school of athens raphael
The School of Athens (Italian: Scuola di Atene) is a fresco by the Italian Renaissance artist Raphael. It was painted between 1509 and 1511 as a part of Raphael’s commission to decorate the rooms now known as the Stanze di Raffaello, in the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican. The Stanza della Segnatura was the first of the rooms to be decorated, and The School of Athens, representing philosophy, was probably the third painting to be finished there, after La Disputa (Theology) on the opposite wall, and the Parnassus (Literature).  The picture has long been seen as “Raphael’s masterpiece and the perfect embodiment of the classical spirit of the Renaissance”.  The painting is notable for its accurate perspective projection. 
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.
It is also worth noting that though Michelangelo and Raphael worked in the Vatican at the same time they did not get along very well. This was mostly due to Michelangelo’s bad temper and his conspiracy theories that Raphael and Bramante were plotting against him.
The School Of Athens by Raphael Sanzio da Urbino inside the Vatican Museums must go down as one of the most important and greatest fresco paintings in history. The painting is inside the Stanza della Segnatura on the second floor of the Vatican Palace on the north wing. The rooms were built by Pope Nicholas V in the mid-1400s and were later to become Pope Julius II’s private library after the School of Athens was completed. The painting is of a very large scale, 500cm x 770cm (200in x 300in).
Plato’s gesture toward the sky is thought to indicate his Theory of Forms. This philosophy argues that the “real” world is not the physical one, but instead a spiritual realm of ideas filled with abstract concepts and ideas. The physical realm, for Plato, is merely the material, imperfect things we see and interact with on a daily basis. Interestingly, some people believe that Raphael used Leonardo da Vinci’s face for Plato, based on similarities from his self-portrait.
One of the most striking figures in the composition is a brooding man seated in the foreground, hand on his head in a classic “thinker” position. This figure doesn’t show up in Raphael’s preliminary drawings and plaster analysis shows that it was added later. Art historians Roger Jones and Nicholas Penny write in their book Raphael that it “is probably Raphael’s first attempt to appropriate some of the heavyweight power of Michelangelo’s Sistine Prophets and sibyls.”
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.
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.
The central figures in School of Athens are Plato and Aristotle. Depicted at the central vanishing point of the shown architecture, Plato holds a bound copy of Timaeus in his left hand and is shown as an older, wise, gray-haired man. In contrast, his student Aristotle is shown as a younger, handsome man looking to his teacher. Aristotle carries a bound copy of Nicomachean Ethics in his left hand and walks slightly ahead of Plato. The two central figures both gesture with their right hands but along different visual planes. Plato gestures upwards into the vault while Aristotle gestures horizontally ahead of the figures. Plato and Aristotle are deep in conversation while walking through the other figures.
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.