Guido Guinizelli c. 1230-1276
Scholars credit Guinizelli with founding the school of poetry characterized by the dolce stil nuovo, or “sweet new style,” praised by Dante Alighieri in his Purgatorio. Although Dante places Guinizelli in circle seven of Purgatory with the lustful, Dante expresses his admiration for Guinizelli's poetry and acknowledges him as a mentor. Guinizelli's known output was small, with fewer than thirty works extant, but his love poetry had a substantial influence on many later poets, including Guido Cavalcanti. Guinizelli believed that only a noble heart (what he termed a gentle heart) could feel love, indicating that love itself was not ennobling. He was the first poet to attribute divinity to his lady; he asserted that in praising her as an angel, he praises God for creating her, elevating his own soul through receptive contemplation. Guinizelli wrote in an Italianized Tuscan vernacular, continuing and popularizing a trend against the use of traditional Latin. Dante described what he considered Guinizelli's essential message in his paraphrase of one of his poems: “Love and the gentle heart are one and the same thing.”
Guinizelli was born in about 1240 to Guinizello da Magnano and Guglielmina di Ugolino Chisleri, but little other information exists on his early life. He is known to have served as a judge in Bologna in 1266, although he may have started his career somewhat earlier. Politically he championed the Ghibelline party. When they were defeated in 1274 by the Guelph party, Guinizelli was forced to abandon his career and go into exile at Monselice. He died there in 1276, leaving a widow, Beatrice della Fratta, and a son, Guiduccio.
Guinizelli's body of work is slight and his poems cannot be precisely dated. Since his poems are not titled, critics refer to them by their first line for ease of study. Five canzoni and fifteen sonnets are of unchallenged authenticity; two additional unchallenged canzoni exist only in fragments. Three other canzoni have been rejected by modern editors, and a fourth is dubious. Additionally, two sonnets are part of a poetic exchange with contemporaries. Guinizelli's earliest poetry was heavily influenced by Guittone d'Arezzo, and in one of his sonnets he calls him his father and asks for him to correct the problems of an accompanying canzone. His break from the tradition Guittone represented is best exemplified in his masterpiece, “Al cor gentil rempaira sempre amore” (“Love seeks its dwelling always in the gentle heart”). This canzone has been called an eloquent manifesto of the new school of poetry and has been translated more often than any of his other works. In a similar vein to “Al cor gentil” are the sonnets “Vedut'ho la lucente stella diana” (“I have seen the shining morning star”), “Io voglio del var la mia donna laudare” (“My Lady I most truly wish to praise”), and “Lo vostro bel saluto” (“The handsome greeting and gentle look”), in which the poet compares the wonders of nature and heaven to his lady, rather than using the accepted comparison of the beloved to the wonders. Besides his more well-known love poetry, Guinizelli also wrote complaints concerning love, poems with a moral message, and one invective.
Critics unanimously prefer Guinizelli's later poems to his earlier work, which is deemed imitative. Some commentators argue that Guinizelli did not truly originate a new style of poetry but only hinted at it, or, if he did create it, that he was not aware enough of his accomplishment to make full use of it. His defenders counter that whether or not Guinizelli completely recognized his accomplishments has no bearing on their worth, and that even though Dante fully attained what Guinizelli started, Guinizelli was nevertheless an originator. Paolo Cherchi credits Guinizelli with “an occasional and casual introduction of some new themes, a lightening of style, and a set of new images that were later programmatically absorbed and developed by the dolce stil nuovo whose poets had a much stronger awareness of their distance from the old school.” In response to negative assessments of the intellectual nature of Guinizelli's poetry, his defenders hold that intellectualism is not a fault but rather one of his defining characteristics. Douglas Radcliff-Umstead writes that for Guinizelli, “the problem of love had to be understood intellectually. Amore and scienzia became nearly synonymous terms in as much as poetry served as an instrument of philosophical meditation and reasoned analysis of the religious virtue of the beloved lady.” Robert Edwards writes that Guinizelli's greatest strength as a poet may be “his abilities with abstraction and imagery and his skill in bringing the two into a creative tension.”
SOURCE: Wilkins, Ernest Hatch. “Poetry of the Latter Half of the Thirteenth Century.” In A History of Italian Literature, pp. 23-35. Boston, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1954.
