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School Of Athens

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Autor:  anton  09 March 2011
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School of Athens

Raphael Santi was born in Urbino of 1483, he was a painter and architect of the Florentine school in the Italian High Renaissance. He studied under Pietro Perugino; but after leaving Perugino and moving to Florence he soon adopted the styles of Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo (who were the artists who had established the High Renaissance style in Florence). During that time, Julius II requested decorations for the stanze (rooms) that Nicholas V had added to the building of the Vatican palace built 50 years earlier by Nicholas III. The pope no longer wished to live in the Borgia apartments decorated by Pinturcchio and once where Alexander VI lived, whom Julius despised. So he chose to have the upstairs rooms redone to his taste. Julius II summoned a number of well-known artists to decorate "his" rooms; Sodoma Bramantino, Lorenzo Litto, and Perugino. When Raphael was introduced to the papal court in 1508 by Bramante (the pope's architect and trusted adviser in artistic matters) Julius II released all the other artists and gave Raphael individual responsibility for the stanze. The job of Raphael was to paint a number of frescos (painting on wet plaster wall) in the Stanza della Segnatura; Vatican, Rome. Among these was the School of Athens which I have selected to discuss in this paper. (Earls, pages 183-186) (Merlo, pages 98-99)

The fresco School of Athens is located in the Vatican in Rome in the Stanza della Segnatura which was the place of the Pope's library and where the Pope bestowed standard and civil laws. Raphael set about to create a series of frescoes on the walls and ceiling which expressed the four frescos of learning: theology, philosophy, law, and the arts. These frescoes show that Raphael was an educated person, had some knowledge of Greek philosophy and science. The name of the painting had an explanation behind it which was provided by Hartt, "The picture, universally recognized as the culmination of the High Renaissance ideal of formal and spatial harmony, was intended to confront the Disputa's theologians of Christianity drawn from all ages with an equally imposing group of philosophers of classical antiquity, likewise engaged in solemn discussion" (Earls, page 190). And by this he meant The School of Athens wasn't any school that actually existed there such as Plato's Academy, but an ideal community of intellects from the entire classical world. His inspiration towards this painting came from the decorations in older libraries, and by the great importance of this project. But the greatest influence on Raphael was his friend and mentor, the architect Euclid. Who Raphael probably got most of the secret geometry and architectural composition of his painting, as well as many of the philosophical ideas in it.(Merlo, pages 99-100) (Earls, page 190-192) (Cole, page 52)

In this fresco, Raphael represents the great philosophers and mathematicians of ancient Greece as colleagues in a timeless academy. In the picture, there were many characters but the most important were the following: Plato, Aristotle, Pythagoras, Euclid, Socrates, Michelangelo, Leonardo, himself, Apollo, and Athena. Plato is in the center, pointing his finger to the heavens while holding the Timaeus (the Greek historian of Tauromenium), a sign symbolizing the thought of ideas. He believed that ideas were even more real than the physical world. Next to him, Aristotle holds a copy of his Nichomachean Ethics while describing the earth and the wide realm of moral teaching. He believed that we should first observe the natural world, and then develop ideas and theories about it. Plato and Aristotle are discussing the idea of Idealism vs. Realism. Socrates was placed near Plato and Aristotle; he was with his own circle, plying (working) his questions and counting off on his fingers each point that has been made. He was also Plato's teacher. Pythagoras thinks about his system of proportions at the lower left and Euclid draws a circle on a slate at the lower right. Euclid was also one of Raphael's friends and mentors. Raphael painted Euclid as Donato Bramante, an Italian High Renaissance architect fascinated by geometry. The philosopher Heraclitus sits alone on the steps, leaning on a block of marbles and since he sits directly in front, the viewer will notice him first. He looks like Michelangelo, who always worked alone. What is so fascinating about it is that Raphael uses Michelangelo's face and painted him sitting alone. This is interesting because Raphael and Michelangelo lived in the same city, but they were of different characters and were never friends; so basically they didn't know each other. Why would Raphael paint Michelangelo the way he did, if he only knew the work of Michelangelo? "Apparently Raphael went into the Sistine Chapel with the rest of Rome, experienced the new style (Michelangelo's) with the force of revelation, and returned to pay this prominent tribute to the old master." (Hartt, page 511)(Earls, page 190) Raphael had probably managed to gain access to the Sistine Chapel before then, gaining some idea of what Michelangelo was seeking to accomplish. The younger artist was apparently overcome by emotion so he immediately erased part of School of Athens, already completed, and placed in the center a portrait of Michelangelo, in the disguise of the frowning, thoughtful philosopher of fire, Heraclitus. There was another artist that Raphael painted and his name was Leonardo, with his long blonde beard, representing the great philosopher Plato because Plato was pointing upward, and Leonardo liked to paint people pointing in a mysterious way. Leonardo was one of Raphael's teachers when he came too Florence. Raphael also painted himself beside Giovanni Sodoma (a painter that was greatly influenced by the young master). Significantly, Raphael placed himself on the right side of the painting with the mathematicians and scientists. On the left are the ancient philosophers, men debating mysteries concerned with this world. He also included the gods of enlightenment: The two statues looking down on the gathering are Apollo, the Greek god of light and music and Athena, whom was the goddess of wisdom. The fresco of Raphael's School of Athens is a masterpiece of art. However, over the centuries it has given many problems to know all details of the people who are painted in the painting. (Earls, pages 190-192) (O' Reilly, pages 66-67) (Wolfflin, pages 96-97).

