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Art and Beauty in the Middle Ages

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In this authoritative, lively book, the celebrated Italian novelist and philosopher Umberto Eco presents a learned summary of medieval aesthetic ideas. Juxtaposing theology and science, poetry and mysticism, Eco explores the relationship that existed between the aesthetic theories and the artistic experience and practice of medieval culture.  “[A] delightful study. . . . [ In this authoritative, lively book, the celebrated Italian novelist and philosopher Umberto Eco presents a learned summary of medieval aesthetic ideas. Juxtaposing theology and science, poetry and mysticism, Eco explores the relationship that existed between the aesthetic theories and the artistic experience and practice of medieval culture.  “[A] delightful study. . . . [Eco’s] remarkably lucid and readable essay is full of contemporary relevance and informed by the energies of a man in love with his subject.” —Robert Taylor, Boston Globe “The book lays out so many exciting ideas and interesting facts that readers will find it gripping.” —Washington Post Book World  “A lively introduction to the subject.” —Michael Camille, The Burlington Magazine “If you want to become acquainted with medieval aesthetics, you will not find a more scrupulously researched, better written (or better translated), intelligent and illuminating introduction than Eco’s short volume.” —D. C. Barrett, Art Monthly


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In this authoritative, lively book, the celebrated Italian novelist and philosopher Umberto Eco presents a learned summary of medieval aesthetic ideas. Juxtaposing theology and science, poetry and mysticism, Eco explores the relationship that existed between the aesthetic theories and the artistic experience and practice of medieval culture.  “[A] delightful study. . . . [ In this authoritative, lively book, the celebrated Italian novelist and philosopher Umberto Eco presents a learned summary of medieval aesthetic ideas. Juxtaposing theology and science, poetry and mysticism, Eco explores the relationship that existed between the aesthetic theories and the artistic experience and practice of medieval culture.  “[A] delightful study. . . . [Eco’s] remarkably lucid and readable essay is full of contemporary relevance and informed by the energies of a man in love with his subject.” —Robert Taylor, Boston Globe “The book lays out so many exciting ideas and interesting facts that readers will find it gripping.” —Washington Post Book World  “A lively introduction to the subject.” —Michael Camille, The Burlington Magazine “If you want to become acquainted with medieval aesthetics, you will not find a more scrupulously researched, better written (or better translated), intelligent and illuminating introduction than Eco’s short volume.” —D. C. Barrett, Art Monthly

30 review for Art and Beauty in the Middle Ages

  1. 4 out of 5

    Sara

    Umberto Eco wrote this short treatise 50-some years ago. It was re-released in the 80s (after the success of Name of the Rose, I hazard the guess?) in a new translation with a new, humble introduction by the author. It is still an engaging read for anyone interested in medieval art or the development, in general, of western aesthetics. Like most medievalists, Eco writes of medieval thought as though he were defending its intelligence, complexity and dignity from virulent detractors. It has been a Umberto Eco wrote this short treatise 50-some years ago. It was re-released in the 80s (after the success of Name of the Rose, I hazard the guess?) in a new translation with a new, humble introduction by the author. It is still an engaging read for anyone interested in medieval art or the development, in general, of western aesthetics. Like most medievalists, Eco writes of medieval thought as though he were defending its intelligence, complexity and dignity from virulent detractors. It has been a rarely-taught and poorly (or prejudicially) understood historical whipping boy for centuries. I'm not convinced this de rigueur combative stance is any less necessary these days. Every other period after the fall of Rome and before the industrial revolution seems to have joined the lonely Middle Ages in terms of representing (to the ill-informed modern imagination) all things backward, superstitious and hopelessly ignorant. In any event, the Middle Ages still gets wildly inaccurate and fanciful treatment in film and literature, and academics who do not explicitly study the Middle Ages tend to look at it as niche, useless to broader inquiries, or otherwise irrelevant to anything but the study of itself. In this interesting brief volume, Eco traces the development of theories of aesthetics and art from the late Classical period through the high Middle Ages. In doing so, he depicts a people dwelling in an integrated world where "beautiful" and "useful" are synonymous and where man's creation is wan mimicry of God's creation which is, in turn, only a veil of seeming over God's even more perfect ideal. But he also depicts an intellectual world that, far from stagnant or over-determined by dogma, was capable of growth, of subtlety and of pure joy at contemplating physical (natural or artistic) beauty. In fact, he finds in the Middle Ages the seeds of artistic individualism, in art's move from the monastery or workshop to the autocrat's court, that would famously sprout into the effective cult status of Renaissance and later artists. Medieval thought, on art and beauty as on everything else, was in answer to highly specific and Judeo-Christo-centric theological problems. For the most part, we are asking different kinds of ontological questions these days. But this fact does not make medieval answers to medieval questions any less reasoned or any more fallacious. In fact, their questions and answers might even prove enlightening to us if we, for a moment, imagine our own period as one that suffers from a lack of an idea taken quite for granted by medieval European culture - the integrative quality of art, life, creation and morality. In any event, if we cultivate a modicum of knowledge about our medieval ancestors, it might be easier to realize when our own ignorance - not their illogicality or irrelevance - is the thing precluding us from a deeper understanding of them.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Suzannah

