The title lends itself to several interpretations, but I’ll come straight to the point: was the revolution universally attributed to Copernicus really the discovery of that astronomer, or was the certainty that it was the earth that revolved around the sun and not vice versa already present in the intellectual entourage of the Medici in Florence almost a century earlier?
In this moment of need to remember and feel proud of being Italian (not out of arrogance or ill-concealed presumption, but because of what our country has been able to offer humanity through the fusion of science and beauty, or rather beauty and science (which I hope will continue, together with other countries, to give…), I propose again a hypothesis contained in a study of mine entitled “SANDRO BOTTICELLI – Mito e Verità (dai Medici a Giordano Bruno)” published in 2014.
The hypothesis claimed that the discovery of heliocentrism was in fact already the heritage of the Cenacolo dei Medici (the Neoplatonic Academy of Careggi) 80 years before Copernicus, and that this theory was hermetically illustrated in Sandro Botticelli’s so-called ‘mythological’ paintings: Athena Dominates the Centaur, Birth of Venus, Spring, Venus Dominates Mars.
For those who are interested or wish (in an extract from the book) to follow the premise of the reasoning of the relationship between Botticelli’s mythological paintings and heliocentrism, can read the two arguments that precede it: 1_LA TRADIZIONE ERMETICA AL TEMPO DEL BOTTICELLI (HERMETIC TRADITION AT THE TIME OF BOTTICELLI) and 2_LA FILOSOFIA DI GIORDANO BRUNO E L’OPERA DEL BOTTICELLI (THE PHILOSOPHY OF GIORDANO BRUNO AND THE WORK OF BOTTICELLI); otherwise one can go directly to topic 3_LA COINCIDENZA DEGLI OPPOSITI – L’ELIOCENTRISMO E L’UNIVERSO (THE HELIOCENTRISM AND THE UNIVERSE).
HERMETIC TRADITION AT THE TIME OF BOTTICELLI
Comparison with Frances Amelia Yates
This reflection will be carried out using an unusual method. It consists of a wide-ranging comparison with the work of those who, not so much preceded Botticelli’s pictorial work that has become universal heritage, or as is customary through his contemporaries, but of those who, in an emblematic manner, subsequently used the message (which is considered to be inherent in that work) for their artistic, literary and ideal life path.
In our case, for the comparison, we will not use the work of another artist, subsequent to Botticelli, as was the case for Piero della Francesca or Leonardo, including Raphael and Giorgione, who help reveal the enigma through the continuity or evolution of the message, but of a philosopher and man of letters: Giordano Bruno (1548-1600).
Why Giordano Bruno, who lived in the century following that of Lorenzo the Magnificent, Botticelli, Marsilio Ficino and Pico della Mirandola?
Because, as Frances A. Yates reminds us in her book Giordano Bruno e la tradizione ermetica: <…his work was nourished by the same sap as the Florentine hermetic neo-Platonism that opened with the Medici an epoch that unfortunately and violently closed with the burning of Giordano Bruno, ordered by the so-called “holy” Inquisition>.
It is through the work of Yates, with her revolutionary way of reading the work and life of Giordano Bruno, that I will attempt to give a further interpretation of the meaning-message of the so-called “mythological” works of Botticelli. The latter are therefore understood not as mere allegories but as a veritable “Manifesto” of the philosophical-political-religious thought of Marsilio Ficino, then of Pico della Mirandola and the Neoplatonists; not excluding references to the life of Cosimo de’ Medici, grandfather of Lorenzo il Magnifico, and Lorenzo himself.
The investigation that follows can only be schematic. This is in order not to get lost in the thousands of rivulets of philosophical thought that characterised that period, with respect to the origin of what was a real river that suddenly gushed to the surface from the bowels of knowledge: “hermetic philosophy”.
This river of thought was brought to the surface through translation, popularisation, and above all the commented and comparative study of Platonic philosophy and the Corpus Hermeticum attributed to the ancient Egyptian Hermes Trismegistus, wrongly believed to be a contemporary of Moses, by, and not only by, Marsilio Ficino. In reality, the text dates back some two or three centuries after the birth of Christ and was probably written by various authors and in various eras, but this is secondary to the reading of the emotional relationship between the discovery of that belief (ancient and new) and the art that was influenced by it.
