TIME Culture

‘Sentiment, Ego and Exuberance’: LIFE Celebrates the Italian Man

A classic photo of a young man combing his girlfriend's hair reminds us that, in some elemental ways, Italians are not like the rest of us.

Say what you will about LIFE, but one trait the long-lived weekly magazine wisely eschewed throughout the years was an unbecoming false modesty. During its four-decade run as one of the world’s most influential publications, LIFE routinely made sweeping statements about topics big and small, secure in the belief that its opinion not only mattered but was — in some obscure, tacit way — definitive.

Consider, for instance, these lines from a memorable 1963 feature, “The Italian Man: That Supercharged Bundle of Sentiment, Ego and Exuberance”:

In whatever he does, from quietly combing the hair of a girlfriend to loudly showing off at a swimming pool, the Italian man is the most natural of men. His spontaneity and his self-confidence are unequaled. He knows the girl will sigh with bliss, that there will be water under him when he comes down. He treats fleeting moments as if they were the most important in his life — because they are. As his country — and his spirits — revived [in the years after WWII], the world has become better acquainted and even fascinated with his engaging qualities. For his candid enthusiasm and sensuality have helped fill the world with music and art, laughter and love and a particular kind of triumphant masculinity.

The photo above, meanwhile — made by Paul Schutzer, who was equally adept at photographing wars, world leaders, film stars, natural disasters, you name it — might be the single most romantic image ever published in the pages of LIFE. It is tender, but not at all soft. It is unabashedly sensual, but light-years from crude. A near-palpable warmth, both physical and emotional, emanates from the frame.

He treats fleeting moments as if they were the most important in his life — because they are. Schutzer’s picture captures one fleeting moment, perfectly — a moment, it’s worth noting, that would not feel quite so voluptuous, quite so casually chic, if the man with the comb and the woman in his arms weren’t, somehow, so quintessentially Italian.

The rest of us, no matter where we’re from, can only look at them, and sigh.

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