    In his Preface, Umberto Eco self-deprecatingly tells us that this early monograph was written back in the days when he thought "that a tortured syntax was a respectable symptom of wisdom and maturity." Certainly this slim volume was on the chewy side, and Eco uses a lot of terms (kalokagathia, for example) which I was unfamiliar with. As a result, I'm not confident I understood more than about three-quarters of what he was saying in this book, but the bits I did understand were terrific. I found In his Preface, Umberto Eco self-deprecatingly tells us that this early monograph was written back in the days when he thought "that a tortured syntax was a respectable symptom of wisdom and maturity." Certainly this slim volume was on the chewy side, and Eco uses a lot of terms (kalokagathia, for example) which I was unfamiliar with. As a result, I'm not confident I understood more than about three-quarters of what he was saying in this book, but the bits I did understand were terrific. I found that I have picked up a very similar aesthetic to the one developed by the Scholastics. (Eco kept saying, "Of course no one thinks this way about aesthetics anymore" and I kept wanting to jump up and shout, "I do!"). It was fascinating to see how medieval ideas about art and beauty developed over the course of several centuries, and was also a brilliant case study on how very thoroughly the medievals' worldview permeated their culture. This is the first thing I've ever read by this author, but it's made me more keen to read some of his fiction.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Joshua

    An excellent guide to... you guessed it... art and beauty in the Middle Ages. Eco knows an extraordinary amount about the Medieval Ages/Middle Ages/Renaissance and offers an insightful and concise introduction to the subject. Among other things, this book provides explanations for why the Medievals liked solid colours (not shading), why later cathedrals had so many windows, why some pictures only have two Magi (not three) and why ugly things could be seen as beautiful. Books like this are a mark An excellent guide to... you guessed it... art and beauty in the Middle Ages. Eco knows an extraordinary amount about the Medieval Ages/Middle Ages/Renaissance and offers an insightful and concise introduction to the subject. Among other things, this book provides explanations for why the Medievals liked solid colours (not shading), why later cathedrals had so many windows, why some pictures only have two Magi (not three) and why ugly things could be seen as beautiful. Books like this are a mark of civilization, and reading them is a very great privilege. Despite being wrong about many aspects of creation and being flawed humans (their system was not fool-proof and was not capable (or at least not developed enough) of encompassing the full quirkiness of Creation), the Medievals really did seem to see the world more clearly than we do now. It's time we brought more 'rock-solid' medieval perspective to this post-modern age. Why can't, for instance, medieval ideas of harmony (modified accordingly) be applied to quantum mechanics? There's a dance beyond human comprehension. One quote sums things up pretty well "[The Medievals] saw the world with the eyes of God." This book really should be read with The Discarded Image by Lewis; the two books really complement each other. Also, I think this (short) book is probably best read before reading Eco's fiction. Having read The Name of the Rose, I would have got more out of it than I did, if I had read this first. Highly recommended if you want to get more out of anything Medieval - cathedrals, painting, literature, science etc. Also recommended for anyone who thinks the Middle Ages was a waste of good time.