Perhaps Botticelli’s “mythological” paintings are revealed precisely through a comparative reading of these works with the philosophical thought developed at the same time as, but also after, those works. In short: the first reading as an expression of the thought of the artwork’s contemporaries, Ficino and the Neo-Platonists; the second as the continuity, even over a century later, of the Neo-Platonic and Hermetic thought developed after Botticelli’s symbolic work, through the writings of John Dee and especially Giordano Bruno.
Botticelli’s mythological works were an ante litteram representation of the later Copernican heliocentric creed (where the sun is the centre of the universe) in Medicean Florence in the mid-15th century and of a new religion much older than Christianity, that of Hermetic philosophy, which inflamed minds and souls. A strong hypothesis that led to the discovery of the rules of the universe in Florence, much earlier than in the Polish land of Copernicus (a frequent visitor to Italian universities).
But let us retrace the events, starting with the person who ‘technically’ brought the underground hermetic river to the surface by translating it from Greek (politically, the credit goes to Cosimo de’ Medici): Marsilio Ficino.
What is not openly expressed by that author (for understandable protection from the investigative and persecutory attitude of the Church of that time; see the trial of Galileo even 150 years later) is the undisputed influence on the mythological artistic work of Botticelli, which in my opinion allowed, through that artist, not only a representation-message, but also a sort of “talismanic” instrument to enable the relationship between man and Cosmos as Yates reports:
>If there is one thing that characterizes the Renaissance and distinguishes it from all other periods, it consists – writes W.P.D. Wightman – in the different conception of the relations between Man and the Cosmos[…] The author initially starts from the consideration of the so-called , resulting from the resumption of the studies of Plato and Platonism in the circle gathered around Marsilio Ficino, but he later sets it aside, considering it useless for the purpose of his research. There is no evidence, according to him, that the Florentine academics had any interest, other than a casual one, in the problem of knowledge of the external world or the structure of the cosmos. And yet it is precisely in that movement, summarily defined as ‘Renaissance Neoplatonism’, whose parabola runs from the Middle Ages to the 17th century, that one should find the sources of that new attitude of man towards the cosmos that is so full of significant consequences. […]>.
The author urges us to see the source of the new man-cosmos relationship in the Neo-Platonic movement. Therefore, and I agree, it is this source that generated and nourished the revolutionary thought of that era. Or rather, it was the consequence and this consequence shaped, enabled and produced, in my opinion, the historical period called the Renaissance and its arts. Yates continues: <But the studies carried out in recent years on Ficino and his sources have amply demonstrated that the core of the movement was in the Hermetic culture and that it implied a conception of the cosmos as a network of magical forces that could make use of. The Renaissance magician is rooted in the hermetic substratum of Renaissance Neo-Platonism, and it is precisely in the figure of the magician that, in my opinion, those changed attitudes in the relationship between man and cosmos are summed up, which will prove to be indispensable preliminary to the rise of science>.
With just a few sentences, Yates has outlined an entire era, one of the most important in the history of mankind. Hermetic culture was at the heart of Renaissance thought and the awareness that there was a network of magical forces in the cosmos with which man could come into contact in order to benefit from them. Thus the figure of the ‘magician’ was born, or rather revived from the past. And Hermes Trismegistus was, as we shall see, mistakenly thought to be contemporary with Moses; but is not Moses represented in the sacred scriptures as a kind of magician?
And so the Adoration of the Magi, commissioned by Cosimo de’ Medici from Benozzo Gozzoli and also evocative of the arrival of a new philosophy in Florence in 1439, takes on a particular meaning: perhaps a hymn to magic (which has nothing to do with magic as commonly understood, but with a special relationship with creation and its laws…), where the Magi of the Christian tradition are in reality also “Magicians”. And this in no way detracts from the homage that these emblematic figures of the epiphany (which means apparition, manifestation of an occult, spiritual being) intended to give to the unborn Jesus…
And before “giving” the floor again to Yates, I would like to point out that in that painting, which is either a tribute to natural magic or represents a “simple” Epiphany” meaning apparition, manifestation, revelation, the colours of the clothes are green, white and red.
