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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 III. Forms of Representation


I have examined the meaning of grace as a gift freely given, as an exercise in pure benevolence, and as an aesthetic and cultural expression, making refer- ence to a great ideative, ethical, symbolic, and anthropological machine. I have also analyzed its theological implications, highlighting the wonder ex- perienced by mankind elevated to a supernatural destiny. I have interpreted its figures, evolution, and structures, taking into consideration places, bodies, and materials, without overlooking the qualities that characterize it in terms of movement and lightness, unsayability and ineffability. I now turn to inter- preting the forms of its aesthetic and artistic representation in greater detail. Grace sometimes spills over into the area of gracefulness, its adjacent realm, considered as part of the broadening of issues that are important in the 1600s and 1700s. This second inroad, less airy and metaphysical, leads us into the domain of ornamentation even though it retains its original focus, which is on the sense of detachment from the world itself, nonchalance or indifference in the presence of things, and a gaze directed toward the past. The love that reigns never takes possession of, settles on, or invests in some- thing. In this perspective, we are not concerned with reality, which is to say, with objects, but with the evocation of feelings. Even arabesque and embroi- dery can be included in this process because they are equally indifferent to things and beings, as are the so-called major arts. The fundamental role of grace in the forms of...

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