The School of Athens
Raphael’s “School of Athens” fresco is one of the four frescoes in the Stanza della Segnatura , in the Vatican. The walls are covered with four different scenes, each depicting a different theme. The School of Athens represents Philosophy. The techniques and figures used in the fresco not only pay homage to Raphael’s influences, but are also a presentation of the skills acquired from each. Almost as though he was submitting it for approval. As Raphael traveled throughout Italy, he formed relationships with, and learned a great deal from the masters of the age.
In the School of Athens, Raphael depicts his teachers and influences in disguise and presents the skills learned from each. It is because of these influences and the creativity of Raphael’s own mind that he joins his teachers as one of the greats. The Stanza della Segnatura contained apartments for Pope Julius II, who commissioned Raphael to paint them. Vatican patrons say, “The Stanza della Segnatura was to be Julius’ library, Bibiotheca Iulia, which would house a small collection of books intended for his personal use. ” The frescoes depict four themes, Philosophy, Theology, Poetry and Law.
All of the frescoes show heavy influence from his predecessors as well as his contemporaries. Raphael learned much from his travels around Italy and from studying with his master Perugino in his native town of Urbino. From Perugino, he learned oil painting and how to manipulate figures. Raphael’s earliest intact altarpiece, the Mond Crucifixion, “is remarkably close to Perugino, in the lightly posed figures, which are meek and decorous in gesture and sweet in expression, in its linear elegance and atmospheric distant hills, which are bare but for soft clumps and individual trees as light as columns of smoke.
All details of the formal language—crooked little fingers, solid scaly wings, hooked drapery folds—derive from Perugino, and Raphael also imitated Perugino’s technique of painting, largely in an oil medium. ” He built his reputation by these altarpieces and other pieces commissioned by the Court of Urbino. This was still early in Raphael’s career. Upon traveling to Florence and meeting Leonardo Da Vinci, his style expanded once again. There were other artists in Florence that aided Raphael while he was busy honing his style. One in particular, Fra Bartolommeo, most noticeably influenced Raphael’s technique. From him Raphael learnt to replace the fragile grace of Perugino with a more measured movement, far ampler draperies, more gravity and grandeur. ” Raphael also studied sculpture while in Florence. He poured over the many great works of both Donatello and Michelangelo. His drawings are great examples of how Raphael’s technique had changed once being introduced to the sculptures by the masters. His most obvious influence was Leonardo. Raphael honed in on Leonardo’s compositional elements and incorporated them into most of his work.
For example, Leonardo’s basic pyramid can be seen in most of Raphael’s work around and after this period, “the example of Leonardo’s compositional ideas lies behind not only Raphael’s portrait of Maddalena Doni (Paris, Louvre) but the Florentine paintings of the full-length groups of the Holy Family in a landscape, in which the figures are arranged into a pyramid or cone with each part retaining a dynamic and organic relationship to the others. ” Raphael’s “Madonna of the Meadow” is an example of how he began shaping his compositions after Leonardo’s pyramid.
After study of these works and artists, Raphael’s pieces became more sophisticated. His understanding of emotion and depiction of action grew. His pieces now made more compositional sense. At only twenty-seven years old Raphael set upon the task of covering the Pope’s four walls. The figures in the School of Athens are noticeably turning, twisting, bending, and moving. This feat would not have been possible without the influence of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling. This change is Raphael’s style began after the preliminary unveiling of the ceiling.