[In the following excerpt, Wilkins explores the political and social setting in which Guinizelli and his fellow poets worked.]
The second half of the thirteenth century was marked by violent local warfare, by political upheavals, by extreme religious excitement, by a sudden flowering of activity in architecture, sculpture, and painting, and by a sudden and great expansion of literary production in Italian. It was marked also by the emergence of Tuscany, and especially Florence, into cultural primacy.
With the death of Frederick II the power of the medieval empire came virtually to its end, and the fragmentation of Italy began. Frederick's son Manfred held out for a time in Southern Italy; but the pope offered the kingdom of Naples and Sicily to Charles of Anjou, who won his realm in 1266, at the battle of Benevento, in which Manfred met crushing defeat and tragic death. In 1282 Sicily, in a movement known as the Sicilian Vespers, revolted against the French rule, and called in Peter of Aragon to be its king.
In Northern Italy the collapse of the empire opened the way for the seizure of control in several cities by powerful families. Milan fell to the Visconti; Verona to the Della Scala;...
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SOURCE: Radcliff-Umstead, Douglas. “Love in the Italian Sweet New Style.” In Innovation in Medieval Literature: Essays to the Memory of Alan Markman, pp. 63-75. Pittsburgh, Pa.: Medieval Studies Committee, University of Pittsburgh, 1971.
[In the following essay, Radcliff-Umstead examines Guinizelli's contribution to the development of the style Dante called “Dolce Stil Nuovo” (“Sweet New Style”) and explains how Guinizelli broke with poetic tradition when he spoke of a lady in divine terms in his work.]
Among the enduring ‘innovations’ of the Middle Ages, the cult of romantic love is perhaps the most controversial of all. Scholars have engaged for years in a continuing polemic about the arising of domnei (man's vassalage to a superior lady) in Provence toward the close of the eleventh century. None of the theories which so far have been advanced—the influence of amorous Arabic poetry, the poetic adoration of the Virgin, a misinterpretation of Ovid's Art of Love seen as a serious work and not as a satire, or the presence of heretical Catharist sects—sufficiently account for the origin of a strikingly different love tradition.1 In classical antiquity love was viewed as an illness, a deviation from the norm—as with Sappho's suicidal passion for Phaon, Dido's raving for ‘pius Aeneas’, or Catullus' bitter recriminations against the fickle Lesbia. Women in...
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SOURCE: Edwards, Robert. An Introduction to The Poetry of Guido Guinizelli, edited and translated by Robert Edwards, pp. xi-lxxx. New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1987.
[In the following excerpt, Edwards points out some difficulties in sorting out Guinizelli's biography, examines his accomplishments as poet and innovator, and considers his sources and influence.]
LIFE OF THE AUTHOR
In the later thirteenth century, a “sweet new style” (Dolce Stil Nuovo) emerged in Italian lyric poetry. The figure first associated with this change in literary language, rhetoric, and sensibility is the Bolognese poet and judge Guido Guinizelli. His contemporaries discuss the innovations of Guinizelli's poetry as part of a polemic between the new style and the earlier Sicilian and Tuscan schools. Dante portrays Guinizelli as the actual founder of the Dolce Stil Nuovo and acknowledges him in Purgatorio 26 as his poetic father. As a figure in literary history, Guinizelli is clearly sketched, but as a historical personality he is much harder to identify. Two men named Guido Guinizelli are in fact mentioned in thirteenth-century documents from Bologna, and scholars have found it difficult to build an absolutely conclusive case for identifying either as the poet.
In his commentary on Dante's Divine Comedy (all names and page references are keyed to the Select...
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SOURCE: Edwards, Robert R. “Guinizelli's Readers and the Strategies of Historicism.” Philological Quarterly 71, no. 4 (fall 1992): 419-36.
[In the following essay, Edwards examines the influence of literary history on the responses of the Marqués de Santillana, Guittone d'Arezzo, Bonagiunta of Lucca, and Dante Gabriel Rossetti to Guinizelli's poetry.]
Mediocre vsaron aquellos que en vulgar escriuieron, asy commo Guido Janunçello, boloñés, e Arnaldo Daniel, proençal. E commo quier que destos yo no he visto obra alguna, pero quieren algunos auer ellos sido los primeros que escriuieron terçio rimo e aun sonetos en romançe; e asy commo dize el philósofo, de los primeros primera es la especulaçión.
