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- Platonic Beauty in Ancient Art
- Platonic Beauty, Friendship, and Love
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Platonic Beauty in Ancient Art
Understanding Platonic beauty in art is to see the evolution of beauty from ancient times to concepts of beauty in the current day. Prior to the Hellenic civilization, statues were made with arms and legs close to the torso, and attached, so that the limbs would never break off. The statue on the right of King Menkaure and his wife was found in his pyramid at Giza, ~2500 BC.
But paintings did not place such constraints on posture. The modesty of Rome's Goddess of love, Venus, finds it roots in Ancient Egypt, as in for example this depiction of dancing girls from the tomb of a wealthy merchant in Thebes, ca 1350 BC. It may be no coincidence how the painter partially hides that the dancers are topless in the same way as Venus later modestly holds one hand over her breasts.
Sophist notions of platonic idealism probably existed prior to Plato attributing all such ideas to Socrates alone, as we know that Socrates was somewhat of a plagiarist. The steps to the Acroplis were adorned with numerous statues of elegantly grace statues, holding baskets of flowers and incense to mask the smell of sweat from those climbing to the Parthenon.
These are some of the earliest examples of ancient ceremonial statues with arms and legs separate from the body, more designed to please their onlookers than to last forever. So the attachment to one these Korai included a changeable arm. such that the statue could hold different items depending on the season and calendars of holy days.
With the discovery of better marble, sculptors started to portray the human form with more varied postures. Those seeking a more conservative depiction restrained themselves to styles sikmilar to the ancient Egyptians. Outflung arms and legs, often conveying dynamism of movement, were more frequent for gods of love and war, as well as the personages following them.
For this capricious Aphrodite, the sculptor showed off his skill by sending her hair in little spirals through space, with limbs postured to protect and anchor the hair ringlets at both ends. As a result, this statue from the time of Plato, only 18" tall, has survived as the most valued possession of Rhodes.
The Capitoline Venus' was the most popular pose for the Goddess of love, perhaps leading to Botticelli's choice of this pose for Venus in his painting.
In this famous painting, the Goddess of flowers, Flores, deeply embraces the God of the North Wind, Boreas, on the left, while she throws flowers aver Venus, who has just been born as an adult from the comingling of sea foams. Venus modestly covers her nude form with her hair and hands, while Boreas blows a giant sea shell under her to the shore. A maid is running with ornate cloth to enrobe the newly born Goddess. The flowers are also embossed in gold, so the painting sparkled in the light of the dinner candle lights set below it.
Some say Botticelli's controversial "Birth of Venus" (~1485 AD) depicts the wife of Lorenzo Medici, although there's no corroboration that she looked this way nude. Others say Botticelli only imagined her in the nude, because he remained a member of the Medici household all his life.
Platonic Beauty, Friendship, and Love
Socrates himself said little on the topic of love. Aside from a few sentances here and there, almost all of of Plato's reporting on it atributes it to a sophist called Diotima of Mantinea, now held to be fictuional, but it's difficult to know whether Diotima did actually exist due to generations of modifications to the original text arising from Socrates' very low opinion of other sophists. But Plato did describe Socrates Theory of Ideal Forms, leading artists to consider ideal womanly beauty in storytelling, sculptures, mosaics, murals, and vase paintings.
- Sculptors were inspired to carve humbly smiling nymphs. Their elegantly draped statues, with garlands of ivy and sweet-scented flowers, adorned the long staired pathways to the Parthenon, atop the Acropolis.
- Storytellers crooned of seduction's hazardous fates: of Helen's abduction to Troy; the city's razing; the victorious king of kings' murder in his bathtub by his vengeful wife; their daughter's curse to foresee the future; heroic ordeals; and the Courts of the Gods.
Then Platonic Idealism decayed over Rome's next thousand years. Marbles of Love Goddesses appeared across the far-flung reaches of the Roman Empire. Capricious Aphrodite and modest Venus, posing with ever-increasing eroticism, nodded to the proudest brothels across hundreds of new city squares. And in tales of Troy, forgotten were the tragic fates of seduction. Instead, amidst adulations of heroic warriors, the tale ends on lowly subterfuge, the Trojan Horse.
Platonic Love is very different from the above Platonic idealism of beauty, and its later transformation to inconsequential erotic idolatry. Platonic love was a later extension to Socrates' dialects that championed over Rome's glorification of violence. Neoplatonists, in the Christian church that merged with the Platonic Academy, held that a couple's love is a manifestation of Jesus' love, promulgated from heaven to create a caring household for raising children. During the enlightenment, Marsilio Ficino popularized 'Platonic love' as a precursor and basis for marriage. Then in the Victorian era, chastity before marriage became a moral expectation. So celibacy became primary in naive views of Platonic love.
Platonic Relationships of the current day attempt to combine incompatible elements from the conception of idealized beauty with Neoplatonic morality. Derived from ancient ideas of idealized form, the man is meant to adulate and fiscally support vain and/or lustful self beautification. In the last millennium, that pre-Christian idealism has merged with outmoded expectations of paradoxically puritanical male chastity, while the lady exalts in the man's support of her physical attractiveness. The two together form the now fashionable paradox of 'Platonic Friendship.' In Russia, platonic friendships are more about the beauty; In the USA, more about nonsexual relationships.
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My name is Ernest Meyer, this is my private site, and I make no money from my work. Born in Washington DC in 1960, I earned all-paid schlarshiups to Eton prep, Stowe (Bucks, UK), and Oxford University, where I sat Philosophy, Psychology, and Politics (PPP).
I became a semiconductor analyst, then a silicon-valley engineer. I was a digital architect on the first 802.11 chipset, the first Pentium, the first Japanese cellphone, the prototype Netflix interface, and the first iPhone microprocessor. I retired when Steve Jobs died. You can contact me on LinkedIn at:
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