Guido Cavalcanti. “Sonnet (to Guido Orlandi). Of a Consecrated Image resembling his Lady.”

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

General Description

Date: 1848?; 1861
Rhyme: abbaabbacdeedc
Meter: iambic pentameter
Genre: sonnet


“Introduction to Part II” (in The Early Italian Poets), 193-206

◦ Contini, Poeti de Duecento, II. 558-565

◦ Cassata, Guido Cavalcanti. Rime, 215-217


Editorial glosses and textual notes are available in a pop-up window. Line numbering reflects the structure of the Early Italian Poets text..

Scholarly Commentary


It is interesting that DGR would choose to translate this work, one of Cavalcanti's most irreverent and anti-religious. The sonnet refers to a celebrated episode recorded in the chronicles of Florence for 3 July 1292: the report of great miracles effected through a painting of the Virgin in the church of San Michele d'Orto. Equally interesting is how well DGR replicates the spirit and import of Cavalcanti's wicked and witty sonnet. Both original and translation work by reserve and implication, and DGR manages his imitation by departing from a literal strictness at certain key points (e.g., in the opening quatrain). DGR's rhyme scheme also varies from the original, but—as regularly with his translations—he chooses another scheme equally characteristic of the works he is translating.

One doesn't miss, or fail to admire, DGR's own highly topical witticism in lines 13-14, where he manages a remarkable coded reference to the PRB: the Pre- Raphaelite “Brethren”, as they called themselves, who created a stir and gained public notice by their admiration of early Italian painting. In this event DGR introduces a whole range of meaning into the sonnet that is not present in Cavalcanti—although it seems remarkably true to the original in its very Victorian fashion. DGR's reserved wit becomes a sign of the polemical aggression concealed in the PRB Brethren's return to humble pictorial models by pictores ignoti, “Lesser Brethren” who came before and set an example for the PRB program. His prose note to these lines, equally reserved, nonetheless also makes the point—obliquely: “The Franciscans, in profession of deeper poverty and humility than belonged to other Orders, called themselves Frates minores.”

The sonnet was in fact the first of three poems Cavalcanti wrote in sequence, each one being answered in turn by Guido Orlandi, a contemporary whose religious views (and literary skills) were very far from Cavalcanti's. DGR also translates Orlandi's response to Cavalcanti's sonnet, but he did not know from his source that the two poets were engaged in a six part tenzone. DGR translates the second set of poems by the two men, but separately, not knowing the full story of their exchange. Cicciaporci does not include in his edition Cavalcanti's third poem, “Di vil matera mi conven parlare”. The whole poetical exchange is printed in Casatta.

DGR's source text was Cicciaporci's Rime di Guido Cavalcanti (Sonnet III in the “Rime Inedite”, page 40).

Printing History

The translation was first published in 1861 in The Early Italian Poets; it was reprinted in 1874 in Dante and his Circle.

Electronic Archive Edition: 1
Source File: 131d-1861.raw.xml