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social sciences

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Ficino, Marsilio (1433-1499)  
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Ficino encouraged his followers at the Platonic Academy to write love letters stressing the union of souls who have lost themselves in each other. Ficino's voluminous correspondence, which was published in 1495, contains many examples of such letters, including some to Giovanni Cavalcanti.

Cavalcanti (1444-1509), a handsome Florentine nobleman, lived for many years with Ficino at his villa and was an important member of the Platonic Academy. During a brief separation in 1473-1474 Ficino wrote letters to "Giovanni amico mio perfettisimo" ("Giovanni my most perfect friend") in which he declared his love and compared their union to those of illustrious male companions of classical times.

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After a productive and rewarding scholarly life, Ficino died on October 1, 1499.

Ficino's formulation of platonic love exercised an important influence on artists in his own time and beyond, including Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci. His influence can also be seen in the in Michelangelo's and Shakespeare's sonnets as well as in the works of Edmund Spenser, Pierre Ronsard, and Maurice Scève.

With time Ficino's concept of platonic love, clearly a relationship between men, was first heterosexualized and subsequently desexualized entirely and came to mean a non-physical love, a notion that distorts Ficino's philosophy.

Ficino's life and most important relationships were certainly . Today he would most probably be considered a gay man, but the contemporary categories of sexual orientation to which people are assigned did not exist in his time.

Giovanni Dall'Orto writes that Ficino "camouflaged his homosexual preferences" behind the misogynist tenor of his age. It may also be that the emphasis on spirituality in his philosophy is itself a camouflage for the defense of same-sex love that is at the heart of his thought.

Some commentators have, quite improbably, denied the homosexual implications of Ficino's philosophy. Paul Oskar Kristeller, for example, rejected Ficino's "homosexualism," relegated the eroticism of his letters to a "conscious . . . and technical expression of intellectual communion," and dismissed his declarations of affinity with Cavalcanti as a mere "analogy of friendships among ancient philosophers." This misreading may well have been deliberate. It certainly flies in the face of Ficino's letters and philosophical writings celebrating the gift of sensuality and its connection to the divine.

Linda Rapp

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literature >> Overview:  English Literature: Renaissance

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The dominant style of painting, sculpture, and architecture in Europe from around 1520 to about 1600, Mannerism has proven to be a great favorite of glbtq audiences, who developed a camp appreciation for its frequent excesses.

arts >> Overview:  European Art: Renaissance

The various cultural patterns, especially the conditions of artistic production and the types of subjects and themes represented, provide a great deal of evidence about Renaissance sexuality and art.

literature >> Overview:  French Literature: Before the Nineteenth Century

While evidence from earlier centuries is sparse, from the sixteenth century onward there were several French writers who treated male and female homosexuality.

arts >> Botticelli, Sandro

Renowned for his linear finesse and richly colored, meticulous paintings, Florentine artist Sandro Botticelli produced profound religious works, astute portraits, and poetic adaptations of classical mythology, all of which encourage a suggestively queer response.

social sciences >> Bruno, Giordano

Burned at the stake by the Roman Catholic Church, Italian philosopher Giordano Bruno has been seen as a martyr to religious intolerance; only recently has he also been recognized as a queer hero.

arts >> Leonardo da Vinci

One of the greatest painters in the history of art and an outstanding empirical scientist, Leonardo was haunted by his illegitimacy and rumors of homosexuality.

literature >> Michelangelo Buonarroti

Best known for his genius in art and architecture, Michelangelo was also an accomplished author of homoerotic poetry.

arts >> Michelangelo Buonarroti

The most famous artist who ever lived, Michelangelo left an enormous legacy in sculpture, painting, drawing, architecture, and poetry; while the artist's sexual behavior cannot be documented, the homoerotic character of his drawings, letters, and poetry is unmistakable.

literature >> Plato

Among Greek writers on homosexual themes, Plato is preeminent not only as a major philosopher but also as the greatest master of Greek prose.

literature >> Poliziano

The fifteenth-century Italian scholar and poet Poliziano wrote many homoerotic Greek and Latin epigrams, published when he was seventeen.

literature >> Rocco, Antonio

Italian rhetorician and philosopher Antonio Rocco is author of an early classic of pederastic literature, L'Alcibiade fanciullo a scola (Alcibiades the schoolboy), which was written in 1630 and published anonymously in 1652.

literature >> Shakespeare, William

As one of the key figures that western civilization has used to define itself, William Shakespeare stands in a complicated, fiercely contested relationship to homosexuality.


Boyle, Marjorie O'Rourke. "Gracious Laughter: Marsilio Ficino's Anthropology." Renaissance Quarterly 52 (Autumn 1999): 712-41.

Dall'Orto, Giovanni. "Ficino, Marsilio." Who's Who in Gay & Lesbian History from Antiquity to World War I. Robert Aldrich and Garry Wotherspoon, eds. London: Routledge, 2001. 159-61.

Kristeller, Paul Oskar. The Philosophy of Marsilio Ficino. Virginia Conant, trans. Gloucester, Mass.: Peter Smith, 1964.

Maggi, Armando. "Renaissance Neoplatonism." Gay Histories and Cultures. George E. Haggerty, ed. New York: Garland, 2000. 741-42.

Norton, Rictor, ed. "Platonic Love." My Dear Boy: Gay Love Letters through the Centuries. San Francisco: Leyland Publications, 1998. 46-48.

Rees, Valery. "Marsilio Ficino, Renaissance Man." History Today 49 (July 1999): 45-52.

Robb, Nesca A. Neoplatonism of the Italian Renaissance. New York: Octagon Books, 1968.


    Citation Information
    Author: Rapp, Linda  
    Entry Title: Ficino, Marsilio  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2004  
    Date Last Updated February 24, 2010  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2004, glbtq, inc.  


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