ArtOdysseys: Raphael’s ‘School of Athens’ in the Vatican Museum
Ever since Art History classes when my love affair with Renaissance was born, I have been captivated by Raphael’s frescoes in the Vatican Museum. Decorating the walls of the Stanze di Raphaello or Raphael Rooms, specifically the Stanza della Segnatura, the “School of Athens” depicts a grand gathering of the most brilliant minds of ancient history—some personified by the leading artists of the Renaissance including Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo.
Completed in 1511, 500 years ago, Raphael’s “School of Athens,” measuring in at a colossal 25' wide and 17' tall, hangs in what was intended to become a suite of apartments for Pope Julius II. Raphael, 25 when he arrived in Rome, was commissioned by the Pope to begin decorating the suite beginning with the Stanza della Segnatura. Actually the second of the frescoes to be completed after “La Disputa” on the opposing wall, the “School of Athens” depicts the school of philosophy and the love of higher learning. While many of the figures’ identities cannot be positively identified because Raphael never produced a legend for his painting, scholars have speculated based on their physical resemblance, save the few personified by the Renaissance masters; and the poses in which Raphael cast his leading men. However, we are certain about a select few including the painting’s central figures and even Raphael himself.
|Plato and Aristotle, our leading men form the central focal point in Raphael's "School of Athens." Photo property of EuroTravelogue™. Unauthorized use is prohibited.
To the left, we find the founder of western philosophy Socrates. Modeled after the famous marble bust of the first century, Socrates is seen here in his long green robe and gesturing toward Xenophon and other fellow philosophers.
|Socrates pictured here in the green robe is modeled after the famous bust dating back to the first century. Photo: WikiMedia.org.
|Francesco Maria Della Rovere is pictured here in white flowing robes. Some scholars believe this figure represents the manifestation for the 'love of higher learning.' In front of Francesco, is Pythagoras teaching from his book. Photo: WikiMedia.org.
Toward the center and at the same level, we find Heraclitus, the “weeping philosopher.” Aptly named because of his lonely life and his contempt for humankind, [Reminds me of Scrooge] Heraclitus is personified by none other than Michelangelo. Originally, Heraclitus was not included in Raphael’s chalk cartoon but added later in tribute to the great Michelangelo after having seen his work on the Sistine Chapel.
|Heraclitus, the “weeping philosopher”; so called because of the lonely life he led and his contempt for humankind, is personified by none other than Michelangelo. Photo: WikiMedia Commons.
|Euclid, pictured here, takes on the physical characteristics of Bramante, Pope Julius II's master architect overseeing the completion of Saint Peter's Basilica. Photo: Property of EuroTravelogue™. Unauthorized use is prohibited.
|Raphael peers directly out to his audience in the "School of Athens" fresco inside the Vatican Museum. Photo property of EuroTravelogue™. Unauthorized use is prohibited.
I hope you enjoyed this introduction to Raphael’s “School of Athens” at the Vatican Museum in Rome! If you want to see and find out more about this masterpiece and the rest of these scholarly gents, visit the Vatican Museum for an amazing virtual tour through the Stanza della Segnatura and the rest of the Raphael Rooms.