The golden beauty: Brain response to classical and renaissance sculptures

Cinzia Di Dio, Emiliano Macaluso, Giacomo Rizzolatti

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

Is there an objective, biological basis for the experience of beauty in art? Or is aesthetic experience entirely subjective? Using fMRI technique, we addressed this question by presenting viewers, naïve to art criticism, with images of masterpieces of Classical and Renaissance sculpture. Employing proportion as the independent variable, we produced two sets of stimuli: one composed of images of original sculptures; the other of a modified version of the same images. The stimuli were presented in three conditions: observation, aesthetic judgment, and proportion judgment. In the observation condition, the viewers were required to observe the images with the same mind-set as if they were in a museum. In the other two conditions they were required to give an aesthetic or proportion judgment on the same images. Two types of analyses were carried out: one which contrasted brain response to the canonical and the modified sculptures, and one which contrasted beautiful vs. ugly sculptures as judged by each volunteer. The most striking result was that the observation of original sculptures, relative to the modified ones, produced activation of the right insula as well as of some lateral and medial cortical areas (lateral occipital gyrus, precuneus and prefrontal areas). The activation of the insula was particularly strong during the observation condition. Most interestingly, when volunteers were required to give an overt aesthetic judgment, the images judged as beautiful selectively activated the right amygdala, relative to those judged as ugly. We conclude that, in observers naïve to art criticism, the sense of beauty is mediated by two non-mutually exclusive processes: one based on a joint activation of sets of cortical neurons, triggered by parameters intrinsic to the stimuli, and the insula (objective beauty); the other based on the activation of the amygdala, driven by one's own emotional experiences (subjective beauty).

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere1201
JournalPLoS One
Volume2
Issue number11
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Nov 21 2007

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Sculpture
Beauty
aesthetics
Brain
arts
Esthetics
Chemical activation
brain
Art
amygdala
Observation
volunteers
Amygdala
Volunteers
Museums
Occipital Lobe
Parietal Lobe
Neurons
neurons
Joints

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Medicine(all)

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The golden beauty : Brain response to classical and renaissance sculptures. / Di Dio, Cinzia; Macaluso, Emiliano; Rizzolatti, Giacomo.

In: PLoS One, Vol. 2, No. 11, e1201, 21.11.2007.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Di Dio, Cinzia ; Macaluso, Emiliano ; Rizzolatti, Giacomo. / The golden beauty : Brain response to classical and renaissance sculptures. In: PLoS One. 2007 ; Vol. 2, No. 11.
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