Bloomsbury Food Library - The Success of a Metaphor
The Invention of Taste
The Invention of Taste

Luca Vercelloni

Luca Vercelloni is the CEO and Founder of Brandvoyant, Italy. Author affiliation details are correct at time of print publication.

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Bloomsbury Academic, 2016


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Book chapter



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The Success of a Metaphor

DOI: 10.5040/
Page Range: 5–14

The figurative use of the term “taste” to refer to the human faculty for discerning between what is beautiful and what is ugly is a relatively recent cultural acquisition. It implies being in possession of measure, refinement and skill (in dressing, self-expression, and the appraisal of other people’s accomplishments); but also the enjoyment of products intended for contemplation, and indeed the ability to describe a cultural context and the stylistic features characteristic of a given period, nation or artistic circle.

Taste, as a word, has become so common in everyday language that nowadays it would be impossible to contain it within the sphere of its original meaning: the sensation of the palate, or the perception of the flavor of a given food or delicacy. Taste has definitively come to embrace the universe that derives from that sensorial Ur-experience, in other words, the experience of what is beautiful.

Yet, for a good thousand years, Western civilization was perfectly able to cope without this extended meaning, despite people’s evident interest in the availability of precious products. Luxury and opulence, elegant attire and coiffure, fine tapestries, paintings and sculptures all held sway well before the word taste was introduced to signify discernment. Those who could, read poetry, listened to music and went to the theater. They talked long and deep about the sublime, and even spent fortunes on the purchase of particular foods and spices. And they did so without feeling the need to establish a link or similitude between the perception of beauty and the sense that pertains to the palate.

The Sense of Discernment

The figurative use of the term taste thus brings about a neologism, which is believed to have spread between the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, leaving its mark on manners of speech and thought.

That said, however, scholars do not agree over what exactly came when. Benedetto Croce,[1] among others, argued that the origin of the metaphor is to be found in the stirring of arts and ideas that centered on Renaissance Italy. Initially interchangeable with “judgment,” a word it was later to replace, taste in this case was the organ of aesthetic sensibility: that special faculty that eludes reason, but allows communication between the artist and his or her public. In other words, between two characters who play different roles with respect to the past. The artist is no longer the skilled craftsman who submits to the desires of the patron or client, but an individual moved by inspiration and endowed with charismatic talent who expresses his creative genius in his work. Those who are able to grasp and appreciate the brilliance and originality of style above and beyond meaning or intent constitute the artist’s public. And it is taste that creates the link between the two.

Other scholars, including Schümmer[2] and Franckowiak,[3] were more inclined to attribute the paternity of the taste metaphor to Spanish authors on morality, especially Baltasar Gracián, for whom taste was not so much an expression of the recognition of beauty as a person’s ability to choose and pursue whatever suits his or her nature and contributes to the sensation of happiness. It was thus conceived as an inclination that is both natural and cultivated, in so far as it is part of human society and only in this instance acquires relevance and value. Within this perspective, Gracián speaks of good taste, which he deemed a precious gift in social life. Indeed, he related it to tact, which is another sense that has extended its original range of significance to embrace discretion and composure.

Regardless of where the extended meaning of taste may first have originated, the cultural roots underlying the success of the metaphor are somewhat different. While both aim at explaining the newly acquired importance of sensibility within the hierarchy of human faculties, one pertains to the world of art and the awareness of beauty, and the other to the refinement and stylization of behavior. The taste metaphor is thus an expression of the new culture that is both a product and an image of Europe, but one that is based on an essential ambiguity, shaped by growing social awareness and therefore subject to continual change.

Benedetto Croce hesitated initially, but ultimately ascribed the paternity of the metaphor to Italy. Later Robert Klein followed suit, but with greater conviction. In their view, it was Italy that nurtured the modern conception of taste into being.

