aesthetics art

Beauty Kindles Love

6:00:00 AMChase J. Cloutier

I am pleased to begin my series of reflections on the Hildebrand Project’s forthcoming publication of Dietrich von Hildebrand’s Aesthetics.  


Imagine you are strolling the long halls of the Louvre in Paris. The tapping of your shoes against the smooth marble floors echoes lightly as you process down the way. You peer out through a window across the courtyard below. The sun is shining down upon the city and countless hosts of people are going about their day as usual. You see the Eiffel Tower in the distance keeping its watch over the French capital as it has for over a hundred years. It seems like just another day.


You come upon a room that you have never entered before. After all, with 435 rooms full of paintings, sculptures, and ancient artifacts, it takes quite a long time to see the entire Louvre. To appreciate fully it may take a lifetime. But on this particular day one step after another has led you to this room. Your gaze is drawn to a painting hanging at about eye level. All of a sudden it strikes you. The overwhelming beauty of this painting hits you with full force. There you stand, frozen, humbled by this masterpiece. Your eyes follow the subtle curves, feasting on the play of light and dark. How long have you been standing there? It matters not. You begin to ponder the scene and the meaning hidden therein. A window to another world has opened once again, this time to you. This work of art has evoked a wonder and awe in you that you have never known before. There is something truly important here. This unspeakable beauty ought to be known and experienced by anyone, everyone.


Perhaps at some point in your life you have been privileged to experience something similar. The beauty of a work of art or the glory of a natural landscape may have deeply impacted you. It is in this moment that the inherent value of beauty is communicated to us. The value of beauty lies not in its usefulness or its ability to bring calm or peace. Beauty is valuable in itself. It has an intrinsic importance which anyone can recognize and which all are meant to acknowledge.


For some, an encounter with beauty leads to the first moment of transcendence in their life. They realize there is something more important than what is merely satisfying for them. At the beckoning of beauty, one’s heart is opened to receive the truth. That which is noble and majestic, that which is good is communicated to the observer in an unparalleled way. Beauty can pierce even the hardest heart, inspiring one to love.


“Beauty kindles love.” - Dietrich von Hildebrand

This applies not only to works of art and natural beauty but also to human beauty. It is when one realizes the unique beauty embodied in another person that one is led to respond to this person with love. Von Hildebrand’s entire philosophy of love is founded upon the power of beauty to elicit love. Whether it be the love of husband and wife, parents and children, or that of friends for one another, each and every love is a response to the beauty of the other. The splendor of the other person shines out and sparks love in our heart. Beauty has the power to access and actualize the deepest center of the human person. Truly, beauty moves us to love. Here there is a distinct transcendence in which one loves another for their own sake, based upon their inherent beauty.


“At the sight of beauty the soul grows wings.” - Plato


In the admiration of beauty, man is freed from the chains locking him into a mundane existence. Having experienced beauty in nature or in art, one is enabled to look out into the world with new eyes. One becomes sensitive to all the beauty around us. “Genuine beauty liberates us...drawing us out of the dull captivity of daily life.” (1) Though not all of us have the chance to visit the Louvre or another art museum, each of us can realize the beauty which pervades our world.

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Bolded quote 1: Dietrich von Hildebrand, Aesthetics Vol. 1 (advance manuscript) pg 1.
Bolded quote 2: Plato, Phaedrus 249d.
1. Aesthetics Vol. 1, pg 4.

Image 1: A look out of the Louvre, photo by Chase J. Cloutier. Image 2: Interieur de la basilique basse de Saint-Francois a Assise, Marius Granet (1775-1849) 1822. Louvre, Paris, France. Photo by Chase J. Cloutier. Image 3: Il Gesu ceiling detail, Rome, Italy, photo by Chase J. Cloutier.

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