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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 illustrat 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


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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 illustrat 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

30 review for History of Beauty

  1. 5 out of 5

    Kalliope

    Reading Eco’s study On Beauty feels like visiting a Temple with very many chambers. In each room there are texts. There are also images, many of them too and of good quality and they are all photos of art pieces. During this visit we are accompanied by the talk of a commentator. He comments on the texts only. Not on the images. Each room corresponds to a period in the Quest of Beauty. In this pursuit we can also conceive each space as forming a petal of a different tone and shape, so that by the Reading Eco’s study On Beauty feels like visiting a Temple with very many chambers. In each room there are texts. There are also images, many of them too and of good quality and they are all photos of art pieces. During this visit we are accompanied by the talk of a commentator. He comments on the texts only. Not on the images. Each room corresponds to a period in the Quest of Beauty. In this pursuit we can also conceive each space as forming a petal of a different tone and shape, so that by the end of the journey we can see that this Temple has the appearance of a multi-faceted flower. And a beautiful flower it is. In the search for Beauty along Western history many questions have been raised. Where does Beauty originate? Is it in the things? And therefore is it made by man, or is it in Nature and made by god? If a god creates beauty, then what is this god? A concept, like Goodness? Or is it a being? If so, then what was his purpose? Or could man create it not in the things but out of the things? Who is this man (mostly man, sometimes woman) and what is his nature? Are all men capable of creating Beauty? Or is it only some – those who are endowed with a (divine) capacity, and we can call them ‘artists’? And those are the Artists – the beings who can create a (divine) entity – ‘art’? Or is beauty really created by the subject? Is it in front of you or is it in your eye – the shifting eye of the beholder? Can Beauty be measured? Indeed, is it proportion itself? Who measures those proportions? Does it form part of an overall scheme of things, the Harmonic Tutto? Or does it require another quality, such as individuality, and should therefore break the norms and surprise? What is its purpose? To elevate us to a higher, and ethical, or to a sublime realm? And if related to the human, should it be sensual, or smart, or witty? Does it have a gender? Or does it belong to the dominion of a particular gender? To what extent is it relative and needs its own context to shine out. These are many of the questions addressed by Eco as they were formulated by thinkers, and it is his anthology of texts, from Theognis and Plato to critics from the 1950s, going through Plotinus, Suger, Hildegard von Bingen, Dante, Alberti, Gracián, Hume, Kant, Goethe, Diderot, Baudelaire, Foscolo, Burke, Wilde, Pater, Duchamp amongst very many others, that form the backbone of this book. The copious and beautiful images are unconnected illustrations. They are not addressed by Eco nor specifically related to the selected texts. They form a background musing, colouring the excerpts, like in my review. For the book is conceived as an intellectual exercise, an examination of concepts. It is a theoretical flower then, even if the images add a veneer by appealing to a seen and experienced Beauty. Reading the compendium of excerpts, however, is somewhat unsatisfying and one feels that in this Temple one is just looking at the spine of the books stored in those inviting chambers. But they serve as indications for a later trip, without commentator, when one can stay in one of those rooms and think, not contemplate, some of those notions. And as map of the Search of Beauty this book is excellent.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Ahmad Sharabiani

    Storia della bellezza = History of beauty, 2nd ed, 2005, Umberto Eco Storia della bellezza (2004, co-edited with Girolamo de Michele – English translation: History of Beauty/On Beauty, 2004). Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but it also has a lot to do with the beholder's cultural standards. In History of Beauty, renowned author Umberto Eco sets out to demonstrate how every historical era has had its own ideas about eye-appeal. Pages of charts that track archetypes of beauty through the ages Storia della bellezza = History of beauty, 2nd ed, 2005, Umberto Eco Storia della bellezza (2004, co-edited with Girolamo de Michele – English translation: History of Beauty/On Beauty, 2004). Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but it also has a lot to do with the beholder's cultural standards. In History of Beauty, renowned author Umberto Eco sets out to demonstrate how every historical era has had its own ideas about eye-appeal. Pages of charts that track archetypes of beauty through the ages ("nude Venus," "nude Adonis," and so forth) may suggest that this book is a historical survey of beautiful people portrayed in art. But History of Beauty is really about the history of philosophical and perceptual notions of perfection and how they have been applied to ideas and objects, as well as to the human body. This survey ranges over such themes as the mathematics of ideal proportions, the problem of representing ugliness, the fascination of the exotic and art for art's sake. Along the way, the text examines the intersection of standards of beauty with Christian belief, notions of the Sublime, the philosophies of Kant and Hegel, and bourgeois culture. More than 300 illustrations trace the history of Western art as it relates, in the broadest sense, to the topic of beauty. تاریخ نخستین خوانش: روز بیست و چهارم ماه ژوئن سال 2012 میلادی تاریخ زیبایی: نظریه های زیبایی در فرهنگهای غربی؛ اثر: اومبرتو اکو؛ ترجمه و گزینش: هما بینا؛ پیشگفتار و تحشیه: جهانگیر شهدادی؛ مشخصات نشر: تهران، فرهنگستان هنر جمهوری اسلامی ایران، موسسه ی تالیف، ترجمه و نشر آثار هنری، 1390، در 230 ص، مصور ، بخشی رنگی، شابک: 9789642320844؛ کتابنامه ص 223، همچنین به صورت زیرنویس، نمایه دارد، موضوع: تاریخ زیبایی شناسی، هنر، فلسفه؛ از ترجمه انگلیسی به فارسی برگردانده شده است - سده 20 م انگار کردم در کلاس درس زیبایی در دانشگاه بنشسته ام، درباره ی سیر نگاه‌های گفتنی از زیبایی، و سلیقه ها در تاریخ هست. فصلهایی که خود امبرکو اکو نوشته است، کلاس درس است. ا. شربیانی

