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History of Beauty

3.77  ·  Rating details ·  45,439 ratings  ·  221 reviews
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 ...more
Hardcover, 432 pages
Published November 13th 2004 by Rizzoli (first published January 2004)
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3.77  · 
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 ·  45,439 ratings  ·  221 reviews

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Jul 22, 2013 rated it it was amazing

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
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
Mar 09, 2012 rated it liked it
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.
Oct 18, 2012 rated it liked it
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 pleasing to contemplate
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.
Jun 21, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Apr 23, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: italy
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 ...more
Jan 07, 2013 rated it it was ok
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 ...more
May 10, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
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
Sep 12, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: art

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
Feb 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Excellence in its own right ...
Barry Marks
Feb 08, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
May 13, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 11, 2009 rated it did not like it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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
Aug 31, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Mar 25, 2012 rated it liked it
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
Jan 16, 2012 rated it really liked it
Although from time to time the writing is a little muddled or the thinking confused, on the whole the short overview sections give a coherent explanation of Eco's understanding of how our thinking about beauty has developed. The overviews are embedded within copious images of paintings, scultures, as well as excerpts from treatises and other texts. These are wonderful.

Am borrowing this book from a friend, but would love a copy of my own. Would go back to it often.
Sep 14, 2010 marked it as to-read
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."
Steven Godin
Feb 19, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating, much better than his fiction.
Ivan Antonov
Jul 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
The best book of a season
Feb 20, 2016 rated it really liked it
My first glimpse of this title came at the Frankfurt Book Fair in 2010. The edition exhibited was in the original Italian and significantly more handsome than the translated library copy I have been perusing this past week.
I was reminded of my desire to read it by the recent report of Umberto Eco's death and ordered it at my local library thinking a read of it as good a way to honour and memorialize this pertinacious scholar as any. I collected the book from the library en route to a lunch date
Julia Herdman
Jul 17, 2016 rated it liked it
Another book in my post university education. On Beauty is an encyclopaedia 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. Ka ...more
As someone who prides myself on being able to keep up with Umberto Eco's fiction (with the assistance of several classical language dictionaries, of course) and even some of his non-fiction, "History of Beauty" was so intensely academic as to not be enjoyable for me as light summer reading (although it would make an excellent text for an advanced university-level course on art history). I did, however, gain much from the book just by looking at the pictures (which comprise ~70% of the book) and ...more
Aug 16, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
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.
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.
Jul 17, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Eco's art books are a step above the usual do to how consistent and substantive his analysis of the main theme of the book is and his inclusion of excepts from key texts of western history to supplement the visual material. I always end up coming back to this series, though this particular volume is a favorite.
Aug 11, 2013 marked it as to-read
I have the paperback edition and on page 63 there seems to be a typo. This is what it says in my book:

The Pythagoreans were the first to study the that govern musical sounds, the proportion on which intervals are based, and the relationship between the length of a string and the pitch of a note.

If anyone can clarify what the sentence should say please let me know.
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Umberto Eco was an Italian writer of fiction, essays, academic texts, and children's books. 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 perceptive essays on modern culture are filled with a delightful sen ...more