A Tribute to Greek Philosophy and Christian Theology: Raphael's Masterpiece
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A Tribute to Greek Philosophy and Christian Theology: Raphael's Masterpiece

The Renaissance painting known as ‘The School of Athens’ was painted by Raphael beginning in 1509 and was a dedication to the idea of knowledge and those who birthed that idea. Although many of the philosophers within his painting are still not yet identified, experts and scholars alike are working together in order to determine who they may be.

The Italian Renaissance artist and painter known as Raphael was commissioned to come to Rome on behalf of Pope Julius II in order to paint, what would later become known as his masterpiece, the ‘School of Athens.’  The painting began in 1509, after Pope Julius II ordered the destruction of the paintings that resided on the walls prior to Raphael’s work inside the Vatican Palace, and was later finished by 1511.  The School of Athens is made up of four main frescoes that all represent the different branches of knowledge.  However, each fresco is of its own unique display and has its own placement on four separate walls inside the Vatican. 

The first fresco is entitled “Seek Knowledge of Causes,” the second “Divine Inspiration,” “Knowledge of Things Divine,” is the third and the last fresco is entitled “To Each What Is Due.”  The subject of the school portrayed in the painting is philosophy as Raphael accordingly exemplified within his paintings Philosophy, Theology, Music, Poetry, and Law.  It seems that the main character seen in the School of Athens is Aristotle as he seems to be the central figure and many descriptions of his appearance are worked into his portrayal.  Likewise, many other philosophers that existed before Aristotle’s time seem to have been worked into the painting as well.  However, it has been up for much debate about specifically who all the characters in Raphael’s painting actually portray.  Scholars believe that it may be a combination of Pre-Socratic philosophers all the way up to contemporary philosophers of even Raphael’s time. 

Experts and Scholars believe that they may have identified roughly 22 of the philosophers portrayed in the School of Athens.  However, there is still much debate about the remaining 33 characters and even if some of the characters that they have already identified are actually those whom they may believe to be.  Regardless, it can be said that this specific painting is a dedication and tribute to ancient Greek philosophies and the philosophers that brought forth the knowledge. 

It has also been said that that the corridor inside the painting that all of the philosophers are within is in the shape of the Greek cross.  This has been theorized as a dedication to Christianity given Raphael’s time therefore the painting portrays the coexistence of Pagan Philosophy alongside Christian Theology.  Two mane statues are also portrayed on the walls inside the painting.  One of the Greek God of art and inspiration; Apollo and the other of intellect and wisdom; Athena.         

Sources:

The School of Athens Who is Who Puzzle.” By Michael Lahanas 

The School of Athens.” By Silenos Socrates

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