Art and Beauty in the Middle Ages

Art and Beauty in the Middle Ages

Book - 1986
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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.
Publisher: New Haven : Yale University Press, 1986
ISBN: 9780300036763
0300036760
Call Number: 700.902 Ec71a
Characteristics: x, 131 p. ; 23 cm

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dennismmiller
Sep 15, 2016

Before he became known as the author of novels such as The Name of the Rose and The Island of the Day Before, Umberto Eco wrote this little book about medieval aesthetics, an extension of his career as a semiotician.

The subject of the book is the attempt of medieval philosophers to discover a mathematical approach to visual beauty corresponding to the Pythagorean explication of musical harmony. Above all, the medieval mind desired clarity. Beauty was not to be found in surface impressions, but in contemplation. At a time when the world was seen as an allegory, the "book of nature" a symbolic text speaking to the human senses the thousand names of God, art was considered an intellectual, and inevitably spiritual, endeavor. Light and color, not usually associated with the Middle Ages in the popular mind, were seen as key components of art, representing the truth shining through appearances into the understanding.

In this work, Eco leans heavily on Huizinga's Waning of the Middle Ages. The heavy doses of scholastic philosophy, with its characteristic insistence on precise distinctions, will not be to the taste of some readers, nor will Eco's facility with technical terms such as "hylomorphism" and "entelechy". For those willing to shoulder the burden, however, it will prove enlightening.

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