According to Klein, the gestation of the taste concept as an expression of aesthetic sensibility came about during the sixteenth century, under the influence of natural philosophy, especially in the disciplines relating to the soul: astrology, the theory of temperaments, magic and their most subtle, worldly manifestations, particularly the theory of love, of female beauty, of persuasion, of musical modes and of melancholic genius.[4]

Klein identified in the treatises on art of the period a progressive replacement of the term “judgment” with that of “taste,” and argued that this lexical mutation both accompanied and to some extent promoted a cultural hiatus. For while “judgment” still bears witness to a certain intellectual approach and assumes the existence of ideal rules, the taste metaphor suggests something more akin to an instinctive faculty relating to the appetites, a sphere in which judgment (or its quasi synonym, “discretion”) introduces a further, decisive acknowledgment: the discovery of artistic individuality.

The success of the metaphor is thus the epilogue of an age in the history of aesthetics: the doctrine of mimesis, which had prevailed for several thousand years, gives way to the exaltation of individual genius as the source and inspiration of artistic creation, a wellspring of energy that transcends the established order and stands in opposition to tradition. As Hauser has pointed out, this conception was entirely alien to the Middle Ages, which did not attribute value to originality and to creative spontaneity, but rather urged artists to imitate, and indeed copy, their masters.[5] No longer tied to ideal canons and established rules, the painter heeded only his own inner desire to “paint himself.” In other words, a concept of taste that was tantamount to style or manner brought about an “involuntary self-portrait” on the part of the artist, which in its turn ushered in newfound glory, reputation and market value.

The inevitable counterpart to artistic celebrity was the parallel refinement of critical acumen among those in a position to appreciate and appraise works of art. Indeed, it was taste that acted as the commercial platform linking artist and potential customer. And it is worth pointing out that the phenomenon of collecting that came about during the Renaissance coincided chronologically with the perception of the artist as a creative spirit that was not anchored to the desires of the patron or customer.

Up until the fifteenth century, the art market had been shaped by demand. Each work was created as the fruit of a commission, which implied exact awareness of where it was to be displayed: an altarpiece for a chapel with which the painter was familiar, for instance, or a devotional painting for a particular room, or indeed the portrait of a family member for a certain wall.[6] Since many different arts, which included what we would now call crafts as well as painting and sculpture, were practiced in the same workshop, they tend to blend in with each other. Only during the following century, when art was accorded a degree of autonomy, did the creative spirit acquire independence from practical goals in a manner that placed art on a totally different footing to crafts. At this point the artist was free to give full rein to his creative inspiration, with little regard for the desires of the patron or client. And this, in its turn, gave rise to a new generation of buyers: experts, connoisseurs, who no longer made their purchases as part of celebratory or commemorative obligations, but as an expression of their desire to possess the works of famous artists of that period, or indeed of the past. Little wonder, then, the market for antiquities also came into being during the same age.

Essential to this development was the fact that the experts and connoisseurs were necessarily “huomini di gusto,” or men of taste, who attributed value to works of art regardless of their practical purpose. So just as taste became a metaphor, it also evolved to imply good taste—even if the term itself was still to be coined. This meant that right from the outset, the concept of taste was able to exercise a sort of cultural monopoly: “what we call Renaissance was the patrimony of ideas, jealously guarded and exclusive, of an élite imbued with Latin culture. The most meaningful works of art were created for this circle. The world at large knew nothing about them whatsoever. This gave rise to the distance between the cultured minority and the uncultured majority that was to prove insuperable and decisive for all future developments, though it was practically unheard of in earlier ages. No one ever decided ( as they did later) to create a culture that was deliberately reserved for an élite, and from which the majority was to be excluded.”[7]

If good taste is the ultimate arbiter in appraising works of art, the attention of the public inevitably slips from content to form, from interpretation to impression, from understanding to contemplation. Art at this point claims its own right to exist, freeing itself of the subordinate role it had played in an earlier age, when it had necessarily contained a message, albeit in allegorical terms. Formal perfection and immediate impact were certainly required to capture the attention of the viewer, but only as a way of achieving a higher goal: that of communicating a moral, religious or social message. In this sense, art worked along the same lines as fables, which in medieval times turned to elegance and style not for the sake of beauty, but in order to be rhetorically effective.

From the Renaissance on, the importance of the communicative functions of a work of art diminished as the accent on visual impact became more marked. Moreover, the contemplation of beauty brought with it conscious admiration of the creative genius of the artist. If medieval art was largely bent on education, the primary focus of that of the Renaissance was the principle of delectatio, or experiencing delight. This was a radical break with the past.

