The redemptive power of the face: from Beatrice (Portinari) to Bérénice (Bejo)



The capacity of the human face to affect behavior in the observer is obvious and unquestioned, yet we lack a usable philosophy of facial expression. This essay looks at one effect of the face in its highest moment of expressiveness: it discusses the redemptive force of a woman’s face, as portrayed in Dante’s works and in the modern film. Beatrice’s face becomes a mediator to heaven and thus establishes a long tradition of that trope in Petrarchan love lyric. The invention of photography and cinema enabled nuanced, emotionally charged facial representation that departed from the affect-free pictorial representation of woman’s face from the eighteenth to the twentieth century. In Michael Hazanivicius’s film The Artist, the face of a redemptive woman mediates access to a compassionate world of charm, glamour, and innocence.


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© Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of Illinois at Urbana-ChampaignUrbanaUSA

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