Foscolo, Ugo (1778–1827)
In Il guerriero, l’amazzone, lo spirito della poesia nel verso immortale del Foscolo (1959) Carlo Emilio Gadda* writes that Foscolo’s entire literary production can be reduced to the desire for ‘‘marble women in their nightgowns—or preferably out of them—who are called by him ‘virgins.’ ’’ In addition to underscoring the link between Foscolo’s oeuvre and the figurative arts, Gadda’s statement illuminates a central tension in his predecessor’s works: the desire to sublimate the female form and the inability to cast off its carnal frame. Throughout his career, in his depiction of women Foscolo attempts to transform the corporeal into the divine: thus Luigia Pallav-icini (‘‘A Luigia Pallavicini caduta da cavallo’’ ) and Antonietta Fagnani Artese (‘‘All’amica risanata’’ ) are both transformed into goddesses; Teresa (Ultime lettere di Jacopo Ortis [1802–1817]) is metamorphosed into a Sappho-like muse, and Eleonora Nencini, Cornelia Martinetti, and Maddalena Bignami are celebrated as muse-like priestesses of the Graces (Le Grazie [1812– 1822]).
Carnality is seldom far away, however, either in subversion of the incorporeal (the Graces’ diaphanous veil is voyeuristically appealing) or in contrast to it. The sharp separation of registers that is a feature of much eighteenth-century art and
literature is echoed in the treatment of women in the Ortis. The wife of the anonymous Paduan aristocrat is presented as a manifestly carnal counterpoint to Teresa. Her body language and scent suggest the bedchamber; indeed, her hair seems to have a life of its own, as it breaks free of its bonds and directs Jacopo’s gaze to her de´colletage. That said, it is important to note that Jacopo never leaves carnality entirely behind in his attitude toward Teresa, despite his having initially called her ‘‘the divine maiden’’; indeed, his jealousy over her betrothal to Odoardo revolves around her virginity. Toward the end of the novel, Jacopo laments the idea that Teresa is no longer the virgin of two months before, and that she has been ‘‘contaminated’’ by the arms of another. Jacopo’s relationship with Teresa’s little sister, Isabella, can be seen as a sublimation of the erotic instinct, a transferral of his affections to a figure who is the very portrait of innocence. Influenced by contemporary trends in art and child-rearing techniques, Foscolo represents Isabella as doing childlike things; her unsullied state is further emphasized by the use of the diminutive ‘‘Isabellina’’ and by attributes such as ‘‘incorrupted’’ and ‘‘innocent.’’ It is only when confronted with her prepubescent state (and the deep-seated taboos associated with it) that Foscolo seems able to leave the carnal behind in his portrayal of a woman.
The androgynous aesthetic quality of neoclassical theory and praxis in the figurative arts does not seem to be present in Foscolo’s works, even if his male and female characters occasionally share certain qualities: in the Ortis, for example, both Jacopo and Teresa are depicted as helpless, although in different ways. It is interesting to note the frequency with which Teresa’s eyes, almost always tearful, are described, particularly in the latter half of the novel: she gazes upon and laments, but does not participate in the misfortunes described. (In the figurative arts a similar treatment of women can be found in Jacques Louis David’s Oath of the Horatii , in which the tearful women are shunted off to one side of the canvas.)
See also: Neoclassicism; Novel: Risorgimento.
Bibliography: Fubini, Mario. Ugo Foscolo: Saggi, studi, note. Florence: La Nuova Italia, 1978; Jonard, Norbert. ‘‘L’e´rotisme dans l’oeuvre de Foscolo.’’ Forum Italicum 21 (1987): 245–65; Di Benedetto, Vincenzo. Lo scrittoio di
Ugo Foscolo. Torino: Einaudi, 1990; Gadda, Carlo Emilio. Il guerriero, l’amazzone, lo spirito della poesia nel verso immortale del Foscolo. Milan: Garzanti, 1991; Ferrara, Paul Albert. ‘‘Empiricism, Neoclassicism, and the Sublimation of the Erotic Instinct: Jacopo Ortis and Isabella.’’ In
Essays in Honor of Nicolas J. Perella. Ed. Victoria J. R. DeMara and Anthony Julian Tamburri. Special issue of Italiana 6 (1994): 103–16.
PAUL ALBERT FERRARA
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Neoclassicism The term ‘‘neoclassicism’’ can refer to any of several historical movements in which an admiration for the art and literature of ancient Greece and Rome spurred on attempts at imitation or emulation. Usually, however, the expression refers to the wave of renewed interest in classical antiquity that coincided with the diffusion of volumes containing engravings Novel: Risorgimento The nineteenth-century female archetype of the angel in the house is complicated in the Italian novel by the struggle for national independence and the association of woman with the nation to be forged. The grafting of political and amorous motifs is established in the prototype of the Risorgimento* novel, Ugo Foscolo*’s Le ultime lettere di Mother Teresa Mother Teresa was a powerful woman with her missions and countless acts of mercy. Powerful leaders in our world today should learn from Mother Teresa and her countless acts of mercy, which she performed. Often men and women in powerful positions misuse their strengths simply for their own personal benefit. Mother Teresa is a perfect Romanticism The diffusion of romantic ideals in Italy was accelerated in no small way by the influence of a woman, the Swiss-French belletrist Madame de Stae¨l (1766–1817). Her De l’Allemagne (1813) and Sull’utilita` delle tradu-zioni (1816) prompted much debate among the Italian theorists, while her romantic and ‘‘feminist’’ novel Corinne ou de l’Italie (1807) drew inspiration Lyric Poetry: Nineteenth Century After the Enlightenment,* the romantic period signals a time of crisis, resulting from the failure of long-awaited political, social, and cultural reform, and the disappointment in the so-called illuminated monarchies. Many poets are still concerned with contemporary issues, such as economic and political oppression, while others turn inward to focus on the very personal repercussions