Reference > Fiction > Nonfiction > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
Of the Forehead and Temples
By Agnolo Firenzuola (1493–1545)
From ‘Of the Beauty of Women’: Translation of Clara Bell

CELSO—To return to the person of our image, I say that you, Madonna Amororrisca, have a shape between lean and fat, round and juicy and of the right proportions, wherein we see suppleness and dexterity, with somewhat that is right queenly. Your hue is not of that whiteness which verges on pallor, but tinted with blood, after the fashion which the ancients prized. The person of a lady of high degree should move with gravity and after a certain gentle manner which keeps it upright, yet not stiff, so that we find in it that majesty whereof I lately spoke. And inasmuch as you have most of all these things, we are bound to give you Verdespina’s hair; and now will seek a forehead.  1
  The forehead must be spacious; that is, wide and high, fair and serene. The height, which is understood to be from where the hair ends down to the confines of the eyebrows and the nose, according to many writers should be the third part of the face; the second part being measured to the upper lip, and the third part all the rest, including the chin;—the height, then, I say, must be equal to half the width, and it will be twice as wide as the height; so that from the width we estimate the height, and the height from the width. And we have said it must be fair, since it must not be of an over-dull whiteness without any lustre, but should shine after the manner of a mirror; not by wetness, or by painting, or by foul washes like that of Bovinetta, which, an it were fish to fry, might be worth a farthing a pound more as not needing to be floured; howbeit, it is not to be sold nor fried.  2
  The line of the brow should not be all flat, but curved like an arch toward the crown of the head, so gently that it is scarce to be perceived; but from the boss of the temples it should descend more straightly. Our poets speak of it as serene, and with reason; since as the sky is serene when we see on it no cloud nor any manner of spot, so the front, when it is clear and open, without furrows or wrinkles or powders, is calm and tranquil, and may be rightly called serene; and whereas the sky when it is serene engenders a certain contentment in the mind of those who behold it, so the forehead which we call serene, gives, through the eye, peace to the soul of those who gaze upon it. As it is now with me, gazing on that of Madonna Lampiada, which, having all the qualities I have enumerated, will do well to place beneath Verdespina’s hair. And that serenity of which I speak is the greater for the lustre of the eyes, they being without the confines of the forehead indeed, and yet appearing as the two chief luminaries in the sky; and we will first speak of the eyebrows.  3
  Now, to speak of these, we will take as an example those of Verdespina, who hath them in color like ebony; fine, and of short, soft hairs, as though they were of the finest silk; and from the middle to the ends they gently diminish, on one side towards the hollow or socket of the eye, by the nose, and on the other toward that part which is near the ear, and where they end.  4
  Next we come to the eye, which in every part of the visible globe, or eyeball, excepting the pupil, must be white, slightly tinged with the hue of flax, but so little as to be scarce perceptible. The pupil, save only the circle which lies in the centre, should not be perfectly black, albeit all the Greek and Latin poets, and our own likewise, praise black eyes as with one voice, and all are agreed that the goddess of beauty had them. Nevertheless, those are not wanting who praise eyes which are of the color of the sky, and that Venus had them so is to be found written in certain trustworthy authors.  5
  Among you there is a lady, reputed exceeding fair by me and by many others, who, having such eyes, gains in grace thereby. Nevertheless, common custom seems to have obtained that dark tan or nut-brown eyes hold the first place among eyes of other colors. Deep black is not much to be commended, since it tends to a somewhat gloomy and cruel gaze; and nut brown, if dark, gives a soft, bright, clear, and kindly gaze; and it lends to the movement of the eyes I know not what alluring charm,—frank, attractive, and keen, which I cannot better explain than by pointing to those of Madonna Lampiada, to whom none of these qualities are lacking. And besides this that has been said, and again like Madonna Lampiada, the eyes must be large and full, not concave nor hollow, for hollowness makes the gaze overproud, and fullness makes it sweet and modest. So Homer, desiring to praise the eyes of Juno, tells us that they were like those of an ox, meaning thereby that they were round and full and large. Many have said that they should be long, and others that they should be oval, which pleases me very well.  6
  The eyelids, when they are white, with certain delicate rosy veins, hardly to be seen, are a great aid to the general beauty of the eye; and the lashes should be thin and not over-long and not white, since, besides being ill-favored, they impair the sight. Nor would I have them very black, which makes the gaze fierce. The socket which surrounds the eye is not to be very deep, nor too large, nor different in color from the cheek; and let ladies who paint be on their guard,—those, I would say, who are brown,—since this part is very often unapt to take the paint or the plastering by reason of its hollow shape, or to retain it by reason of the motion of the eyelashes, and thus makes a division which looks very ill. Madonna Theofila’s neighbor often falls into this error.  7
  The ears, which should be tinted rather of the hue of pale rubies than of red ones, and which we will paint like the balcony rose, and not the damask, I will borrow from you, Selvaggia. For their perfect beauty, as we see in yours, a middle size is to be desired, with the shell finely turned, and of a livelier hue than the flat part; and the roll which borders them all round must be transparent and of a brilliant hue like the seed of a pomegranate. Above all, if they be soft and thin their beauty is spoiled; hence, as they are seen in her, they should be firm and well set on.  8
  Of the temples there is little to be said save that they must be white and flat, not hollow; not over-full and moist, nor so narrow as to seem to press on the brain, which would signify a weakness of the brain. And they are beautiful when they resemble those of Madonna Amororrisca. And the manner of laying the hair over them, higher or lower, curled or drawn smooth, thicker or thinner, enlarges or diminishes the temples and makes them wider or narrower, longer or shorter, as we may desire, or as a little flower shall confine it.  9
  Madonna Lampiada—When I was a girl we did not love to dress our heads as many of our maidens do nowadays, putting so many flowers and leaves that they often resemble a jar full of gilliflowers or marjoram; nay, some might be a quarter of kid on the spit, since they will even wear rosemary, which to me seems the most graceless thing in the world. And you, Messer Celso, how seems it to you?  10
  Celso—I like it not, if I am to tell the truth; and this mistake arises from their not knowing for what reason the ancients would wear a flower above the ear. I speak of gentlewomen, since the peasant women, having no other jewels nor pearls, load themselves, as you know, with flowers, without order, fashion, or number; and in them this excess becomes beauty.  11
  Madonna Lampiada—Meseems that even gentle ladies may have worn flowers for their more homely adornment, instead of pearls and gold; inasmuch as not all our peers have wherewithal to attire themselves with the gems of the Orient or the sands of Tagus, and so it was needful to use the riches of the gardens of our own land. But each one having tried to outdo the others, they seem sometimes as if they had a garland or quintain about the face. And waters and powders were in those days invented, to remove pimples and moles and other such stains, but to-day they are used to paint and whiten the whole face, just as lime and plaster cover the face of a wall; and peradventure those foolish maids believe that men, whom they seek to please, do not discern this foulness, which I would have them to know wears them out and makes them grow old before their time, and destroys their teeth, while they seem to be wearing a mask all the year through. Look now at Mona Bettola Gagliani; what do you think of her? The more she paints and the more she dresses up the older she seems; nay, she is like a gold ducat that hath lain in aquafortis. And it would not be thus if she had not used washes so much when she was young. I, for my part, if I am still well preserved (which indeed I know not, but it shall suffice that others say so) it is from no cause but that water from the well has ever been my wash, and shall be that of my daughter so long as she tarries with me; afterwards, it must be her husband’s care.  12

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