The Italian Romantic Hero as an Ideal Latin Lover

This article on the website presents the recent study of Francesca Pierini, a lecturer from the University of Basel, Switzerland, as well as many other scholarly and literary examples of romantic ideals of male heroes. The author’s literary exploration described the narrative patterns of the Italian romantic hero. Her excellent review paper beautifully described the ideals of the Italian romantic lover.

The Literary and Cultural Stereotypes of Southern European Romantic Heroes

In contemporary Anglophone fiction, prominent descriptive patterns of the Latin, Spanish, and Italian people have shown these cultures as distinct constellations of counter-values to Anglo-American cultures and ethos. Literature and public discourse have depicted a particularly complex and multi-layered concept of culturally appealing “primitivism.” This viewpoint has found its way into a variety of cultural/artistic contexts, including Anglophone contemporary romantic novels, movies, and public discourse. For example, the Italian masculine hero, in both positive and negative aspects, is the recognized signifier of attractive otherness (Pierini, 2020).

Romantic novels describe the physical characteristics of Italian heroes as sensuous and alluringly dark men, implying an untrustworthy character and a hot and short temper. In these descriptions, mainstream beliefs about southern European machismo conflate with popular literary conventions about Middle Eastern cultures based on their apparent discontinuity with the modern world. The novels present Arab and southern European men as attractive because of their unusual and even exotic images.

Latin Lover

Italian and Spanish romantic heroes are often presented as Latin lovers. These romantic heroes resemble alpha males. These men are strong, hard, confident, dominant, and can be aggressive, yet they have a tender spot that the heroine uncovers. Writers frequently elicit mainstream assumptions about machismo as alpha maleness when creating the character of a Latin lover (Jarmakani, 2011).

A Latin lover is commonly known as a Latin man who is known for his romantic disposition, passionate temperament, and sexual aptitude. For the figure of the “Latin lover,” Pierini (2020) proposed the term “Mediterranean Man.” It implies a merger of the southern European and the Arab man.

What Does a Latin Lover Look Like?

The physical appearance of these men’s heroes is important. A couple of decades ago, the physical traits of the romantic hero were depicted in fascinating remarks on the dark color of their skin. Currently, such references look more like the remarks

on the “rich caramel coloring of his [the sheik’s] skin, giving true meaning to the description of tall, dark, and handsome.”

(Jackson, 2002/2017).

The Exotic and Erotic Latin Lover

British romantic novels often depict Spain as the land of a blazing sun, the flamenco, the castanets, the fiesta, the siesta, and bullfighting.

European romantic novels describe Italy quite similarly—in some regards—as a timeless land of a blazing sun, winemaking, and continuous traditions, as well as the people with long and unbroken family histories, the aperitivo, the pasta, and the siesta. The Italian romantic hero is frequently portrayed as an elegant Italian winemaker who is very attached to his family and parents. He is a successful, imposing, but compassionate man (George, 2014).

Darkness marks the Latin lover out as being exotic, erotic, and different. His dark hair, black eyes, and olive skin accentuate the cultural and ethnic differences. The heroine, with her English rose complexion and clear eyes, commonly signifies another cultural marker or metonymy (Pérez-Gil, 2019).

Romance stories depicts such exotic features as natural and inborn in . They appear as the outcome of genetic features—a “Mediterranean” DNA—rather than a social and cultural environment. Italian and Spanish men seem to have a sort of “Mediterranean DNA” that accounts for their physical traits (Pierini, 2020).

Masculinity of an Italian Romantic Hero

The typical image of an Italian romantic hero resembles, in a broad sense, a Mediterranean man. His blackness of the skin, eyes, and hair is a recurring theme. Authors frequently use the terms “dark eyes,” “dark stare,” “dark golden eyes and gaze,” “olive-toned complexion,” and “bronzed skin” in various combinations (see for review, Pierini, 2020).

Many romantic novels have repeatedly portrayed the stereotypical description of the Italian hero’s dark eyes and complexion. Writers often use the analogy of darker skin with chocolate, which is inviting, tempting, and essentially resembles a hedonistic food.

The idea of the domineering and primitive masculinity of a Latin lover, in contrast to English cold-bloodedness and sexual restraint, resembled “oriental men,” splendid, healthy, and predatory animals.

In the romantic depictions of Italian heroes, the recurring expressions frequently present

“olive-toned skin,” “chocolate eyes,” and “eyelashes, long and lustrous, fringed eyes the color of rich, melted chocolate, warm and tempting”

(see for review, Pierini, 2020, p. 6).

They have

“dark eyes,” “smouldering dark eyes,” “molten eyes,” or “dark, sultry eyes.”

(see for review, Pierini, 2020, p. 6).

They also have

“dark gaze” or “dark and compelling gaze,” “olive-toned flesh,” and “olive-toned hands.”

(see for review, Pierini, 2020, p. 6).

The Latin Lover as an Italian Playboy

For instance, in Anderson’s Between the Italian’s Sheets (2009), we read,

“Dazed, she studied the difference in their colouring.  She had come from a cold winter, so her skin was pale, whereas his olive complexion had been enhanced in the heat of the European summer”.

Or, another similar writing says:

“she stared hard into the darkness of his eyes, let hers roam over his features, his olive skin, the angled jaw that right now was shadowed with stubble, the full mouth”.

In The Playboy of Rome (2015) by J. Faye, author describes the Italian hero as “dark and undeniably handsome,”  with “tanned skin around his dark eyes.” The eyes are “dark and mysterious,” with a “dark gaze.”

In The Italian’s Christmas Child (2016) by L. Graham, author persistently repeats the expression “dark golden eyes.” And Vito, the male protagonist, is a “glorious display of bronzed perfection.”

Pierini (2020) presents many other examples of such romantic cultural descriptors. They allow us to compile an attractive ideal image of the romantic Italian lover.

What is a prototypical Italian man? How romantic is a Latin lover?

  • Does the real Italian man look like a prototypical Latin lover in love?
  • What is a prototypical Italian woman?