Yates continues: “It should be briefly recalled,” she continues, “that the first work translated into Latin by Ficino at the behest of Cosimo de’ Medici was not Plato’s work, but the Corpus Hermeticum, a collection of treatises whose authorship is attributed to Hermes Trismegistus (…). I am convinced that it was in these texts that the Renaissance found its new, or rather new-antique, conception of the relationship between man and the cosmos.
I totally agree with the decisive influence, for the new thought known as Renaissance, of the Corpus Hermeticum. Consequently, this influence influenced Cosimo de’ Medici (not a philosopher or scholar, but a banker and politician), who had the text, along with other ancient texts, found in the region of Constantinople by the monk Leonardo da Pistoia and commissioned and solicited Marsilio Ficino to translate it from the Greek. I am even convinced that this man-cosmos relationship, and this is the theme of this research, was represented, at the behest of the Medici and on the philosophical indications of Marsilio Ficino, in the mythological paintings of Sandro Botticelli. And not as a tale, an illustration, but as truth and therefore a propitiatory tool, a talisman or instrument of contact, therefore, with those magical and beneficial sympathies present in the cosmos; which can be drawn upon for personal benefit and that of the environment to which one belongs, as Yates illustrates:
< In the Pimander, the first treatise of the Corpus Hermeticum: […] It is true that God (to Adam) had given him dominion over all creatures, but when he tried to appropriate the secret of creation, to eat from the tree of knowledge, he fell into the sin of disobedience and was therefore cast out of the earthly paradise. The hermetic man of Pimander, too, suffers the fall and he too can be regenerated. But once regenerated, he again gains that power over nature which he had had in his divine origins. In other words, the hermetic man returns to communion with the sovereign of the “all” through the magical-religious communion with the cosmos: his is the regeneration of a being who regains divinity…>.
The author emphasises the revolutionary power of hermetic thought: ‘fallen man can be regenerated, regain his relationship with nature and return to communion with the supreme divinity’. Man therefore has divine origins that he can regain through ‘magical-religious communion with the cosmos’.
According to Hermetic philosophy, therefore, one does not wait for the universal judgement. This event, promised as a reward for the conduct of life and encounter with God, can be “anticipated”… The reunion with God, according to hermetic principles, can take place through the will and ability of each human being (is this perhaps free will?) through knowledge and revelation, but above all through harmony and communion with cosmic law and its rhythms. Perhaps Sandro Botticelli’s Spring (or Perfect Nature as I call it) is intended to illustrate precisely the rules of such Harmony and Yates illustrates the value of natural magic.
<And again in Asclepius,’ continues Yates, ‘a work known throughout the Middle Ages but which acquired fundamental importance in the Renaissance thanks to the consideration in which the Egyptian Hermes Trismegistus and all his writings were held, the man-magician at work is described […] From the new way of considering their figures, Ficino and Pico emerge not as essentially; nor even as philosophers, but as magicians…>.
Here then is the new role of the “magicians” Ficino and Pico: that of scholars of the “Great Work”; the action that can put man in contact with the cosmos and, through their harmony, in union with God. And the intermediary of this action is only Nature! What instruments (better defined as talismans) did these magicians equip themselves with? Is it possible that Botticelli’s mythological works were one of those instruments?
Yates extends, through Eugenio Garin, this consideration to LEONARDO DA VINCI: <According to Garin, Leonardo’s conception of spiritual force “has very little to do with rational mechanics, while it is very closely related to the Ficinian-hermetic theme of life and universal animation” [… According to Garin’s hypothesis, Leonardo’s extraordinary achievements would instead be further proof of the effective drive exerted by hermetic impulses towards a new vision of the world, a further demonstration of the fact that the hermetic matrix of Renaissance Neo-Platonism generated the movement of which the great magicians of the time represent the first phase. The Renaissance magician is closely linked to the artistic expressions of the time; in this period the talisman has much to do with painting and sculpture; magic formulas are allied with poetry and music>.
It can therefore be asserted, taking strength from Yates’ assertions and as a repeated conjecture of mine, that the talismans of the “magicians” Marsilio Ficino and Pico della Mirandola consisted of Botticelli’s mythological works. In the pages that follow, we will attempt to investigate further whether these paintings were intended to represent the “harmony of the entire cosmos” and, through its representation, to put man in contact with it and its divine harmony, hence with the origin and creator of the origin of everything.
