Paolo and Francesca

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Doré : That day we did not read you there anymore

Paolo Malatesta and Francesca da Polenta are two figures of lovers who became part of the popular sentimental imagination, even though they also belonged to history and literature . A part of the V canto of the Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri is dedicated to them. In the Commedia , the two young people of Rimini (even if born in Ravenna ), of the nearby Verucchio him – represent the main souls condemned to the Dante hell , in the circle of the lustful.

In life they were brothers (Francesca was in fact married to Gianciotto, brother of Paolo) and this love led them to death at the hands of Francesca’s husband. Francesca explains to the poet how it all happened: reading the book that explained the love between Lancelot and Geneva , the two found warmth in the trembling kiss that eventually exchange and that characterizes the beginning of their passion.

The tragic love affair of Paolo and Francesca has been re-enacted on other occasions, always in literature but also in opera . Particularly known, appreciated and loved is the version that gave it in 1914 the Italiancomposer Riccardo Zandonai in his Francesca da Rimini . The commotion “defense” made by Boccaccio (see below) will not go unmentioned, which tells us that at the base of the marriage between Gianciotto and Francesca da Polenta there was a terrible ambiguity encouraged if not designed by the elders of the two families. Francesca, says Boccaccio, was made to believe that she would marry the beautiful and elegant Paolo. Boccaccian observation (defined by Torraca “last novel by Boccaccio”) is tender and sentimental, but does not stand up to a minimum of historical criticism.

What to read before coming to Florence

I love to read and I like both fiction and non-fiction.  When friends ask me what they might read to prepare for a visit to Florence, I always recommend R.W.B. Lewis, The City of Florence. It’s a passionate paean to the city, both scholarly and personal at the same time.


The author, Lewis, who died in 2002, won the Pulitzer Prize for his biography of Edith Wharton.  You can be sure his book on Florence is a beautifully written tome. Highly recommended.

How art history became an academic (& my favorite) field of study

Before Charles Eliot Norton had become Harvard’s first professor of that discipline, art history had, in general, been considered, not a field of study, but a matter of craft and technique to be taught by painters to other painters.

Scholarship about art, and especially about Italian art, entered a new era as the German universities began developing large-scale historical studies like those of Swiss scholar Jacob Burckhardt, whose Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy was published in English in 1878.


In Great Britain, tastes were influenced by the work of Norton’s close friend Ruskin in books like The Stones of Venice (1851–1853) and The Seven Lamps of Architecture (1849).


Following Ruskin, Norton loved best in Italy the powerful moral uplift of Dante and of Italy’s medieval Gothic architecture. In Norton’s art history courses, the Renaissance was the unhappy termination of the Middle Ages, which had been the last great era of spiritual unity and well-being.

There was a joke current among Harvard undergraduates that Norton had died and was just being admitted to Heaven, but at his first glimpse staggered backward exclaiming, “Oh! Oh! Oh! So Overdone! So garish! So Renaissance!”

“Norton,” Bernard Berenson commented drily years later, had done what he could at Harvard to restrain “all efforts toward art itself.”

Rachel,Cohen. Bernard Berenson (Jewish Lives) (p. 45). Yale University Press. Kindle Edition.