Mirroring Pythagoras’ position on the other side, Euclid is bent over demonstrating something with a compass. His young students eagerly try to grasp the lessons he’s teaching them. The Greek mathematician is known as the father of geometry, and his love of concrete theorems with exact answers demonstrates why he represents Aristotle’s side of The School of Athens. Experts believe that Euclid is a portrait of Raphael’s friend Bramante.
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The Intelligence of the Eye
If philosophy hardly looks this way to the average person today it is partly because so few of us have the leisure time to devote to its proper study and partly because what passes for philosophy today is a very specialized discipline rather than a way of life. But in the ages of great art, painters and sculptors looked up to the philosophers as grand and noble spirits and aimed to translate the reverence they felt for their way of life into artistic images. Theoretical ideas were addressed directly to the intelligence of the eye. In the seventeenth century Rembrandt was especially effective at this. His work Aristotle Contemplating the Bust of Homer and the lesser work known as Philosopher in Meditation both suggest a deep appreciation of what the life of philosophy represents.
Both Benjamin West and Jacques-Louis David painted The Death of Socrates from Plato’s Phaedo , int which Socrates drinks the hemlock while continuing to recommend the philosophical life to his grief-stricken friends. West and David are showing us that it is in the philosopher’s confrontation with death that the life given over to the pursuit of truth can be seen in its true light. For his part Joseph Wright of Derby connects philosophy to the modern scientific spirit in his work An Experiment with an Air Pump . This brilliant work reminds us that philosophy can indeed change the world, especially through the inquiries into natural phenomena that are inspired by its relentlessly inquiring spirit.
The two figures to the left of Plotinus were used as part of the cover art of both Use Your Illusion I and II albums of Guns N’ Roses.
The popular idea that the rhetorical gestures of Plato and Aristotle are kinds of pointing (to the heavens, and down to earth) is very likely. However, Plato’s Timaeus – which is the book Raphael places in his hand – was a sophisticated treatment of space, time, and change, including the Earth, which guided mathematical sciences for over a millennium. Aristotle, with his four-elements theory, held that all change on Earth was owing to motions of the heavens. In the painting Aristotle carries his Ethics, which he denied could be reduced to a mathematical science. It is not certain how much the young Raphael knew of ancient philosophy, what guidance he might have had from people such as Bramante and whether a detailed program was dictated by his sponsor, Pope Julius II.
Other contemporaries of Raphael seem to have been singled out for glorification. Standing next to Raphael on the extreme right is his friend the painter Sodoma. In fact, it was Sodoma’s own frescoes that Pope Julius ordered Raphael to destroy for his own. The model for Zoroaster is said to be the humanist scholar Pietro Bembo, possibly a source of many of Raphael’s ideas.
Sprawled in solitude on the steps before Aristotle is the Cynic philosopher Diogenes, and the brooding figure on Plato’s side is supposed to be Heraclitus (“no man can step into the same stream twice”), the pre-Socratic philosopher whose enigmatic observations fit into no clear category.
Oil on Canvas – GemГ¤ldegalerie Alte Meister, Dresden
Instead of finding home with the Cathedral at Narbonne, it was placed above Raphael’s tomb in the Pantheon, where it remained for three years before being donated to the Church of San Pietro Montorio. It was then confiscated by Napoleon in 1798 and went on public display in the Louvre, becoming the centerpiece in the Grand Galerie, which hosted 20 other paintings by Raphael. The importance of the painting while in France is demonstrated by the fact that it was included in a drawing by the artist Benjamin Zix who recorded the wedding procession of Napoleon and Marie Louise in 1810. While in the Louvre, many painters visited it for inspiration including the English Joseph Farington, John Hoppner, and JMW Turner, the Swiss artist Henry Fuseli, and the American artist Benjamin West for whom it was one of the greatest paintings in the world. Following Napoleon’s defeat in 1815, it was returned to Rome.