Refined Resemblances: Three Categories of Astromagical Images in Marsilio Ficino’s De vita 3.18 and Their Indebtedness to “Abominable” Books


In the third book of his De vita libri tres, the De vita coelitus comparanda published in 1489, the Florentine philosopher Marsilio Ficino explains the pictures that the ancient “astrologers and magicians” imprinted on their talismans. He distinguishes among three pictorial conventions: visual forms, imaginable forms, and characters. The passage explaining these forms serves as a prologue to chapter 18, which gives instructions for fabricating talismans and speculates on the efficacy of magical images. This article examines Ficino’s distinctions as descending from the tradition of learned image magic, concentrating on certain iconographical and theoretical questions: What – and what kinds of – pictures did Ficino mean and on what exemplars did he base his distinction of three classes?