where is the school of athens painting located
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 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.
On the left, cloaked in an olive mantle, is Socrates, arguing in a group that includes Chrysippus, Xenophon, Aeschines and Alcibiades. Facing the venerable Venetian scientist Zeno, is Epicurus, crowned with grape leaves, presumably defending the principle of hedonism. Attentively followed by his pupils (including the turbanned Averroes) Pythagoras teaches the diatesseron from a book. In strong contrast in front of him is Xenocrates (others say Parmenides). In the foreground, head resting on his arm, the mournful Heracleitus (with the features of Michelangelo). The absence of this figure in the original cartoon (now in Milan’s Ambrosian Library) and its obvious Michelangelo style (it is modelled on the Sybils and Ignudi of the Sistine ceiling), leads us to believe that Raphael added this figure in 1511 when, after completing the room, he saw the first half of the Sistine Chapel Ceiling frescoes. In tribute to his great rival, Raphael portrayed Michelangelo in the guise of the philosopher from Ephesus. The child at the side of Epicurus, clearly indifferent to the speculations of the thinkers, seems to be Federico Gonzaga (1500-40), later Federico II of Mantua of the famous Gonzaga family of Renaissance patrons and collectors. The passer-by in white translucent toga and da Vinci smile, is supposedly Francesco Maria Della Rovere (1490-1538), nephew of Julius II and later Duke of Urbino.
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.
Commentators have suggested that nearly every great ancient Greek philosopher can be found in the painting, but determining which are depicted is difficult, since Raphael made no designations outside possible likenesses, and no contemporary documents explain the painting. Compounding the problem, Raphael had to invent a system of iconography to allude to various figures for whom there were no traditional visual types. For example, while the Socrates figure is immediately recognizable from Classical busts, the alleged Epicurus is far removed from his standard type. Aside from the identities of the figures depicted, many aspects of the fresco have been variously interpreted, but few such interpretations are unanimously accepted among scholars.
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 School of Athens” preparatory cartoon
An elderly Plato stands at the left, pointing his finger to the sky. Beside him is his student Aristotle. In a display of superb foreshortening, Aristotle reaches his right arm directly out toward the viewer. Each man holds a copy of their books in their left hand—Timaeus for Plato and Nicomachean Ethics for Aristotle.
However, in the original cartoon, or preparatory work, Raphael had not planned to put this figure in. Giorgio Vasari says that while Michelangelo was painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, Bramante allowed Raphael a peek which was against Michelangelo’s rules. However, Raphael was so impressed that he sketched in this figure of Heraclitus with red chalk after the School of Athens was officially completed and very quickly added this figure as a tribute to Michelangelo. Today when you see this figure it is quite noticeable that it is out of place. If you would like to compare it to the original plans, the cartoon for the School of Athens can be seen in the Pinacoteca Ambrosiana in Milan today.
Raphael moved to Rome in the year 1508 at the age of 25 thanks to a distant relative named Bermante who influenced Pope Julius II on political and artistic matters and who recommended Raphael to the Pope. Bramante was also the architect for the new St. Peter’s Basilica. Raphael was almost instantly put to work to fresco paint the walls of the Vatican Palace which was then Pope Julius II’s private quarters. Part of these commissions was to paint The School Of Athens which the Pope was so impressed by that he had Raphael paint the whole of the Stanza Della Segnatura.