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Post-Platonism: Rethinking the Relations of Art, Love and Desire, 1500–1767

Speaker: James Grantham Turner (James D. Hart Professor, University of California, Berkeley)
Date: Tuesday 14 March 2017
Venue: Kathleen Fitzpatrick Lecture Theatre - B101, Arts West Building 148, Basement Level, West Wing, The University of Melbourne, Parkville

Download the lecture handout


This lecture explores the 'erotic revolution' that swept through aesthetic theory and artistic practice in the sixteenth century. Early modern 'sex-positive' polemic denounced the false shame that devalues physical, sexual love, and targeted neo-Platonism, with its fierce rejection of corporeal sexuality and bodily sensation. The lecture traces the evolution of interpretations of Platonic Eros, expressed through important semantic changes in words like 'lascivious' and 'libido', suddenly used in a positive sense during this period. Platonic anticorporeality was absolutely rejected; but elements of the Platonic image of a graduated ascent, rising up on a ladder by a series of 'steps' to attain the highest form of Love, were retained, and even amplified.

James Grantham Turner holds the James D. Hart Chair in English at The University of California, Berkeley. His books include The Politics of Landscape: Rural Scenery and Society in English Poetry, l630–l660 (Harvard 1979), One Flesh: Paradisal Marriage and Sexual Relations in the Age of Milton (Oxford 1987), Libertines and Radicals in Early Modern London: Sexuality, Politics and Literary Culture, 1630–1685 (Cambridge 2001), Schooling Sex: Libertine Literature and Erotic Education in Italy, France, and England, 1534–1685 (Oxford 2003) and Eros Visible: Art, Sexuality and Antiquity in Renaissance Italy (about to appear with Yale).

This lecture is part of the SHAPS 2017 'Love' Public Lecture Series. It is also affiliated with the National Gallery Victoria, The University of Melbourne and ARC Centre for the History of Emotions collaborative exhibition, Love: Art of Emotion 1400–1800

Image: Turner on ladder in the Tribuna of the Uffizi, Florence. Photographer Martha Pollak