Don't let this theme title fool you. Petrarch was never part of a women's studies program nor was he a proto-feminist—like, ever. But we can still talk about female beauty and ideas of femininity since the male gaze in Canzone 126 is so occupied with the ethereal Laura. Her attractiveness has everything to do with her beauty, softness, and innocence. These are the qualities that "divide [him] from the true image" of the world around him and leave him sighing in bliss. And that's just from the memory of Laura.
This brings up another important point about ideal women (or The Ideal Woman): they're untouchable, unattainable—generally not of this world. In this, Petrarch's taking his cue from the troubadours who had been putting their lady loves on a pedestal for years before his poems were ever written. In the world of romantic obsession, there really isn't anything better than a beautiful woman who's out of your league. Who wants pesky reality intruding when you're trying to idolize?
Questions About Women and Femininity
How would you characterize the language that Petrarch uses to speak of Laura in this poem?
What is the most important quality of Petrarch's beloved here, in your opinion? Why do you think so?
What role does Laura play in Petrarch's fantasy of the future?
How is Petrarch affected by Laura's beauty here? How does he deal with it?
Chew on This
In Canzone126, Petrarch deliberately refuses to show a full portrait of Laura to convey that her beauty is inexpressible and intangible.
The ideal of feminine beauty is less important to Petrarch in Canzone126 than his association of Laura with the natural world.