Oscar Wilde’s Renaissance References: Neo-Platonism, Hermeticism and Mannerism
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A standard association of Wilde’s philosophy, of creating art and of living an aesthetic life, is with Hellenism. The Renaissance inspiration has received relatively little attention in the Wilde criticism. If somewhat overlooked by critics, the Renaissance underpinnings of Wilde’s attitudes and beliefs were largely viewed as providing him with a cultural code to explore and legitimise homosexuality. While fully in agreement with the view of Renaissance allusions as a cultural warrant for homosexuality, this paper aims to explore their significance in a different light. Its focus is twofold. It highlights Wilde’s allusions to the Renaissance interweaving of neo-Platonism and Hermeticism. It also stresses his invocations of the aesthetics typical of Italian Mannerists. By foregrounding these two themes, it attempts to demonstrate that, actually, Wilde’s preferences were for the art of the post- rather than of the Pre-Raphaelite period. Renaissance Hermeticism and neo-Platonism served him, as well as other Decadents, in the way they had served Italian Mannerists: by nourishing a belief that the world of artifice was founded on ideal neo-Platonic harmonies and Hermeticist correspondences. This ideal world, in turn, provided artists with a route to escape from the troubling sense of civilisational decadence.
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