A great many books have been written in praise of the autonomy acquired by art. Very few, on the other hand, have taken a more critical approach to the subject. Yet to appreciate fully the degree of change that came about, the cultural shock that it produced, and the concomitant disarray in artistic perception, it would probably be more instructive to listen to the lament of the defeated rather than the panegyrics of the victors—and not only because modernity has learned to turn a deaf ear to the ensuing confusion. To formulate the question in more immediate terms, if an orthodox Schoolman of the Middle Ages were catapulted into the twentieth century (or even the nineteenth, for that matter) and could obtain an overall view of the history of art during the past five centuries, what would be his reaction?

Confronted by the despotic supremacy of form over content, he might well surmise that “the current approach (to works of art) may be compared to that of a traveler who, when he finds a signpost, proceeds to admire its elegance, to ask who made it, and finally cuts it down to use as a mantelpiece ornament.”[8]

To our hypothetical time traveler, not only the emphasis on form would appear to be incomprehensible, but also the aesthetic foundations of modern art: “The Greek original of the word ‘aesthetic’ means perception by the senses. Aesthetic experience is a faculty that we shared with animals and vegetables, and is irrational. The ‘aesthetic soul’ is that part of a psychic makeup that ‘senses’ things and reacts to them: in other words, the ‘sentimental’ part of us. To identify our approach to art with the pursuit of these reactions is not to make art ‘fine,’ but to apply it only to the life of pleasure.”[9] So to claim that the aesthetic can be assimilated with art is simply misguided: “Aesthetic experience is of the skin you love to touch, or the fruit you love to taste. (To speak of) ‘disinterested aesthetic contemplation’ is a contradiction in terms and a pure non-sense.”[10]

At this point the astonished Schoolman would be bound to express his complete disapproval of what he had seen. If art fails to communicate ideas, aiming at no higher good than the promise of pleasure, if its only goal is to tickle our emotional sphere, then the chances are that feelings alone will claim to be the arbiter of beauty, and all judgment will be a question of taste. In other words, all aesthetic appraisals will be entirely subjective. If this is the case, then art would be not just a question of opinion, but also the subject of moral reproof: “The purpose of art it to give pleasure, the work of art as a source of pleasure is its own end; (. . .) our conception of beauty is literally skin-deep; (. . .) the work of art is then a luxury, an accessory to the life of pleasure.”[11] Furthermore, “to equate love of art with love of fine sensation is to make of works of art a kind of aphrodisiac”:[12] today we “prostitute its thesis to an aesthesis; and this is the sin of luxury.”[13]

To think that the taste metaphor could lead to so much!

As Croce pointed out, the expression was coined as a result of the new ideas and disquisitions on art. With respect to Klein’s reconstruction, however, Croce moved the birth of the metaphor forward to the seventeenth century, when “several new words emerged, or new meanings for existing words, such as: genius, taste, imagination or fantasy, sentiment and other similar terms.”[14] Amid such lexical fervor, the word taste took on a number of figurative meanings. In Italy and Spain, the term gusto, borrowed directly from the sphere of the palate and applied to the spirit—or indeed to entertainment—was equivalent to pleasure or delight. Another meaning that was equally common in Italy, as Klein also appreciated, was judgment (giudizio), applied to “any literary, scientific or artistic matter.”[15] For Croce, however, there were only two anticipations of what taste, “the special faculty or attitude of the soul,” would mean in modern times. He initially believed that Spain and France were the source of this semantic development. In the mid-1600s, Spain adopted what Croce described as an expression of “concise eloquence: good taste,” meaning a form of behavior based on discretion or tact, whereas France, during the last quarter of the same century, started using the term in its aesthetic sense.[16] Later, however, Croce reviewed his original attribution, distinguishing between the words themselves and the ideas for which they stood, and arriving at the conclusion that Italy had played a fundamental role in the ensuing extension of meaning. “It was the Italians . . . who posited a special aesthetic power or faculty that was able to judge without logical arguments, as clearly defined by Zuccolo in 1623.”[17]

