Bellissima: Feminine Beauty and the Idea of Italy

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Yale University Press, 2007 - History - 301 pages
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Feminine beauty has been more discussed, appreciated, represented in art and associated with national cultural identity in Italy than in any other country. From the time of Dante and Petrarch, ideals of beauty have informed the work of artists, including Botticelli, Leonardo and Titian. The modern connection between the country and beauty dates from the Grand Tour, with the nineteenth-century stereotype of the dark, passionate, natural woman appropriated as a symbol by Italian nationalists. This intriguing study investigates the debates and conflicts the issue has provoked. Radicals and monarchists, Catholics, Fascists and Communists have all championed specific ideas about female beauty. First theatre and the press, then, later, cinema and television inherited from literature and art the task of articulating ideals. Gundle examines Fascism's failure to mould the ideal modern Italian woman, the rise of beauty pageants after World War Two, the professional and public roles of film and television actresses, and the election of the first non-white Miss Italy in 1996.Although the public discussion of feminine beauty was largely a male affair, women regularly undermined or challenged its presuppositions. The book explores these questions through the careers and public images of the beautiful women who, through politics, the media or art, have been seen to embody the country, from Queen Margherita of Savoy, the opera singer Lina Cavalieri, to the movie icons Gina Lollobrigida, Claudia Cardinale, Monica Bellucci, and the evergreen Sophia Loren, who remains the living symbol of Italy and one of the most beautiful women in the world.

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About the author (2007)

Stephen Gundle is professor of Italian cultural history at Royal Holloway, University of London. He is the author of Between Hollywood and Moscow and The Glamour System.

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