violent swirling of vibrant Petrarchan colors. Milena Montanile comments very nicely on the odd combination of outright defiance and reverent recycling of Petrarchan traditions that Berni’s sonnet exhibits. She locates a fine line between outright defiance and absolute rejection when discussing Berni’s treatment of the Petrarchan beauty code:
Berni instaura nella vicinanza formale tra parodia e modello un rapporto di parole e immagini rovesciate; in questo gioco degli opposti il testo parodiato, rappresentato dall’intera traditionze lirica petrarchesca, agisce come presupposto obbligato e sollecita reazioni di abbassamento contro la sua stessa inerzia formale. E tuttavia il ritratto della donna brutta, reso per accumulo di elementi descrittivi (canuta, rugosa, cisposa, sdentata, strabica) non si regola, né può regolarsi a sistema: a Berni non interessa imporre nuove norme, istituire nuovi modelli; ecco perché il gioco della triade obbligata, la combinazione di giallo-bianco-rosso, sembra frantumarsi in una danza stralunata di colori che traduce la difficoltà a fissare in sistema l’equivalente in negativo del topos.25
Montanile seems to suggest that Berni’s work does not so much argue for a new anti-Petrarchan aesthetic standard as much as it does combat the existence of any such thing, confronting the ultra-regulated Petrarchan code with one that cannot itself be regulated or fixed in any certain configuration.
Here, then, is perhaps Berni’s boldest move. Instead of using the lost portrait of Laura by Simone Martini as a starting point, with each of her features stubbornly glued into place by tempera on parchment, Berni treats original Laura’s image as a mosaic composed of so many little tesserae, and begins his work by picking up the various pieces he finds scattered through the poetry. By approaching the poetry this way, he seems to locate a resistance for codified beauty in the original Petrarchan poetry and instead picks up on the text’s playful readerliness. This playfulness allows one to treat the beloved not so much as a structured jigsaw puzzle, whose carefully cut pieces can fit together only in
25 Milena Montanile, “Le chiome antipetrarchiste di Berni,” Esperienze letterarie, 21:2 (1996):59-66, here 62.