Aesthetics: Ficino's quick and easy Italian humanist guide to facial proportion

I have been re-reading some of Marsilio Ficino's commentary on Plato's Symposium. Ficino was writing in 1475 at the beginning of the Italian Renaissance. He is basically continuing the Platonic thought in the tradition of Plotinus. Beauty and Love are very closely related and are almost synonymous with the morally good. It is all tied up in a cosmology that is all but unusable in a modern context. He relates art to concepts like "the Angelic mind", the "World-Soul", and the "Body of the World." Of course, all love of Beauty is ultimately love of God for Ficino. That's a little different than St. Augustine's cautious attitude toward beautiful things, but they are both so indebted to Plotinus that some passages could be interchangeable despite 1000 years separating them.

One thing for which Ficino is invaluable, however, is a practical guide for checking to see if your face is a properly proportioned Italian Renaissance face. If your like me, you've already had that moment when you missed your bus stop because you were lost in contemplation over life's perennial questions:

"If I had been born in Italy 535 years ago, would my face be the sort of face that would have inspired Michelangelo, or would I have had to settle for a Bronzino or a Vasari? Is there any way to get an astrolabe or some other medieval measuring device to figure out if my face corresponds to the Fibonacci series?"

Fortunately, Ficino has given us an easier way, and you can use it while riding the bus!

1. Three noses placed end to end will equal the length of one face.
2. The semi-circles of both ears joined together will equal the circle of the open mouth.
3. The joining of the eyebrows will also give the same result.
4. The length of the nose will match the length of the lips, and so also will that of the ears.
5. The two circles of the eyes will equal one opening of the mouth.
6. Eight heads will compass the height of the body.
7. The same distance will also be measured by the spread of the arms to the side, and likewise of the legs and feet.

Of course, when I first discovered Ficino's method, I spent some time measuring my nose to face ratio with my hands. I have found that this draws practically no attention when using public transportation. People are always touching their faces on the bus, and you will likely draw more attention to yourself without some sort of eccentric behavior.

In addition to using the system, I am also proposing that we begin using his name as a verb. We can say things like, "May I Ficino you?" to ask someone before we check if their joined eyebrows are the same length as their mouth. Shopkeepers can say, "I've just Ficinoed that customer, and we will need a bigger hat size to compensate for the semi-circles of the ears."

For now, have fun Ficinoing each other, and please send your comments about other practical uses of the system and the stories of your own Ficinoing.

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