The School of Athens (Raphael)
Movement High Renaissance
Located at Stanza della Segnatura, Vatican City
Easily the best known work from the Stanza della Segnatura, this work has come to define Raphael’s mastery over painting and the High Renaissance itself. Raphael places the greats of philosophy under the same roof, which in no accidental way hearkens back to the great basilicas of ancient Rome (e.g., The Baths of Caracalla and The Basilica of Maxentius); the structure in fact bears great resemblance to the original plan of St. Basilica, and it is likely that Raphael was under the guidance of Bramante to bear that likeness.
With great statues of Apollo and Athena presiding over the scene, Plato (center, left) and his pupil, Aristotle (center, right) contest philosophical points; to each side of theme are other renowned thinkers – in the Platonic camp are Epicurus, Pythagoras, and perhaps even Raphael himself, amongst others; in the Aristotelian camp are Euclid, Ptolemy, and perhaps Bramante; despite the competition between the two, it appears that Raphael has included Michelangelo in the form of Heraclitus, looking down in contemplation, sitting upon the steps towards the front of the scene. Though Raphael’s style is all his own, it is clear that he was influenced by Leonardo for the way in which he grouped his figures – notice the likenesses in The Last Supper; the individuals themselves, however, appear to be influenced by Michelangelo – note the energetic ways in which they twist and gesture – it is extremely likely that Raphael would have been influenced by Michelangelo’s work in the Sistine Chapel, which was created at the same time.