THE PHILOSOPHY OF GIORDANO BRUNO AND THE WORK OF BOTTICELLI
Compare with Frances A. Yates
Frances A. Yates reports that: <Bruno believed that the ancient ‘Egyptian’ religion dating back to the ancient sage Hermes Trismegistus was superior to the Jewish and Christian religions, and that the genuine universal reformation which occult philosophers, such as he himself was, awaited, consisted in a return to the ‘Egyptian’ religion, to the ancient ‘Egyptian’ magical religion described in the hermetic “Asclepius”>.
So, without emphasis, I can say that I have already glimpsed since the first edition of this research, around the year 2000 – Sandro Botticelli and Lorenzo il Magnifico, art, love, alchemy – the presence of a cult dating back to the Egyptian world in Botticelli’s work. This is through his magical figure par excellence, the goddess Isis. At the time of that publication, it could not have been just a conjecture, and above all a heretical conjecture! And this was before, in chronological order, the drunkenness, which after the euphoria gives a sense of nausea, of certain novels inspired by the themes of esotericism and the Isis cult.
But there is, as Yates affirms, another strong element in Giordano Bruno’s work, perhaps also drawn from an intuition that predates Copernicus: heliocentrism: it was in a sense compatible with Catholicism (reformed, however, in a magical sense) at the head of which, again according to Bruno, was to be the king of France, Henry III. […] This is the philosophy that leads to magic – that the magician can rely on the scales of occult sympathies that innervate the whole of nature. And when this philosophical vision does not end in magic but also takes on a religious meaning, it becomes the religion of the hermetic pseudo-Egyptians who, as Bruno says in the Spaccio, “with magical and divine rites by the same scale of nature ascended to the heights of divinity, by which divinity descends to the lowest things for the communication of itself”. Philosophy and religion are in Bruno one and the same thing and both are hermetic.
If the heliocentric creed was at the basis of the universal hermetic philosophy, then it cannot be ruled out that this creed was also the heritage, not only philosophical but also scientific, of 15th-century Florence. Nor can it be ruled out that it could be manifested not only in the philosophies of Marsilio Ficino and Pico della Mirandola, but also in the science of Paolo dal Pozzo Toscanelli, whose contribution, it seems, was not insignificant, and at least anticipated the theories and discoveries of Christopher Columbus.
And it is along these lines that our investigation continues, attempting to give credence to a theory that sees Botticelli’s mythological works, not individually, one detached from the other, but through their compositional construction, as a representation, among other things, of the heliocentric system. And this around 1477, in Florence, even before the theories of the Pole Copernicus, Giordano Bruno and Galileo Galilei.
Sandro Botticelli, “Opere mitologiche”, 1482-1484 circa
THE COINCIDENCE OF OPPOSITES – HELIOCENTRISM AND THE UNIVERSE
The examination of some passages from the work of Frances Amelia Yates and a better investigation of the thought of the period in which Botticelli’s (so-called) mythological works were created, also through continuity with that of the century that followed it, gives me the courage or the boldness to arrive at yet another (compared to many already formulated) interpretation of those paintings.
And I think it appropriate to quote, as I have done for other passages in the work of the historian Yates, this analysis of her on La Primavera which shows how sensitively, although she is a “historian” and not an art historian, in her Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic tradition, she illustrates with apparent simplicity the purpose of Botticelli’s work: <Although painted before the writing, or at least the publication, of “De vita coelitus comparanda” (by Ficino), Botticelli’s “La Primavera” is undoubtedly a product of the genre (…a talisman to be used to induce its reflection in the mind) , preordained for this purpose>.
Yates continues: <I have no intention of attempting yet another detailed interpretation of the figures in “Spring”. I only want to suggest how, in the context of the study of Ficino’s magic, the painting begins to reveal itself as a practical implementation of that magic, a complex talisman, an “image of the world” elaborated in such a way as to transmit, to the observer, only salutary, vivifying and anti-saturn influences. It is the translation, in visual form, of Ficino’s natural magic…>.
I would then ask: what if this ‘talisman’, rather than just the painting La Primavera, actually consisted of the ‘composition’ of Botticelli’s mythological works as a sort of appropriately programmed ‘system’?
