Neo-Platonism - Raphael, Botticelli, and Michelangelo
Things to consider:
Neo-Platonism was a revival of the philosophies of Plato ( Republic , Symposium , Meno , etc.) and Plotinus:
Plotinus a third century philosopher who argued that there were three hypostases (underlying realities): the One, the Intelligible, and the World Soul. The One was the highest, most perfect realm. The One was completely undifferentiated and, therefore, nothing could be said about it --> fit well with the idea of God and the heavenly realm.
Neo Platonism was focused on bringing together Greek philosophy and Christian doctrine.
It was a philosophy that was promoted by the Medici house, who went so far as to est. a Neo-Platonic academy in Florence in the 15th cent.
Important Idea God was Beauty and the source of Beauty.God's image is Man.Therefore, the ideally beautiful Man is the closest approximation of God on this earth.
Botticelli The Birth of Venus , 1486.
Birth of Venus
The story is that of Venus’ birth. She is being blown toward the shore by a zephyr and being welcomed by the character of Spring at the shore.
It was thought that the sea was fertilized by Saturn, which was understood to be a metaphor for the creation of a perfect being by divine power. Not only birth of beauty, but birth of the soul.
Venus, as the figure of divine beauty, is a divine symbol for the way these themes are delivered to the world.
For its tie to Platonic theory comes via is writing Symposium , a dialogue in which he argues that love is the essential ingredient of the philosophic path and the search for wisdom.
Marsilio Ficino commented that “On both sides…there is love; there is a desire to contemplate beauty and a desire to propagate it. Each love is virtuous and praiseworthy, for each follows a divine image.”
Botticelli Primavera (1478) 7’ x 10’
The icon of the springtime renewal of the Florentine Renaissance, also at the summer palazzo of Lorenzo Pierfrancesco de' Medici, as a companion piece to the Birth of Venus and Pallas and the Centaur .
Left to right: Mercury, the Three Graces, Venus, Flora, Chloris, Zephyrus.
Some argue that the setting of this scene is meant to be the Garden of Eden with each figure playing a Christian role in the work.
Mercury is the guardian of the Garden of Eden of Purgatory as was written about in Dante’s writings.
The Three Graces are the embodiment of the Holy Trinity.
Venus is representative of the Virgin Mary
We cannot be totally sure of this reading as some argue that it is a political image: Love would be Rome, the three Graces Pisa, Naples and Genoa; Mercury Milan; Flora Florence; May Mantua; Cloris and Zephyr Venice and Bolzano
Michelangelo and Neo-Platonism
As Michelangelo was taken into the Medici court, he was exposed to the work of Ficino and the translations of Plato and Plotinus.
Michelangelo believed that the artist's function was to bring preexistent forms out of the material at hand: "the greatest artist has no conception which a single block of marble does not potentially contain within its mass, but only a hand which obeys the intelleto can accomplish that”.
Works that exemplify Michelangelo’s Neo-Platonic philosophy include: David , the Tombs of Giuliano and Lorenzo de’Medici , Pieta and Pope Julius II’s Tomb .
Michelangelo was famous for his ability to harmonize the design of a statue with the proportions of the block of marble. Several artists had already attempted to carve the block which eventually became the David . It was too narrow for others to work with; only Michelangelo was able to create a workable plan for the block. For Michelangelo, this ability was a gift from God, and those who possess intelleto did not need to rely on artificial techniques to create a work of art.
Michelangelo belived in the theory of the concetto (art forms) and intelleto (ablitiy to percieve harmony and beauty) He was often criticized for not faithfully representing his subjects. The Virgin of the Pieta appears to be around twenty five years of age -- not much older than her crucified son. The Virgin is portrayed as a young woman because her beauty is timeless. The David and the Virgin are ideal types, not particular individuals.
Raphael, Three Graces 1501-1505
The Three Graces are the personification of grace and beauty and the attendants of several goddesses.
They are often the handmaidens of Venus, sharing several of her attributes such as the rose, myrtle, apple and dice. Their names according to Hesiod were Aglaia, Euphrosyne and Thalia.
Florentine humanist philosophers of the 15th century saw them as three phases of love: beauty, arousing desire, leading to fulfillment; alternatively as the personification of Chastity, Beauty and Love.
Needless to say, Raphael surly would have had the opportunity to have seen Botticelli’s Primavera and taken on this theme for the painting for Cardinal Scipione Borghese - a gift for his birth by a private patron.
The theme of the paintings may by drawn from the Latin poem Punica . Scipio, the sleeping knight, must choose between Venus (pleasure) and Minerva (virtue); in the second, the Graces reward his choice of virtue with the Golden Apples of the Hesperides.
Q. Was Leonardo a Neo-Platonist?
He argued that the mathematical proportions of the human body were the basis of its beauty as based on the writings of Alberti.
Alberti's concept of beauty in a work of art is the harmony between all the parts so that nothing can be added to it or taken from it without impairing the whole. The work of art is synthesized by adding together the most beautiful observable examples of the component parts.
For an artist like Leonardo, who based so much of his art on his observations, Neo-Platonism was too far removed from science.
He was an Aristotelean, whose philosophy was based on empirical rather than theoretical evidence.
What became of Neo-Platonism?
In the late 15th century a Dominican monk, Girolamo Savonarola, barracked for the damning of paganism and pagan culture.
Neo-Platonism was seen as heretical during the Counter-Reformation and many artists quickly gave up this philosophy. Botticelli went so far as to burn many of his pagan works.
Michelangelo renounced his Neo-Platonist philosophy for ascetic piety and moved away from figurative arts.
“ Thus I now know how fraught with error was the fond imagination which made Art my idol and my king…no brush, no chisel would quieten the soul.” -Michelangelo