Denise has been studying and teaching art and painting for 40+ years. She has won numerous prestigious awards for her art and design.
Aristotle's Definition of Magnificence
As an artist, I have some concern with magnificence and whether or not there still is any in the world. According to Aristotle, magnificence is a virtue pertaining to wealth, but unlike generosity it is confined to expenditures involving the use of money, and is concerned only with spending on a grand scale, as in donating for civic projects. It usually involved the building of great buildings and paying artists to decorate those buildings inside and out with magnificent works of art. The scale for judging magnificence is relative; depending on how much is a suitable outlay considering the spender of the project, the circumstances in which he makes the outlay, and the object of his spending. To clarify the difference between magnificence and generosity, it should be noted that the magnificent man is always generous, but the generous man is not always magnificent. With this in mind, few of us have ever been able to be “magnificent” but many of us can be generous to a fault.
“I have made my world and it is a much better world than I ever saw outside.”
— Louise Nevelson
Dictionary Definition of Magnificence
The dictionary defines magnificence as a quality or state of being magnificent, splendor, grandeur, and sublimity. Also, it is impressiveness of surroundings. But the Middle English origins would define it as majesty, nobility, stateliness or even sumptuousness. Then a person who has magnificence does things on a grand, and luxurious scale. I’m glad that Aristotle pushed the definition a bit further in stating that a truly magnificent benefactor gave on a grand scale freely and without personal gain for the betterment of the general public and not himself. Without that, I would say Citizen Kane was magnificent in building his Xanadu mansion for himself, as many millionaires do.
Before I go on, I wanted to throw in my two cents worth about an inspiring TV show that aired back in 2009 called "The Philanthropist". The show was loosely based on an actual multi-billionaire philanthropist. The premise was that this selfish self-absorbed billionaire was transformed by the death of his only son and began using his money and efforts to help the poor and helpless in other countries like Nigeria, Burma, Kosovo, etc. He built hospitals, orphanages, schools, and did most of the relief personally instead of just sending a check or a representative. The show was so awesome, that my husband and I watched faithfully and we were woefully disappointed when it was canceled after only 8 episodes. Is this an example of the apathy we have developed in this country or as a people in general? Do we not care about hearing what the 1% could do, what magnificence the rest of the 99% of us cannot hope to experience personally? Why wasn't this show more popular? I still wonder. I found it inspiring and heart-warming.
There is some argument as to whether the acts of “The Philanthropist” were pure and therefore, magnificent. He did do many of the acts of generosity at first because of a loss he had experienced and because he wanted to feel better. Yet later he got into the true motivation of magnificence and genuinely loved helping others, or so I believed by the end of the show. Can anyone’s gesture of giving be truly pure 100%? I’m not sure. At some level, even the smallest generosity helps not only the recipient but also the giver. When that happens, does it negate the gesture or just reinforce it? Who can say? Maybe it is both.
Another TV show that showed true magnificence was “Undercover Boss” where these corporate type’s gestures to help were genuine to most viewers. Yet how can one person ever touch the needs of all? It is enough that they want to touch the needs of a few. I think we have to go back to the premise that we will always have poor, and suffering people around us who need help. We will always face disasters like hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, and famine, and only as we all join together to do what little we can, will we be closer to true magnificence. It takes all of us, not just a few wealthy ones. I guess Aristotle would argue the point with me.
"The true work of art is but a shadow of the divine perfection."
Contemporary Examples: Alfred Nobel
I found so many contemporary examples of magnificence as Aristotle would define it, that it was hard to narrow it down. How about Alfred Nobel who was a Norwegian chemist, engineer, and inventor. He became rich from the patenting of 355 inventions including dynamite. He was sorry that many of his inventions were used for war, but when he read a premature obituary about himself in a French newspaper quoting "the merchant of death is dead" he became very disheartened. I’m sure I would be too if I were labeled such a thing. He decided to dedicate 94% of his wealth to be bequeathed to Prizes for outstanding work in the fields of chemistry, medicine, literature, and peace. Established in 1895, each year recipients, chosen by the Nobel Foundation, receive a gold medal and a sum of money (decided by the Nobel Foundation); today usually amounting to about $1.2 million each. A couple of recipients were Mother Teresa for Peace and Welhelm Conrad Rontgen for his discovery of X-rays.
