The School of Athens by Raphael

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The School of Athens by Raphael

Painting NameThe School of Athens
Painter NameRaphael
Completion Date1510
Place of CreationVatican City
Size500 cm × 770 cm (200 in × 300 in)
Current LocationApostolic Palace Vatican City

Athens is the largest city in Greece and has been respected as one of the important cities in the Greek history. It was epicenter of arts and philosophy in Greece and thus many big minds had gathered in the city time to time.

Big philosophers like Plato and his student Aristotle were active in the city in their times. Athens has been the pivotal point in the Greek history and has seen the presence of the greatest minds of the country.

Here, Raphael has smartly included all the big figures from the Greek history in a “school” which could represent the Greece’s history, Greece or the city of Athens where these great minds came across at least for once in their lifetime.

Convergence of Great minds

Raphael has used this painting not only as the gathering place for the great minds from ancient history but also the great minds of his contemporary times. The ancient figures like Plato, Aristotle, Euclid, etc. are represented in form of Raphael’s contemporary artists like Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, etc. who were considered great in their own times. For instance, the central figures in the fresco are Plato (on the left) and his student Aristotle (on the right) are embodied as Leonardo and Giuliano da Sangallo respectively. In this manner, great minds from history as well as from his contemporary times are all converged in this single painting.

Who is who?

There more than 50 people painted in this painting. Here is our special analysis of the painting which specifies who is who in the painting.

What everyone is doing? The school of Athens Analysis

In the painting, the central figures Plato and Aristotle are emphasized as they are one of the greatest figures in history. Aristotle was Plato’s pupil. They seem to be in the middle of some conversation as Plato is pointing towards upwards while Aristotle’s right hand is faced downwards. Some philosopher suggests that such hand-gestures indicate towards their popular philosophies, Plato’s Theory of Forms and Aristotle’s Empiristic views.

Diogenes of Sinope is sitting near the legs of Aristotle was a Greek philosopher who is said to have some conflicts with Alexander the Great due to his careless nature. He is sitting in the very same manner of carelessness reading something. His name Diogenes refers to doggish behavior.

Heraclitus, another philosopher, on the left of Diogenes is sitting beside a table writing something. On his left is standing Parmenides, another Greek philosopher, showing something from his book (maybe The way of truth) to Pythagoras, known Greek mathematician, sitting on left and writing something in his book. One of his pupils is holding a small black board in front of him. Behind Pythagoras is probably Boethius or Anaximander or Empedocles who is taking note from Pythagoras’ writings. Above Pythagoras with a small mustache is Averroes, Muslim polymath who is looking at the blackboard held by the unknown figure in front of Pythagoras.

A little face right above the figure taking notes is speculated as Raphael himself or Federico II of Mantua, the duke. Above him is a figure standing with blue cloths and a garland on his head is philosopher Epicurus, busy writing something in a book. On the left of Epicurus’s face is an old figure with long white beard is identified as Zeno of Citium.

Above the figure number 5 Parmenides, there is a group of people discussing about something. The prominent figures in the group are allegedly Alexander the Great, Antisthenes, Aeschines and Socrates.

On the far bottom-right side of the painting there is group surrounding Euclid, a known mathematician.

Above them is a group of people. Ptolemy is holding a ball which is similar to earth-globe. It is indication towards his research about stars, earths and their relations to each other. On his left is standing is either Strabo another Greek philosopher and geographer or Zoroaster, the founder of Zoroastrianism. The figures seem to be holding the celestial sphere an imaginary globe which riches beyond earth’s surface and covers some stars and outer space around earth to some extent.

Above them is standing Plotinus in red clothes. He was a philosopher from ancient world. He seems to be looking at the walking down Plato and Aristotle.

Painting holds a god and goddess painted as sculptures. On the walls, over left side is the sun god Apollo who holds a lyre in his hand, which is symbol of music. He is also the leader of the nine heavenly muses. One of the muses is called Terpsichore. She is goddess of dance and music and her emblem is a lyre, which Apollo is holding in his hands.

Goddess depicted on the right side is Athena. She is patroness of the city of Athens. The very same city this painting’s title suggests. Athena is goddess of wisdom and war. Though, Raphael has depicted goddess’ Roman mythological version called, Minerva. She is goddess of wisdom. She is holding a staff or spear in her hand resembling to justice. In her other hand his a screaming face stuck with a shield-like sheet. Both gods allegedly represents the contemporary time’s decline in Catholic Church’s belief and rise of Classical era.

In renaissance period, there happened to be discoveries of many artistic styles the four canonical painting modes, foreshortening (used in Aristotle’s right hand in the current painting), vanishing point and Raphael also has leveraged some architectural knowledge from Bramante for the architecture in the painting. Bramante was the main architecture of the building in which the fresco is painted.

The School of Athens remains as Raphael’s greatest work in the Raphael rooms.


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