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The School of Athens
Who is who on the fresco?
Why did Raphael paint the School of Athens?
The mystery surrounding the Fresco
Fresco School of Athens

Raphael Sanzio
The School of Athens
Scuola di Atene ("Philosophy")

1509-1511

Fresco, 200 x 300 inches
Location: Stanza della Segnatura (Signature Room), Apostolic Palace, Vatican City

Self Portrait of Raphael Santi

Self-portrait
of Raphael
Enlarged detail
of
the "School of Athens"

Plato and Aristotle
Plato and
Aristotle
Enlarged detail of the
"School of Athens"
Pythagoras
Pythagoras and Musical Proportion
Enlarged detail of the
"School of Athens"
Bramante
Bramante as
Euclid or Archimedes

Enlarged detail of the
"School of Athens"
 

Who painted the "School of Athens"? The School of Athens (Italian: Scuola di Atene) is one of the most famous frescoes by the Italian Renaissance artist Raphael. It was painted between 1509 and 1511 as a part of Raphael's commission to decorate the rooms now known as the Stanze di Raffaello, in the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican. The Stanza della Segnatura was the first of the rooms to be decorated, and The School of Athens, representing Philosophy, was probably the second painting to be finished there, after La Disputa (Theology) on the opposite wall, and the Parnassus (Literature). The picture has long been seen as "Raphael's masterpiece and the perfect embodiment of the classical spirit of the Renaissance". [Wikipedia]

The fresco "School of Athens" itself includes 21 distinct figures set against a backdrop of a school. The figures are engaged in conversation, work or games. All of the figures are male and are believed to represent all significant Greek philosophers. The fresco also includes images of statues within the school displayed within the school. One statue is Apollo, the Greek god of light, archery and music, holding a lyre. The other statue is Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom, shown in her Roman form as Minerva. The building itself is shown in a cross-shape with the figures in the foreground and the interior receding behind them. The figures are scattered across steps and walkways within the school and the fresco is framed with an arch decorated with arabesque swastikas. The fresco measures 200 inches by 300 inches with a tondo above depicting a female figure with a putti stating “Seek Knowledge of Causes.”

 
 

Who is who on the fresco "The School of Athens"Who is who

1 - Leonardo da Vinci in the image of Plato and Aristotle
2 - Pythagoras
3 - Diogenes of Sinope

4 - Michelangelo in the image of Heraclitus
5 - Apelles (Self-portrait of Raphael)
6 - Epicurus possibly
7 - Alcibiades or Alexander the Great (?)
8 - Socrates
9 - Bramante as Euclid or Archimedes with students

 

The fresco "The School of Athens" does not depict a real group of Athenians -here are not only the Athenians (for example, the philosophers Parmenides and his disciple Zeno were not citizens of Athens) and not only contemporaries, but also thinkers who lived in other times and in other countries ( for example, Persian philosopher-mystic Zoroaster, who lived several centuries before Plato, or a Muslim translator and commentator, who lived many centuries later Aristotle Averroes). Thus, the "School of Athens" is the perfect community of thinkers of the classical era, the community of teachers and students. However, portraying these famous people of the past, Rafael gives them the features of his prominent contemporaries. In total, the mural features over 50 pieces (many of them can not be defined, what about some no single point of view).

- With a beard in brown toga - Speusippus, philosopher, Plato's nephew
- In a blue toga - Meneksen, philosopher, student of Socrates
- In a white toga - Xenocrates the philosopher, Plato's student
- Yellowish-green - the philosopher Socrates
- Within the bluish - probably Alexander the Great, Aristotle's pupil
- In a dark hat, a low - Xenophon, the philosopher, Socrates' pupil
- In the helmet - Alcibiades, commander and politician, Socrates' pupil
- With outstretched hand - Eskhin, philosopher, student of Socrates
- In pink - Critias, philosopher, orator, writer, Plato's uncle
- With naked torso - Diagoras of Melos, poet, nicknamed "Atheist"
- Close to the Amur - philosopher Zeno, Parmenides student
- Following the Zeno - Navsifan, a philosopher, a follower of Democritus, Epicurus, the teacher
- In a wreath - the philosopher Democritus (in another version - Epicurus)
- The boy behind him - Diogenes Laertius, historian of philosophy
- In a white turban - Averroes, Arab philosopher
- Bald, yellowish dress in the foreground - Anaximander, the philosopher, a student of Thales
- In white, with a book - Pythagoras, a philosopher and mathematician
- With long hair - Anaxagoras, the philosopher, mathematician and astronomer
- Standing in the white - Hypatia, a female mathematician, astronomer and philosopher
- Stands and holding a book - the philosopher Parmenides
- Sits leaning on a cube - the philosopher Heraclitus
- Lying on the steps - the philosopher Diogenes
- Sit on your lap and are bent - pupils of Euclid
- With pair of compasses - Euclid, a mathematician (in another version - Archimedes)
- Dressed in white with a celestial globe - Zoroaster, astronomer and philosopher, mystic
- Back to the viewer, with a globe - Ptolemy, astronomer and geographer
- In white beret - Ile Sodom, artist, friend Rafael (in another version - Perugino, Raphael's teacher)
- In a dark beret - Rafael
- In a dark toga - philosopher Arcesilaus (in another version - Plotinus)
- Resting his hand on the wall - the philosopher Pyrrho
- On one leg - ?
- In blue and pink, goes down - Aristippus, a philosopher, a friend of Socrates
- Ascends the steps - the philosopher Epicurus
- Back to us in the pink - ?
- With a beard in yellowish coat - Theophrastus, a philosopher and scientist, student of Plato and Aristotle
- It is close to Theophrastus - Eudemus, a philosopher, a student of Aristotle