  4. 5 out of 5

    David Haines

    This is a must read for anyone who is interested either in art, or in medieval history. This book is a classic introduction to theories of art and the beautiful in the middle ages.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Lynn Weber

    A short, clear treatise on how medieval aesthetics was (generally) based on the following of time-honored rules rather than innovation or expression.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Gastjäle

    For anyone interested in reading The Aesthetics of Chaosmos - the Middle Ages of James Joyce, this would be an ideal preparative for a fuller reading experience. In my review of the former, I complained that the ideas Eco posited as medieval could have come from anywhere due to their general nature, but herein such characteristics as allegorism, clarity, formalism and impersonality are elucidated in a way that traces their origins with lots of source references. Eco is a wonderful scholar in the For anyone interested in reading The Aesthetics of Chaosmos - the Middle Ages of James Joyce, this would be an ideal preparative for a fuller reading experience. In my review of the former, I complained that the ideas Eco posited as medieval could have come from anywhere due to their general nature, but herein such characteristics as allegorism, clarity, formalism and impersonality are elucidated in a way that traces their origins with lots of source references. Eco is a wonderful scholar in the sense that even at such a young age, he seems to have commanded a downright venerable reading list. His writing is a wonderful mixture of academic precision and controlled artistry, that engrosses yet does not cast doubt on his authority through seemingly unnecessary simplifications. In this book, he is clearly writing about a topic that he is fascinated with, and by doing so he also showcases his patient understanding and, to a slight degree, his visionary aspects. In Art and Beauty, Eco traces the development of medieval aesthetics (in plural). There was no unified style, but rather there were distinguishable trends of thought that would co-exist with and co-influence the everyday life. We find precious insights of, say, the definition of art and the contemporary attitudes thereof: art was generally seen as something technical and creative, even mechanical, which would include not only crafts but positively menial work. We gain insight into the medieval mindset through references to metaphysics, where beauty is equated with goodness and utility, or mathematical proportions - or where beauty is seen as an actual universal in things as opposed to the eye of the beholder. Interestingly, the subjective side of beauty was emphasised, even before nominalism tore universalism to pieces: this wasn't a case of "horses for courses", it was a case of perspective and how the artistic work would be partly defined by the expectation of angles they would be looked at at the place of exhibition. What I found to be the most prominent aspects of medieval aesthetics was the use of clearly defined colours, the employment of decorum, the love for allegory (probably not too far off from the adulation of crosswords, though in an artistic form), a strong focus in the formal aspects and the whole of the work and didactic qualities. Of course none of these were watertight, but they would definitely crop up often in the book. The more particular aspects included things like whether God granted artists with divine inspiration, whether the artwork originated in Platonic ideas or as observations of individual objects, whether the Nature was infallible and thus something that should be imitated, or whether she was a wastrel that needs to be improved on, to what an extent could be enjoy the concept of proportion (e.g. was it something that was first discerned externally in an object and then extrapolated as an inner perfection etc.), and also such beauteous things like the metaphysics of light. That's a mouthful, and so is this book, regardless of its size. It's a packed opusculum that simply radiates contrast to today's views and obviousnesses. These contrasting views provide wonderful armaments for a wholesome appreciation of the works of the medieval period, whether philosophical, theological or artistic (using any definition of the term). I have read quite a bit of medieval writers, and more than often I have been hampered by a somewhat cocky attitude towards the Scholastic neurosis of classification and simplification (which, as an attitude, is probably akin to Cartesian hubris), but reading works like Eco's really shows what futile impatience or damned arrogance that is. The main thing is to understand and to re-live the experiences of the past - after that, we can choose whether we can assimilate their wisdom or gently decline. Cold intellectualism or abstracted predation of ideas merely impoverish the wealth of experience that the past has, thanks to many precious individuals, passed on to our times.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Zo

