raphael school of athens analysis
Other reproductions include: in Königsberg Cathedral, Kaliningrad by Neide,  in the University of North Carolina at Asheville’s Highsmith University Student Union, and a recent one in the seminar room at Baylor University’s Brooks College. A copy of Raphael’s School of Athens was painted on the wall of the ceremonial stairwell that leads to the famous, main-floor reading room of the Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève in Paris.
The Victoria and Albert Museum in London has a rectangular version over 4 metres by 8 metres in size, painted on canvas, dated 1755 by Anton Raphael Mengs on display in the eastern Cast Court. 
This fresco – a masterpiece of disegno – represents natural Truth, acquired through reason. Under the arched vault of an immense Basilica with lacunar ceiling and pilasters, (inspired by Constantine’s in the Roman Forum), decorated with statues of Apollo and Minerva, a crowd of philosophers and wise men of the past, along with High Renaissance artists and patrons, argue heatedly among themselves or mediate in silence. The extraordinarily deep linear perspective creates an incredible illusion of depth. In the centre we see Plato (long white beard and the features of Leonardo da Vinci), text of the Timaeus in hand, the other hand pointing to heaven, the “seat of all ideas”. At his side is Aristotle, in turn holding his Ethics and pointing to the earth. The two philosophers and their gesturing make a point which is the core of the philosophy of Marsilio Ficino: Aristotle’s gesture symbolizes the positive spirit; the vertical gesture of Plato alludes to a superior quality, the contemplation of ideas.
Further to the right, calmly reclining on the stairs, is Diogenes, the oject of the remonstrations by the disciples of the Academy. In the foreground, to the right of Aristotle, Raphael placed the High Renaissance architect Donato Bramante (1444-1514) in the person of Euclid, who is pictured bending over a table and demonstrating a theorem with the aid of a compass. Bramante, the architectural adviser to Julius II, and a distant relative of Raphael’s from Urbino, was responsible for Raphael’s summons to Rome, and the younger man reciprocates by signing his name in the gold border of Bramante’s tunic. Over to the right, identified by the crown he wears, is the geographer Ptolemy, holding the globe of the earth. Facing him is the atronomer Zoroaster, holding the globe of the sky. The young man at their side and facing the viewer is supposedly Raphael himself in the company of Sodoma (white robe), the artist who preceded Raphael in the decoration of the ceiling of the Signature room.
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.
The two main figures in the work are placed directly under the archway and in the fresco’s vanishing point, a compositional trick to draw the viewer’s eye to the most important part of the painting. Here, we see two men who effectively represent the different schools of philosophy—Plato and Aristotle.
Leonardo da Vinci’s portrait is also self evident in the School of Athens. His reincarnation as Plato is somewhat curious though, given that Leonardo left Florence, and its overt Platonism, for the more congenial Aristotelian circle of scholars, scientists and engineers at Milan. Perhaps it was Raphael’s duel admiration and preference for Plato, combined with his respect for his teacher (Leonardo) that led him to identify the two men.
As a spectator viewing the School of Athens you are made to feel that you could step into the space in this picture, as if walking into a theatrical setting on a stage. There is a series of horizontal planes across the checkered floor, up the steps, past the pillars supporting the barrel vaulting, and into a domed area, which is indicated above the heads of Plato and Aristotle by the curved line under the window.
School of Athens is one of a series of four frescoes painted by Raphael representing branches of knowledge. The frescoes, located on the walls of the Stanza, include images descriptive of philosophy, poetry, law, and theology. School of Athens is dedicated to philosophy as a path to knowledge, especially related to understanding causes to drive knowledge. All of the philosophers shown in the fresco traditionally sought knowledge through an understanding of root causes, tying back to the title and theme of the fresco. The overall theme of knowledge is integrated through Raphael”s frescos around the room but School of Athens is considered the best of the series.
The fresco itself includes 21 distinct figures set against a backdrop of a school. The figures are engaged in conversation, work or games. All of the figures are male and are believed to represent all significant Greek philosophers. The fresco also includes images of statues within the school displayed within the school. One statue is Apollo, the Greek god of light, archery and music, holding a lyre. The other statue is Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom, shown in her Roman form as Minerva. The building itself is shown in a cross-shape with the figures in the foreground and the interior receding behind them. The figures are scattered across steps and walkways within the school and the fresco is framed with an arch decorated with arabesque swastikas. The fresco measures 200 inches by 300 inches with a tondo above depicting a female figure with a putti stating “Seek Knowledge of Causes.”