Michelangelo, Ficino, and Neo-Platonic Beauty

Michelangelo, Ficino, and Neo-Platonism.” History of Art 351: The Art and Poetry of Michelangelo. (Upper-Level Writing Requirement Outside of Concentration). February 2013.

Throughout his long and influential career as an artist, poet, and sculptor, Michelangelo was heavily influenced by the Neo-Platonic idea of beauty as described by Renaissance Humanist Marsilio Ficino. For Ficino, and by extension Michelangelo, beauty does not originate “in the eye of the beholder” but rather is an agent itself that works directly on the beholder. This essay, written for an art history class satisfying my non-concentration Upper-Level Writing Requirement, examines the correspondence between this Neo-Platonic view of beauty and that expressed in Michelangelo’s love poetry.

This assignment was somewhat unique in that we were given a quote from Ficino’s Commentary on Plato’s Symposium on Love to examine and a detailed thesis to argue prior to even beginning the writing. While this predefined structure limited our flexibility, I did like how it set out a clear vision for the paper which, in the end, made it easier to write. In addition, I was intrigued by the representation of Neo-Platonism as a Christianized version of Plato’s philosophy, one in which the “continuity of body and soul as the respective subject and object of beauty finds its ultimate fulfillment in the incarnation of Christ.”

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