The fact remains, however, that the Italian and French dictionaries of the period fail to include the new meaning of the term. Yet while the early editions of the Vocabolario degli Accademici della Crusca are entirely reticent on the subject,[18] the Dictionnaire de l’Académie Française (1694) does at least prepare the ground for change, listing and clarifying in considerable detail most of the modern interpretations of taste. Alongside expressions that were evidently already in use, such as “good taste, delicate taste, exquisite or depraved taste,” we also come across the following distinctions:

  1. the sense that presumably originated in Spain, suggesting “discernment, fine judgment, sensitivity”;

  2. the more Hedonistic, sensual meaning that implies “pleasurable or enjoyable feelings regarding a given object”;

  3. the more formal, style-oriented use of the word that communicates the idea of “the way in which something is made or done, or the particular character of a work”;

  4. the historical, critical extension of the term that is applied to the “character of an author, a painter, a sculptor, or the general character of a century.”

Clearly these partial definitions of taste still fail to tally with the modern conception of the term that so obsessed the philosophers and moralists of the following century. What is missing is the meaning whose origins Croce attributed to Italy: the idea of a “superior power” of eye and ear (without which “even horses and dogs would have the same taste for painting or music that we enjoy”) that combines with the senses “to create judgment, which increases in relation to the gifts of nature and the skills of art, yet without requiring rational discourse.”[19]

Before this conception of taste could become part of the idiomatic expressions of learned speech it had to be freed of the audaciously pictorial metaphor, which took several decades. The international success of the metaphor was certainly enormous, as an entry written in 1778 by Voltaire for the Encyclopédie made explicit. Without bothering to outline the birth and development of the concept, he simply declared that “this sense, this gift for distinguishing our foods has produced in all known languages the metaphor that uses the word taste to express sensitivity to the beauty and defects of all arts.”[20]

To differentiate itself from the past and make its intent more intelligible, the change in aesthetic sensibility clearly called for new terminology. To be precise, what was required was a word that could stand for the special faculty of judgment; a form of mixed metaphor, or catachresis, as it is known in rhetoric.[21] But just why was taste the chosen term, especially in view of the fact that since ancient times this particular sense had been deemed the most abject and wretched of faculties? Why seek a paragon with the palate, rather than suggesting a third eye, or an inner ear, to follow Zuccolo’s line of argument, or indeed the heart itself, given that the elusive faculty was so full of sentiment?

Evidently because the taste option was more effective and better suited to expressing the anti-dogmatic questions in hand. Underlying its superior suitability were two essential and decisive aspects of the future debate on taste and its manifold manifestations: one concerned pleasure, and the other spontaneity (as opposed to reasoning).

As far as the former is concerned, it would be tempting to explain that taste was able to gain ground as a metaphor for artistic discernment because, of all the senses, it is arguably the most universal and instinctive vehicle of pleasure. In actual fact, however, the question is rather less straightforward. If direct comparison with appraisal of the palate is to work, then we must deal with the moral and aesthetic question of how to distinguish between the two levels of pleasure. Voltaire claimed that the taste of the palate related to the taste of the spirit rather as the gourmet related to the connoisseur;[22] indeed, he believed that even in questions of culinary preference it was legitimate to speak of bad or depraved taste. “Just as physical bad taste consists of being stimulated by sauces that are too spicy and refined, so bad taste in the arts lies in the appreciation of contrived ornamentation rather than in that of beautiful nature. Depraved taste in food is choosing what other people find disgusting: it is a sort of sickness. Depravation of taste in the arts is finding pleasure in those subjects which appall refined minds, is preferring burlesque to noble, choosing what is affected and artificial over what is simple and natural: it is a sickness of the spirit.”[23]

The parallels end here. While taste of the palate is innate, universal and related to genetic makeup, that of the spirit is not a feature of all men, or indeed of all peoples. It requires protracted cultural training to achieve refinement, and favorable social and political conditions to gain ground. So when “one says that there is no disputing taste, this is true if we’re talking about taste as a sense, that is about the disgust certain foods provoke and the preference some people have for others: there is no disputing such reactions because you cannot correct a physical defect.”

