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  • Ariosto’s Grace:The View from Lodovico Dolce
  • Ita Mac Carthy (bio)

I will try not … to flee from the complex reality of the text in search of definitions but rather to adhere to it as far as possible. I will, in short, start not from disembodied ideas … but from the materials of which literary texts are made, that is, the words themselves (Saccone, “Grazia, Affettazione, Sprezzatura” 47).

In 1557, Lodovico Dolce (c.1508–68) proclaimed grace to be the most prestigious marker of distinction for writers and artists. In the same treatise, he hailed Ariosto as the contemporary poetic champion of that quality (Dialogo della pittura 195–96). But what did Dolce mean by grace when applying it to Ariosto, and where, if at all, is grace to be found in the Furioso? This essay offers an answer to these questions through a close reading, which draws and builds on Dolce’s work, of a brief but exemplary episode: the final part of Astolfo’s voyage to the moon. By reading this particularly self-reflexive episode through Dolce’s eyes, as it were, I aim to gauge not only what he meant by grace and how it could be achieved in the various stages of composition, but also to offer an insight into the extraordinarily broad appeal of the poem for readers of his time. There have been a number of excellent studies illuminating the scholarly controversy over the merits and weaknesses of Ariosto’s poem which spanned the forty years after its publication.1 Less work has been done on the reception of Ariosto by his non-specialist readership.2 My aim here is to fill that [End Page S45] gap and to shed light on the quality of grace that made this poem a Renaissance bestseller.

Why select Dolce as the representative of Ariosto’s early non-specialist reception? As the most prolific editor in sixteenth-century Venice, Dolce collaborated in the 1542 Giolito edition of the Furioso, which was to become the most frequently reissued of its time.3 At the same time, numerous other sixteenth-century editions of the poem featured paratexts penned by this important cultural figure (Terpening 29–30). The resounding success of his editions and paratexts testifies to the fact that Dolce knew how to anticipate and respond to the tastes and opinions of his readers, from aristocrats and courtiers, to the piccola borghesia and the so-called “lowbrow” popolo minuto (Fumagalli 181–83). Dolce’s interests in the Furioso, however, were by no means purely commercial. His paratexts included sonnets in praise of Ariosto, allegorie drawing moral lessons from each canto, brief treatises defending his work against detractors, indexes explaining the most difficult words and dimostrationi attesting to Ariosto’s links with his classical predecessors. Meanwhile, his independent treatises on literature, language and the visual arts also featured Ariosto as the exemplary literary figure of his day.4 Clearly, then, Dolce’s thoughtful and extensive work on the Furioso represents more than a calculated response to the demands of the book trade. Driven by an enthusiastic love of the poem, it constitutes a concerted—at times missionary—effort to distil from it the qualities that most appealed to him and those that he thought would best please and instruct its readers.

Because he wrote so prolifically, it would be hard to do justice to the full range of Dolce’s assessment of Ariosto in one short essay. It is for this reason that I focus on what he considered the most important literary virtue: grace. Grace features as a keyword throughout Dolce’s appreciation of the Furioso. He uses it, as we shall see, to articulate the poem’s virtues; to link it to its counterparts in the art-world; and [End Page S46] to unite its learned and non-specialist readers by highlighting both its classical credentials and its ongoing resonance in modern contexts. As such, grace acts as a crucial point of access into the contemporary reception of Ariosto’s poem. I shall examine grace in the three phases of composition outlined by Dolce in his treatises: the inventio (choice of subject-matter), dispositio (arrangement of subject-matter) and...


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