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Beauty and Aesthetics in Western Art

Investigate the meaning and perception of beauty using art from the ancient world through the late Middle Ages. We will illustrate the evolution of "beauty" as both a physical and an intellectual construct using a range of cultures spanning 4,000+ years. The course provides an appreciation for viewing works of art with an understanding of their original cultural environments.

Beauty + Aesthetics in Western Art 


Taught by John Doyle M.A., Art History, Tufts University. Former Education Department lecturer, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.  


What is beauty? How do concepts of beauty and aesthetic philosophy influence the way we view society and ourselves? The history of art from the ancient world through the late Middle Ages will provide the context in which to examine these and other questions. We will investigate the evolution of "beauty" as both a physical and an intellectual construct with illustrative examples drawn from a broad range of cultures spanning over four thousand years. The course is intended to provide an enriched appreciation for viewing works of art through a deeper understanding of the cultural environments in which they were produced.

Week 1: Egypt and the Ancient Near East; The foundations of art and aesthetics in the West were laid by the world's two oldest civilizations. How did they view themselves, others and the natural world around them.

Week 2: Ancient Greece; Exploration of the evolution of the Classical model of beauty. Developed by the Greeks in the fifth century B.C. the notion of classical beauty still holds Western culture firmly in its grasp. 

Week 3: Rome and the Late Antique ; During the last centuries of the Roman Empire in the west a crucial transitional phase from the Classical model to a new, more abstract vocabulary of art took place. How and why did this occur and what vestiges of it remain?

Week 4: Medieval; It turns out the "Dark Ages" were not so dark after all. The thousand year period from A.D. 500-1500 saw the creation of some of the world's most inspirational art works, from illuminated manuscripts to soaring Gothic cathedrals. This period was also crucial to the development of modern concepts of womanhood, femininity and feminism.