People's desire to animate sculpture is quite commonplace. In Ireland, to this day, statues  frequently  move in some subtle fashion and often draw audiences of many thousands to see this movement. These forms of animation were commonplace in the mediaeval period and we still take great pleasure in our town centres when those out of work actors, who stand immobile for long periods caked in silver make up to look statuesque, suddenly move. We wonder initially at their stillness and we delight in their sudden animations.

I have often seen grown-ups as well as children pat those lifelike statues of guide dogs outside shops and the guardians of our major galleries will tell you that the public, despite being told not to touch, will invariably reach out and lay hands upon any statuary they take a fancy to.

The Latin word animus means soul and we do so like to think that the frozen people or animals our sculptors make for us have in some way life within.

It is a great moment in Mozart's "Don Giovanni"  when the statue of the Don comes to life and drags Don Giovanni off to hell. However it is not these spectacular coups du theatre that I'm interested in rather it is in the way humankind appears to relate to statuary or sculpture.

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Poor Saint Thomas, he did his best but we of this century now tend to think culture is perhaps central to “ways of seeing” and we are equipped with semiotics when we “read “ what we see and if that weren’t enough we are all thoroughly “Jung and Freudened”

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 For Thomas Aquinas, (above and below) beauty is id quod visum placet, "that which pleases upon being seen."

In order to be faithful to the meaning of Aquinas' words, we must understand the specific meanings of the words visum and placet. The former connotes more than meets the eye. Its meaning is closer to our understanding of the word "vision" (as opposed to "eyesight") and refers to an intuitive knowledge that includes the senses. The two senses that are involved in the apprehension of beauty are what St. Thomas calls "the senses of knowledge," that is, sight and hearing.

The word placet means more than a mere sensual pleasure. It is better rendered as "a delight for the soul." This delight is conferred when a person beholds a beautiful object by means of an intuitive knowledge that incorporates either sight or hearing.

Intelligence, therefore, which is our capacity to know, plays an indispensable role in the apprehension of beauty. This is a most important factor because it means that beauty is not merely subjective (or "in the eyes of the beholder," as many claim), but is objective inasmuch as it is an object of knowledge.

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T H E   B E A U T I F U L



The Artist's Despair Before the Grandeur of Ancient Ruins 1778-1780

 Johann Heinrich Füssli. 1940.


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