Guinizelli, Guido

Guinizelli, Guido
(ca. 1230–1276)
   Guido Guinizelli, a Bolognese jurist, was one of the most influential lyric poets in medieval Italian literature. His seminal CANZONE, “Il cor gentil” (The gentle heart) was regarded by DANTE and his circle as something of a manifesto for the DOLCE STIL NOVO, the “sweet new style” that they believed they had brought to vernacular poetry in Italy. There has been some disagreement about the identity of the poet (since we know of two contemporaries by that name), but most scholars now agree that he was the son of Guinizzello da Magnano and Guglielmina di Ugolino Chisleri. Guido became a judge in Bologna in about 1266, and was active in support of the Ghibelline party (the political party supporting the Holy Roman Emperor), controlled in Bologna by a powerful family called the Lambertazzi. But the Ghibellines were defeated by the Guelfs (the party supporting the pope) in 1274, and Guinizelli was forced to go into exile at Monselice. He died in Padua in 1276. Only a small number of Guinizelli’s poems survive: Some five canzoni and 15 sonnets are extant, plus fragments of two other songs. It seems clear that early in his career, Guinizelli wrote in the manner of the Tuscan school, after GUITTONE D’AREZZO, whom at one point he calls his “father.” Indeed some scholars have suggested a date later than 1230 for Guinizelli’s birth, since they believe he must have been younger than Guittone to have venerated him so much. But in “Al cor gentil,” Guinizelli went in a new poetic direction. In his great canzone, Guinizelli says first that true love is found only in the gentle (or “noble”) heart, and that only such a heart can be perfected by love. His lady, he contends, is like one of God’s angels inhabiting the earth, and so is in that manner divine herself. Most important, Guinizelli brings imagery from medieval astronomy into the poem, comparing his love to the “intelligences,” those angels whose task is to move the planets in their heavenly spheres in accordance with the divine will. As the intelligences follow God’s will, his will is in tune with the lady’s.
   Guinizelli’s learned vocabulary introduced a new category of imagery and a new poetic language into vernacular poetry. For Guittone and for other poets like BONAGUINTA ORBICCIANI DA LUCCA, such rhetoric was unsuitable for poetry, and they condemned Guinizelli’s practice in their own verse. But for Dante and his circle, Guinizelli had rejuvenated the old clichés of COURTLY LOVE poetry, and had initiated a poetic revolution.After Guinizelli, learned, scientific images and intellectual vocabulary drawn from sources like Aristotle and Averroës were the new language of poetry, and those who were unable to understand that language were not worthy to be part of that new revolution.
   In the DIVINE COMEDY, Dante pays tribute to Guinizelli as the founder of the new poetry in canto 26 of the Purgatorio. He praises him in De VULGARI ELOQUENTIA and in the CONVIVIO as well, and alludes to Guinizelli’s great poem as something familiar to all in one of his sonnets, “Amore e’l cor gentil sono una rosa.” It is unlikely that Guinizelli had any intention of starting such a revolution. He was only interested in writing a love poem in a different manner than the tradition called for. Dante, CAVALACANTI, and the other stilnovisti, on the other hand, were looking for a break from the past, and they found their inspiration in “Al cor gentil.”
   ■ Goldin, Frederick, ed. and trans. German and Italian Lyrics of the Middle Ages: An Anthology and a History. New York: Doubleday, 1973.
   ■ Guinizelli, Guido. The Poetry of Guido Guinizelli. Edited and translated by Robert Edwards. New York: Garland, 1987.
   ■ Tusiani, Joseph, ed. The Age of Dante: An Anthology of Early Italian Poetry. New York: Baroque Press, 1974.

Encyclopedia of medieval literature. 2013.

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