    Lots of minute details about medieval theories and the theorists behind them which basically boils down to an aesthetic heavily influenced by Christianity where mathematical harmony was key, and the aesthetic and the moral were essentially merged. The stuff about "light" and holiness was interesting, and made me wonder more about where that notion came from. All the best parts were when Eco took the time to distinguish between their aesthetics and the humanist aesthetics that came afterwards. On Lots of minute details about medieval theories and the theorists behind them which basically boils down to an aesthetic heavily influenced by Christianity where mathematical harmony was key, and the aesthetic and the moral were essentially merged. The stuff about "light" and holiness was interesting, and made me wonder more about where that notion came from. All the best parts were when Eco took the time to distinguish between their aesthetics and the humanist aesthetics that came afterwards. One note: -they didn’t think poetry had the kind of intuitive wisdom contra philosophy the way we see it now, just thought it was a technical craft, and that beauty came from moral & formal harmony - similar with churches, architecture, visual arts, etc

  8. 5 out of 5

    Joseph R.

    Quite often the middle ages are the forgotten link between the Classical period and the Renaissance. Moderns assume that Renaissance thinkers and artists rediscovered the works of ancient Greece and Rome and had this amazing and original break with medieval tradition. Umberto Eco (author of The Name of the Rose among other works) dispels this myth with this overview of aesthetic and artistic theory in the years from AD 500 to 1400. Eco shows the classical roots of medieval theory and theology. Pl Quite often the middle ages are the forgotten link between the Classical period and the Renaissance. Moderns assume that Renaissance thinkers and artists rediscovered the works of ancient Greece and Rome and had this amazing and original break with medieval tradition. Umberto Eco (author of The Name of the Rose among other works) dispels this myth with this overview of aesthetic and artistic theory in the years from AD 500 to 1400. Eco shows the classical roots of medieval theory and theology. Platonic thought was dominant early on, where his ideal world of forms was the standard by which beauty and artistic craft were measured. Aristotle was rediscovered during the middle ages; his systematic approach was assimilated and imitated by the Scholastics. The centrality of symmetry and proportionality for beauty began with Pythagoras's focus on numbers. That focus was re-enforced and enhanced by the biblical notions that creation is good (cf. Genesis's account of creation) and that the world was made according to number, weight, and measure (cf. Wisdom 11). The world is both good and knowable in a mathematical way. It conforms naturally to the transcendental notion of beauty--that which is seen as good gives delight. The medievals had much more to say about beauty than art. Beauty is a property all things have, both things in the natural world and things made by man. Often, artistic objects were judged beautiful by their symmetry to the world of ideals or of nature. Innovations in artistic theory were rare but not unprecedented. The theoretical trend followed the cultural trend--the great artistic achievements of the age were the cathedrals. They were built by many and varied artists whose anonymity was assumed. The work was done for God, not personal glory. By the late middle ages, individual artists were becoming more prevalent and theories such as nominalism (like Duns Scotus's notion of haecceity or "thisness" as the core of being, making individuality more significant than conformity to an ideal) embodied this shift of emphasis. Eco does a fine job pulling together various sources from almost a thousand years of thought. He is able to distill a great portion of the history of philosophy and artistic consideration in a mere 120 pages. The book is very academic but is also accessible and a good introduction to aesthetics in the middle ages.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Christopher

