Many cultural characteristics distinguish national beauty standards. In this and previous articles, I describe Italian beauty based on many sources from the last several centuries. Let us explore the archival legacy of love scholarship (Finck, 1887/2019). Here are some of the ways that Henry Finck and other writers of the 19th century described the beauty of Italy.
The origin of Italian beauty is in the mixture of cultures that evolved from the contacts with Greeks and Africans in the south and the barbarian invasions in the north of the country.
What Makes Italian Beauty Natural?
An English poet, Lord Byron, characterized Italy as “the garden of the world” and said that its “very weeds are beautiful.” These unique qualities can be due to the race as well as the soil. It is because they live in a garden, where the air is balmy and the sun is mellow. Italians can, to some extent, disregard personal hygiene laws. They can thrive in the conditions that would torture others to death.
The cosmetic value of fresh air and sunshine is striking in Italy.
Miss Margaret Collier notes in her book “Our Home by the Adriatic” that in rural Italian communities, even among the wealthy, requesting a bath raises concerns about one’s health.
And Berlioz referred to Italian peasant girls in one of his writings:
“Carrying heavy copper vessels and faggots on their heads; but all so wretched, go miserable, so tattered, so filthily dirty, that, in spite of the beauty of the race and the picturesqueness of their costume, all other feelings are swallowed up in one of utter compassion.”
Berlioz also spoke of “the beauty of the race,” notwithstanding the national indifference to the laws of cleanliness.
Italian Beauty, Love, and Marriage
The value of beauty and love in matrimonial relationships in the 19th century varied across social groups of Italians.
In rural regions, French cultural practices regarding marriage appear to be prevalent. Miss Collier recalls a young woman who came to see her to wish her luck in her upcoming wedding. When Miss Collier asked the girl the name of her future husband, the girl answered naively, “I don’t know; papa has not yet told me that.”
The peasants, on the other hand, had the freedom to choose their own mates. So, the value of Italian beauty was most prevalent among them. Individual mate selection was also more permissible in nineteenth-century France. Instead of being cynical and making fun of it, the Italians worshiped love as if it were a law.