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History of Beauty

3.82  ·  Rating details ·  57,865 ratings  ·  334 reviews
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 ...more
Paperback, 432 pages
Published November 13th 2004 by Rizzoli (first published October 6th 2004)
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Average rating 3.82  · 
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 ·  57,865 ratings  ·  334 reviews

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Ahmad Sharabiani
Storia della bellezza = History of Beauty = On Beauty, 2nd ed, 2005, Umberto Eco

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. 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 huma
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
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.
Dec 25, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: e-3, g-philosophy, italy, g-art
A very documented and academic study of beauty through art, a relevant and written reflection on aesthetics, significantly changed over the centuries.
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 worth to be contemplated
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
Valentia D'Ambroise
Jan 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: pretties
Pfff.... That was one hell of a essay. This little gem kept me alive through some tough stuff... (G, I sound cliché)
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
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. ...more
And the History of Beauty is a wonderfully written, aesthetically pleasing guide to how the idea of beauty in the Occidental, and particularly Mediterranean, world has evolved. I have to question the degree to which Eco ascribes the concept of “beauty” being informed by a specific epistemological zeitgeist (e.g. the dethroning of the Church as ultimate authority being reflected in the shadowy aesthetics of the Baroque), and some of his semiotic conclusions seem like stretches. However, that wart ...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
Feb 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Excellence in its own right ...
Feb 17, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, eco
Les Très Riches Heures Duc de Berry
A page from Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, demonstrating the use of colour in the Middle Ages

On Beauty charts the history of the Western idea of beauty from Ancient Greece onwards, through the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, the Enlightenment and into the modern era, right up to the 1980s. Eco demonstrates the development of art and the cultural shifts that occurred over the centuries. This volume forms part of a series together with On Ugliness, The Infinity of Lists and The Book of Lege
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
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
Apr 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Umberto Eco is one of my long term interests. I've learned and enjoyed a lot reading this valuable art reference. ...more
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
Jul 11, 2009 rated it did not like it
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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
Feb 19, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating, much better than his fiction.
Aug 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
The book was really great,.
Stan Georgiana
Mar 13, 2021 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: italy
Maybe "Read" is a strong word, but I lost so much time that I am not setting it to dnf.

After 100 pages, I skipped the quotes. After 300 pages, I skipped the main text and just look at the art pictures. Because yeah, I was bored. How can you make the history of beauty boring, I do not know. Well, it's pretentious and academic, very dry. Maybe this would be ok for an Art student, but I am reading for pleasure and knowledge, so it didn't work.

2 stars only for the 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
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
Jun 21, 2022 added it
*Dictionary of various concepts and terms in the history of aesthetic philosophy.
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
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
Jul 13, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
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
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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

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