Synopses & Reviews
What is beauty? What is art? What is taste and fashion? Is beauty something to be observed coolly and rationally or is it something dangerously involving? So begins Umberto Eco's intriguing journey into the aesthetics of beauty, in which he explores the ever-changing concept of the beautiful from the ancient Greeks to today. While closely examining the development of the visual arts and drawing on works of literature from each era, Eco broadens his enquiries to consider a range of concepts, including the idea of love, the unattainable woman, natural inspiration versus numeric formulas, and the continuing importance of ugliness, cruelty, and even the demonic.
Professor Eco takes us from classical antiquity to the present day, dispelling many preconceptions along the way and concluding that the relevance of his research is urgent because we live in an age of great reverence for beauty, "an orgy of tolerance, the total syncretism and the absolute and unstoppable polytheism of Beauty."
In this, his first illustrated book, Professor Eco offers a layered approach that includes a running narrative, abundant examples of painting and sculpture, and excerpts from writers and philosophers of each age, plus comparative tables. A true road map to the idea of beauty for any reader who wishes to journey into this wonderful realm with Eco's nimble mind as guide.
"This inspired book begins, after a little throat-clearing, with 11 verso-recto 'comparative tables' sets of contact-sheet like illustrations that trace representations of 'Nude Venus' and 'Nude Adonis' (clothed sets follow) as well as Madonna, Jesus, 'Kings' and 'Queens' over thousands of years, revealing with wonderful brevity the scope of the task Eco has set for the book. What follows is a dense, delectable tour through the history of art as it struggled to cope with beauty's many forms. The text, while rigorous in its inquiries, is heavy on abstractions, which get amplified by stiff translation: 'In short, the question was how to retable the debate about the Classical antitheses of thought, in order to reelaborate them within the framework of a dynamic relationship.' The selections, however, are breathtaking 300 color illustrations, from Praxiteles to Pollock and they grant the text the freedom to delve into their complex mysteries. Eco's categories for doing so (e.g., 'Poets and Impossible Loves') and his historical breadth in elaborating them are creative and impressive respectively. Long quotations ranging from Plotinus and Petrarch to Xenophon and Zola allow each era to speak for itself, while Eco links them with his own epoch-leaping connections. Seen in terms of a timeless debate on the form and meaning of beauty, masterpieces like Titian's Sacred and Profane Love or Cranach's Venus with Cupid Stealing Honey seem, if possible, even more immediate, and related to our own amorous profanities and thefts." Publishers Weekly (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"The great charm of Eco's work is that it is both grand and companionable, mixing erudition and philosophical sophistication with contemporary notions of the cool and the fashionable. Eco, semiotician who occasionally turns his hand to fiction, is a student of aesthetics — he wrote the excellent Art of Beauty
in the Middle Ages — and this new historical survey come generously illustrated with the paintings, sculptures, and buildings that trace the beautiful over the centuries." Arthur Krystal, Harper's Magazine
(Read the entire Harper's review
"What is beauty? What is art? What is taste and fashion? Is beauty something to be observed coolly and rationally or is it something dangerously involving?" So begins Eco's intriguing journey into the aesthetics of beauty, in which he explores the ever-changing concept of the beautiful from the ancient Greeks to today.
Now in paperback, Umberto Eco’s groundbreaking and much-acclaimed first illustrated book has been a critical success since its first publication in 2004. What is beauty? Umberto Eco, among Italy’s finest and most important contemporary thinkers, explores the nature, the meaning, and the very history of the idea of beauty in Western culture. The profound and subtle text is lavishly illustrated with abundant examples of sublime painting and sculpture and lengthy quotations from writers and philosophers. This is the first paperback edition of History of Beauty
, making this intellectual and philosophical journey with one of the world’s most acclaimed thinkers available in a more compact and affordable format.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
About the Author
is the author of many best-selling novels, including The Name of the Rose
and Foucault’s Pendulum
, as well as many acclaimed nonfiction works. He is currently professor of semiotics at the University of Bologna.
From the Trade Paperback edition.