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flaxen locks that once floated freely in the breeze, tying themselves in knots just as their vision bound the observer himself to his desired lady, are now the wiry gray tufts that cannot even properly frame the yellowed complexion of this unfortunate hag.  Berni’s portrayal of the old woman is a description of a contemporary physical reality (queste / son le bellezze della mia donna).  This crude picture of geriatric decay contrasts sharply to the soft image of the young and beautiful beloved that Petrarch has in his memory in sonnet 157 of the Canzoniere, as well as from the dominant imitative poetry of the time, like Pietro Bembo’s sonnet “Crin d’oro crespo.”

This refashioning of the aesthetic ideal is not so much an outright objection of a visual standard, however, as it is a scathing rebuke of the misuse of Petrarchan poetry and a clever re-appropriation of the available Petrarchan material.  From its very first word, this sonnet foregrounds its relationship to its poetic past and exposes its reliance on available poetic tools.  “Chiome” is something of a literary term, akin to the English “locks” or “tresses,” and participates in the “highly artificial literary language” that is a hallmark of the Petrarchan tradition.  The word does itself, in fact, come straight from the Petrarchan lexicon.  The word appears in Canzoniere 196 (line seven: “et le chiome”), 197 (line nine: “dico le chiome bionde”), and 198 (line three: “de le chiome stesse”) for example, and in each instance, these locks are described as twisted, softly snaring, and knotted.  In fact, “chiome” is used consistently in the Canzoniere to describe hair that does not hang gracefully at the shoulders; this word characterizes the loose locks that tango with and tangle in the wind.  In addition to the preceding examples, take for instance the interwoven wisps of long curls in Canzoniere 159, “chiome d’oro sì fino a l’aura sciolse” and the fixated gaze on the beloved’s seductively swaying braids

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