  3. 5 out of 5

    Coyle

    Really a 3 1/2 star book, but since that's not an option... This book is misnamed, really "dictionary of Beauty" would be a closer title, while "Umberto Eco's Musings on Beauty in a loosely chronological order with occasionaly quotes about beauty from other thinkers and a boatload of pictures" would probably hit closest to home. Undoubtedly the publisher shot that title down and stuck History of Beauty in its place. Strengths: Each individual section is fairly informative and interesting to read. Really a 3 1/2 star book, but since that's not an option... This book is misnamed, really "dictionary of Beauty" would be a closer title, while "Umberto Eco's Musings on Beauty in a loosely chronological order with occasionaly quotes about beauty from other thinkers and a boatload of pictures" would probably hit closest to home. Undoubtedly the publisher shot that title down and stuck History of Beauty in its place. Strengths: Each individual section is fairly informative and interesting to read. There are a lot of useful and interesting art prints, quotes that I likely would never otherwise have encountered, and thoughtful reflections on the various periods and thinkers of artistic history. I will definitely be returning to the needed sections (particularly those on the Middle Ages and the modern world) for review in the future. And if nothing else, it is encouraging to see a major modern thinker engaging aesthetics. That is rare enough to be worthy of attention and time. Weaknesses: This book has two major weaknesses, the first is editing. This is always a fairly irritating one for me, since it means that either the author or the publisher or both (possibly also the translator in this case) got lazy along the way and just didn't do their job well. If I'm going to give money and time to your creative work, you should at least have the decency to care about keeping it coherent. The second is that there's really no overall theme. Which is (spoiler alert- though it's nonfiction so I doubt anyone actually cares) one of the points he makes about Beauty, that it is no consistent through time. People's and cultures' perceptions of Beauty shift and grow and change from year to year, and region to region. Therefore, he argues, there is no (perhaps there cannot even be) any solid and lasting definition of Beauty. Beauty at the end of the day is relative, despite his claim that it is pervasive throughout both our culture and cultures past. Which functionally turns this into a 400 page episode of Seinfeld. Not that it's funny, but that it's a book about nothing. Or at least, nothing that has any transcendent value. If there is no ultimate Beauty, and it's all relative, why should we be bothered to read a book about it? Well, as I said above, it is worth reading. But it would be more worth reading if Eco had articulated his own philosophy of Beauty and then talked about it in the context of aesthetics through history. In his failure to do so, this book is ultimately yet another postmodern disappointment.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Stela

