes on to say that the Renaissance poet Alessandro Bracessi described Ginerva like so: "In all the city you will not find a more beautiful girl, nor any more modest." Evidently Ginerva had a "highly public 'Platonic' affair" with Venetian ambassador Bernardo Bembo, who was married, and had a son, plus a mistress and a love-child. Written sources tell that Leonardo painted this portrait of Ginevra de' Benci in 1474 to commemorate her marriage to Luigi Niccolini, and that it was commissioned by her husband, but Nicholl's states that it's likely that Bembo commissioned the portrait of Ginerva, and that stories of the day suggest his affair with her was slightly more than Platonic. I wonder about Ginerva's inner workings, and see that her cool exterior "alabaster" smoothness might actually hide something a little less than virtuous...

I saw this portrait in DC six years ago, and was struck by how much Ginerva resembled a student in my Digital Image class at MECA, a quiet photography major by day who put herself through school by working as a stripper at night. I even bought a postcard of the portrait to bring back to her. Hmmmm. I didn't know the story behind the portrait at that time. Nicholls writes that Ginerva was a poet, and that only one line of her poetry remains, and it is this:
"I beg for mercy; I am a wild tiger."
(Wow, talk about the inner looking different from the outer!)

Roald Dahl writes about beauty with a bit of a different twist in his wonderfully funny children's book, The Twits:

"If a person has ugly thoughts, it begins to show on the face. And when that person has ugly thoughts every day, every week, every year, the face gets uglier and uglier until it gets so ugly, you can hardly bear to look at it." (See those Twits!!)
"A person who has good thoughts cannot ever be ugly. You can have a wonky nose, and a crooked mouth, and a double chin and stick out teeth, but if you have good thoughts they will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely."

Can we judge a book by its cover? How often are we fooled? When and why are we fooled?


Susan Beauchemin said...

Time---it takes time to get to know someone.

Martha Miller said...

yes. and don't you think as we get older we are less star struck/seduced by youthful beauty? Speaking for myself and my first significant other, love was blind...)

Dean Grey said...

I'm going to start thinking really beautiful thoughts after reading this!