What if that composition was even a preview of the truth of the heliocentric solar system, even before the revolutionary hypotheses of Copernicus and Galileo?
This new conjecture does not necessarily disprove my previous interpretations, but constitutes a sort of evolution of them and unifies them into a single system, as if the four paintings in the following figure (from the left, Spring, Athena Taming the Centaur, Birth of Venus, and Venus Dominating Mars at the bottom) were respectively the key or the pieces of a single large instrument: a gigantic talisman intended to capture and re-circuit the harmony of the Universe, as if it could be reflected in an endless motion.
Thus a kind of revelation of the rules of the cosmos, a means of coming into contact with another dimension and, through a tribute to that entity, bestowing it with auspices and effects, while at the same time leaving hermetic evidence of that philosophy.
If so, this would have been in conflict with the Ptolemaic beliefs of the time, which held the earth to be the centre of the universe, and above all in ‘dangerous’ conflict with the dogma of traditional religion.
As we know, this was not just a matter of scientific dissent, but anything that refuted religious dogma became suspect, dangerous, and therefore to be repressed and suppressed. There is no need to dwell on Galileo Galilei’s punishment (with his trial in 1633, exactly 90 years after the publication of Copernicus’s theory), which we would like to mention anyway as a reminder of that repression…
Let us try to give substance to the hypothesis that the composition of Botticelli’s four mythological paintings constitutes a representation of the Universe (through the heliocentric system 80 years before Copernicus), the Seasons and the Cyclical nature of time; a sort of great space-time machine with which the followers of Hermetic philosophy intended to enter into contact with this space-time dimension. The key to communication with this universal construction was however one: Nature, or better still, its magical component.
And it is this entity, Natural Magic, that is perhaps meant to represent and celebrate the painting known as La Primavera, through the world-famous figure (with the flowered robe) advancing towards the viewer; the only one in such dynamic motion compared to the others in Botticelli’s mythological paintings.
Following this hypothesis and through the composition of the four paintings, arranged as if generating concentric circles revolving around the figure of Athena-Minerva (the knowledge of intellect), ideally conceived as a sort of Sun, we obtain bands that symmetrically accommodate the opposing characters of the various paintings with a sense that perhaps only “coincidentally” has its own logic. Let us examine this “coincidence” by referring to the composition of the figure that follows.
In the first circle, in the centre, is Minerva-Athena, who could also evoke Lorenzo the Magnificent, who is often assimilated to Apollo, the god of the sun). Once again, Wisdom, Knowledge and the Arts dominate the scene. These higher entities also represent the centre, the point from which everything departs and everything flows together, which in my opinion is meant to represent the Sun..
Everything gravitates around it: we are faced with a heliocentric concept even before Copernicus, Bruno and Galileo: it is, as Eugenio Garin recalls, hermetic heliocentrism.
This is the absolute, immobile point of equilibrium, around which everything revolves, from which everything originates and towards which everything flows. It is the fixed point; in it there is no need for equilibrium, because there are no opposing forces, only energy in power.
The fact that the image implies, as has been pointed out, not only Minerva but also the house of Medici and thus Lorenzo himself, says a lot about the role he attributed to his political and intellectual action.
The image of Athena-Minerva therefore evokes the Sun, the centre of the whole known universe.
The second circle, in relation to the one evoking the centre, intercepts the Centaur and Mercury-Ermes. The one represents the low, the earth, historicity, matter, with the index finger of the right hand pointing ‘down’, as in Leonardo da Vinci’s Bacchus (Dionysus); the other, Hermes, with the index finger pointing ‘up’ and the caduceus, represents the occult world of the spirit, like Leonardo’s St John the Baptist.
In the ‘system’ of Botticelli’s paintings, this juxtaposition of the index fingers of the hands of the Centaur and Mercury, downwards and upwards, seems to give rise to a motion, generated precisely by two opposing forces of a circular type, pivoting on the central figure assumed to be the absolute unity and therefore immobile, in perfect equilibrium.
It is the representation of two opposing elements: the profane and the sacred, as Mircea Eliade would say. Two roles that cannot be separated from each other, as happens in creation, as well as in the bond between body and spirit, where one is an instrument of the other for the “convergence” towards the centre, towards the origin. Matter and Spirituality interact, as the Song of Songs and the Divine Comedy remind us.