    Even if I agree with most of the reproaches this book received (that it is more a guide than a study, that it is more a triumph of compression than of clarity, that it is too eclectic and so on) I have to say I really enjoyed it. Is this a consequence of my great admiration for Umberto Eco or of my art dilettantism , I'm not sure (and I won't dig, so back off!). Anyway, I think the author completed his objectives, enumerated in Introduction: - to identify Beauty as a thing worth to be contemplated Even if I agree with most of the reproaches this book received (that it is more a guide than a study, that it is more a triumph of compression than of clarity, that it is too eclectic and so on) I have to say I really enjoyed it. Is this a consequence of my great admiration for Umberto Eco or of my art dilettantism , I'm not sure (and I won't dig, so back off!). Anyway, I think the author completed his objectives, enumerated in Introduction: - to identify Beauty as a thing worth to be contemplated independently of the desire we may feel for it; -to establish the relationship between Beauty and Art (since Beauty was sometimes perceived simply as a quality of Nature); - to document the history of Beauty (only in Western culture, though) through art (because only the artists left examples) but not to write a history of art. Based on a reviewing of the great artistic movements (whose ideologies influenced - evidently- the conception of Beauty), the essay presents different Aesthetic Ideals from ancient Greece to nowadays, emphasizing the growing complexity of the concept of Beauty, from the antithesis Apollonian - Dionysiac as a very interesting antithesis between vision and sound, to the contemporary syncretism, from Pythagoras' abstract numbers and music of spheres to the prosaic industrialization, from Pericles' ideal of harmony, order, measure, and simplicity, to "the orgy of tolerance, the total syncretism and the absolute and unstoppable polytheism of Beauty" which characterize our times. On the other hand, I was amused to learn that Thomas Aquinas considered a crystal hammer ugly because it didn't serve a purpose and that Marco Polo, seeing rhinoceros for the first time thought they were unicorns (I bet Eugène Ionesco didn't know that!). Overall, not pretentious, beautifully illustrated (someone said, ironically, of course, that it would make a wonderful present), it doesn't aim to impress but to observe the evolution of a concept over a very long period of time. Hence the impression that he only grazed the surface of the subject.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Roman Clodia

    This is more source-book than analytical history and while there's no doubting Eco's erudition, all that's really on display here is his ability to summarise and compress vast swathes of literature into a handful of paragraphs : {whisper} this is pretty shallow and superficial, and anyone with an informed view of intellectual history won't learn anything new. What is valuable is the way Eco has effectively curated texts, both visual and literary, and the surprising beauty category tables at the This is more source-book than analytical history and while there's no doubting Eco's erudition, all that's really on display here is his ability to summarise and compress vast swathes of literature into a handful of paragraphs : {whisper} this is pretty shallow and superficial, and anyone with an informed view of intellectual history won't learn anything new. What is valuable is the way Eco has effectively curated texts, both visual and literary, and the surprising beauty category tables at the front that throw up unpredictable groupings and interconnections. There's surprisingly little actual commentary from Eco: instead he assumes the artworks and extracts will speak for themselves, even though connections between image and text is often arbitrary. That said, as a compendium of texts related to aesthetics, even if only extracts, this can't help but be useful. It would have been nice to have had more Eco - and the illustrations are lavish and gorgeous. An enhanced coffee-table book I'd say.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Luís C.

    It is a book that is not based on artistic criteria of beauty, but the beauty marked by time, by the concepts, for what it was and was considered beautiful in every season. I think the author exceeds too much the beautiful setting, in keeping with the beauty. He didn't convinced me.Sorry..I almost give it up.. It was only funny, cross myself with the various interpreters of the history of art ... But very little, very little.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Gabriella

    It's not really a book you read cover to cover, and I guess some of the disappointment many people may feel comes from them picking it up and reading it like that. It is a dictionary a reference, it should open people's mind up to further investigate and research. As someone said the book does reflect his personal opinions and musings, but just by flicking though the book many times I have found myself diving deeper into periods, artists, works of art, techniques etc.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Bjorn

    It's an interesting topic: what is beauty? It might seem like a trivial question, but think about it: esthetics run through everything we do. Everything we read, watch, listen to, right down to the houses we live in, the cars we drive, the cans we buy food in are made to correspond to some standard of beauty. Where does all that come from? What makes us think a Rolls looks better than a Datsun? What makes Dickens a better writer than Stephenie Meyer? Why did medieaval Christ figures look triumph It's an interesting topic: what is beauty? It might seem like a trivial question, but think about it: esthetics run through everything we do. Everything we read, watch, listen to, right down to the houses we live in, the cars we drive, the cans we buy food in are made to correspond to some standard of beauty. Where does all that come from? What makes us think a Rolls looks better than a Datsun? What makes Dickens a better writer than Stephenie Meyer? Why did medieaval Christ figures look triumphant and baroque ones suffering? Why is Kate Moss a supermodel and Roseanne Barr not? Can something tragic be beautiful? If you've read Eco before you know he's good at picking up patterns, memes, ideas and how they mutate with time and context. So this is Eco the non-fiction writer tracing society's concept of beauty from pre-historic time to the 21st century, richly illustrated with artworks and architecture and quotes from poets, philosophers and novelists ranging from Plato to Wilde. Venus of Willendorf and Naomi Campbell, Apollo and George Clooney, Warhol and Tizian, Thomas Aquinus and Kafka, they're all in here. Inevitably, even at 400 pages, it becomes a bit of a coffee table book; it's a huge topic, and he doesn't really have time to cover everything (plus, it's all pretty Eurocentric, of course). But being Eco, what he does cover is covered in-depth, giving you a great understanding of how and why standards change and how they relate to changes in the world - the relationships between religion and art, between revolution and poetry, technology and design. Rather brilliant. Plus, obviously, the book itself is beautiful. Now I'm even more intrigued by the sequel On Ugliness; Eco has said that after writing the first book, he realised he'd been writing about standards, about conformity. What about the things that don't conform to the traditional standards? That's another doorstopper.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Beata

    Excellence in its own right ...

