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Art and Beauty in the Middle Ages

3.94  ·  Rating Details  ·  750 Ratings  ·  29 Reviews
In this volume, the Italian novelist and playwright Umberto Eco aims to present a learned summary of mediaeval 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 mediaeval culture.
Paperback, 144 pages
Published February 8th 2002 by Yale University Press (first published 1986)
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A Distant Mirror by Barbara W. TuchmanThe Time Traveler's Guide to Medieval England by Ian MortimerEleanor of Aquitaine by Alison WeirThe Plantagenets by Dan JonesThe Year 1000 by Robert Lacey
Best Medieval History Books
17th out of 456 books — 194 voters
Ways of Seeing by John BergerBrunelleschi's Dome by Ross KingHistory of Beauty by Umberto EcoThe Complete Paintings and Drawings by Leonardo da VinciA History of Illuminated Manuscripts by Christopher De Hamel
The World History of Art
30th out of 302 books — 83 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 2,167)
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Sep 30, 2013 Sara rated it really liked it
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
May 12, 2016 Suzannah rated it really liked it
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
Joseph R.
Jan 20, 2016 Joseph R. rated it really liked it
Shelves: philosophy, read_2016
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
May 22, 2015 Joshua rated it really liked it
Shelves: art-music-fim
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 ...more
Jan 24, 2014 Greg rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Jan 06, 2015 Karen rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Aug 06, 2011 Christopher rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Dec 26, 2013 Roisin rated it really liked it
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
Apr 09, 2014 Claudia rated it it was amazing
Another very important book! A scholarly study and at its time, a very interesting approach to a story hardly touched by others!
Paul Blaney
Aug 17, 2013 Paul Blaney rated it really liked it
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
Jun 03, 2016 David rated it liked it
The medieval kunstwollen was apparently very kalokagathic.
Jun 12, 2013 Helen rated it really liked it
A great book, easy to follow and well written. It's interesting to have an understanding of what made something beautiful in the eye of a citizen of the Middle Ages, and indeed how the definition of the word has changed over time.

The one thing I wished had been included, considering this was a book on art and beauty, would be some examples of art from the Middle Ages. I also felt that the book was pretty short, that a topic this broad deserved more than 119 pages.
Christine Rowe
I'll refrain from starring this because a significant percentage of it flew straight over my head (I really need to re-read this book when I'm more familiar with the terminology of medieval theology and philosophy). The parts that I did understand were fascinating and presented beautifully with neutrality & clarity.
Маx Nestelieiev
Feb 03, 2015 Маx Nestelieiev rated it it was amazing
одна из лучших книг эко. не смотря на заявленную тему содержит рассказ о специфике средневековья как эпохи и мировоззрения.
Douglas Summers-Stay
Sep 26, 2014 Douglas Summers-Stay rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Umberto Eco considers questions like: what was the role and status of an artist in the middle ages? How did they conceive of creativity? By what standards did they judge things beautiful? Putting aside their theories, what does their writing betray about how they understood beauty? Most of the answers are heavily weighted by how the Church viewed man's relationship with God.
Chris Griffith
Jan 30, 2013 Chris Griffith rated it really liked it
Scholarly philosophical survey of aesthetics in the Middle Ages. A short but heavy book delving into the world of scholasticism, mysticism, neo-Platonism, and nominalism with regards to beauty. Reading it was like alchemy. The fact Eco wrote this at age 24 when he was in the Army (pardon the crass metaphor) but it bloweth meh mind!
Oct 06, 2010 Kate rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: medieval, art-history
This highly readable introduction to medieval aesthetics is far more accessible than Eco's fiction. The section on Aquinas is the densest chapter, but it's worth the slog. (Or not, if you just can't stand Aquinas.) Definitely recommended to anyone who is interested in learning more about medieval concepts of art.
Dec 27, 2010 Michael rated it really liked it
Umberto Eco's book on Middle Ages understanding of art and its role in religious imagery is a well argued discussion of how art was understood by mediaval philosophy, religion and artists.
Feb 23, 2013 Danny rated it really liked it
A brief but satisfying introduction to art and beauty in the middle ages. Perhaps most impressive is the intricate metaphysical framework used in expounding the doctrine of beauty.
Lovely and lyrical style, more poetry than prose. A refreshing and enjoyable change of pace from most of the other volumes I read in my Gothic Spirit class!
Oct 19, 2007 Tina rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
here's one i haven't read for almost, could it be...ugh...20 years...but it had a mighty impact at the time.
want to revisit
think i'll love it even more
Feb 15, 2009 Aliya marked it as to-read
gara-gara baca the name of the rose-nya Eco, aku jadi tertarik ne dengan dunia abad pertengahan...dimana ya bisa dapat buku ini...???
Jan 29, 2011 Andreea rated it liked it
Interesting, but too verbose at times. I expected something more connected to Medieval art than to Medieval thought. Hmm.
Jan 09, 2009 Lia rated it it was amazing
Een boek waar je zwaar op moet kauwen, vaak stukjes overlezen en dan plotseling het besef dat je het begrijpt!
Apr 30, 2014 Steve rated it it was amazing

Really good the second time after reading his 'Aesthetics of Thomas Aquinas'.
Keith Brough
Feb 12, 2009 Keith Brough rated it really liked it
very short book, yet contains so much. Interlibrary loan this book today, its worth it.
Sep 20, 2009 Gabrielle rated it really liked it
Shelves: art-history
Remember, Signore Eco, wrote this at a mere 24 years of age. Read it and weep.
Emily Wolahan
Jul 31, 2014 Emily Wolahan rated it it was amazing
He wrote this when he was 26? Really fascinating.
May 08, 2013 Iskender rated it liked it
Beklediğim kadar iyi çıkmadı
Isaias Sanchez
Isaias Sanchez marked it as to-read
Jul 25, 2016
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Umberto Eco was an Italian writer of fiction, essays, academic texts, and children's books, and certainly one of the finest authors of the twentieth century. A professor of semiotics at the University of Bologna, Eco’s brilliant fiction is known for its playful use of language and symbols, its astonishing array of allusions and references, and clever use of puzzles and narrative inventions. His pe ...more
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“El alma humana es la verdadera cópula del mundo porque, por un lado, se dirige hacia lo divino y, por el otro, se introduce en el cuerpo y domina la naturaleza.” 6 likes
“Todo concepto filosófico, tomado en su sentido más genérico, explica cualquier cosa.” 2 likes
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