But the question is different when talking of art. In this case, the defects of the mind (in other words, the inability to recognize beauty) can be corrected, that is refined. Likewise, according to Montesquieu, if it is true that taste is “the measure of pleasure,” then there are acquired pleasures, and others that are entirely spiritual, in other words detached from the senses and “founded on the inclinations and prejudices that certain institutions, customs and habits” have imposed upon the human spirit.[24]

More complex still is the second aspect of the metaphor, which pertains to the pre-rational or spontaneous character of taste. Ever since the sixteenth century, all treatises on the subject have underlined the impulsive nature of taste in contrast to the labored nature of reason. The former concerns “immediate discernment, like that of the tongue and the palate, and, like this, comes before reflection.”[25] Some authors even posited a “sixth sense,” against which “concepts and disputes are of no avail,” since no argument could convince us “to believe the opposite of what we perceive.”[26]

During the Renaissance, this insistence on the instinctive nature of taste became the backbone of the metaphor, the true antidote to intellectualism brandished to assert the emancipation of art and the exaltation of individuality. Once it had become an established creed, however, it unleashed a host of contradictions: if taste does not heed reason, is it truly arbitrary? And if this is the case, why do people busy themselves with “producing works of art, costly and elegant edifices, fine gardens and other such labors”?[27] If the saying “each to his/her own” is true, then how can we speak of “good taste”? And if taste is instinctive, how can it be refined? Lastly, if it is vain to account for taste, how come so much time is spent discussing it?

De gustibus non est disputandum: in essence the famous medieval adage embraces the entire history of taste. Its gradual loss of verisimilitude and the repertory of confutations that so engaged innumerable thinkers (including some of the greatest minds of the Enlightenment) are part of the tangled web that this book hopes to unravel and explain.

Changing Meaning of an Adage

To this end, we must position the question sociologically. In premodern society generally, including tribal communities and imperial cities, according to Alain Laurent, the social order tended to be “rigidly hierarchical and coherent, where the whole held complete sway over the parts, or individuals. People’s behavior was entirely established by group membership, by the unthinking submission to its laws and by the practice of largely unchanging traditions. No individual could claim autonomy of choice regarding values and rules of conduct, but rather acted as an interdependent fragment of a collective awareness.”[28] It is obvious that in such conditions there was little scope for the urge to establish and express individual predilections. Such volubility would imply excess, and when the consumption of food was subordinated to the unreliable, strenuous availability of the raw material, filling the stomach preceded the pleasures of the palate. Of course the finest morsels were the prerogative of chiefs and kings, and always had been, but the fact that food reflected the social pyramid was not enough to explain the system of personal preferences and idiosyncrasies that were later to resemble taste, as we conceive of it today.

The second stage in our inquiry revolves around the invention of the taste adage. The anonymous Schoolman who thought it up was unquestionably referring to the realms of physical taste, to the palate. As for the disputatio, it was simply a discussion technique used for teaching in medieval universities. Its goal was to clarify dubious, badly formulated or contradictory statements by means of interrelated, serried argument. Presumably the conclusion that there should be no disputing the taste of the palate was simply the fruit of an unresolved disputatio. This laconic outcome merely signified that it was impossible to establish a scale of values within the sphere of oral sensations: no taste was better than any other because they all pertain (in other words, are produced by) individual temperaments. Clearly this shifted the discussion from the realm of culture to that of nature, which in its turn implied a change in specialization: taste was not the prerogative of metaphysics and logic, but of medicine and dietetics.

The outstanding feature of the third stage lies in the way the debate concerning taste and beauty during the Renaissance was accompanied by the adaptation of the finer points of the discussion to the wider world of their application. When the word taste is used figuratively, is it still true that it cannot be disputed? If the metaphor is basically valid, this is thanks to the fact that artistic appreciation, no less than appraisal by the palate, represents final judgments that are not open to appeal. It would thus seem that there is no disputing taste here either: no right or wrong against which to measure a particular perception. As in the case of the predilection of the palate, there are no true or false, good or bad tastes in relation to artistic products: all tastes, however erratic, are equally legitimate. Clearly the whole matter of disputing—or otherwise—depends on the authority of the relative argument. However, this is precisely where the taste debate reveals its weakness, since it is based on the repetition of a pleasurable experience produced by a given stimulus. That said, it is not true that all tastes are equally valid: unlike the sphere of fashion, the fine arts are not governed by whim and deliberate oddity. Moreover, there may be no irrefutable proof of the existence of beauty in a particular situation, but by and large some general agreement does exist. Lastly, although the delectatio aroused by a masterpiece cannot be explained by logical reasoning, within a given cultural milieu there generally tends to be a certain amount of concurrence.