  10. 4 out of 5

    Psychophant

    The book originally was presented as a CD-Rom. Although I like books, I think the idea of the writer would be better experienced in an interactive webpage or digital media. Because a page limits you to what is in it or its neighbours, or a shorter or longer search for a glimpsed idea. Hyperlink and search functions really help to compare what is in common and to spot the differences. The book deals with the idea of beauty, and how it has changed through time and cultures, using works of art as th The book originally was presented as a CD-Rom. Although I like books, I think the idea of the writer would be better experienced in an interactive webpage or digital media. Because a page limits you to what is in it or its neighbours, or a shorter or longer search for a glimpsed idea. Hyperlink and search functions really help to compare what is in common and to spot the differences. The book deals with the idea of beauty, and how it has changed through time and cultures, using works of art as the only surviving yardstick of what was considered beautiful. Although the author has his own views, he tries to keep it hidden, focusing instead on what others thought, although the narrative gives a hint of which of those ideas he favors, sometimes quite broadly, but that is to be expected as he is a son of his own time and culture, so his views will be different (though still close) from mine. Its awkward handling, specially as it requires a certain level of involvement from the reader give it this relatively low score for such a gorgeous book. Because it is gorgeous, and a simple cursory read, looking at the images, probably will enlighten you as much as deep reading. But that gorgeousness detracts from its own message, because subject to so many beautiful images, how can you define what is beauty, if beauty is most of them? Which I suppose goes a long way to explain why Eco published also History of Ugliness. Because you cannot have one without the other. Maybe after reading it my mind will clear, and I will give it a higher score.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Rachel

    Dense. I had to simply assign myself to get through the book. Though I read the book and made an honest attempt to absorb a goodly amount of the information, I suspect that I missed entire theses in my reading. One reason is that the writing in supported with both images and text. Before I began the book I thought it was mostly an art historical history of beauty. I didn't realize how great a role writing, especially poetry and philosophy, would play in the theories expressed and discussed in the Dense. I had to simply assign myself to get through the book. Though I read the book and made an honest attempt to absorb a goodly amount of the information, I suspect that I missed entire theses in my reading. One reason is that the writing in supported with both images and text. Before I began the book I thought it was mostly an art historical history of beauty. I didn't realize how great a role writing, especially poetry and philosophy, would play in the theories expressed and discussed in the book. I am an artist and art instructor, but my grounding in philosophy is mediocre and my poetry background is almost nil. I was much better able to understand the arguments and explanations when they referred to art images (those included in the book or those left out) than when they were supported by poetry, philosophy, literature or music. The writing is very academic and the book is full of both quality color reproductions of artworks and excerpts from many many written works. In the written works context was sometimes limited and this added to my feeling of being lost or confused. I would expect the book to be used more as a textbook--a graduate level textbook supported by other text, readings and discussions. This is not a light read.

  12. 5 out of 5

    AyaSuu

    This book takes a lot of stamina to go through. The concept is quite easy: each chapter contains a short description of the period in question and its understanding of beauty, accompanied by important artworks and literature of the time. These chapters are often just 3-5 pages. Nevertheless it's hard to read (weird layout, at least in the german edition, and hard to understand texts without comments) and boring at times. It doesn't feel like a cohesive book, but rather like lecture notes put tog This book takes a lot of stamina to go through. The concept is quite easy: each chapter contains a short description of the period in question and its understanding of beauty, accompanied by important artworks and literature of the time. These chapters are often just 3-5 pages. Nevertheless it's hard to read (weird layout, at least in the german edition, and hard to understand texts without comments) and boring at times. It doesn't feel like a cohesive book, but rather like lecture notes put together. Period descriptions don't go into details, but mention what's most important. What I really missed was an extensive analysis of the texts and artworks used. 3 stars for a good overview and great choice of artworks.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Jose

    Absolutely disappointing. It's just another collection of selected paragraphs and quotes from historical and philosophical essays concerning Beauty and other aesthetical categories like the Picturesque or the Sublime, with some extra explanations. I expected it to be a new essay by Mr. Eco himself, but his presence and touch on the subject approached is almost inexistent or unnoticeable. Plus, a quite expensive book. So, if you're already into History of Art or Philosophy, don't even think about Absolutely disappointing. It's just another collection of selected paragraphs and quotes from historical and philosophical essays concerning Beauty and other aesthetical categories like the Picturesque or the Sublime, with some extra explanations. I expected it to be a new essay by Mr. Eco himself, but his presence and touch on the subject approached is almost inexistent or unnoticeable. Plus, a quite expensive book. So, if you're already into History of Art or Philosophy, don't even think about getting this book. Still, it would be unfair not to acknowledge the book's easy style and summarized vision of the topic: useful for people with no further knowledge and a will to learn a bit about this tricky concept called Beauty.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Ilgar DIANATI