Those who write in the vernacular use the middle style, such as Guido Guinizelli the Bolognese and Arnaut Daniel the Provençal. And although I have not seen any work of theirs, nonetheless some wish to regard them as the first who wrote terza rima and even sonnets in a Romance language; and as Aristotle says, about the first ones, speculation is first.
This passage from the Marqués de Santillana's Proemio stands as an emblem of the complex intertextuality that has defined Guido Guinizelli from his own age onwards.1 Dorothy Clotelle Clarke describes Santillana's literary...
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SOURCE: Tambling, Jeremy. “‘Nostro peccato fu ermafrodito’: Dante and the Moderns.” Exemplaria 6, no. 2 (fall 1994): 405-27.
[In the following essay, Tambling examines Guinizelli's confession in Purgatorio 26 as well as Dante's response to it.]
Bâtisseur infatigable, le jeté est en somme un égaré. Un voyageur dans une nuit à bout fuyant. Il a le sens du danger, de la perte que représente le pseudo-objet qui l'attire, mais ne peut s'empêcher de s'y risquer au moment même où il s'en démarque. Et plus il s'égare, plus il se sauve.
———Car c'est de son égarement en terrain exclu qu'il tire sa jouissance. Cet abject dont il ne cesse pas de se séparer est en somme, pour lui, une terre d'oubli constamment remémorée.
———A tireless builder, the deject is in short a stray. He is on a journey, during the night, the end of which keeps receding. He has a sense of the danger, of the loss that the pseudo-object attracting him represents for him, but he cannot help taking the risk at the very moment he sets himself apart. And the more he strays, the more he is saved.
———For it is out of such straying on excluded grounds that he draws his jouissance. The abject from which...
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SOURCE: Ardizzone, Maria Luisa. “Guido Guinizzelli's ‘Al cor gentil’: A Notary in Search of Written Laws.” Modern Philology 94, no. 4 (May 1997): 455-74.
[In the following essay, Ardizzone explores Guinizelli's position concerning the relationship between light and God.]
Se Dio non rompe in ciel ció c'ha firmato.
(Guido Guinizzelli, “Madonna mia, quel di ch'amor consente”)
The notary Guido Guinizzelli, who probably studied in Bologna and died in about 1276, wrote the poem “Al cor gentil rempaira sempre amore,” which is commonly regarded as the manifesto of the scuola of the “dolce stil nuovo,” a name that traces to Dante.1 Tradition has preserved twenty-two texts of Guido Guinizzelli's as well as three dubiously attributed canzoni and two fragments.2 His work suggests that he was well acquainted with philosophy and rhetoric. The University of Bologna, where he may have studied, guaranteed a connection between the study of philosophy and the training for the career of notary, both of which took place in the faculty of Arts.3 In Purgatorio, canto 26, Dante meets Guinizzelli and calls him “padre,” thus acknowledging his debt.4 Information about Guinizzelli's poetry derives from Bonagiunta Orbicciani, a Tuscan poet whom Dante meets in Purgatorio, canto 24. In Bonagiunta's poem “Voi ch'avete...
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Cherchi, Paolo. “Guinizzelli, Guido.” In Dictionary of Italian Literature, edited by Peter Bondanella and Julia Conaway Bondanella, pp. 293-94. Westport Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1996.
Considers Guinizelli's date of birth and how his poetry breaks from that of the Guittonian school.
De Sanctis, Francesco. “The Tuscans.” In History of Italian Literature, translated by Joan Redfern, pp. 22-61. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1931.
Examines Guinizelli's strengths and weaknesses as a poet.
Toynbee, Paget. “Guido Guinizelli.” In A Dictionary of Proper Names and Notable Matters in the Works of Dante, revised by Charles S. Singleton, pp. 342-43. London: Oxford University Press, 1968.
Includes capsule descriptions of references to Guinizelli found in the works of Dante.
Usher, Jonathan. “Poetry.” In The Cambridge History of Italian Literature, edited by Peter Brand and Lino Pertile, pp. 5-27. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1996.
Focuses on Guinizelli's use of visual imagery, analogies, and juxtaposition.
Whitfield, J. H. “Italian Lyric Poetry: From the Sicilian School to Petrarch.” In A Short History of Italian Literature, pp. 17-32. 1960. Reprint. London: Cassell & Company Ltd,...
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