Contemporary Examples: Henry Huntington
In the southern California area is the Huntington Library and Botanical Gardens. Henry Huntington (born 1850) built up a financial empire through his work in railroad, utilities and real estate holdings in Southern California. But he had an interest in rare books, art, and gardens. In 1919 he and his wife signed over ownership of his property and collections to a non-profit trust for the public. In his library, there is a copy of a Gutenberg Bible on vellum, a double-elephant folio edition of Audubon's Birds of America (which is 10 volumes), and original editions of Shakespeare. In the mansion, he amassed 18th and 19th century British and French art including Gainsborough's Blue Boy and Lawrence's Pinkie. I've been there to see them. They are magnificent (obviously). And then there are the 120 acres of botanical gardens all open to the public. I especially like the Shakespeare garden, which had species of every plant and flower mentioned in Shakespeare works: A rose by any other name… It was rather magnificent of him to donate these collections back to the public.
“We should comport ourselves with the masterpieces of art as with exalted personages—stand quietly before them and wait till they speak to us.”
— Arthur Schopenhauer
Contemporary Examples: Beatrix Potter
If that's not enough, there is Beatrix Potter. Yes, the Beatrix Potter who wrote and illustrated (among others) The Tale of Peter Rabbit. With her profits from the books, she began buying Lake District property in northern England and raising sheep. Before her death, she bequeathed the 14 farms and 4000 acres of land (and the sheep) to the National Trust on the proviso that it would not be developed... that it all remains farmland as it was when she first purchased it. And so it has. Her little home has been turned into a museum as well. Okay, so she didn’t donate millions toward the building of some magnificent building but I think we already have plenty of high-rise apartment buildings, shopping malls and concrete parking lots. What we are increasingly in need of is untouched farmland that shows us the look of 100 and 200 years ago. And that is what Beatrix Potter left us.
Were their motives "pure"? Maybe not, but the world is a better place for their efforts, I think.
The Church's Magnificence
The church in the Renaissance could be considered a patron of magnificence when hiring artists to decorate the churches, cathedrals, and basilicas. However they couldn’t be considered a “person” of wealth as Aristotle described, but still magnificent. Abbot Bernard, a powerful religious man with quite a following in France in the 12th century wrote: the immense height of your churches, their immoderate length, their superfluous breadth, the sumptuous decoration and strange images that attract the worshippers' gaze and hinder their devotion...o vanity of vanities, yet no more vain than insane. The church is resplendent in its walls, but its poor go in want; she clothes her stones in gold, and leaves her sons naked; the rich man's eye is fed at the expense of the indigent.
What Would You Do?
It is said that there is some truth in this and it still goes on today. So the decoration of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel by Michelangelo is indeed magnificent, but is it seemly? Is it a waste? Again who is to say?
What do you think about magnificence? Have you been able to donate to magnificent public works for the betterment of mankind? If you were a billionaire, what magnificence would you be likely to contribute to?
What about people like John Chapman, better known as Johnny Appleseed? He went throughout the countryside in the wilderness of the United States spreading apple trees. He didn’t just throw seeds around as many would have believed but seeded orchards and gave away the seedling trees to pioneers headed west. Apples from seed like this were usually quite bitter but made a great Apple Jack Cider that was quite popular in those days. If he had SOLD the trees rather than give them away but the hundreds, he quite probably could have been a very wealthy man. Instead, he traveled around barefoot and in with few belongings because he preferred it that way. Does that make him magnificent or just generous? Who can say? But his name has gone down in history just the same.
Today's Billionaire's Magnificence
I’m an artist and I just don’t see many philanthropists hiring artists to decorate great buildings or civic works for the people to enjoy. I see precious few artists actually working gainfully. The question then is, where are all the magnificent benefactors?
Today we have a multi-billionaire spending money running for President of the United States. Not all of the money being spent is his own, either, because there is a fund on his behalf contributed to by millions who believe he should run for president. Is this magnificence? I think not. Serving as president comes with a salary, so that is not true benevolence. Also, the monies spent are not all his own and are not necessarily for the betterment of the general public. But there may be a few who would argue with me on this point. I’d love to hear what you think.