    Umberto Eco is one of my long term interests. I've learned and enjoyed a lot reading this valuable art reference.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Barry Marks

    To begin, I have to confess that I am a huge Umberto Eco fan. I have enjoyed reading both fiction and non-fiction books penned by him. My only regret is that I have to read English translations as I am not going to learn Italian at this stage of my life. This book to me is a post- modernist history of the concept of beauty. I have enjoyed reading cover to cover when I first got it and to this day still enjoy rereading parts of it and pursuing the many illustrations and examples of beauty and art To begin, I have to confess that I am a huge Umberto Eco fan. I have enjoyed reading both fiction and non-fiction books penned by him. My only regret is that I have to read English translations as I am not going to learn Italian at this stage of my life. This book to me is a post- modernist history of the concept of beauty. I have enjoyed reading cover to cover when I first got it and to this day still enjoy rereading parts of it and pursuing the many illustrations and examples of beauty and art through the ages. What seems to frustrate many people posting reviews on the book is that they read it expecting to find a definitive definition of beauty and that's just not going to happen.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Jarryn

    This book clearly shows its origin as an electronic resource casually dealing with aesthetics. Not only is it not a "study", but it can feel rather fragmented and incoherent throughout. Eco and De Michele seem to intend this book to serve as "a history" of beauty rather than "the history", if one exists at all—it reads most like the textbook for an introductory survey course in art history/aesthetics. I think this book does a decent job at striking the balance between a somewhat in-depth, insight This book clearly shows its origin as an electronic resource casually dealing with aesthetics. Not only is it not a "study", but it can feel rather fragmented and incoherent throughout. Eco and De Michele seem to intend this book to serve as "a history" of beauty rather than "the history", if one exists at all—it reads most like the textbook for an introductory survey course in art history/aesthetics. I think this book does a decent job at striking the balance between a somewhat in-depth, insightful look into the subject matter and an accessible read geared toward those of us who are not experts equipped with the right kind of academic jargon. With that said, however, it clearly suffers from a number of nebulous patches—like questionable editorial decisions, occasionally unclear translations, and, most importantly, a marketing attempt to underscore editor Umberto Eco's name. It would actually fare decently well had it not attempted to rely on Eco's namesake, thus inviting ridiculously high expectations from the reader. A closer look at the first few pages of the book (which offer some words about how this book came together) is advised. Last, but not least... This book might not be for you if you have a thing against the "arts" that don't conform to the post-Classical era high art ideal. Said notion about what constitutes good art (if any) and beauty had its place at a particular moment in history, but it's not all there is to it. Particularly, I've read a number of reviewers here and elsewhere that appeared to have issues with parts of this book in which the authors delve into the "beauty of the [mass] media", possibly founded upon the notion that the popular art that serves commercial and/or political ends just isn't (and shouldn't be) on the same level as the Great Masterpieces. I would offer my view that all art was/is popular art, and it's our decision to or not to put something above something else, or to place it on a pedestal and regard it as a timeless classic. But that's not what this review is about. In short: It's an okay read. By all means, go for it—but know what you're really getting yourself into, and don't be surprised if something comes up that differs from your own ideas.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Pollopicu

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. I got through this book by pure endurance I built by jogging 2-3 miles a day, 4 times a week. Otherwise I wouldn't have made it through. Good thing I have mental stamina. It's gotten me through a lot of difficult times in my life. I loved Umberto's book "On Ugliness". I gave that five stars, which is the reason I asked for a copy of "On Beauty" for Christmas, so I could have the set, and forever cherish them both. I learned a lot about literature from "On Ugliness". I believe it was one of the u I got through this book by pure endurance I built by jogging 2-3 miles a day, 4 times a week. Otherwise I wouldn't have made it through. Good thing I have mental stamina. It's gotten me through a lot of difficult times in my life. I loved Umberto's book "On Ugliness". I gave that five stars, which is the reason I asked for a copy of "On Beauty" for Christmas, so I could have the set, and forever cherish them both. I learned a lot about literature from "On Ugliness". I believe it was one of the ultimate driving forces which inspired me to start reading classic works. So when I opened my copy of the beautifully illustrated book "On beauty" and saw that one of the very first pictures of the book was a nude picture of what our society has been conditioned to recognize as beauty, I was disappointed. I somewhat expected in this book, the transition of the history of beauty to eventually lead to what our warped over-sexed society has come to consider beautiful, but I didn't expect to open the book to the very first pages and see a modern image/photograph of a topless woman with what seemed like literally painted on black patten-leather boots that went up to her waist. I think that adding this image to the very first pages of this beautiful book was a serious offense, and I was indeed offended. Other than that, the book was deeply disappointing. It was a tedious bore to get through. I found a driving manual more interesting to read.. I can safely say I got nothing from reading it, and I read it from cover to cover. I guess I'm more fascinated with the nature of ugliness than with that of beauty, since beauty these days seems to be so generic and un-original. Also none of the Art that Umberto chose moved me. Waste of a potentially gorgeous book. This is hands down one of the shittiest books I've ever read in my life.

