Instructor: Giancarlo Polenghi

Time and place: for the timetable consult the course content. The class will be held in the room with the TV (at the entrance, on the left)

Contact information: Giancarlo Polenghi e-mail: tel. 3487399396


An introduction to the history of aesthetic theory, investigating central questions of aesthetics such as the nature of aesthetic judgment, the perception of aesthetic objects, and the nature of art objects. During classes some time will be always dedicated to art evaluation, from visual art to music and literature. Following a phenomenological approach we are going to analyze different artworks, starting from objects that are produced by the students in our school but also including great masterpieces in different disciplines.

The course is divided in 4 sections: 1) Introducing beauty; 2) Recent teaching of the Catholic Church on Beauty 3) Aesthetics ideas, and 4) George Steiner teachings.

“Introducing beauty” is a brief course about basic concept on perception, identity, society and culture, the second section is a close reading of the recent Catholic Church teachings (from the Second Vatican Council till today) about art. “Aesthetics ideas” is a brief historical voyage through the concept of beauty and art along time in western culture. We just cover a few ideas and concepts without pretending to give a complete overview of the complex subject.

The last part of the course investigates George Steiner thinking from the book “Real Presences”, which provides a model of art research particularly interesting for the sacred art.

Questions to be considered in this class include: Is aesthetics, and art, related to religion? What is the difference between art and artisan work? Is there a unique aesthetic experience on the basis of which we may identify and define art? What is genius, and does it play a role in the production of art? Does the creation or contemplation of art offer special knowledge? Is the creation or contemplation of art important to the development of morals or freedom? Is it possible to understand artworks in isolation from their social, political and religious context? Can the enjoyment or creation of art be ethically disinterested?

We plan to have guest speakers in aesthetics from the University of Florence or from other institutions.


Outcomes regarding content
By the end of this course, students will:

  1. Be familiar with central questions that have preoccupied the aesthetic theory.
  2. Be able to identify some differences of approach between different aesthetics traditions.
  3. Be familiar with the after Second Vatican Council idea of art within the Catholic tradition.
  4. Appreciate the importance for aesthetic theory of the religious context.

Outcomes regarding skills

By the end of this course, students will:

  1. Have improved their ability to read and analyze artworks in term of aesthetics.
  2. Have made improvements in their ability to express clear, well-structured, persuasive

accounts of aesthetics judgments.

  1. Have developed the ability to ask clear, concise, relevant, and insightful questions about

art and theories.


1) Friday October 9 (9-11 am) Introduction, overview

 Section 1: Introducing beauty

2) Friday October 16 (9-11 am): Identity and Society

Suggested reading: Pierpaolo Donati: Birth and development of the relational theory of society:

a journey looking for a deep ‘relational sociology’

3) Friday October 23 (9-11 am): How we perceive with our senses

Suggested reading: Pearson Sensation and Perception chapter

4) Friday November 6 (9-11 am): Language and knowledge

Suggested reading: Nike Ellis Implicit and explicit knowledge about language

5) Friday November 13 (9-11 am): Culture

Suggested reading: What is culture? A compilation of quotations by Helen Spencer-Oatey

Section 2: The recent teaching of the Catholic Church on Beauty

6) Friday November 27 (9-11 am): Pio XII and the VC2

Required reading: Pio XII, Mediator Dei, Enciclica sulla sacra liturgia n. 193; Concilio Vaticano II, Sacrosantum Concilium, Costituzione sulla Sacra Liturgia; Concilio Vaticano II,

7) Friday December 11 (9-11 am): VC2 and Paul VI

Required reading: Inter mirifica, Decreto sui mezzi di comunicazione sociale, n. 6; Paolo VI, Discorso, in occasione della Messa per gli artisti nella Cappella Sistina /7-V-1964)

Concilio Vaticano II, Apostolicam actuositatem, Decreto sull’apostolato dei laici (18-XI-1965) n.7;

8) Friday January 8 (9-11): VC2 and John Paul II

Required reading: Concilio Vaticano II, Gaudium et Spes, Costituzione pastorale sulla Chiesa nel mondo attuale (7-XII-1965), n.62; Messaggio agli artisti, in occasione della chiusura del Concilio Vaticano II (8-XII-1965). Giovanni Paolo II, Messaggio agli artisti e ai giornalisti, nel “Herkules-Saal der Residenz” di Monaco (19-XI-1980);

9) Tuesday January 12 (4-6 pm): Letter to the artists

Required reading: Giovanni Paolo II, Lettera agli artisti (4-IV-1999).

10) Wednesday January 13 (4-6 pm): Letter to the artists

Required reading: Giovanni Paolo II, Lettera agli artisti (4-IV-1999);

11) Tuesday January 19 (4-6 pm): Special Guest: professor Sergio Givone

12) Wednesday January 20 (4-6 pm): Benedict XVI and Pope Francis

Required reading: Benedetto XVI, Discorso, durante l’incontro con gli artisti nella Cappella Sistina (21-XI-2009). Required reading: Papa Francesco teachings on beauty;

13) Tuesday January 26 (4-6 pm): Pontifical council for culture

Via pulcritudinis

Section 3: Aesthetics ideas

14) Tuesday January 27 (4-6 pm): Plato, Aristotle and the Greek time, Pythagoras and the golden ratio Suggested reading: Plato Phaedrus, Aristotle Poetica

15) Tuesday February 2 (4-6 pm): Roman Art ideas: from idealism to reality

Suggested reading: Roman Art by the Metropolitan Museum Of Art.

16) Wednesday February 3 (4-6 pm): Saint Augustine

Suggested reading: The beauty of Christ by Gerald O’Collins

17) Tuesday February 9 (4-6 pm): Middle Ages and Saint Thomas
Suggested reading: St Thomas Aquinas on Dionysius, and a note on the relation of beauty to truth. By Ananda K. Coomaraswamy

18) Wednesday February 10 (4-6 pm): The Renaissance in Florence, Neo Platonism
Suggested reading: Alberti On Painting

19) Tuesday February 16 (4-6 pm): Romanticism
Suggested reading: Romanticism

20) Tuesday February 23 (4-6 pm): Baumgarten and the birth of aesthetic
Suggested reading: The German Aesthetic tradition, by Kai Hammermeister, Cambridge University Press

Section 4: George Steiner teachings

21) Friday February 26 (9-11 am): Readings from “True Presence”
22) Tuesday March 1 (4-6 pm): Readings from “True Presence”

23) Tuesday March 8 (9-11 am): Readings from “True Presence”

24) Tuesday March 15 (9-11 am): Readings from “True Presence”

25) Tuesday March 22 (9-11 am): Readings from “True Presence”

For each class we provide free material downloaded by internet and available for educational purpose.

This course will be evaluated by two 900 word papers, each worth 45% of the total grade for the course, a final exam, worth 45% of the total grade for the course, and 10% for participation.
The participation grade will include attendance (4%), and discussion questions and responses.

(45%) Assignment 1: The first paper will be due at midnight on Thursday, November 20, and must be submitted by e-mail.
(45%) Assignment 2: The second paper will be due in class on April 10.
Late papers will be penalized at a rate of a third of a letter grade (5%) per day or part thereof.
(10%) Attendance: A sign-up sheet will be at the front of the class during the first 10 minutes of each class.


In accord with Sacred Art School Firenze, students in this course have the right to submit in English or in Italian any written work that is to be graded.