Paradoxical though it may seem, taste is thus both one’s own and that of many others, changeable and constant, innate and acquired, good and bad, refined and vulgar. Moreover, the history of taste is inevitably interwoven with these ambiguities. Philosophers of the past recognized the enigma, did all they could to resolve it, and ultimately agreed that taste was a sort of elevation of the mind similar in various respects to a particular form of knowledge. They thus concurred that there was no point in disputing taste through rational argument, but that discussing it was reasonable enough. Since then, though the discussions have abounded and true disputations have failed,[29] it is hard to imagine that the approach to the matter will change much in times to come.

And this in itself leads to further reflection. Indifferent to questions of principle and legitimacy, taste began to contaminate a growing number of individuals and subjects, spreading beyond the field of art to involve the values and destinies of individuals. Those touched by it were no longer just inspired artists, voyeur patrons or sophisticated humanist thinkers, but also hordes of sensitive beings who started visiting museums and art galleries with great enthusiasm. Later came the snobs and dandies who adopted taste as a raison d’être, a mainstay and point of honor. To say nothing of the gastronomes (etymologically speaking, the “governors of the stomach”), who elevated the function of digestion to the ineffable realms of palatal orgasm.

In the kaleidoscope of fashions and desires for luxury, the saying “each to his/her own” seems particularly well suited to the contemporary age. Individual taste relates to style a bit like one of those water pumps that sucks in at one end and spews it out at the other. To maintain that taste is never divisive is clearly ridiculous, even in times of cultural relativism and epistemological bric-a-brac.

Gallery owners and art critics, fashion and product designers, food writers, advertising gurus and spin doctors have all made a specialization out of taste, for which they are often handsomely rewarded. Granted, in such cases the disputatio side of rational argument has played a practically non-existent role, because the principle of authority, founded on fame and individual reputation, has tended to hold sway. But then hasn’t much the same thing happened in other fields of the human sciences?

Taste today has become a question of capital importance, literally speaking, in view of its direct influence on company assets. And not just in the food industry, but also in sectors pertaining to tobacco, alcohol, perfumery and—to go beyond the domain of taste buds and smell—clothes and accessories, furniture and cars, music and entertainment, tourism and leisure pursuits. In other words, in practically every “mature” sector taste represents the main spur for competition and the true elixir of commercial success. In this case it is the market that approves or rejects the enticements of taste: when basic needs are met, it is the logic of desire that takes over, and here the last word lies with the consumer, who expresses his or her individual taste, albeit along with the rest of a vast collectivity.

Bearing all this in mind, the aim of this book is to reveal to what extent the history of taste goes well beyond the history of a metaphor (and the parallel decline of an adage).

To this end, it hopes to illustrate how:

  1. The invention of taste in the figurative sense acts as a divide between two ages: not only as regards the history of art, since taste soon transcended this particular sector, but also as regards its role in the history of Western culture, where taste will shape the developmental and emulative process.

  2. As taste spread and became more democratic, it managed to preserve its original hedonistic value, but in time lost its primal spontaneity to become a tool of mediated preference, in other words of socially and commercially conditioned choice.

  3. The success of the metaphor was ultimately to lead to the retroactive redefinition of the original meaning of the term (taste as the sense of the palate), absorbing it into the extended meaning, and thereby projecting it into the fickle realm of luxury.

  4. The “ideological success” of taste propeled it into contemporary consumer society like an ineluctable overdose, spreading progressively though the system of predilection and aspiration so as to shape our desires and our perception of reality.