The building of the painting School of Athens had four parts too it. "Like many contemporary masters, but in contrast to Michelangelo, Raphael worked with a large group of apprentices, to whom he entrusted even delicate tasks" (Merlo, page 100). He would have countless of trust and loyalty towards his co-workers. The first part of the structure was the arriccio, which the first layer of display was consisted of a one inch layer of lime and volcanic dust. "The second part of the structure was the "dusting", by beating a small bag of coal powder against groundwork of the drawing with perforated outlines; the workers would put the forms of various figures onto the wall" (Merlo, page 101). The third part of the structure was the perforation, which was the beginning of the drawing that was pierced along the outlines of the figures. The last part of the structure was the School of Athens, which was under Raphael's supervision; an apprentice lay down the final layer of plaster: the intonachino. (Merlo, pages 100-101)

The most important part of Raphael's painting of the School of Athens, would have to be his technique and methods. Through out the painting, he used linear perspective which creates the illusion of three-dimensional space on a flat painted surface. People and things that are meant to appear farther away are painted smaller and different lines in the painting go towards a vanishing point. The vanishing point is where the horizon would be if you could see it behind Plato and Aristotle. The two Athenian philosophers are placed from left to right of an invisible central axis that put them into the central vanishing point which disappears. Corresponding to this point, the visual distance has a similar point in the viewer's eye and mind. This is the apex of a visual pyramid whose base is the surface of the wall before him, on which the painting stands like a mirror. In that pictorial pyramid, its most well-known rays are those which follow the ceiling lines. These two strong diagonals are from the floor pattern, which lead to the eye appealingly to the central vanishing point where they all meet. The result is that they appear as groups arranged in a half-circle of great depth. The careful placing of many figures within a deep perspective setting looks back to the methods of Ghiberti. Raphael used very similar accuracy to the poses of each individual figure. Every movement was logically determined as a mathematical perspective. He elaborated not upon the figures` discussions, but upon a pleasant horizontal masterpiece. (Earl, page 192) (Wolfflin, pages 93-96) (Merlo, page 100-101) (Cole, page 52) (O'Reilly, page 66-67)

Raphael Santi's painting School of Athens, took him four years to paint (1510-1514) and it is know that his vision of the world was of Humanist thought. Within Raphael's painting of idealized portraits of his generation represents the major figures of classical wisdom and science. Throughout the years, scholars, painters, and all those interested in beauty and history have admired this painting. They have also noticed how he used unusual color and movement. (Earl, page 193)


Cole, Allison; The Renaissance

Dorling Kindersley Limited: London, 1994

Earls Irene; Artists of the Renaissance

Greenwood Publishing Group, Inc.; Westport CT, 1987

Merlo, Claudio; Three Masters of the Renaissance

Barron's Educational Series: Florence, Italy 1999

O'Reilly, Wenda PH.D; The Renaissance Art Book

Publishers Group West: Berkeley, CA 2000

Wolfflin, Heinrich; Classic Art

Phaidon Press Limited: NY, NY 1952

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