  18. 4 out of 5

    José Luís Fernandes

    History of Beauty is a nice exposition of the History of the concept of beauty. The scholarship by Eco is very good and the book has a lot of illustrations and primary sources to back his claims (although for the 20th century there is a lack of texts). I must just warn that the stirrups didn't reach Europe in the High Middle Ages, but instead was already around in the late 6th and early 7th centuries (depending on the region) probably due to Avar influence. I also don't agree with the assertion History of Beauty is a nice exposition of the History of the concept of beauty. The scholarship by Eco is very good and the book has a lot of illustrations and primary sources to back his claims (although for the 20th century there is a lack of texts). I must just warn that the stirrups didn't reach Europe in the High Middle Ages, but instead was already around in the late 6th and early 7th centuries (depending on the region) probably due to Avar influence. I also don't agree with the assertion by Eco his work is relativistic because the fact the idea of Beauty changed many times by itself doesn't mean by itself it's relativistic in any way. My only great issue with this book is that the editing was bad and there wasn't a proof read (for instance, the dates of some art works were wrong or the descriptions were exchanged, especially in the initial pages). Finally, unlike what some people say, this isn't properly a work of Art History (because it's goal isn't art in itself, although beauty is highly related to it and this is useful for art historians), but instead of semiotics (more specifically of semantics, as the perceptions of Beauty in the "western world" since Ancient Greece are discussed).

  19. 4 out of 5

    Matt

    Well-researched, readable, with lots of pretty pictures if you're into that kind of thing. A couple of qualifications: 1. He is obviously most concerned with literary and fine arts, mostly ignoring decorative arts, architecture, performing arts, etc. 2. He leans heavily on literary and artistic figures probably less well-known outside Eco's native Italy. 3. His analysis tends to begin somewhat abstruse in the early chapters and really becomes engaging around the Renaissance and Enlightenment. (e.g Well-researched, readable, with lots of pretty pictures if you're into that kind of thing. A couple of qualifications: 1. He is obviously most concerned with literary and fine arts, mostly ignoring decorative arts, architecture, performing arts, etc. 2. He leans heavily on literary and artistic figures probably less well-known outside Eco's native Italy. 3. His analysis tends to begin somewhat abstruse in the early chapters and really becomes engaging around the Renaissance and Enlightenment. (e.g. His observations about dandyism really connected a razor-sharp line from Oscar Wilde to handlebar-moustachioed hipsters, the self as raw material and artwork.) But as an introductory text demonstrating the visual arts over recorded history, it's an admirable survey with several excellent insights.

  20. 5 out of 5

    J.J.

    This was a bit of a tough read in that it could be slightly boring at times and also lacked a coherent organization or scheme. True, Eco's main point is that there is not necessarily a theme to beauty, but this nonetheless made it a tougher read. The included philosophic tidbits were great and well selected, though I felt some added context would have helped overall. The images chosen were great, and almost always helped in understanding the ideas being presented. Overall, decent, but my biggest This was a bit of a tough read in that it could be slightly boring at times and also lacked a coherent organization or scheme. True, Eco's main point is that there is not necessarily a theme to beauty, but this nonetheless made it a tougher read. The included philosophic tidbits were great and well selected, though I felt some added context would have helped overall. The images chosen were great, and almost always helped in understanding the ideas being presented. Overall, decent, but my biggest problem is that I can't say I've walked away feeling I know much, if anything, more about beauty than I did going in.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Moßtafa

