Blessed and Beautiful: Picturing the Saints

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This book offers a powerful and searching meditation on the lives of the saints and the images of them painted by Renaissance artists in Italy. Robert Kiely, a distinguished scholar of modernist literature and a historian and critic of exceptional sensibility, has a keen eye and uncanny ability to capture details of significance and to prompt the reader to look again and to see with fresh eyes that the lives of saints and the Renaissance depictions of them are anything but dull, uniform, or narrowly orthodox. His beautifully written and thoughtful book treats saints seriously as human religious figures (not icons of perfection), brought to life by great Italian paintings in dialogue with scripture, legend, and poetry.

Wise, learned, and readable, and offering a rare combination of insight into religion, literature, and art, this ravishingly illustrated and vividly written volume should be by your side whenever you pick up a classic text, look at a Renaissance painting, or spend a few moments in private meditation or prayer.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Kiely's knowledge of literature and his fascination with religious images come together exquisitely in a book that will be appreciated as much for its analysis of great art as its commentary on relevant texts. The Yale University English professor emeritus deftly employs and intermingles both in a project that took root nearly two decades ago as he visited churches, monasteries, and museums during a stay in Tuscany. Kiely concentrates here on the religious art of 15th- and 16th-century Italy and a dozen or so saints he particularly likes, including his acknowledged favorite, Francis of Assisi. He incorporates as well a chapter on 19th-century English art critic John Ruskin, whose Protestant sensibilities were affected by exposure to Catholic culture in art. Kiely examines, too, how artists struggled to depict the humanity of Mary, Christ's mother, and reflects on the contrast between the worldly life of the artist Sodoma and his paintings of St. Benedict and the monastic life. Engagingly written with 130 fine reproductions, this is a book that is certain to attract a diversity of readers with interests in religion, literature, and art. (Oct.)
Catholic Herald (UK)

"This is simply one of the best books ever written about Christian art."—Jonathan Wright, Catholic Herald (UK)

— Jonathan Wright


"Magnificently illustrated and beautifully conceived . . . trenchant and even witty without being ponderous."—Tracey O''Shaughnessy, Republican-American

— Tracey O'Shaughnessy

The Sunday Republican

"Robert Kiely''s book is magnificently illustrated and beautifully conceived. . . . Kiely''s essays are trenchant and even witty without being ponderous. This is a wonderful gift for the devout Christian or art aficionado who would like to learn more about both."—Tracy O''Shaughnessy, The Sunday Republican

— Tracy O'Shaughnessy

Catholic Herald (UK) - Jonathan Wright
"This is simply one of the best books ever written about Christian art."—Jonathan Wright, Catholic Herald (UK)
Republican-American - Tracey O'Shaughnessy
"Magnificently illustrated and beautifully conceived . . . trenchant and even witty without being ponderous."—Tracey O'Shaughnessy, Republican-American
The Sunday Republican - Tracy O'Shaughnessy
"Robert Kiely's book is magnificently illustrated and beautifully conceived. . . . Kiely's essays are trenchant and even witty without being ponderous. This is a wonderful gift for the devout Christian or art aficionado who would like to learn more about both."—Tracy O'Shaughnessy, The Sunday Republican
Library Journal
Saints abound in Italian Renaissance painting, each portrayed with specific attributes. Reference guides help identify the saints according to their accompanying symbols: St. Lucy's eyes, St. Catherine's wheel, and so on. Here, Kiely (English, emeritus, Harvard Univ.) has chosen a different approach, considering the relationship between visual depictions of 13 selected saints in Italian Renaissance art and written depictions of them in various texts, including the Gospels, the Hours of the Divine Office, Latin hymns, and the writings of church fathers and theologians. Kiely's background in literary analysis gives rise to fresh and surprising insights in the much-traveled territory of Renaissance art. The book is adorned with 130 color illustrations and includes a list of the reproduced works, divided by saint. VERDICT Those looking for a more conventional guide to the saints should consider Saints in Art, which covers the lives and attributes of more than 100 saints. Kiely's book is best for readers interested in both artistic and literary depictions of the saints and for libraries focusing on art history or religion.—Martha Smith, Elmira Coll. Lib., NY
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780300162776
  • Publisher: Yale University Press
  • Publication date: 10/26/2010
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 6.90 (w) x 9.80 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Robert Kiely is professor emeritus of English, Harvard University. His books include The Romantic Novel in England; Beyond Egotism: The Fiction of James Joyce, Virginia Woolf and D. H. Lawrence; and Reverse Tradition, Postmodern Fiction and the Nineteenth-Century Novel.

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