World History Episode 5 The Persians & Greeks (Time Stamp 2:52 & 3:02)
The School of Athens, Raphael, 1509 - 1511
Context in CC: “We all know about the Greeks: Architecture, Philosophy, Literature. The very word music comes from Greek, as does so much else in contemporary culture. Greek poets and mathematicians, playwrights and architects and philosophers founded a culture we still identify with, and introduced us to many ideas from democracy to fart jokes.” In which we find out that the ancient Greeks liked fart jokes. (Because that was the main point right?)
Greater Historical/Art Historical Relevance: The School of Athens is one of four frescoes Raphael painted to decorate the Stanza della Segnatura a room in the Vatican that was designed as the library of Pope Julius. The fresco, one of the masterpieces of the the high renaissance. The renaissance, at its roots, was the ‘rebirth’ of the culture and arts of ancient Greece and Rome. Raphael depicts the major figures of Ancient Greek Philosophy.
The classical architecture depicted in the painting, and the use of one-point perspective bring the focus of the painting to the two center-most figures. The two figures are Aristotle and Plato. Aristotle on the right and Plato on the left respectively. Each hold a copy of their writings, while gesturing very precisely with their hands. Plato is the older of the two, having been Aristotle’s teacher. Their hand gestures refer to the differences in their respective philosophies. Plato points upward, indicating his Theory of Forms, which has its basis in the immaterial world. Aristotle gestures with his palm facing the ground indicating his empiricism, his emphasis on the concrete. (Consequently the positioning of their hands also gave way to this, which is my favorite).
Raphael used his contemporaries as models for the great some of the ancient Greek philosophers he depicted. The broody looking Heraclitus in the foreground is actually based on Michelangelo. Plato is based on Leonardo, and peaking in on the right side upper level is Apelles, actually an inserted self-portrait of Raphael.
The 'school’ referred to in the title is less a literal school, than the Greek Philosophical school of thought, and The School of Athens is a quintessential renaissance painting (despite the fluidity of periodization, it really does apply here), Raphael has managed to revive both the classical style of painting and depiction of architecture, as well a cultural and intellectual traditions of ancient Greece (not including fart jokes).
Nicholas Penny. “Raphael.” In Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online, http://www.oxfordartonline.com/subscriber/article/grove/art/T070770 (accessed September 23, 2012).