    Well, the head subject is really interesting to catch up the human eye. I read the name of the rose one of Eco's best novels and all fiction history but to see his works in non-fiction,it's an interesting too. The book about seeing the beauty in everything including the ugliest ones. And it varies from one to another ,from he to she. One might think Samsung is better than iPhones and the other thinks Samsung is the worst mobile ever created, Why I like Dickens more than other writer while another Well, the head subject is really interesting to catch up the human eye. I read the name of the rose one of Eco's best novels and all fiction history but to see his works in non-fiction,it's an interesting too. The book about seeing the beauty in everything including the ugliest ones. And it varies from one to another ,from he to she. One might think Samsung is better than iPhones and the other thinks Samsung is the worst mobile ever created, Why I like Dickens more than other writer while another guy think Shakespeare is the one, so it varies but all are have the scent of beautifulness. Plus, obviously, the book itself is beautiful too.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Steven Godin

    Fascinating, much better than his fiction.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Besaro

    The book was really great,.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Chris

    History of Beauty by Umberto Eco Umberto Eco is notorious as the Italian professor of semiotics who wrote a bestseller, The Name of the Rose, which sparked off a host of imitators and invigorated interest in the study of medieval art and culture. In addition to all that, he has been an editor in TV and publishing, a columnist for an avant garde monthly, and a prolific essayist. If there is such a thing as a renaissance man, Eco is it. On Beauty is an encyclopedia of images and ideas about beauty History of Beauty by Umberto Eco Umberto Eco is notorious as the Italian professor of semiotics who wrote a bestseller, The Name of the Rose, which sparked off a host of imitators and invigorated interest in the study of medieval art and culture. In addition to all that, he has been an editor in TV and publishing, a columnist for an avant garde monthly, and a prolific essayist. If there is such a thing as a renaissance man, Eco is it. On Beauty is an encyclopedia of images and ideas about beauty ranging from ancient Greece to the present day. It begins with 20 pages of reproductions of paintings and photographs, representing an enormous range of cultural icons, from Bronzini's Allegory of Venus to characteristic snapshots of David Beckham and George Clooney. More paintings decorate the next 400 pages of quotations from philosophers and writers - Plato, Boccaccio, San Bernardo. Kant, Heine, et al. The book is arranged according to various themes rather than chronologically, although, given the fact that it begins with the aesthetic ideals of ancient Greece and ends with pop art and the mass media, the chronology seems self-evident. On the other hand, as Eco points out in his introduction, "this is a history of Beauty and not a history of art (or of literature or music)". He goes on to ask the obvious question - "why is this history of Beauty documented solely through works of art?" - and he replies by claiming that "over the centuries it was artists, poets, and novelists who told us about the things they considered beautiful and they were the ones who left us examples. Peasants, masons, bakers or tailors also made things that they probably saw as beautiful, but only a very few of these artefacts remain." This is an answer which seems surprisingly unimaginative for a polymath of Eco's acumen, if only because it provokes a great many more questions about the book's structure and content. The introduction concludes that "Beauty has never been absolute and immutable but has taken on different aspects depending on the historical period and the country" - beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Having read this, I found myself wondering why the book confines itself to examples of beauty from western Europe and the iconography of Hollywood movies. On this evidence the populations of Russia, the Middle East, China, India, Japan, Africa and South America have had no concepts of beauty or at least no artefacts worthy of display, and while it is reasonable to suppose that the scope of On Beauty 's illustrations is the product of individual taste, their limitations seem to be defying the main thrust of its argument. As a result, although we've been told with some force that this is a history of beauty, rather than art, it reads very much like an eclectic primer of western aesthetics and painting. This impression is reinforced by Eco's assertion of an essential "link between art and beauty". It seems a curious claim after a century in which artists struggled to reject precisely this link between themselves and Renaissance beliefs. (The "new realist" painter Fernand Léger, for instance, lecturing in the 1930s, argued that art was actually a barrier between the people and "the domain of the beautiful".) The problem is highlighted in the chapters on "monstrosities", and "ugliness". Eco describes the medieval fascination with representations of devilish monsters and the pangs of hellfire, and argues that centuries of aesthetic theory presented ugliness as the antithesis of beauty, that the moral significance of ugliness lies in being a fundamental strand of a complex universe. One revealing aspect of these arguments is that they are the product of a view from the centre of a traditional European cosmos, and it's hard to imagine what the notion of monstrosity might mean were it to be tested against the background of a nonEuropean universe. But it's not only in the world outside Europe that definitions of this kind begin to lose their force and meaning. In a European environment ruled by a polymorphous clutch of moral and religious rubrics, a large proportion of the population continues, for reasons which are essentially mysterious, to be fascinated by phenomena that are grotesque, monstrous or downright disgusting. The contemplation of medieval monstrosities can, no doubt, be paralleled by the popularity of Victorian freak shows, or, in the present day, our delight in the varieties of horror peddled through the cinema, TV and the computer screen. From a contemporary standpoint, our fascination with fabulous monsters has now been divorced from morality, religious awe or even curiosity, and the underlying aesthetic is more to do with pure sensation. The Renaissance invention of ugliness, therefore, can no longer stand in support of the category beauty. For a large swath of contemporary practitioners, also, the idea of a beautiful representation is part of an aesthetic ideal which the American painter Barnett Newman described as "the bugbear of European art". On Beauty avoids discussing these contradictions, and the consequence is a beautifully produced guidebook to the classical and Renaissance practice that linked together ideas about art and beauty. The promise of Eco's introduction, however, never comes near fulfilment, and there's a curious sense that the book's editor was only half involved, that the assembly of the various elements took place on different sites and drew on different traditions. On the other hand, maybe that is the logic of Eco's Renaissance-inflected sensibility. When he's experimenting, trying to break new ground, the result can be a brilliant synthesis; when he's recycling orthodoxies, as he is here, you get an incoherent hotch-potch of elements - a bit of a fudge. Mike Phillips The Guardian

