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The School of Athens by Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino

Nexus of thinkers and test of knowledge

The perfect cross-over does not exist. Or does it? 

Renaissance paintings

When looking at Rapahel’s artwork “School of Athens” a simpler mind would probably notice a bunch of old men walking, engaging in conversation, reading, and in a multitude of other activities and probably wouldn’t think much of it. Just another artful wall decoration from a time far passed, right?

A monumental fresco

There is far more to this painting. And if you are familiar with Greek history and philosophy, even if just on the surface level, you will probably notice that Rafaello Sanzio da Urbino has brought out the heavy artillery of classical thinkers on a fresco. The Renaissance artwork that is considered to stand among the world’s greatest… And for a good reason as it is decorating one of the walls of the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican itself and is part of the series of his three other works, each representing a certain branch of knowledge. “School of Athens” symbolizes philosophy.

What was Raffaello trying to say?

Several works of art back in the Renaissance period were originally intended for a limited-sized sophisticated audience, so Raphael’s work serves as a perfect test to measure the depth of your knowledge. Try out if you can notice some familiar philosopher’s here. There is a good chance you’ve heard of at least some of them. Perhaps you can even find the author himself hiding among the crowds? If so, take some healthy pride in it… Because it’s likely a sign that you’re more sophisticated and educated than your average person.

 If you’re willing to “go full philosopher”, you might also notice that the painting is a figurative symbol of opposite schools of thought. Two main – and opposing –  sides of the coin are Platon and Aristotle who are, similar to “The Last Supper”, placed right at the very centre of the painting and given the main stage. Here the distant horizon and three-dimensional perception are also masterfully used to suck the viewer in and naturally draw his/her eyes to the main characters.

Sacred Art & Hidden Details

There is even more to it. Raphael intended to tell us how all the great thinkers from different times have been brought together to discuss and exchange knowledge. He also wanted to depict the complex lesson on the history of philosophy by showing us the capabilities of the human mind. By depicting mathematicians, thinkers, and scientists – each engaged in rigorous mental work.

All in all the author gives us the recipe for an outstanding work of art: be ambitious and depict the “celebrities” of any given time. Add obvious and hidden details so that people would have the thrill of discovery and learn something new about the painting every single time they look at it. And finally, make it controversial and harmonious at the same time by bringing together opposites… And have them exchange and complement knowledge. 

Raphael’s Artworks

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