 
  Who is who on the fresco
The School of Athens
Who is who on the fresco?

They look to tired critics like mere busts
In galleries, but wittingly collected,
By bold anachronism resurrected,
This flesh so warm a skeptic almost trusts
The felt, unliteral fidelity
That framed them under sky and vaulting roof:
The red-cloaked Heracleitus still aloof,
Parmenides still pondering "to be,"
Young Aristotle marking out this world,
Old Plato pointing upward to the forms.
Behind them rise dear clouds, heartbreaking storms,
Lightning that Zeus and gray Jehovah hurled,
And from a corner, winkingly alive,
The face of Raphael at twenty five.

Anthony Lombardy

 
 

Why did Raphael paint the School of Athens?

In 1510 and 1511, Rafael painted the School of Athens in order to depict philosophy as one of the four branches of knowledge in a series of frescoes on the walls of the Apostolic Palace in Vatican City. Pope Julius II commissioned the paintings, but it is not known whether he gave Rafael any specific instructions concerning the themes of the frescoes.

The rooms holding the paintings are known as the Stanze di Rafaello. The four branches of knowledge represented in the frescoes are poetry, law, philosophy and theology. Considered by many art historians to be Rafael's masterpiece, the School of Athens has 21 artists and philosophers in a large court with receding vaults. Above them are statues of the mythological Greek gods Apollo, the god of light and music, and Athena, the goddess of wisdom.

Central in the painting are Plato, as a gray-haired old man, and Aristotle, a younger man who is obviously Plato's student. Other philosophers are less identifiable because no historical images of them exist. Figures whose identities historians are fairly certain include Socrates, Euclid, Ptolemy, Pythagoras and Zoroaster. Though these philosophers lived at different times, Rafael assembled them to encompass his overall theme of philosophical knowledge. Rafael also painted himself into the picture as one of the 21 philosophers.

 
 

The mystery surrounding the Raphael's Fresco "The School of Athens"
Comparisons of Raphael's preliminary compositional sketches with his final working drawings, detailed physical examinations of the fresco itself, including those made during the restoration of the masterpiece unveiled in 1996, and various historical documents and letters, some of which, though no longer extant, are quoted or paraphrased in contemporaneous documents, all reveal that significant changes from the artist's original conception of his masterpiece occurred prior to completion of the fresco, in 1510, and after completion of the fresco, by a radical alteration which may not have been at the artist's own hand, in 1511. These changes point to mysterious tales of papal scandal, political intrigue, and mob violence stretching back to the fifth century C.E.

 

Upon Raphael's submission of his preliminary compositional sketches of the fresco to the church fathers, the Bishop is alleged to have inquired as to the identity of a woman depicted standing at the bottom (front) and center of a sketch, in the foreground, between the figures of Parmenides and Diogenes, “Who is this woman in the middle?”


“Hypatia of Alexandria, the most famous student of the School of Athens,” replied the artist. “She was a professor of philosophy, mathematics and astronomy at the University of Alexandria and certainly one of the greatest thinkers ever.”

“Remove her. Knowledge of her runs counter to the belief of the faithful! Otherwise, the work is acceptable,” cautioned the Vatican's high priest.

The Bishop's words struck at the heart of Raphael's original artistic conception. It had been the artist's intention to depict Hypatia standing alone in the center foreground, located, spatially, between the viewers of the fresco and the central figures of Plato and Aristotle, as homage to her unique role, temporally, as guardian and transmitter of their ancient wisdom and inquiring spirit to their intellectual heirs in future eras.

 
 

Yielding to the power of the purse strings, Raphael's initial reaction was simply to omit the figure from his final working drawing, but he then proceeded instead to disguise his original intention as an intimate gesture to his holy patron. In an area which had been vacant in the preliminary compositional sketch, directly behind and between the images of Pythagoras and Parmenides, the artist's final working drawing, the “cartoon” (detail), bears the image of Hypatia, her dark skin recast to a very pale white and her facial features altered to resemble those of the “beloved” nephew of the Pope. Raphael thereby restored Hypatia to a rightful place in his masterpiece among her intellectual peers.

