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Art and Beauty in the Middle Ages Paperback – July 27, 1988

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Eco's slim volume, though 20 years old, remains fresh and useful in this highly readable translation. Eco moves swiftly and surely from Boethius to Meister Eckhart, from subtle conceptual distinctions to broad historical and sociological syntheses. The book reflects the moment of its composition, the heyday of phenomenology, in its search for the intuitive dimensions in aesthetic experience. Eco's study will serve students of aesthetics in general and medieval aesthetics in particular who need a brief but accurate introduction to a vast field, while students of Eco's own thinking will profit from a glance at the scholastic background to Eco's work on semiotics. Ronald L. Martinez, French and Italian Dept., Univ. of Minnesota, Minneapolis
Copyright 1986 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"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 --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 134 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press; Reprint edition (July 27, 1988)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300042078
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300042078
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.3 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,120,157 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Umberto Eco (born 5 January 1932) is an Italian novelist, medievalist, semiotician, philosopher, and literary critic.

He is the author of several bestselling novels, The Name of The Rose, Foucault's Pendulum, The Island of The Day Before, and Baudolino. His collections of essays include Five Moral Pieces, Kant and the Platypus, Serendipities, Travels In Hyperreality, and How To Travel With a Salmon and Other Essays.

He has also written academic texts and children's books.

Photography (c) Università Reggio Calabria

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

22 of 24 people found the following review helpful By benjamin on July 14, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a fascinating and enjoyable survey of the approaches to and embodiments of beauty in the Middle Ages through the 13th century, which is when the Middle Ages gave way to the High Middle Ages (which culminated - or bottomed out, depending on how you look at it - in the Protestant Reformations). Great theologians and mystics such as St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Bernard of Clairvaux are dealt with, as well as lesser figures such as Hugh of St. Victor and Abbot Suger. Theology and mysticism, architecture and music, science, philosophy and even love poetry are brought together as Eco paints (no pun intended) a highly detailed exposition of the ways in which beauty shaped the lives of those in the medieval era.

It is, in many ways, a tour through a land that is as strange as it is wonderful. The entire world - every created thing - was, early on, *seen* as a symbol that was to be read just as the Bible was read: with a sense that it existed not just as it was, but as something beyond itself too, pointing ultimately to God, for God had created it. Nature is understood to be what sociologists and philosophers would now call "enchanted": filled with mystery, depth, existential and metaphysical meaning. The rise of Aristotelian metaphysics (re: science and philosophy as a single entity - they weren't separated back then) is what eventually quashed this such that the world was no longer see as a cosmic spiritual thing so much as a created thing that could be studied as having its own laws. St. Thomas Aquinas, "the Angelic Doctor", did much to push this view and it eventually one out. The medieval era looks curiously modern in this regard.
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18 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Jacques COULARDEAU on November 22, 2004
Format: Paperback
An extremely important book that answers marvellously our prejudices against the Middle Ages. It explores in great details their literature and philosophy to show how people understood beauty then. He sees three phases. First the aesthetics of proportion in direct connection with the greek mathematical heritage and the biblical teachings about the wisdom of the creation by God who projected his own balanced vision and essence in every single creature. Second the asthetics of light which reveals a more sensorial and even sensual approach to beauty in the fact that light and colors are beautiful at first contact and felt as such without any reflection.

Finally the aesthetics of the organism that sees beauty in the fact that a complex composition is the creation of perfect balance among all the elements that are themselves balanced in the same way at a lower level. The second great approach is that of allegorical and symbolical beauty. For philosophers and theologians beauty was to be found in the meaning of things and meaning was to be found in the allegorical and symbolical value of every element considered because for them nothing existed that did not represent the higher level of divine nature, divine perfection. Even a representation of the devil can be beautiful if it shows perfectly the ugliness of the beast in him.

Yet Thomas Aquinas reveals his deeper sense of beauty in the fact that he provides this concept with a certain amount of autonomy. This autonomy had been in the air for many centuries but he is the first theologian to accept it as an important element in his evaluation of beauty. We find the same dilemma with art. At first art is nothing but what is produced by the manual work of people.
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Umberto Eco's masterful work essentially provides arguments for how the period referred to as the Middle Ages develops through the investigation of human consciousness and scholarly documentation demonstrating a gradual transition into the sensibilities that will undergird the Renaissance. The shift from the aesthetic foundations of St. Augustine through the Aristotelian influences upon St. Thomas Aquinas is of special note...with post-Aristotelianism and a resurgence of extromissionist perceptual theory....and its inherent return to Neo-Platonist conflations with Christian theological thinking....providing the basis for the intellectual revolution and its subject-centered restructuring of awareness leading to Renaissance reorganizations of medieval aesthetic commitments.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Ebottone on April 21, 2015
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