Guido Guinizzelli

The Italian poet Guido Guinizzelli (c. 1230-1276) is considered a precursor of Dante and the originator of the so-called dolce stil novo, or sweet new style.

The son of Guinizzello da Magnano and Guglielmina di Ugolini Ghisilieri, Guido Guinizzelli was born in Bologna between 1230 and 1240, probably toward the end of the decade. He was a judge and married to Beatrice della Fratta; they had one son, Guiduccio. In 1274 he was banished from Bologna together with members of his family and other partisans of the Ghibelline faction of the Lambertazzi. They spent their time of exile in Monselice, where he died before Nov. 14, 1276.

The chronology of Guinizzelli's collection of canzoni and sonnets cannot be established, but his early poetry tends to be under the influence of Guittone d'Arezzo. Guittone's elaborate virtuosity of style is reflected in a sonnet which Guinizzelli wrote to him, addressing him as his "dear father" and respectfully submitting to Guittone—as to a "master"—a canzone, with the request that he should correct and polish it.

Guinizzelli's poetry reflects a background in scholastic philosophy and above all a thorough knowledge of the Provençal and Sicilian tradition of lyric poetry. Within this tradition, however, Guinizzelli was an innovator, and he was recognized as such by his contemporaries. Bonagiunta da Lucca, a Tuscan poet of the Sicilian tradition, wrote a sonnet to Guinizzelli accusing him of having changed the style of elegant love poetry, of speaking obscurely and composing poetry by dint of learning. Guinizzelli answered, also in a sonnet, that the wise man does not reveal his thought before he is sure of the truth. The sonnet shows Guinizzelli's concern with the thought which underlies the poetic expression. Dante, who was almost 30 years younger and belonged to a new generation of poets, acknowledges his debt to Guinizzelli in Purgatory, XXVI. He calls him "my father and the father of all my betters who ever composed sweet and graceful verses of love."

While the older Bonagiunta da Lucca criticizes Guinizzelli for his intellectual approach, the younger Dante praises him for his harmonious style. Guinizzelli's poetry does in fact contain both these elements. His "new manner" is characterized by musical equilibrium and acute psychological analysis that is often expressed in terms of vivid concrete imagery drawn from the natural world. In the similes and comparisons that he invents, Guinizzelli's creativity is particularly evident. His poetry of praise translates the woman's beauty into images of light and splendor.

Guinizzelli's intellectual bent is prominent in his most famous canzone, Al cor gentil rempaira sempre amore. This theoretical poem equates love with virtue in the noble heart. Nobility is defined as a natural, not a hereditary, disposition toward virtue. The woman's beauty brings the potential for virtue into actuality. Finally, there is a daring theological comparison derived from Thomistic philosophy:just as God causes the heavens to fulfill their nature by revolving in obedience, so the woman should arouse in the noble man a desire to obey her. There is an apparent reconciliation between earthly and divine love, but the final stanza constitutes a lighthearted, epigrammatic recantation. This road from an earthly to a divine love would not be traveled again in literature until Dante wrote his Divine Comedy.

Further Reading on Guido Guinizzelli

For material on Guinizzelli consult Frederick Ozanam, The Franciscan Poets of the Thirteenth Century (1852; trans. 1914); Oscar Kuhns, The Great Poets of Italy (1903; repr. 1969); Vincent Luciani, A Brief History of Italian Literature (1967); and Eugenio Donadoni, A History of Italian Literature (2 vols., trans. 1969).