© Jeff Matthews entry Nov 2012
David Rayner was kind enough to send me this comment on the Putta di Porta Tosa
*... inaccuracies in the text regarding this sculpture. It is very clearly 12th century work, not 13th as you state: the Romanesque arch above the figure, the style of dress, the neckline and the form of the lettering above the figure all point to a date some time before the 1180s.
She is not holding a knife, although this is indistinct in your image, but a pair of shears - scissors were not introduced until the early 14th century and shears were the normal haircutting tool of the time. Priests and monks receiving their first tonsure would first have their long hair cut with shears before a razorium was used (a small, sharp knife with a curved cutting edge) to finish the job. The shape of the shears is very clear in other photographs; shears of various sizes were used for everything from removing the fleece from sheep to cutting cloth for clothing and trimming fingernails.
The name of the former Milanese gate (Porta Tosa) may be from the Old Provençal word toza, meaning a girl, surviving as tosa in northern Italian dialects; or it may be the Italian verb tosare, meaning to shear, clip or trim. I have seen at least four different versions of the story behind the sculpture and the truth is probably lost in time, but it is certain that Italian clerical sensibilities were affronted in the 15th century and this is the reason for the figure being removed to a museum.
I should explain that for almost 15 years I have been researching all aspects of the Anglo-Norman 12th century, in particular the Church and the monasteries of the time but also looking at ordinary daily life and material culture - subjects which have been sadly neglected by historians and writers. Although I have mainly looked at England, the close connections with Normandy and the Norman kingdom in Italy and Sicily can not be ignored.
Once upon a time in the realm of Valleposa, the king had a daughter named Zoza, who was never seen to laugh. The anguished father, whose only joy in life was his daughter, tried everything to dispel her melancholy. He sent for those who walk on stilts and jump through hoops, for boxers, conjurers, jugglers, strong men, for dogs that dance, clowns that leap, and the donkey that drinks from a glass. In short, he tried everything, but, alas, nothing made Zoza laugh.
The poor father, at wit's end, made a last trial and ordered a large fountain of oil to be set in front of the palace gates. When the oil runs down the street, he thought, where people parade like ants, in order not to soil their clothes, they'll skip like grasshoppers, leap like goats, and run like hares; some will pick and choose their way, and others creep along the wall. In short, he hoped that something might make his daughter laugh.
So the fountain was built; and as Zoza stood at the window one day, grave and proper, and looking as sour as vinegar, an old woman passed by and started to soak up the oil with a sponge and to fill a small pitcher she had brought along. As she was concentrating on this clever ploy of hers, a young court page passed by and threw a stone with such precision that it hit and shattered the pitcher. The old woman, as outspoken as they come, faced the page angrily and yelled, "Why you little bed-wetting impotent good-for-nothing piece of dung!..."[etc. etc.!] The page, who had little beard and no discretion, however, gave as good as he got and yelled back: "Why don't you shut that sewer of a mouth, you bloody-eyed, child-murdering, serpent-spawned old witch!...[etc. etc!] At these terms of endearment, the old woman flew into a rage and raised her curtain to display a scene of thick foliage! [In Neapolitan: "...auzato la tela de l'apparato fece vedere la scena voscareccia." In modern Italian: "..."alzato il sipario dell'apparato fece vedere la scena boschereccia."] At that spectacle, Zoza, watching from the window, broke into laughter and almost fainted away...