The Music of the Spheres: Marsilio Ficino and Renaissance Harmonia by Angela Voss

In The Harmony Debates, exploring practical philosophies for a sustainable future, Sophia Centre Press, 247-267

Most people are familiar with the exquisite painting by Sandro Botticelli (1445-1510) known as the Primavera. But perhaps it is not so widely known that the programme of its enigmatic symbolism was inspired by the Neoplatonic notion of the harmony of creation, reflected in the correspondences of the mythological characters to both the eight planetary spheres and the eight tones of the musical octave. It is probably even less appreciated that Botticelli’s visual metaphor for the harmony of the spheres was inspired by the work of one man, Marsilio Ficino of Florence (1433-99), whose desire to unite heaven and earth in the soul of the human being found its precedent in the writings of the Platonic tradition. In restoring ‘the divine Plato’ to Renaissance Florence, Ficino set out to ‘redeem holy religion’ from the ‘abominable ignorance’ of secular philosophy.

My intention in this paper is to illustrate how music theory and performance became part of a programme of spiritual development stemming directly from a symbolic understanding of the cosmos which transcended, and yet embraced, all quantitative modes of thinking.

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