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The Aesthetics of Grace

Philosophy, Art, and Nature


Corrado Federici

In The Aesthetics of Grace: Philosophy, Art, and Nature, Raffaele Milani traces the fascinating history of the idea of ‘grace’ from ancient times to the 1700s. Although this term has been displaced by other concepts with the advent of modernism and postmodernism, the complex ideas related to the notion of ‘grace’ remain an important aesthetic category, and Milani presents an impressive panorama of reflections on and interpretations of the subject. The subtitle of the work indicates the broad scope of a study that recounts the origins of the term in Latin gratias (favor, regard, or gift), corresponding to the Greek Kharites (givers of beauty and charm). The volume then goes on to examine the Middle Ages, when the concept acquires a more specifically religious meaning (divine mercy, thanks), the Renaissance, when the terms ‘gracefulness’ and ‘elegance’ come to dominate in the treatises of the time, and the Ages of Romanticism and Neoclassicism, with their particular treatment of the topic. In the process, Milani meditates on the visual representations of these multiple meanings in the form of second-century frescoes, fifteenth-century paintings by Botticelli, Raphael, Titian, Da Vinci, Mantegna, Correggio, and Carracci, seventeenth-century canvases by Poussin and sculptures by Bernini, and eighteenth-century sculptures by Antonio Canova and paintings by Fragonard. This engaging work weaves with skill and subtlety philosophical, theological, and artistic ideas into a stimulating tapestry.


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Part I. The Machine That Is Grace


Part I . The Machine That Is Grace The idea of grace is born in antiquity and develops in the history of philoso- phy, theology, and the arts. It belongs to Mediterranean culture, but its mean- ing can also be found in other cultures quite different from this one. And so, just as there is an aesthetic of the sublime, an aesthetic of the beautiful, an aesthetic of the tragic, which are sets of values and feelings, there exists an aesthetic of grace. In the religious context, grace is the benevolence that God or a deity manifests toward the human creature, like a sovereign who looks with favor upon a subject and gives him gifts, not because he is obliged to do so, but because this is pleasing to him. As Voltaire writes in his Philosophical Dic- tionary, however, if Emilius Paulus, Cicero, Caesar, Titus, Trajan, Marcus Aurelius (and we could certainly add Seneca) were to return to the Rome for whose glory they had devoted themselves, “you must admit that they would be astonished by your decisions regarding Grace” (Voltaire 1981, p. 353). They would be equally confused, says the witty writer, to hear talk of Aqui- nas’ “Grace of salvation,” Cajetan’s “medicinal Grace,” and “inner,” “exter- nal,” “gratuitous,” “sanctifying,” “actual,” “habitual,” “cooperative,” “effective,” “sufficient,” “versatile,” and “congruent” grace. It is said that everything is grace from God. If this is true, Voltaire goes on to say, we must ask ourselves if God bestows a special grace upon a wolf...

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