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Neo-Platonism was a philosophical movement inaugurated by Plotinus (AD 204/5 - 270), which reinterpreted the ideas of the ancient Greek philosopher Plato. It argued that the world which we experience is only a copy of an ideal reality which lies beyond the material world. This ideal reality is comprised of three levels; the final level cannot be grasped by philosophy, and can only be reached through mystical experience.

Many of the ideas of Neo-Platonism were adopted by Christian thinkers, particularly Saint Augustine (354 - 430). In 15th-century Florence, Neo-Platonism was studied at the 'Platonic Academy' of Marsilio Ficino, and it became an important source for humanists. In writing on art, Plotinus argued that the artist in creating his work directly imitates the forms of this ideal reality, which are experienced as Beauty. 20th-century commentators have linked these ideas with Florentine art of the second half of the 15th century and especially with Botticelli.