    This was a lovely book. Eco is such a good historian of ideas, even at the young age at which he wrote this gem. Not many people could weave together the disparate strands of philosophy, theology and art history that Eco does, covering a period ranging over a thousand years but doing so in a way that does not seem rushed or sketchy. It was utterly fascinating, mesmerizing. I'm looking forward even more now to reading some of his historical fiction! Anyone who enjoys medieval history or philosoph This was a lovely book. Eco is such a good historian of ideas, even at the young age at which he wrote this gem. Not many people could weave together the disparate strands of philosophy, theology and art history that Eco does, covering a period ranging over a thousand years but doing so in a way that does not seem rushed or sketchy. It was utterly fascinating, mesmerizing. I'm looking forward even more now to reading some of his historical fiction! Anyone who enjoys medieval history or philosophy or aesthetics in general will, I think, find this study stimulating in the least. I borrowed this book from my university library, but halfway through I had to buy it. I just could not read it without marking it up... so many interesting connections does it make!

  10. 5 out of 5

    Tech Nossomy

    Rather than presenting an overarching theory or framework, the book lists various viewpoints regarding beauty and esthetics in medieval art. As with all Eco's works, a solid grounding in European history and literature serves the reader well. The sources cited are by persons whose background is not further explained. It would have helped if the statements and conclusions made by the original authors were matched against their livelihoods and credentials. Interestingly the books De Perspectiva and Rather than presenting an overarching theory or framework, the book lists various viewpoints regarding beauty and esthetics in medieval art. As with all Eco's works, a solid grounding in European history and literature serves the reader well. The sources cited are by persons whose background is not further explained. It would have helped if the statements and conclusions made by the original authors were matched against their livelihoods and credentials. Interestingly the books De Perspectiva and Summa Theologiae are mentioned as being written at the same point in development of medieval art. This is interesting as it seems to suggest a more or less linear development of art during the Middle Ages and a general agreement of what constitutes beauty in art at all stages in history. This is also concurred by the author in the concluding chapter when he states: "Medieval aesthetics [...] did have a certain overall direction." My favorite part is where the scholastic school found beauty in things that were ugly, because in their view cosmic order was born out of contrasts and contrasts ought to be complete, consisting of things both beautiful and ugly. There are also some misconceptions in the book. For example, the Bauhütte is described as a secret society, but secrecy was not one of their hallmarks: their statutes were based on existing guild statutes and they subsequently openly competed with them. Also there is a mention of Albert Magnus giving an academic lecture around 1250 in Cologne, but the university there wasn't founded until some 120+ years later. Numerous spelling mistakes in my edition. Index is incomplete, but the bibliography is impressive.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Michael Belcher

    According to Eco, the medieval “philosophy of beauty appears cut off from its artistic practices as if by a sheet of glass.” As with all of Eco’s work, his brilliance shines forth, but perhaps owing to the early nature of “Art and Beauty in the Middle Ages” in the larger scheme of his ouvre, Eco manages to tackle the “philosophy of beauty” in a thorough, albeit workmanlike way, while for the most part neglecting the “artistic practices” part of the equation. This leaves the reader with only half According to Eco, the medieval “philosophy of beauty appears cut off from its artistic practices as if by a sheet of glass.” As with all of Eco’s work, his brilliance shines forth, but perhaps owing to the early nature of “Art and Beauty in the Middle Ages” in the larger scheme of his ouvre, Eco manages to tackle the “philosophy of beauty” in a thorough, albeit workmanlike way, while for the most part neglecting the “artistic practices” part of the equation. This leaves the reader with only half the picture and consistently wanting more artistic context. That being said, much can be gleaned from Eco’s survey of Middle Age philosophical thinking, and the conclusion is a powerhouse example of the clarity concision can bring when wrangling historical breadth.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Andrew Kinney