If the central figure, as we have seen, is the Sun, the Centaur and Hermes could represent the planets Earth and Mercury, body and soul respectively.
The third circle intercepts what are commonly understood as the Three Graces, and are instead to represent the Tria Fata, also known as the Fates or Moire, the architects of destiny, and are placed in the same circle as the Casta Ora who goes to meet Venus on the waters.
One triad deciding on human destiny, the other, the Caste Ora, welcoming (as I hypothesise) the incarnating Soul.
And she could also be the figure of the painting that rises from the waters, as Apuleius recalls in his novel The Golden Ass, the only goddess capable of changing a man’s destiny.
To the right of the spectator there is therefore a triad that reflects and merges (on the opposite side) into a single character: the figure on the left. This one is leaning towards the naked female figure arriving from the sea, reaching out to her with a cloak to cover her, or in the hypothesis previously advanced, as soul and immaterial, to embody her.
Of the first three Graces (or Tria Fata), only the one on the back in the group of paintings composed as a system turns her gaze towards the direction on the left of the painting, where, according to the hypothesized composition, a birth is taking place, an epiphany coming from the sea. But even before that, in the path of the gaze, is Hermes, the messenger, with all his vast hermetic meanings, on which there is no need to expand further.
There are four figures in total, like the lunar cycle, which consists of four weeks.
This band also encompasses and intercepts, according to the arrangement of the general figure of the four paintings, another triad: that of the three fauns placed below in the painting Venus Dominates Mars.
The satellite indicated, with its phases and mutations, can be the Moon.
The fourth circle completely embraces the two figures, both placed slightly higher than the others, in the three aligned paintings and commonly known as: Venus clothed or demure (in Spring) sacred love, and Venus nude (in Birth of Venus) profane love. However, on the circumference of this circle, and within this band, the Venus of the fourth painting, known as Venus Dominates Mars, also fits in well, almost lying down, following its curved course.
The elements of contrast in these figures (which in my opinion also imply other different and syncretic divinities) are characterised at the top by naked Venus: profane love and clothed or demure Venus: sacred love; and at the bottom by Venus: love, and Mars: war.
Love, Cupid, is at the centre of this fourth band and its trajectory, in a hypothetical roundabout way, encompasses all the figures it contains, evocative of Venus and their opposite, Mars.
Like Cupid-Love hovering over Venus in La Primavera, in the painting Venus and Mars there is an isolated figure at the bottom: it is the small faun detached from the upper ones, intent on playing with Mars’ weapons, and wedged inside the armour, placed under the arm of the god of war, to support his sleeping position.
The little faun moves towards the object that looks more like a flute (an instrument attributed to Apollo) than an instrument for war; so much so that one might think that, through the ‘dream’, the instrument with which Apollo was believed to communicate with humans, Mars is dominated by the dominant force of Love.
The planets are Venus and Mars.
The fifth circle is completely dedicated to the most emergent figure, commonly understood as Spring. It leaves the plane on which the other figures are aligned and moves forward, invading the next circle with this movement.
The fifth circle is occupied by a single figure which, representing Nature, is the Quintessence of the whole.
It is an important figure whose path is accompanied by the dynamism of the other figures in the next and extreme band, to the side of the two paintings: the embracing Zephyrs on the left and Clori (Daphne or Persephone) fleeing from Zephyrus (Pluto) on the right, with opposite actions. This figure, known as the Spring, is most likely there to represent Nature: it is the only one characterised by its gait towards the observer and seems to generate almost a centrifugal movement, towards the centre.
The only entity that can advance without conditioning, only by origin-induced motion, is Nature. And the figure contained in the fifth band is intended to represent Perfect Nature and its magical component. It is placed between the external passions which are opposed to each other, represented by the Zephyrs; and the divine, towards the inside (represented by Venus and Mars, love and war, polemos), up to the centre of everything and constitutes its intermediary.
The corresponding planet, evocative of supremacy over other deities, is Jupiter.
