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Renaissance Top 48: School of Athens

Identification

Raphael, Philosophy (School of Athens), Stanza della Segnatura, Vatician Palace, Rome, Italy, 1509-1511. 

Context

The painting was created to be one of four walls in the Stanza della Segnutra; them being Theology (Disputa), Law (Justice), Poetry (Parnassus), Philosophy (School of Athens).  Together they summed up the Western tradition of learning, especially during the Renaissance.  The time of the painting was under the reign of Pope Julius II, also known as the Warrior Pope.  He had commissioned Michelangelo to work on the Sistine Chapel while Raphael was commissioned to create the Philosophy wall.  This was a time of great tension as Julius was constantly sending the Papal states into highly questionable conquests.  There was also much competition for artists to be commissioned.  We see that Raphael used some atmospheric and linear perspective, the latter dissolving into Plato's hand.  

Content

The Philosophy wall in the Stanza della Segnatura represents one of the greatest false congregations ever concvieved.  Michelangelo depicts history's greatest thinkers, regardless of historical era, all under one hall as they debate and teach their ideas and concepts.  With Roman arches and coffers in the painting, there are also statues of Apollo and Athena and stories of great proportion illustratedon the walls.  In the center are Plato and Aristotle, each holding their resective great piece of literature; Plato with Timaeus and Aristotle's Nichomachaean Ethics.  As Plato points upwards to the Heavens, all the thinkers to his side are trailblazers of religion and religous leaders.  As Aristotle points towards the ground line, all of the thinkers on his side are all philosophers of physical boundaries such as physics and personal ethics.       

Image

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Form

This painting is a fresco at approximately 19' x 27'.  The colors are very creative in that they are bright and encouraging rather than darker and more serious tones.  It could be interpreted that the docile colors show that there is no competition, merely thinkers all observing each other in admiration.  

 

Function

The School of Athens serves not only as a beautiful fresco to cover a wall in the Pope's study hall, but to signify to thoughts of the pope.  Through the painting and illustration of the four walls, Pope Julius II was able to show off how "intellectual" he was to visitors of his study.  The four frescos refer to the four branches of human knowledge and acknowledge the Pope all the higher.