The building is in the shape of a Greek cross, which some have suggested was intended to show a harmony between pagan philosophy and Christian theology  (see Christianity and Paganism and Christian philosophy). The architecture of the building was inspired by the work of Bramante, who, according to Vasari, helped Raphael with the architecture in the picture.  The resulting architecture was similar to the then new St. Peter’s Basilica. 
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.
In fact Raphael’s painterly skills were soon in such demand that he was obliged to leave more and more work to his assistants, such as Giovanni Francesco Penni (1496-1536), Giulio Romano (1499-1546) and Perino del Vaga (Piero Buonaccorsi) (1501-47). Responsible for numerous altarpieces, such as The Sistine Madonna (1513-14, Gemaldegalerie Alte Meister, Dresden) and The Transfiguration (1518-20, Pinacoteca Apostolica, Vatican), as well as other examples of religious art, he also produced several famous Renaissance portraits of ecclesiastical and secular subjects – such as Portrait of Baldassare Castiglione (1514-15, Louvre) and Pope Leo X with Cardinals (1518, Galleria Palatina, Pitti Palace, Florence). Arguably the finest painter of the Italian Renaissance, Raphael remains one of the best artists of all time.
In 1508, during the High Renaissance (c.1490-1530), the 25-year old painter Raffaello Sanzio, better known as Raphael, was summoned to the Vatican by the ageing pontiff Pope Julius II (1503-13), and given the largest, most important commission of his life – the decoration of the Papal Apartments, including the Stanza della Segnatura. Located on the upper floor of the Vatican palace, this room was used by the Pope as a library. It was here, between 1509 and 1511, that Raphael painted his famous fresco The School of Athens (Scuola di Atene). It was the second mural painting to be finished for the Stanza della Segnatura, after La Disputa, on the opposite wall, and is regarded as one of the greatest Renaissance paintings. The general theme of the picture, indeed the whole room, is the synthesis of worldly (Greek) and spiritual (Christian) thinking, and ranks alongside the finest examples of classically inspired Renaissance art. A rival of the older Michelangelo (1475-1564), Raphael went on to complete three other Papal apartment rooms in the Vatican (known as the Raphael Rooms) and was to remain in Rome serving successive popes until his sudden death in 1520.
Among the crowd surrounding Socrates are his students, including the general Alcibiades and Aeschines of Sphettus.
Long before Rafael the hotheaded, red eye mask wearing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle entertained children onscreen, there was Rafael the esteemed painter who’d won over a cultured crowd of art connoisseurs. By his mid-20s, Raphael Sanzio was already a star. At the top of his game, this master of the Italian Renaissance had been invited by the pope to live in Rome, where he would spend the rest of his days. Starting in 1509 he began decorating the first of four rooms in the Papal Palace. Collectively, these Raphael Rooms, along with Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel exemplify the High Renaissance fresco technique.
This fresco in the Vatican has been called The School of Athens for the past 300 years for want of a better title. It represents an assembly of the greatest philosophers of antiquity. For the first time in Western Art a painter was able to represent the harmonious unity underlying the diverse pursuits of human reason by portraying some of the rationalist tradition’s most exemplary individuals as all at work in one mythical place and at one mythical time.
It seems most likely that Raphael used or was given this passage as guidance in developing his vision for the painting. But in his own twist on Dante, Raphael situated the figures in the poem, not on a path down into Hell, but in a vision of Heaven. The philosophers are pursuing the truth in a “Paradiso” which is all sky and light as contrasted with the depth and darkness conjured up by the very mention of the word “Inferno.” Raphael conceived of a means of manifesting the metaphysical significance of the philosophical way of life through the placing of the two great founders of Western rationalism and their historical progeny in a setting so beautiful that we can almost here the music of the spheres while looking at it.
In the center of the artwork, Plato and Aristotle are discussing the respective merits of Idealism vs. Realism. Plato holds his book, Timaeus, one of the few works by Plato that had been recovered by the Renaissance, while explaining how the universe was created by the demiurge from perfect mathematical models, forms and the regular geometric solids. With his right hand Plato gestures upwards, indicating that the eternal forms, such as the ideals of Beauty, Goodness and Truth, are not in or of this world, but beyond, in a timeless realm of pure Ideas.
Mood, Tone and Emotion:
His cartoon of the School of Athens show the importance of maintaining the relationship between the figures but also the chiaroscuro effects that are so important for High Renaissance art.