To reach this epilogue, however, we must first take a close look at how taste was perceived and practiced before the concept itself was discovered and extended.

[1] B. Croce, Storia dell’età barocca in Italia , Laterza, Bari, 1929.

[2] F. Schümmer, Die Entwicklung des Geschmackbegriff in der Philosophie des 17. und 18. Jahrhunderts , “Archiv für Begriffsgeschichte,” 1: 120–41, 1956.

[4] R. Klein, Form and Meaning. Essays on the Renaissance and Modern Art , Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1981.

[5] A. Hauser, The Social History of Art , Routledge, London, 1999, p. 68.

[6] Hauser, see note 5, pp. 38–9.

[7] Hauser, see note 5, p. 48.

[8] A.K. Coomaraswamy, Christian and Oriental Philosophy of Art , Dover Publications, New York, 1956, p. 108.

[9] A.K. Coomaraswamy, “A figure of speech or a figure of thought?,” in A.K. Coomaraswamy, Selected Papers. Traditional Art and Symbolism , Bollingen, Dehli, 1977, p. 13.

[10] Coomaraswamy, see note 8, p. 16.

[11] Coomaraswamy, see note 8, pp. 64–5.

[12] Coomaraswamy, see note 9, p. 14.

[13] A.K. Coomaraswamy, “Ornament,” in Coomaraswamy, see note 9, p. 253.

[15] Croce, see note 14, p. 235.

[16] Croce, see note 14, p. 239.

[17] B. Croce, “Iniziazione all’estetica del Settecento” (1933), in B. Croce, Filosofia. Poesia. Storia , Ricciardi, Milan and Naples, 1951, p. 410.

[18] In the edition of 1612 and 1623, the only meaning attributed to taste is that of “pleasure, delight, appetite.” In the 1691 edition, this interpretation is traced back to the Latin terms delectatio and voluptas, whereas the first meaning of taste is given as “try” (libatio). Moreover, the same edition ushers in the expression “good taste,” restricted to the practical sense that Croce attributed to Gracián: “you can talk about having good taste in any sphere: in other words, to be intelligent.” The Latin circumlocutions adopted to clarify the matter were peritiam habere, probe callere, acri iudicio pollere, in other words to have practical knowledge, great skill or depth of judgment. The 1738 edition maintained the same approach, but with the additions of “highly” before the word “intelligent” and “intended as good.”

[19] Zuccolo, quoted by Croce, see note 1, p. 166, my italics.

[20] Voltaire, “Goût,” in Encyclopédie ou dictionnaire raisonnée des sciences, des arts et des métiers , vol. VII, Livourne, 1778, pp. 746–7. At the end of this entry, Voltaire reins in the universal extension of the metaphor: “There are many countries—he writes—as yet untouched by taste. They are those in which society has not developed, in which men and women do not resemble each other, or where certain arts such as sculpture and painting are forbidden by religion. Where there is little society, where the spirit is cramped, its stimulus is blunted: what is lacking is the matter from which taste is formed. This is why the Asians have never possessed well-made works of any sort and why taste has been the exclusive patrimony of certain peoples of Europe.”

[21] The term is used to refer to metaphors that are absorbed into everyday language out of necessity, without appearing to be overly manipulated: the neck of a bottle, the leg of a table, the head of a pin, and so on. The extended meaning of the word taste went one step further, however, ultimately affecting the original sense of the term.

[22] “Just as the gourmet recognizes and immediately perceives the mixture of two liquors, so the man of taste, the connoisseur, will be aware at first glance of the mixing of two styles” (Voltaire, see note 20).

[23] Voltaire, see note 20.

[24] Montesquieu, Essai sur le goût , 1757.

[25] Voltaire, see note 20.

[26] Croce on Du Bos, in Estetica , see note 14, pp. 244–5.

[27] Croce on Home, in Estetica , see note 14, p. 601.

[28] A. Laurent, De l’individualisme, enquête sur le retour de l’individu , Presses Universitaires de France, Paris, 1985.

[29] Clearly the epistemological decline of the disputatio, its diminishing relevance to teaching and its demise as a method for settling complex questions all contributed to the loss of validity of the medieval adage.