    This is the book I had been looking for all through undergrad: a succinct explanation of medieval philosophy of aesthetics with an intersecting exploration of some of the actual practices of medieval art. There is a generous bibliography in the back for further reading. Eco does a good job presenting the material in a way that should be of interest to modern readers without being too defensive of medieval views. At the end he certainly shows his bias for more modern conceptions of the artist, bu This is the book I had been looking for all through undergrad: a succinct explanation of medieval philosophy of aesthetics with an intersecting exploration of some of the actual practices of medieval art. There is a generous bibliography in the back for further reading. Eco does a good job presenting the material in a way that should be of interest to modern readers without being too defensive of medieval views. At the end he certainly shows his bias for more modern conceptions of the artist, but his great love of medieval philosophy is clear throughout the work. Working at a classical school that constantly lauds the pursuit of "Truth, Goodness, and Beauty," it's good to finally see that last one explained in a way classic authors who have approved of.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Reading Through the Lists

    I expected this book to be a history of...well, art and beauty in the Middle Ages. Instead, it proved to be series of essays on various aspects and movements in medieval aesthetic tradition, how Medievals perceived the world and beauty in the world. As Eco summarizes, "They saw the world with the eyes of God." Once I adjusted my brain to accommodate this meaty topic, I really enjoyed it. I definitely learned a lot, and realized that I have a lot left to learn. And I also need to read more Umbert I expected this book to be a history of...well, art and beauty in the Middle Ages. Instead, it proved to be series of essays on various aspects and movements in medieval aesthetic tradition, how Medievals perceived the world and beauty in the world. As Eco summarizes, "They saw the world with the eyes of God." Once I adjusted my brain to accommodate this meaty topic, I really enjoyed it. I definitely learned a lot, and realized that I have a lot left to learn. And I also need to read more Umberto Eco.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Alexander

    A slim but insightful book on the aesthetics of medieval philosophers. Eco connects the dots well between early and late, and east and west. He goes so far as to compare modernities signs and symbols to those of the middle ages. I will not rehash any of his arguments here, but only say that if you have a modicum of knowledge on Aquinas, Scotus, Boethius or the likes, then you will follow Eco on a wonderful exploration of how religion and metaphysics permeate the philosophy and psychology of medi A slim but insightful book on the aesthetics of medieval philosophers. Eco connects the dots well between early and late, and east and west. He goes so far as to compare modernities signs and symbols to those of the middle ages. I will not rehash any of his arguments here, but only say that if you have a modicum of knowledge on Aquinas, Scotus, Boethius or the likes, then you will follow Eco on a wonderful exploration of how religion and metaphysics permeate the philosophy and psychology of medieval people and their art.

  15. 4 out of 5

    James

    An intriguing study of aesthetics in the Middle Ages. The book was more of a conceptual or philosophical history than a artistic one. Ecco’s facility with the primary sources is vast and his commentary insightful. He does an especially good job of explaining progressions in concepts, particularly how the aesthetic ideals came to be for Renaissance times and beyond. A short but inviting read.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Amy Jane

    A really great introduction to the Middle Ages and the mindset of the pre-Renaissance thinkers, theologians and artists. Eco writes with a clarity that makes for a very accessible but informed read. I wish there were pictures though!

  17. 4 out of 5

    Luba

    Excellent. Eco’s style of writing is such a pleasure to read that you nearly miss the immensity of research and erudition required to produce such a work. Broad ranging and well-synthesized account of the development of medieval conceptions of beauty and art.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Jessica

    Wonderful for pinpointing the philosophy and aesthetic of the Middle Ages and its art.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Graham Hoppstock

    Greatly helpful textbook

  20. 4 out of 5

    Hava

    interesting! stole this from a foyles!

