Volume 2, Issue 4, 2018
Ancient Greek Philosophy: Neo-Platonic Philosophy
Porphyry’s Philosophy of Art and Religious Imagery
In the fragments of Porphyry’s On statues we find a coherent account of artistic appreciation by means of theological and metaphysical mechanisms, resolving some of the Platonic issues in Plotinus’ examination of art. He shows how divine wisdom is revealed on the level of myth and religious art, but also through philosophical contemplation. The former is through the influence of God’s powers (dynameis) by means of images akin to our perception used by the artist and grasped by the viewer. At the bottom level there comes sensation, through which imagery is conceived, but which imprints unclear (truths) by means of the sensually clear. Porphyry develops Plotinus’ analogy: we should learn to read truths about the gods from their imagery and statues as from books. We do not look at stelae as a mere matter of blocks of stone, but regard them as an expression of truth. Porphyry’s explanation of religious imagery offers us a new and modern rendition of artistic representation. The viewer uses the artist’s product in order to grasp conceptualized ideas behind the artist’s presentation, though some remain locked in a world of myth and physical representation, while others reach beyond to what art represents.