Art Plus – The School of Athens – A painting by Raphael (Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino)

© Raphael (Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino), The School of Athens (1509 – 1511)

Splendorous Fresco

Splendorous fresco
The School of Athens’ voice speaks
Raphael’s masterpiece

The School of Athens (1509 – 1511), Raphael (Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino)

About the Painting

This fresco, painted by Raphael is one of four found in the Stanza della Segnatura, in the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican. Each painting depicts separately: philosophy, poetry, theology and law.

The title refers to philosophers from the classical world rather than any particular school of philosophy.

The individual gestures of the philosophers depicted in the fresco have been subject to considerable academic interpretation and debate, however it is not clear how much of their philosophy Raphael would have been familiar with.

That which is important, for the viewer, is the way in which Raphael has gathered all the most famous of the classical philosophers within a marvellous Renaissance architecturally designed building.

Many of the philosophers are recognizable through their iconography, which would have been widely understood at the time and are drawn from busts recovered from archaeological excavations.

Present within the fresco are Plato (said to be a portrait of Leonardo painted in homage) and Aristotle in the centre carrying their well-known works Timeus and Ethics respectively.

Also identifiable are Pythagoras in the foreground, Euclid on the right, Zoroaster holding the heavenly sphere, Ptolemy holding the earthly sphere, and Diogenes on the stairs holding a dish.

The scholar leaning over Pythagoras is said to be that of the Arab philosopher Averroes who is credited with bringing the philosophies of Plato and Aristotle to the West.

Legend has it that Raphael poked an artistic dig at his great rival Michelangelo by painting his portrait as the face of the Philosopher Heraclitus, leaning against a block of marble.

Heraclitus is often called the weeping philosopher due to the sad nature of his philosophical doctrine and appears to echo Michelangelo’s said personality.

Also included in the painting is a self-portrait of Raphael wearing a black beret in the right corner of the fresco standing next to fellow-artist and friend Il Sodoma who was one of the artists whose work Raphael was ordered to paint over.

The work utilizes many techniques of the Renaissance artists, including the way it invites viewers to enter the space in an almost theatrical manner; as, if one is fully engulfed in the scene.

The perspective leads one into the throng of its occupants as if one, too, were engaged in the debate or contemplation.

The light from the window in the background of the piece fills the scene, enhancing its three-dimensional solidity. The high vaulted ceiling with a view of the sky gives the feeling that we are entering into the realm of super human thought and activity and increases the sense of awe of being in the company of people so instrumental in shaping our understanding of the world.

The colour palette which Raphael used is muted. It reflects the artist’s great skill in his use of colour. This allowed avoiding any one point of focus. Instead, one views the whole composition as being one complete world, which exists in a plane of time beyond that which one calls ones own.

The narrative aspects of each of the four frescos are perfectly arranged to engage in dialogue with each other and conducive to the intended use of the room as a library.

The School of Athens received both critical and popular attention immediately upon completion and was instrumental in elevating Raphael’s public acclaim.

This vindicated Pope Julius II’s decision to award him the commission, and also laid the foundation for his trust in Raphael in conferring on him the artistic responsibilities that followed.

Poem Attribution Goff James, Splendorous Fresco

More senryū poems by Goff James

Painting Attribution © Raphael (Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino), The School of Athens (1509 – 1511)

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