Raphael’s figures began to be more voluminous and hulking, similar to the Sybils on the Ceiling. An online art archive explained, “Following the preliminary unveiling of the Sistine ceiling in 1509, the figures in Raphael’s pictures acquire more voluminous bodies and more powerful arms, and there is a reduction in their numbers. The bold twisting position adopted by the young woman in the Expulsion of Heliodorus – a pose which reappears in reverse in Raphael’s late work, the Transfiguration – would be inconceivable without the influence of Michelangelo. All doubt can be removed when comparing Raphael’s figures to those of Michelangelo’s Sybils on the Sistine Ceiling. “Any question as to the cause of the widely-acknowledged sudden change in Raphael’s style after 1509 is removed for good, however, when we compare the Sibyls and Prophets executed by Raphael in the Capella Chigi in S. Maria della Pace (1512) with those by Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel. In addition to the thematic kinship of these frescos with Michelangelo, Raphael’s new approach to body volumes and twisting poses makes patently clear the enormous impact which the Sistine ceiling had made upon him. Raphael’s Triumph of Galatea also portrayed women, as well as men, as hulking and voluminous figures. Once again, Michelangelo’s influence is apparent and the glory of antiquity is present. Galatea’s face, however, resembles the characteristics of Leonardo’s angel in Verrocchio’s Baptism of Christ. Said of Galatea’s face, “its hint of shyness and innocence, as if she were utterly unaware of her physical charms; the expression of devotion on her face,” showed signs of Da Vinci. Also noticeable in the Triumph of Galatea by Raphael is the appearance of diagonal lines.
The arrows seem to point diagonally and some bodies are twisting in a diagonal direction. This could possibly be Raphael showing off the fact that he understands movement of the human body and is now able to recreate it in paint. Though Michelangelo’s influence on Raphael’s work was obvious, Raphael placed his figure lower in priority in the School of Athens fresco. Upon observing the placement of figures and characters more closely in the fresco, I realized that there might be some sort of unspoken priority in Raphael’s mind. Plato, otherwise looked at as Leonardo Da Vinci, was probably Raphael’s biggest influence.
Thus, understandably his figure is one of the two focal points of the fresco located in the center. It is as if Raphael is showing us who were most important to him, through his work. Perugino is located next to Raphael’s portrait to the far right of the piece. As his first teacher, there must be some sort of kinship associated with Perugino, thus explaining why he’s sitting closest to Raphael. Bramante is portrayed as one of the Greek mathematicians, Euclid or Archimedes, because he was an architect. There is a crowd of students around this figure, drawing the viewer’s attention to this assumed portrait of Bramante.
Bramante was the architect of St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City and a good friend of Raphael’s. It is said that the building in which “The School of Athens” is depicted is the blueprint for St. Peter’s. Raphael placed the scene there to possibly pay homage to his friendship with Bramante. The figure of Heroclitus, also seen as the portrait of Michelangelo, can be examined several ways. My conclusion is that Raphael was greatly influenced by Michelangelo’s work and technique, but still there was a rivalry between them due to different views on art.
Raphael acknowledges both of these feelings in his portrayal of Michelangelo by placing him near the middle of the fresco, however, he is singled out as a loner and “a dirty old man” in tattered clothes. Raphael’s “School of Athens” is a bit more complicated than it appears. Raphael disguises his influences as historical figures associated with the wall theme of “Philosophy. ” When further analyzing the position of the figures, the viewer is able to draw conclusions about the importance of each. Raphael’s biggest influences, Perugino, Da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Bramante, are the most prominent figures.
Their influence is not only shown with their presence in the fresco, but Raphael’s technique shows evident similarities as well. The hulking and voluminous figures of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel Ceiling are kin to Raphael’s figures in the “School of Athens. ” Though Raphael acknowledged Michelangelo’s influence on his technique, he also made note of their rivalry by placing him in tattered clothes and toward the bottom of the fresco. Raphael’s work was full of pyramids courtesy of Leonardo, and he acknowledged this by making Leonardo one of the focal points.
Keeping all these points in mind, it interesting to note that Raphael tells multiple stories without words in his fresco “The School of Athens. ” “Raphael’s School of Athens” 2 Nicholas Penny. “Raphael. ” Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. 17 Nov. 2009 . 3 Nicholas Penny. “Raphael. ” Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. 17 Nov. 2009 . 4 Nicholas Penny. “Raphael. ” Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. 17 Nov. 2009 . 5 Raphael (Raffaello Sanzio) http://www. artchive. com/artchive/R/raphael. html 6 Raphael (Raffaello Sanzio) 7 Raphael (Raffaello Sanzio)