While the figure of Hypatia was displaced and disguised, her posture and demeanor were preserved. Unlike almost all of the other characters in the fresco, Hypatia is depicted, not engaged in philosophic inquiry with her peers, but instead directing her gaze out of the painting, towards the viewer standing in front of the fresco. The only other figures so depicted are those of the historian, Diogenes of Laertius, and the artist himself. Raphael thereby symbolizes the roles of the chronicler, the curator, and the artist in projecting, into the future, the intellectual and spiritual thrust of the School of Athens. (Also, whereas the figure of Hypatia was displaced, the figure of Heraclitus is the only major figure in the entire work that was totally absent from Raphael's final working drawing, the “cartoon”, of all the figures in the fresco. In fact, subsequent examination of the fresco confirms that the figure of Heraclitus was painted in on an area of fresh plaster put on after the adjacent figures were completed. This block-like figure plugged up the visual hole, the expanse of marble steps and flooring in front of Plato and Aristotle, left unoccupied by Hypatia's displacement.)

Thus, the effeminate, white-robed figure in Scuola di Atene serves here to represent the first significant female philosopher, and the last philosopher, of the ancient age. The pale complexion and juvenile visage of Pope Julius II's beloved nephew was apparently sufficient distraction to have prevented the Pope's recognition of Raphael's representation of Hypatia of Alexandria, an official enemy of the Church, whose martyrdom at the hands of Nitrian monks had signaled the death of the classical world.
The New Banner Institute, Inc.

 
Stanza della Segnatura

One of the Raphael's Room in Apostolic Palace
Stanza della Segnatura (Room of the Signatura)

The room is named after the highest court of the Holy See, the “Segnatura Gratiae et Iustitiae”, presided over by the Pope and used for meetings. The celebration of knowledge in the frescoes (theology, philosophy, poetry and jurisprudence), made me think that the hall was originally designed to accommodate the study and the library of the Pope. In main scenes Raphael refused to make a simple portrait gallery. They had done so for example in the Collegio del Cambio Perugino or Pinturicchio in the Borgia. Instead he tried to involve the characters in action, characterizing them with movements and expressions. This is particularly evident since the first fresco, the Dispute. Themes typical of the Renaissance, as the correlation between ancient wisdom and modern, pagan and Christian, poetry as a source of revelation and knowledge, justice as the culmination of the ethical virtues, are thus to be represented completely natural and direct . Instead of hermetic representations of its predecessors Raphael created scenes that appeared concrete and eloquent.

 
 
 

Copies of the frescoes School of Athens
The Victoria and Albert Museum has a rectangular version over 4 metres by 8 metres in size, painted on canvas, dated 1755 by Anton Raphael Mengs on display in the eastern Cast Court.
Modern reproductions of the fresco abound. For example, a full-size one can be seen in the auditorium of Old Cabell Hall at the University of Virginia. Produced in 1900 by George W. Breck to replace an older reproduction that was destroyed in a fire in 1895, it is four inches off scale from the original, because the Vatican would not allow identical reproductions of its art works.
Other reproductions include: by Neide, in Königsberg Cathedral, Kaliningrad, in the University of North Carolina at Asheville's Highsmith University Student Union, and a recent one in the seminar room at Baylor University's Brooks College. A copy of Raphael's School of Athens was painted on the wall of the ceremonial stairwell that leads to the famous, main-floor reading room of the Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève in Paris.

 
 
References
  - History of Art: The Western Tradition by Horst Woldemar Janson, Anthony F. Janson
-
Giorgio Vasari, "Raphael of Urbino", in Lives of the Artists, vol. I
-
M. Smolizza, ‘’Rafael y el Amor. La Escuela de Atenas como protréptico a la filosofia’’, in ‘Idea y Sentimiento. Itinerarios por el dibujo de Rafael a Cézanne’, Barcelona, 2007.
- Brown, Clare & Evans, Mark. Raphael: Cartoons and Tapestries for the Sistine Chapel. V & A Publishing 2010
-
Chapman, Hugo, et al. Raphael: From Urbino to Rome. National Gallery Company Ltd, 2008
-
De Vecchi, Pier Luigi. Raphael. Abbeville Press Inc. , 2003
-
Jones, R. Raphael. Yale University Press, 1987
-
Talvacchia, Bette. Raphael. Phaidon Press Ltd, 2007
-
Whistler, Catherine. Michelangelo and Raphael Drawings. Ashmolean Museum, 1990
- Hypatia at Encyclopædia Britannica.
- Gardner Hale, The Technique of Fresco Painting, New York, Dover, 1966 (Dover reprint of: Gardner Hale, Fresco Painting, William Edwin Rudge, New York, 1933).
- Arnold Nesselrath, Raphael’s School of Athens (Recent Restorations of the Vatican Museums, Vol. 1), Vatican City State, 1997.
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