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

Culture and Cosmos, vol. 4, no. 2, 16-38.

Most people are familiar with the exquisite painting by Botticelli 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.

Western culture, for the past four thousand years, has been dominated by the paradigm of a male creator god, separate from his creation; a paradigm which naturally generates assumptions about the nature of reality. These assumptions tend to be expressed in oppositional language, such as mind and body, divinity and nature, orthodoxy and heterodoxy, science and religion; with our highly developed capacity for conceptual thinking, ‘reason’ has become divorced from symbolic thought.

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