school of athens analysis
The other figures shown in the fresco representing other significant Greek philosophers are not as clearly identifiable. While some are more recognizable than others, some of the figures may represent philosophers where no historical image exists. Raphael used iconography to represent those philosophers with no known visual image such as Epicurus. While Plato and Aristotle serve as the central figures of the fresco, the other philosophers depicted lived at various times and were not necessarily their contemporaries. Many of them lived before Plato and Aristotle and barely a third were Athenians. However, the compilation of famous Greek philosophers followed the intended theme of the fresco to seek knowledge through philosophy.
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.”
The Signature Room contains three of Raphael’s best known works – the School of Athens, the Parnassus, and the Disputation of the Holy Sacrament. Each wall represents one area of thinking: Theology, Poetry, Philosophy, and Justice, corresponding to the main fields of scientific knowledge. In the School of Athens, representing Philosophy, Plato and Aristotle are pictured at the centre of a group of other philosophers in a scene, set in Ancient Greece, which symbolizes the wisdom of classical antiquity. Arithmetic, Grammar, and Music are personified by certain figures: Geometry, Astronomy, Rhetoric and Dialectic by others. Above them is a majestic vaulted ceiling which may reflect Donato Bramante’s design for St Peter’s Basilica in Rome. It was not the first fresco painted in the Stanza della Segnatura – the room already contained decorations by the Early Renaissance artists Piero della Francesca (1415-92), Perugino (1450-1523) and Luca Signorelli (1445-1523), but Julius II decided that these paintings were expendable, and could be painted over.
The School of Athens fresco was an immediate success, with none of the reservations which greeted the completion of Michelangelo’s Genesis Fresco on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Its pictorial concept, formal beauty and thematic unity were universally appreciated, by the Papal authorities and other artists, as well as patrons and art collectors. It ranks alongside Leonardo’s Mona Lisa and The Last Supper, and Michelangelo’s Vatican frescoes, as the embodiment of Renaissance ideals of the early cinquecento.
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. 
There are two sculptures in the background. The one on the left is the god Apollo, god of light, archery and music, holding a lyre.  The sculpture on the right is Athena, goddess of wisdom, in her Roman guise as Minerva. 
In the foreground, Pythagoras sits with a book and an inkwell, also surrounded by students. Though Pythagoras is well known for his mathematical and scientific discoveries, he also firmly believed in metempsychosis. This philosophy states that every soul is immortal, and upon death, moves to a new physical body. In this light, it makes sense that he would be placed on Plato’s side of the fresco.
“The School of Athens” preparatory cartoon
In the right foreground are concentrated two groups. An absorbed group of students huddles around the leaning figure of Euclid (who may be Archimedes), demonstrating some geometric proposition with a pair of compasses upon a slate. Behind him, in yellow robes, stands the Greek astronomer and geographer Ptolemy, holding his globe of the earth. Behind him is the Persian astronomer and philosopher Zoroaster, holding a sphere of the fixed stars. Just to the right of these two is Raphael himself, the only figure in the School of Athens who gazes directly back at the viewer.
There is a great deal of conjecture concerning the solitary Heraclitus figure. Heraclitus was the only figure in the whole School of Athens who was absent from Raphael’s preliminary drawing of the painting. Furthermore, technical examination of the fresco confirms that Heraclitus was painted in later, on an area of fresh plaster put on after the adjacent figures were completed. At the time of painting the School of Athens, Michelangelo was working on the Sistine Chapel and despite his efforts to shroud his work in total secrecy, we know Raphael was able to sneak in and have a look. Was this the inspiration for Heraclitus, who not only looks like Michelangelo, with its sculptural solidity, but looks like it was painted by Michelangelo?