The Expressive Nature of Italian Beauty

The value of Italian mental culture certainly enhances Italian beauty. As Henry Finck noted, Italian women of all social classes are known for their intellectual indolence. However, their extreme emotional sensitivity compensates for this quality in large part. A natural love of music, beautiful scenery, and blue skies have trained and softened their feelings.

The Italian Cultural Tendency for Expressive Emotions

The Italian climate does not appear to foster a deep artistic culture, but it does foster Italian expressive beauty. Italy’s climate warms the blood and shapes cultural features to express every passing mood. This tendency toward emotional expressiveness gives the Italians a distinct cultural charm and the capacity for graceful modulation.

According to the observations of the German artist Otto Knille (1832-1898) regarding the Italians,

“They pose unintentionally. Their features, especially among the lower classes, have been moulded through mimic expression practised for thousands of years. Gesture-language has shaped the hands of many into models of anatomic clearness. They have a complete language of signs and gestures, which each one understands, as, for instance, in the ballet. Add to this the innate grace of this race … and we see that the Italian artist has an abundance of material for copying, as compared with which the German artist must admit his extreme poverty. Whoever has lived in Italy is in a position to appreciate these advantages…. Think of the neck, the nape, and the bust of Italian woman, the fine joints and the elastic gait of both men and women. Nor are we much better endowed as regards the physiognomy. The German potato-face is not a mere fancy—the mirror which A. de Neuville has held up to us, though clouded with prejudice, shows us an image not entirely untrue to life. We artists know how rarely a head, especially one which lacks the enchanting charm of youth, can be used as a model for anything but flat realism. Most German faces, instead of becoming more clearly chiselled and elaborated with age, appear more spongy, vague, and unmeaning.”

 (As cited in Finck, 1887/2019, p. 515). 

The German archaeologist and art historian Johann Winckelmann (1717-1768) commented on Italian beauty in the same vein:

“We seldom find in the fairest portions of Italy the features of the face unfinished, vague, and inexpressive, as is frequently the case on the other side of the Alps; but they have partly an air of nobleness, partly of acuteness and intelligence; and the form of the face is generally large and full, and the parts of it in harmony with each other. The superiority of conformation is so manifest that the head of the humblest man among the people might be introduced in the most dignified historical painting, especially one in which aged men are to be represented. And among the women of this class, even in places of the least importance, it would not be difficult to find a Juno. The lower portion of Italy, which enjoys a softer climate than any other part of it, brings forth men of superb and vigorously-designed forms, which appear to have been made, as it were, for the purposes of sculpture.”

 (As cited in Finck, 1887/2019, p. 515).

Here Henry Finck (1887/2019) once again comments that the “brunette type” of Italians attracts the most admiration from foreigners.

Furthermore, Henry Finck (1887-2019) mentions German poet Heinrich Heine (1797-1856), who wrote about the women of Trent, a northern Italian city. Trent is a town in Austrian Tyrol that used to be part of Austria. However, practically, it consists of an Italian community.

Heinrich Heine claims in his book “Journey from Munich to Genoa” (1828) that he would have felt tempted to stay in this town where

“beautiful girls were moving about in bevies. I do not know,”

and then Heine adds,

“whether other tourists will approve of the adjective ‘beautiful’ in this case; but I liked the women of Trent exceptionally well. They were just of the kind I admire—and I do love these pale, elegiac faces with the large black eyes that gaze at you so love-sick; I love also the dusky tint of those proud necks which Phœbus already has loved and browned with his kisses; … but above all things do I love that graceful gait, that dumb music of the body, those limbs with their exquisitely rhythmic movements, luxurious, supple, divinely careless, mortally languid, anon æthereal, majestic, and always highly poetic. I love such things as I love poetry itself; and these figures with their melodious movements, this wondrous concert of femininity which delighted my senses, found an echo in my heart, and awoke in it sympathetic strains.”

(As cited in Finck, 1887/2019, p. 515).