Magnificent Comments Welcomed
Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on July 25, 2019:
I agree with you. I think the notion of magnificence is outmoded as we just don't have those kinds of patrons anymore and the largest gifts come from the smallest of people sometimes. I think all the little people donating to disaster relief even if it is just $5 is magnificent. And certainly, Jesus spoke of the widow's mites as magnificent. Thanks for commenting.
Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on July 25, 2019:
I was reading about and some of Aristotle and came across his notions on this subject. Yet it reminded me mightily about (Mark 12:41-44, Luke 21:1-4) about the woman who gave up her last "penny".
So I guess I kind of disagree with his notion here. Not fully just a nagging question.
I cannot remember who said it "the most glorious in art are those who appreciate it"
Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on March 29, 2016:
Thank you. I agree and try for magnificence myself if only in spirit and in striving for excellence in all I do. Sometimes that's enough. Thanks so much for commenting.
Kelly A Burnett from United States on March 29, 2016:
What a delightful hub! And the many stories were fascinating. I strive for magnificence in everything I do but alas time and money remain to both be a scare commodity.
Ann Carr from SW England on January 19, 2016:
You're welcome and thank you!
Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on January 18, 2016:
Oh, Ann, you flatter me. I don't think I'm really very good at writing... well, not great at least. I really admire wordsmiths that can weave an intricate tapestry of words that paints such a picture you feel you have been someplace beyond your little reading chair and desk lamp. People like Charles Dickens and Lewis Carroll, Maya Angelo and Steven King. Now those are writers. Me... I can put one word in front of another and it's not TOO hard on the eyes to read. I'm an okay writer. I am honored to be surrounded by such a group of writers as I have seen here on HubPages, such as yourself. Thank you for commenting.
Ann Carr from SW England on January 18, 2016:
I've always associated 'magnificence' with making or doing something grand, which in itself means needing a lot of money. For me, it has to imply that there is a noble cause or intention behind it. I suppose that's what Aristotle meant.
You've made us all think hard here, Denise, which is what writing is all about! An artist in the broad sense encompasses writing and you're obviously good at that as well as your paintings, drawings etc.
Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on January 08, 2016:
I agree that art and beauty is so important to society and only possible when magnificent people can make it happen. Thanks so much for commenting.
Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on January 08, 2016:
What a thought provoking hub on a topic I love. I love beauty and art and grateful that many magnificent people made this possible for me. For some and I include myself, such beauty gives life.
Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on November 24, 2015:
I think you are right. Both were magnificent gestures. I was watching a documentary recently on Penn Station in Manhattan. It must have been a magnificent place to see. The people interviewed said they felt it had been built just for them and that it made them feel like royalty. The train mogul who built it sort of did it for his own train benefit but he didn't have to make it so beautiful for the public... so that was really great on his part. It's an absolute shame that it was torn down. Thanks for commenting.
FlourishAnyway from USA on November 24, 2015:
What Beatrix Potter did was a magnificent thing. I was able to visit and it was simply splendid. Recently, a wealthy person donated $2.2 million to help ease the national debt, a magnificent gesture although nothing we can touch or see.
Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on November 22, 2015:
I agree, I have seen many magnificent people too, doing little things everyday to make a big difference in the lives of others. If we all did what we could, we could ease a lot of the suffering of this world, but sadly there are too few doing acts of true magnificence. Thanks for commenting.
Korneliya Yonkova from Cork, Ireland on November 22, 2015:
Your hub is so touching, Denise. It is not necessary to be a wealthy person to be magnificent. I am Christian (Roman Catholic) and everyday see how my friends dedicate their earnings and talents to the poor and helpless. Thank God, our priests are amazing too.
Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on November 11, 2015:
I agree with you. In that case it makes us all eligible to be magnificent if only we give freely of ourselves. Thanks for commenting.
stella vadakin from 3460NW 50 St Bell, Fl32619 on November 11, 2015:
Mother Theresa gave of herself and that is magnificent. She is a person who is remembered. There are many different types of wealth.
Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on November 09, 2015:
Thanks, Missy, I'm so glad you thought this was good. I agree about Mother Teresa, but she gave of herself and not of her financial wealth. Sometimes I think the best gifts are those gifts of yourself.
Missy Smith from Florida on November 09, 2015:
This was really wonderful to read. I love Aristotle's definition the best. It just makes more sense, doesn't it? I've never used that word "magnificence" in describing some crooked politician, or crooked billionaire want to be politician, "Donald Trump." Sorry, he just popped in my head, because your article describes what most would consider magnificence as being a person of wealth and high authority. Those types don't bring high standards and morals though. And I think we should all agree that high morals, standards, and even loving one's self, yes, but just not in the vein way is the true magnificence of a person. :) Mother Teresa was an excellent example of this. Great article.
Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on November 05, 2015:
I don't understand why that kind of thing is so short lived. Don't people enjoy seeing good things happen anymore? No, instead they would rather see crime and violence, bloodshed and horror. I am glad I gave up TV about 5 years ago. I really haven't missed it either. My husband and I just watch things we purchased long ago like Father Knows Best and Gilligan's Island. We must be getting old! Thanks for commenting.
John Hansen from Queensland Australia on November 04, 2015:
This was great Denise, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Thank you for sharing Aristotle's true definition of "magnificence". I too remember a show similar to "the Philanthropist" only a group of four multi-millionaires from different fields went to places like Africa and built schools, paid for improved water supplies etc. They actually paid for the work and helped physically. Unfortunately that series was also short lived.
Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on November 04, 2015:
True. Wouldn't it be something to able to magnificently benevolent in that way? I wish I had that kind of financial blessing too. I guess I'm trans-financial. That is a rich woman born in a poor woman's body, wishing for people to strew money at my feet. Since that's not going to happen anytime soon, I will just be a generous as I can. Thanks for commenting.
Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on November 04, 2015:
Thank you. I agree that we all need to exercise out generosity genes and do more to help people. Thanks for the comment.
Melody Lassalle from California on November 04, 2015:
Paintdrips, This is a thought provoking piece. I guess I would not have defined magnificence in the same way as Aristotle, but it is interesting to think of it in these terms. While their are people who create and donate merely for the name recognition or the tax write off, there are those who do these things so that they might be created, showcased, and preserved for the benefit of all. Sure, they get something from it. As you said there giver and those receiving the gift benefit. It is rewarding to be the giver. I wish I had that kind of money so I could endow something to the people. That would be something!
Laurel Johnson from Washington KS on November 04, 2015:
This hub is....magnificent!! I loved the content and how you wrote it. No matter what our financial status, everyone can do something to benefit others. Acts that improve the world around us can be large or small. Thank you for brightening the world with your hub.
Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on November 03, 2015:
Well, starting with Aristotle only means I'm well read, not necessarily a good writer. Yes, and who argues with Aristotle?! Thanks so much for thinking me worthy to be called a writer. That means a lot coming from you!
Reynold Jay from Saginaw, Michigan on November 03, 2015:
In that you began with Aristotle is impressive for this article. Right from the get-go the readers will know that the foundation for your thoughts are very likely well-founded. Who would eve argue with Aristotle? You are much better than you give yourself credit.
Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on November 03, 2015:
You are an incredible encourager. You may be right about having enough material, but I have never felt like a writer. I'm an artist who writes about art. I wish I was a writer like you are. I just put words together now and then and they seem to make sense to people. I've been reading Maya Angelou's autobiography series... now that woman can write. She puts such words together to paint some great word pictures. I just don't do that well. Thank you so much for thinking I'm good enough. I so appreciate your comments.
Reynold Jay from Saginaw, Michigan on November 03, 2015:
Oh, my, my, Denise! So many thoughts you have put together under the title of Magnificence and it all made a lot of sense. More than that, it reminds me of the thoughts I jumbled together to write, Born to Be Rich. (35 years ago) You have a chapter for an inspirational book. In that I have not gone over your HUBS, it makes me wonder how many more of these gems you already have in your HUB briefcase? I see a full length book in your future. ten chapters and it is done. Well--just something to think about. You are pretty terrific ! ( But you already know that) I'm with you all the way.