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Spirits Of Love: Castiglione And Neo-Platonic Discourses Of Vision

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Chapter Summary

The Western tradition has long organised its understanding of human perception by positing the existence of five senses in a more or less stable hierarchy. This chapter pursues just this kind of insight based on a seemingly unpromising source ? Baldassare Castiglione?s Libro del Cortegiano. Castiglione discussed the senses, particularly vision, in ways that initially appear entirely conventional. He relied on the medieval medical tradition in explaining perception as the action of ?spirits that are most subtle vapors made of the purest and brightest part of the blood?. He also drew on Renaissance Neo-Platonism in idealising vision as the principal gateway to love. Undoubtedly, the ?spiritual? view of visual perception served, in Castiglione?s book as in other courtly-literary dialogues of the early Cinquecento, to uphold the respectability of court culture. Yet, if this was Castiglione?s goal, his book also evidences serious qualms about received notions of perception and sexuality.

Keywords: Baldassare Castiglione; Libro del Cortegiano; Renaissance Neo-Platonism; spirits of love; vision



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