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Grace or grace (synonymous terms in other languages: Italian. Sprezzatura , leggiadria; Spanish. Gracia, despejo; French. Désinvolture, agrément; English. Grace) is a term used in philosophical aesthetics .

It denotes a form of beauty that has recently been found mainly in performative arts such as dance . Since Schiller , grace has usually been described as free movement in beauty, the involuntary expression of harmony between the sensual and the spiritual. Traditionally, grace is an antithesis to the sublime .


Historical origins

In ancient Greece , grace was symbolically embodied in the three graces that embodied the charis ideal of style - in its threefold connotation as charíeis (lovely, pleasant), charízesthai (to be friendly), chárin eidénai (to give thanks). If the unity of this triad is violated (e.g. through the 'ungrateful' beauty of Narcissus ), their opponents, the avenging Erinyes, appear. As Empedocles ' saying “grace hates coercion” shows, freedom is already an essential element here. In antiquity, places and landscapes ( locus amoenus ), naive pastorals and idylls are 'graceful' .

In the Latin Middle Ages the term has a similar moral implication: the divine gratia is the unity of grace and beauty; in grace sub lege , sub gratia, the beauty of creation is confirmed. In the Renaissance , the term gained new importance, for example with the classic counterost , the posture that is perceived as an ideal unity of movement and rest. Grace is particularly emphasized as a natural gift ( Castiglione (1478–1529) : "Grace cannot be learned.")

Hogarth's theory of the serpentine line (cf. Figura serpentinata ), as presented in his Analysis of Beauty (1753), describes grace as a third line that is derived from the line of beauty and adds the quality of "grace" to it; a thesis that takes up the aesthetics of Edmund Burke . In the English tradition in particular, the juxtaposition of 'merely sensual' and moral grace predominates ( Shaftesbury : “moral grace”), which is illustrated by the contrast between the high Venus Urania and the “vulgar” Venus Pandemos, the “spiritual” and the 'Worldly' love. In the French discussion, the mathematical aspect, that of harmony, dominates : according to François de La Rochefoucauld , the “ Je ne sais quoi ” of grace is defined by “a symmetry whose rules are unknown”.

Idealism and Classical

In the 18th century, an ostensibly religious strategy of justification has been directed against the aesthetics of the court ceremony since the 17th century, which is increasingly being questioned as a conscious demonstration of power: A "gifted" effect is neither a legitimate demonstration of power nor illegitimate impostures, because grace comes from God, is experienced unconsciously and does not have to be accounted for. Since the religious also loses influence with the courtly, the gifted grace can increasingly become autocratic or coincide with it, as in Kleist.

In Goethe's Wilhelm Meister years of apprenticeship , the concept of grace was politicized. The opposition of grace and 'dainty' in this novel is representative of a 'bourgeois' and an 'aristocratic' grace, the former being clearly favored over the latter. When Goethe defines grace as the step of mind and body , he is referring to ideas of idealistic philosophy. Johann Joachim Winckelmann had from Gratie in the works of art defined (1759) Grace as a beautiful act 'that is to say both of their motivation also seems nice as in their execution, always the relationship with dignity safeguarded must remain: The presentation of pain is incompatible with grace. In Musarion or Philosophy of the Graces, Wieland introduces a subjectification of the concept; Grace is necessary individual expression. In On the Sublime and Naive, Moses Mendelssohn emphasizes the liberal aspect more strongly: grace expresses itself in casual, playful movements that are characterized by complete artlessness; it is connected with the “idea of ​​innocence and moral simplicity” and is thus, so to speak, “beautiful thoughtlessness”. Gotthold Ephraim Lessing , who gave the definition of “beauty in motion”, sees the purest realization of grace only in poetry , not in painting . The juxtaposition with the sublime comes from Hegel : what is graceful in ancient art is the conscious break-up of archaic, sublime rigidity into movement, the humanization of 'inhuman' sculpture.

The most far-reaching contribution comes from Schiller: In About Grace and Dignity (1793) it is defined as the arbitrary movement of a “beautiful soul” that is “sympathetic” to an expressive disposition. Grace is "beauty that is not given by nature, but is produced by the subject himself" and yet works like a natural beauty; it is, so to speak, conscious unconsciousness. With Schiller, grace can only be attributed to movement; it is therefore in contrast to the concept of architectural beauty. At a standstill, only traces of previous movements, such as gestures or poses, can show grace. It lies in the "freedom of voluntary movements", while the "dignity" rests in the "mastery of the involuntary".

Heinrich von Kleist's essay On Marionette Theater breaks with the Enlightenment tradition, which placed grace in a merely contingent relationship to reflection. Rather, Kleist even determines an inverse proportionality: the darker the reflection, the brighter the grace shines, which is achieved when the soul (vis motrix) completely coincides with the focus of a movement. The highest form of this grace can only be achieved by the completely reflectionless puppet (or God ). In this respect, the concept of the beautiful soul , coined by Christoph Martin Wieland and transferred to the idealistic aesthetics of grace by Schiller, is excluded from the field of grace by Kleist. In Schiller's essay On Grace and Dignity , the beautiful soul is shaped by the harmony of “sensuality and reason, duty and inclination” - “and grace is its expression in appearance.” In contrast, Kleist categorically excludes this beauty of the soul from the spectrum of grace , In marionette theater the expressive subject of grace is no longer the beautiful soul, but a puppet, a fencing bear and a god.


Theories of grace have been rare since the 19th century , although reminiscences of their classical elements can be found again and again in art; for example in the playful revival of Figura serpentinata in Art Nouveau . The close connection between the term and natural beauty , which is also perceived as antiquated in modern times, is probably decisive here .


  • Gerd Kleiner: Grace in: Basic aesthetic terms . Historical dictionary. Volume 1., edited by Karlheinz Barck et al., Metzler, Stuttgart and Weimar 2010, ISBN 978-3-476-02354-4 , p. 193.
  • Burkhard Meyer-Sickendiek: From charming to paralyzing blushing. Kleist's transformation of Wieland's ideal of grace, in: Kleist-Jahrbuch 2012, pp. 176-200.
  • Friedrich Schiller , On Grace and Dignity

Web links

Wikiquote: Grace  - Quotes
Wiktionary: Grace  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Conversational culture in the pre-modern era: Genders in sociable conversation, Rüdiger Schnell, Böhlau Verlag Köln Weimar, 2008 , ISBN 3412201324