I have found a definition of the Beautiful, of my own conception of the Beautiful. It is something intense and sad, something a little vague, leaving scope for conjecture. I am ready, if you will, to apply my ideas to a sentient object, to that object, for example, which Society finds the most interesting of all, a woman’s face. A beautiful and seductive head, a woman’s head, I mean, makes one dream, but in a confused fashion, at once of pleasure and of sadness; conveys an idea of melancholy, of lassitude, even of satiety—a contradictory impression, of an ardour, that is to say, and a desire for life together with a bitterness which flows back upon them as if from a sense of deprivation and hopelessness. Mystery and regret are also characteristics of the Beautiful.
A beautiful male head has no need to convey, to the eyes of a man, at any rate—though perhaps to those of a woman—this impression of voluptuousness which, in a woman’s face, is a provocation all the more attractive the more the face is generally melancholy. But this head will also suggest ardours and passions—spiritual longings—ambitions darkly repressed—powers turned to bitterness through lack of employment—traces, sometimes, of a revengeful coldness., … sometimes, also—and this is one of the most interesting characteristics of Beauty—of mystery, and last of all (let me admit the exact point to which I am a modern in my aesthetics) of Unhappiness. I do not pretend that Joy cannot associate with Beauty, but I will maintain that that Joy is one of her most vulgar adornments, while Melancholy may be called an illustrious spouse—so much so that I can scarcely conceive (is my brain a witch’s mirror?) a type of Beauty which has nothing to do with Sorrow. In pursuit of—others might say obsessed by—these ideas, it may be supposed that I have difficulty in not concluding that the most perfect type of manly beauty is Satan—as Milton saw him.—Charles Beaudelaire, Intimate Journals (trans. by Christopher Isherwood)
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