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According to him, the owners of facial features such as a broad jaw, deep-set eyes and a hawk nose were much more likely to have the savage nature and capricious character that caused people to commit crimes. Even now, aspects of this way of thinking give birth to common prejudice red-haired women typecast as passionate, blonde women as unintelligent. However, while most modern people are no longer convinced of the scientific truth of these ideas, in Renaissance Italy, the connection between good looks and good morals was supported by an entire framework of scientific thought.
Source: Wikimedia Commons. The medieval and early modern conviction that your appearance says something about your character, can be traced back to classical sources such as the medical tradition from Hippocrates to Galen and late antique astrology. According to the premodern worldview, the world is made out of four contraries hot, cold, moist and dry which combine to form the four elements fire hot and dry , water cold and moist , air hot and moist and earth cold and dry. The human body is related to the world just like a microcosm is related to a macrocosm, and therefore the human body itself is made of these elements and contraries as well.
There are four classical complexions: choleric people are, for instance, tall and lean, have a good memory but are very vindictive; melancholic people are thin, sentimental and typical scholars; sanguine people are red cheeked because of all the blood , merry and lustful, but easily angered as well; while those of a phlegmatic complexion are pale and fat, lazy and not very smart. Phlegmatic, choleric, sanguine and melancholic complexions. From the end of the 15th century, physiognomy became even more popular than it had been before, especially in Italy, where numerous medieval and classical texts were reprinted and new works were created by authors such as Bartolomeo Cocles and Giovanni Battista della Porta.
Influences from this tradition can be found in literary texts as well. A good example is an anecdote by Matteo Bandello Bandello was a member of the clergy as well as a famous writer of funny and often rather scandalous novels, which he collected in his Novelle. The king then said that if a man has stiff hair, he is daring; if he has a broad fleshy breast, he is lusty; and if he has the opposite of these, he is timid. If he has a very round face, he is foolish and shameless, if he has a very red color, like overripe mulberries, he is a great deceiver, and if he has ed eyebrows, he is a traitor.
Soft hair, for instance, is found in people of phlegmatic and therefore timid complexion, whereas thick and rough hair is found in sanguine people, who are fiery and courageous. When the king continues his comparisons, saying that men with curly hair are either musicians or people of wicked and little stable humor, a captain at his court senses an opportunity. Quentin Massys, Ill-Matched Lovers c.
Although these characteristics could become ridiculous in their specificity, as Bandello showed with his curly-haired-men-anecdote, there was another more general conviction that connected outward appearance and character. The idea that beauty on the outside is a of beauty on the inside, was a reoccurring theme in Renaissance literature. The Florentine preacher Girolamo Savonarola warned his female audience not to take pride in their appearance. You are ugly, all of you. Do you want to see the beauty of the soul? Take a look at a devout person, either man or woman, and when they pray, you will see the beauty of God light up in their face and an angelical countenance.
This can for instance be seen from the fact that once the soul leaves the body, a once beautiful face becomes ugly. Likewise, if a very beautiful woman becomes possessed by a demon, she immediately loses her beauty. The same principle can be found in The book of the courtier by Baldassare Castiglione In this book, Castiglione sketches the profile of a perfect man of the court, prescribing everything he needs to know, from how to dress, to what jokes to tell and how to behave around women.
As outward appearance in general is of great importance to the courtier, it is perhaps no surprise to find the theory about beauty and character here as well. A beautiful appearance is therefore a of inner goodness, a token by which we can recognize the beauty of the soul, just as on a tree the beauty of the blossom is a of the beauty of the fruit.
To be sure, I shall not deny that we can also find in the world beautiful women who are unchaste … But sometimes evil training, the continual urgings of their lovers, gifts, poverty, hope, deceits, fear and a thousand other causes can defeat the steadfastness even of good and beautiful women, and for this and other reasons handsome men can also become wicked. In this treatise, based on Platonic thought, she argues with a scholar, Benedetto Varchi, about the nature of love. When Varchi says that the good and the beautiful are the same, Tullia immediately remarks that she has met many handsome people who were not virtuous at all.
He goes even further than Castiglione, saying that when beautiful people become bad people, they are even more wicked and malicious than others:. This is the way nature works. If something is better and perfect in its natural essence, it becomes worse and more flawed whenever it spoils, corrupts, and loses its essential purity. Although it is possible to meet someone who is beautiful but has an awful character, as a rule of thumb, Renaissance philosophy taught that beautiful people were good, whereas ugly people were generally bad.
Although this might seem short-sighted, it would be unfair to judge 16th century Italians as backwards. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Marlisa den Hartog and Leiden Medievalists Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. Marlisa den Hartog PhD candidate. All blog articles. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. The human body and the world The medieval and early modern conviction that your appearance says something about your character, can be traced back to classical sources such as the medical tradition from Hippocrates to Galen and late antique astrology.
Beauty and the beast Although these characteristics could become ridiculous in their specificity, as Bandello showed with his curly-haired-men-anecdote, there was another more general conviction that connected outward appearance and character. Nature vs. He goes even further than Castiglione, saying that when beautiful people become bad people, they are even more wicked and malicious than others: This is the way nature works.Looking for a nasty Leiden girl
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