Ferrara Mon Amour

Written by  Ettore Della Giovanna
«O deserted beauty of Ferrara / I will praise you as one praises the countenance / of she who bends over our heart / yearning to be free of joys past»
It is surprising that in this day and age, in which the world's cities are tormented - among many things - by acoustic pollution, Ferrara is still one of the few places that deserve the praises dedicated to it by Gabriele D'Annunzio ninety-eight years ago. If one walks a mere hundred yards from the area around the Castello Estense, Corso Giovecca, and the inner ring road, one immediately finds the city of silence with its streets guarded by austere buildings.

The splendid volume Ferrara dentro... by Folco Quilici and Luca Tamagni and published by the Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio di Ferrara is an ideal introduction to the silence of Ferrara. Quilici leads us into the secret, virtually invisible gardens, the cloisters of churches such as Santo Spirito and San Giorgio fuori le Mura, as well as other splendid churches where one can breathe the peace of a cloistered world free of sin.


But in Ferrara sin is ever lying in wait because this is a city of silence and mystery as well as one of beautiful women: this is affirmed, in the same book, in an excellent essay on D'Annunzio in Ferrara by Luca Quattrocchi in which the author recalls fascinating names such as Violantilla, Lucrezia, Eleonora, Isabella, and Parisina as well as Vanna, Alivia, Mambilia, and Medialusa... There are enough of them to nourish the daydreams of those, such as I, who love to linger for hours in the pavement café in front of the Archbishop's residence and the cathedral.
Lightsome and graceful, on foot or on their bicycles, the women of Ferrara pass by in front of those cafes in corso Martiri della Libertà as if on the way to some love tryst. In a note to one of his Discourses on the beauty of women, Agnolo Firenzuola follows the mathematics and the geometry of Divine Proportions as elaborated by fra' Luca Pacioli and, on the subject of the female breast, he offers that of Ferrarese womanhood as the perfect example.

Firenzuola, who knew more about women than a thousand Don Giovannis and who also knew the Euclidean golden section, also gives the measurements «taken from life» - lucky devil - of the distance between the nipples that - if I recall aright - is twice that of the distance between each nipple and the clavicle at the point in which the latter joins the sternum.

All this strikes me as enough to lead into temptation even a young follower of the Dominican friar Girolamo Savonarola, who was burnt at the stake three years after the birth of that unworthy monk Firenzuola.

Fortunately for us, Ferrarese womanhood did not choose to become flappers in the Twenties nor are they fashionably anorexic today. The measurements mentioned earlier are not a 15th century Italian invention: Phydias, Praxiteles, and Apollonius already knew them 2500 years ago; in fact they were the ones who established the fundamental canons of female beauty.

This digression of mine is not mere libertinage. Ferrara is loved to the point of infatuation for its monuments that reveal a glorious history and tradition, for its buildings that testify to a bold and intrepid race, for its silences and its oases of peace, but it's not a museum, a ghost town: it's vibrant, progressive, alive, and it is so thanks to its people, and certainly to the great merits of its menfolk, whose contribution I would be extremely foolish to underestimate.

It's just that in this little note I have preferred to concentrate on women first and foremost, also because, to quote the Hungarian poet Nikolaus Lenau, «no force in the world may withstand the sweet onslaught of true womanly beauty».

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