  21. 4 out of 5

    Scott Holstad

    Normally not a huge Eco fan, I think I enjoyed this work more than most any of his.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Sara

    I'm too dumb for this book lol I'm too dumb for this book lol

  23. 4 out of 5

    Giuseppe

    No

  24. 5 out of 5

    Alex

    research book

  25. 5 out of 5

    Greg

    Most people know Umberto Eco as a writer of historical fiction, and a fine one at that. In reality, he is a scholar who also writes fiction, as this book clearly demonstrates. Written early in his career and clearly an attempt to correct the misperceptions many people have about medieval philosophy and aesthetics, Eco surveys the major developments within their setting. Eco believes there is a basic misunderstanding about the medieval mind about beauty. Early on, he states: “Ascetics, in all age Most people know Umberto Eco as a writer of historical fiction, and a fine one at that. In reality, he is a scholar who also writes fiction, as this book clearly demonstrates. Written early in his career and clearly an attempt to correct the misperceptions many people have about medieval philosophy and aesthetics, Eco surveys the major developments within their setting. Eco believes there is a basic misunderstanding about the medieval mind about beauty. Early on, he states: “Ascetics, in all ages, are not unaware of the seductiveness of worldly pleasures; if anything, they feel it more keenly than most. The drama of the ascetic discipline lies precisely in a tension between the call of earthbound pleasure and a striving after the supernatural. But when the discipline proves victorious, and brings the peace which accompanies control of the senses, then it becomes possible to gaze serenely upon the things of this earth, and to see their value, something that the hectic struggle of asceticism had hitherto prevented. Medieval asceticism and mysticism provide us with many examples of these two psychological states, and also with some extremely interesting documentation concerning the aesthetic sensibility of the time.” (6) This is an excellent summary, and what follows are discussions of the major contributions and developments. The medieval ascetic highlighted a retreat to interior beauty. In the words of St. Bernard of Clairvaux: “When the brightness of beauty has replenished to overflowing the recesses of the heart, it is necessary that it should emerge into the open, just like the light hidden under a bushel: a light shining in the dark is not trying to conceal itself. The body is an image of the mind, which, like an effulgent light scattering forth its rays, is diffused through its members and senses, shining through in action, discourse, appearance, movement – even in laughter, if it is completely sincere and tinged with gravity.” (10) Many can find this line of thinking in today’s popular thought. There is an excellent discussion of the aesthetic principle of proportion. “Boethius explained all of this in terms of the theory of proportion. The soul and the body, he said, are subject to the same laws that govern music, and these same proportions are to be found in the cosmos itself. Microcosm and macrocosm are tied by the same knot, simultaneously mathematical and aesthetic. Man conforms to the measure of the world, and takes pleasure in every manifestation of this conformity: ‘we love similarity, but hate and resent dissimilarity.’” (31) During the Renaissance and enlightenment, this idea was fully developed and expanded, building upon Classical models. In the twelfth century, there also evolved from Pythagorean cosmology the theory of homo quadratus, or the squared man. “In origin it was connected with Chalcidius and especially Macrobius, who wrote that ‘the world is man writ large and man is the world writ small’…It was commonly believed, in fact, that the number four had some kind of fundamental significance. There were four cardinal points, four winds, four phases of the moon, four seasons, four letters in the name ‘Adam’, and four was the constitutive number of Plato’s tetrahedron, which corresponded to fire.” (35) I find this, simply, interesting. The correlation of beauty with use was articulated by Thomas Aquinas. “Aquinas’s functionalist theory of beauty gave systematic expression to a sentiment which was very characteristic of the Middle Ages as a whole. This was its tendency to identify the beautiful and the useful, an identification which itself originated in the equation of the beautiful and the good. The identity of beauty and use seemed to be required in many of their life experiences, even when they were trying to distinguish theoretically between them…They could no more subordinate beauty to goodness or use than they could subordinate goodness and use to beauty.” (79) The aggregation property, as defined by Scotus, is also an important contribution. “For Scotus, any composite object is actual because of the actualization of its parts. Its unity depends, not upon the unity of its form, but upon a natural subordination of partial forms to the ultimate form. ‘Thus the being of a omposite whole includes the being of all its parts, and the partial being of many parts or forms’…Scotus’s theory of the multiplicity of forms, however, meant that his aesthetics had a relational bias. It led him to a more analytical, less unitary conception of beauty.” (86) And then there is the Romantic contribution of Chretien de Troyes, who has Percival ignore the instruction of a long and constant study of art, and states “Nature herself will instruct me; and when Nature wishes it, aided by the heart, nothing is difficult.” (104) There are many others discussed in the book, but for me, these are the highlights…the aesthetic principles that resonate with me today and find continuity with thinkers 900 years gone.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Bojana Nikoletić

