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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 II. Mythological and Religious Images


Part II . Mythological and Religious Images I open this section of the present volume with a passage from Walter Frie- drich Otto that will serve as a bridge between an initial and a subsequent re- flection on our topic. In the preceding pages, I wanted to direct our attention toward the set of ideas that have provided a true aesthetics of grace across time, in parallel with an aesthetic of the beautiful, the tragic, and the sublime, which includes the formulation of values and sensibilities as well as the defi- nition of conceptual and emotional categories. Having described and ana- lyzed this array of theories and perceptions, I would like now to describe the images that symbolically represent grace. An allegorical, symbolic, and met- aphorical vision emerges in an age of great changes, an age dominated by a complex cultural metamorphosis from the pagan to the Christian world, In Il poeta e gli antichi dei (The Poet and the Ancient Gods), Walter Friedrich Otto discusses the heroic spirit and demonstrates the extent to which this spirit permeated the life of the Greeks. There were numerous he- roic lineages and dynastic families boasting divine origins. Poetry, Homer’s song, and art put on display the magnificence of a humanity that joined to- gether man and god in a series of experiences capable of accommodating, in one way or another and in every place, the infinite and the eternal for the purpose of attaining spiritual heights where men themselves seemed to be- come...

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