  25. 5 out of 5

    Lingkai

    Basically a tour of the art movements over time. Avoiding the big word "Art" next to history, this book is not really about the history of art. It is concerned with beauty. You'd know better, "What is beauty?" is basically an absurd question to ask. I still found it a good read anyways. A book to leave around the house to crack open at random places - ooh! pretty pictures! And some interesting lines. Liked the last few chapters the best. Of most interest to me: The beauty of machines The beauty of t Basically a tour of the art movements over time. Avoiding the big word "Art" next to history, this book is not really about the history of art. It is concerned with beauty. You'd know better, "What is beauty?" is basically an absurd question to ask. I still found it a good read anyways. A book to leave around the house to crack open at random places - ooh! pretty pictures! And some interesting lines. Liked the last few chapters the best. Of most interest to me: The beauty of machines The beauty of the Media The beauty of Consumption sort of colliding and crashing and caving in to the beauty of provocation. (Syncretion...I believe he used that word). It ends with this great statement, "Our explorer from the future will no longer be able to identify the aesthetic ideal diffused by the mass media of the twentieth century and beyond. He will have to surrender before the orgy of tolerance, the total syncretism and the absolute and unstoppable polytheism of Beauty"

  26. 4 out of 5

    Caroline

    I got this for Christmas ages ago and I think it's wedged into a back bookcase. Harper's reposted their review of it though and I might go back: The sensible George Santayana observed that beauty begins with sensation: what we immediately, and especially what children like immediately, is the best proof of sincerity. And when "sincerity is lost, and a snobbish ambition is substituted, bad taste comes in."

  27. 5 out of 5

    Eugenio Fouz

    I loved the book: the ideas on beauty, proportion, classicism and the images were nice and deserve a bookshelf on their own. I had to read the book in 2 steps, namely reading the main stream of the notion of beauty or the sublime and on the other hand the revision of images and comments. The edition I have read is a Spanish translation. The main text is in black colour whereas the notes and comments are in a strange greeen colour which make it difficutl to read.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Alex Kartelias

    An amazing book. I love how he deals with many mediums and how tight his grasp is of Kant, Aquinus, Schiller, Hegel and others. The first formal book on aesthetics I've read and now I'm hungry to go and read these thinkers. Even though I wish he would have covered Eastern art as well go more into archicture and music, it was inspiring none the less.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Ivan Antonov

    The best book of a season

  30. 4 out of 5

    An Te

    A cornucopia about beauty. Interesting. Some entries on disgust, which were unexpected. Neoclassical and classical beauty were all mentioned. The sublime is standard entry. What I'd like to know more is Eco's view/views on beauty. Though he has indicated this is a compendium about beauty, I'd like to know more about his own views on the matter. He's a ruffian hard to pin down, like that. Personally, my views on beauty are Thomistic. As Aquinas wrote, paraphrasing, it is about all things in their A cornucopia about beauty. Interesting. Some entries on disgust, which were unexpected. Neoclassical and classical beauty were all mentioned. The sublime is standard entry. What I'd like to know more is Eco's view/views on beauty. Though he has indicated this is a compendium about beauty, I'd like to know more about his own views on the matter. He's a ruffian hard to pin down, like that. Personally, my views on beauty are Thomistic. As Aquinas wrote, paraphrasing, it is about all things in their right proportion. And it is God, who has all things in His mind, who has the measure on all things. Know God and know the beauty of things being in their right order. This also helps me to explain why we have disgust; it is simply not proportional. Now, I know why this may not sit will with a postmodern mind. My question to stir the waters now. Can the ugly be redeemed to become beautiful? I think it can. It's what we Christians are called to do after our Lord Jesus desired this for our very selves. The ugly made beautiful. God bless

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