    Grateful

  27. 4 out of 5

    Sinan Cingöz

    It's an overall introduction into medieval art and its philosophy. It's a nice book with basic concepts along with many quotes and cites from other scholars to introduce the reader of the meanings and perspectives in art. I enjoyed the sections in which different layers and views are laid off with some parameters to look at an art piece and historical progress of those. It's an overall introduction into medieval art and its philosophy. It's a nice book with basic concepts along with many quotes and cites from other scholars to introduce the reader of the meanings and perspectives in art. I enjoyed the sections in which different layers and views are laid off with some parameters to look at an art piece and historical progress of those.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Roisin

    This is a short but detailed exploration of art and beauty in the Middle Ages in Wester Art and is a good place to start for those who are new or know a bit and enjoy discussion on these areas. Looking at aesthetics, perception, light, symbol and allegory, theories and the artist and the status of art in relation to ideas, language and terms used, this fascinating study using beliefs and the works of Aquinus, St Bonaventure, St Hildegard, Aristotle, Plato, Dante, William of Auvergne, the Carthusi This is a short but detailed exploration of art and beauty in the Middle Ages in Wester Art and is a good place to start for those who are new or know a bit and enjoy discussion on these areas. Looking at aesthetics, perception, light, symbol and allegory, theories and the artist and the status of art in relation to ideas, language and terms used, this fascinating study using beliefs and the works of Aquinus, St Bonaventure, St Hildegard, Aristotle, Plato, Dante, William of Auvergne, the Carthusians, Stoics among many, many others is a delight. There is an up-to-date Bibliography in relation to each chapter, with information/recommendations about the sources included. I will definitely be looking further at the reading list.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Karen

    This book is a joy, thorough, profound, enlightening, magisterial and fun. Eco plays with language as Mozart played with music, and art and beauty are set like gems in the matrix of evolving medieval thought, which is delineated in this context. A familiarity with the major theologians of the Middle Ages helps, but the book is accessible anyway, amusing on occasion, and respectful. I learned new words, was surprised to find bright colors almost a universal attribute of beauty (Eco did not discus This book is a joy, thorough, profound, enlightening, magisterial and fun. Eco plays with language as Mozart played with music, and art and beauty are set like gems in the matrix of evolving medieval thought, which is delineated in this context. A familiarity with the major theologians of the Middle Ages helps, but the book is accessible anyway, amusing on occasion, and respectful. I learned new words, was surprised to find bright colors almost a universal attribute of beauty (Eco did not discuss this attribute to my satisfaction, probably because few writers wrote about it), and was charmed by the respectful, slightly gossipy tone. At the feet of masters, one can learn much and observe more.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Paul Blaney

    Having encountered quite a lot of medieval cathedrals and frescoes during my recent holiday in France, it seemed like a good time to read this book. It came highly recommended and it didn't disappoint. Rare to find a book of such intellectual breadth that remains concise. Now I can't claim that I followed every twist and turn. My familiarity with the medieval scholars mentioned and quoted throughout is not what it might be! But I still came away with a useful and stimulating sense of the evoluti Having encountered quite a lot of medieval cathedrals and frescoes during my recent holiday in France, it seemed like a good time to read this book. It came highly recommended and it didn't disappoint. Rare to find a book of such intellectual breadth that remains concise. Now I can't claim that I followed every twist and turn. My familiarity with the medieval scholars mentioned and quoted throughout is not what it might be! But I still came away with a useful and stimulating sense of the evolution of thinking about art and beauty in the centuries that led up to the Renaissance.

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