Laura de Noves
Laura is unreachable – the few physical descriptions are vague, almost impalpable as the love he pines for, and such is perhaps the power of his verse, which lives off the melodies it evokes against the fading, diaphanous image that is no more consistent than a ghost. Francesco De Sanctis remarks much the same thing in his Storia della lera italiana, and contemporary critics agree on the powerful music of his verse. Perhaps the poet was inspired by a famous singer he met in Veneto around 1350’s. Gianfranco Contini, in a famous essay on Petrarch’s language (“Preliminari sulla lingua del Petrarca”. Petrarca, Canzoniere. Turin, Einaudi, 1964) has spoken of linguistic indeterminacy – Petrarch never rises above the “bel pie” (her lovely foot): Laura is too holy to be painted; she is an awe-inspiring goddess. Sensuality and passion are suggested rather by the rhythm and music that shape the vague contours of the lady.
Dante Alighieri, detail from a Luca Signorelli fresco in the chapel of San Brizio, Duomo, Orvieto.
Petrarch’s is a world apart from Dante and his Divina Commedia. In spite of the metaphysical subject, the Commedia is deeply rooted in the cultural and social milieu of turn-of-the-century Florence: Dante’s rise to power (1300) and exile (1302), his political passions call for a “violent” use of language, where he uses all the registers, from low and trivial to sublime and philosophical. Petrarch confessed to Boccaccio that he had never read the Commedia, remarks Contini, wondering whether this was true or Petrarch wanted to distance himself from Dante. Dante’s language evolves as he grows old, from the courtly love of his early stilnovistic Rime and Vita nuova to the Convivio and Divina Commedia, where Beatrice is sanctified as the goddess of philosophy – the philosophy announced by the Donna Gentile at the death of Beatrice.
Petrarch polished and perfected the sonnet form inherited from Giacomo da Lentini and which Dante.