In an interpretation that is perhaps too cumbersome, if not mechanistic, regarding the elaboration of the paintings in relation to each other, the legs that are missing in the circle of Nature (Spring) are present through those of Venus, love. And there is no need to dwell on the symbolic and sacred significance of the feet.
The sixth circle is the one that intercepts the Zephyrs: on the left in Birth of Venus, Zephyrus and Aura (the complementary principles), on the right in Spring, Zephyrus (or Pluto) and Chloris (or Proserpine-Persephone).
The thrust of the Zephyrs, placed on the extreme sides of the composition, with their opposing actions of embrace and flight, compresses towards the centre of the composition. The sense of opposites is evident: the Zephyr in La Primavera conducts a carnal, violent action, suffered by the female figure; the Zephyrs of Venus on the water are embraced, their breath is simultaneous and united, in harmony; they are hovering in the air as if in an ecstatic moment.
The planet corresponding (also symbolically to the value of opposites as life-death) is Saturn, of the seven planets (the moon was already understood as a satellite) previously the one considered at the time (Uranus and Neptune being unknown) to be furthest from the centre, from the Sun.
The seventh circle goes beyond the Zephyrs, whose wings and feet it intercepts, it is beyond the sky of the planets, to represent the dimension of the intellect, that evoked by the sky of the fixed Stars, the place of knowledge and the light of God.
The sequence of planets, has a regular progressive arrangement, however that centre, represented by Athena-Minerva, seems to be and could be understood as the centre of “balance” to which human action must tend.
On the influence of the planets, manifested through Marsilio Ficino’s writings on astrology, where he expressed an attitude of detachment and at the same time of attraction towards that subject, it is sufficient for me to report the letter Ficino wrote to the “Magnanimous Lorenzo de’ Medici”:
<Be very careful, Lorenzo, today and tomorrow, because Mars in Capricorn, your Ascendant sign, forms a square to Saturn today and a square to the Sun tomorrow. On the other hand, the quadrature of the Sun to Saturn, ruler of your Ascendant, has not yet been dissolved. For this reason I too must watch myself (…) I hope however, and it is not a vain hope, that the lord of the stars and of men, who has saved you so far from the threats of the stars, and often miraculously also from the cruel hands of men, will save you in the same way, in his clemency, in the future too>.
26 Settembre 1480
Joining Ficino’s hope for clemency from the “Lord of stars and men” there is one thing that gives me a good feeling: it is the hypothesis that even before Copernicus and other theorists of the 16th century, even in the previous one, in Tuscany, in the Florence of the Renaissance, albeit after and as a result of the insights contained in the hermetic philosophy of ancient Egypt, Marsilo Ficino, Pico della Mirandola and others, had shared with such philosophy that it is the sun at the centre of our universe; with all cautions for the consequences of such a “then abstruse”, but above all “heretical” theory. But I am even excited by the possibility that this hermetic and revolutionary revelation was contained in Sandro Botticelli’s so-called ‘mythological paintings’.
The fact that this philosophy, known thanks to Cosimo de’Medici (who found the ancient texts through his envoy Leonardo da Pistoia and translated them by Marsilio Ficino), was decisive for the heliocentric theory is confirmed by the fact that Copernicus, in his book De revolutionibus orbium coelestium published in 1543, the year of his death, cites Hermes Trismegistus in support of the heliocentric hypothesis. Ficino translated the Curpus Hermeticum attributed to Hermes Trismegistus for Cosimo de’ Medici between 1460 and 1463. Exactly 80 years before the publication of Copernicus and 60 years before that publication, Sandro Botticelli, for the Medici, executed the works of extraordinary beauty and symbolism that today are described as ‘simply’ mythological.
But for those who are nonetheless reluctant to this hypothesis, never before have the words of Yates resounded as appropriately as at this moment (which I feel, but perhaps it is just a feeling of mine, is in tune with those of Pope Francis and other authoritative figures who respect the sacredness of Nature and Creation): <And yet it is precisely in that movement, summarily defined as “Renaissance Neo-Platonism”, whose parabola runs from the Middle Ages to the 17th century, that one should find the sources of that new attitude of man towards the cosmos so rich in such significant consequences>.
There is still, beyond and together with science and technology, so much to elaborate and give!
Leon Battista Alberti, Sole con fanciullo
Firenze, San Maria Novella, 1460 circa