Dr. Leah Hochman's The Ugliness of Moses Mendelssohn: Aesthetics, Religion & Morality in the Eighteenth Century (Routledge Jewish Studies, 2014) examines the idea of ugliness through four angles: philosophical aesthetics, early anthropology, physiognomy, and portraiture in the eighteenth-century.
Highlighting a theory that describes the benefit of encountering ugly objects in art and nature, eighteenth-century German Jewish philosopher Moses Mendelssohn recasts ugliness as a positive force for moral education and social progress. According to his theory, ugly objects cause us to think more and thus exercise—and expand—our mental abilities. Known as ugly himself, he was nevertheless portrayed in portraits and in physiognomy as an image of wisdom, gentility, and tolerance. That seeming contradiction—an ugly object (Mendelssohn) made beautiful—illustrates his theory’s possibility: ugliness itself is a positive, even redeeming characteristic of great opportunity.
Dr. Leah Hochman serves as the Director of the Louchheim School for Judaic studies at the University of Southern California and Associate Professor of Jewish Thought at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles.