Hektoen International

A Journal of Medical Humanities

Beauty actualized

Vincent P. De Luise
New Haven, Connecticut

Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss, Antonio Canova, First version, completed 1793, Louvre Museum

“First of all, move me, surprise me, rend my heart; make me tremble, weep, shudder; outrage me; delight my eyes afterwards if you can . . .”
Denis Diderot

What is beauty? Is it a thing or a thought?

Can we touch it? Hear it? See it?

Or is it something we can only feel?

As we gaze upon Antonio Canova’s sublime sculpture Psyche awakened by Cupid’s Kiss and read the Enlightenment philosopher Denis Diderot’s famous comment about art, we get a sense that beauty is legible, visible, audible.

Beauty is tangible.

In 1999, the cognitive neuroscientists Vilayanur Ramachandran and William Hirstein, in the Journal of Consciousness Studies, argued compellingly for a set of essential, cross-cultural, archetypal principles of beauty, which include: symmetry, balance, contrast, isolation, recursion (repetition, an aspect of symmetry), and peak shift (the exaggeration of something that is already perceived as beautiful).

We see these essential principles manifested in the sculptural sublimity of Canova and in the elegiac words of Diderot.


  1. Ramachandran V. and Hirstein W.: The Science of Art: A Neurological Theory of Aesthetic Experience, J Consciousness Studies. 6 (6-7): 15-51, 1999.

VINCENT P. DE LUISE, MD, FACS, is an assistant clinical professor of ophthalmology at Yale University School of Medicine, distinguished visiting scholar at Stony Brook University Renaissance School of Medicine, and adjunct clinical assistant professor of ophthalmology at Weill Cornell Medical College, where he also serves on the Music and Medicine Initiative Advisory Board. He is a senior honor recipient of the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) and physician program co-chair of the Connecticut Society of Eye Physicians. As a clarinetist, Dr. de Luise is cultural ambassador of the Waterbury Symphony Orchestra, president of the Connecticut Summer Opera Foundation, organized the Connecticut Mozart Festival in the composer’s bicentenary death year, co-founded the annual classical music recital at the annual meeting of the AAO, and writes frequently about music and the arts.

Highlighted Vignette Volume 13, Issue 1 – Winter 2021

Spring 2020



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