| Scuola D'Atene
("SCHOOL OF ATHENS")
The fresco we have chosen for our front page is one of Raffaello
Sanzio's (Raphael) most famous works. It was painted
in 1508 for Pope Julius II when Raphael was 27 years old. The Pope
was so impressed by the young master's work, that he commissioned
Raphael to paint the entire papal
suite inside the Vatican. Recently, the School of Athens was restored
and opened for public viewing on April 22, 1996.
Credit. We are grateful to Christus Rex, Inc. for permission
to reproduce it from their collection.
An Analysis of the painting. The following Commentary about
the painting "Scuola Di Atene" (School of Athens) by Raphael
appears on the Web Page of George Mason University in Virginia.
"The center of the fresco shows us two of the fundamental
characters of western philosophy, Plato
(on the left of the painting with his finger pointing to the sky)
and Aristotle (on the right with
his finger pointing to the ground, in a symbolism which we leave
to the reader to unearth). Plato
carries under his arm a book whose title is clearly visible if you
have the opportunity to see the fresco in its original form. The
book is one of Plato's most influential
dialogues (and probably the most analyzed dialogue of the Middle
Ages), The Timaeus (Timeo, in the painting).
"The topic of the dialogue is the origin of the universe,
and its treatment is a fascinating mixture of legend, mathematics,
music, and philosophy, an early example of the unity of knowledge
which is embodied in the liberal arts. Aristotle's
book is the no-less influential Ethics, and seeing the two books
side by side reminds us directly of the importance of ethics in
the education of our students and in the making of good citizens,
one of the declared objectives of the liberal arts.
"As Plato and Aristotle
descend the stairs at the center of the fresco, we have the opportunity
to observe a few other central characters. At Plato's
left, we see his teacher Socrates,
chasing away old ideas, and in front of Socrates,
Pythagoras, discussing with
a student the foundations of music. On the other side, Ptolemy,
the great geographer, is represented holding a globe, and below
him, the great Euclid, the founder
of geometry (or at least its first great writer).
"But on closer inspection the painting reveals even more fascinating
discoveries. We see, for example, near Ptolemy
the Arab scholar Averroes, who
is responsible for the modern western knowledge of the work of Aristotle.
It is singularly interesting and relevant to what we do, that Raphael
wanted to make explicit, in the middle of a painting which seems
to be devoted uniquely to the western heritage, the debt such heritage
owes to other cultures.
"The painting has two clear messages. The first is that knowledge
is a dialogue, a dialogue which is implicit in the process of learning.
When we learn, when we study, when we produce new knowledge, we
are engaging in a dialogue which transcends time and space. This
dialogue is not just with our contemporaries, but with our precursors
as well as with the scholars of centuries to come. This message
is implicit in the parade of scholars from different times and places
all congregated at the School of Athens. This dialogue takes place
in a community beyond both space and time, a community which is
being continuously recreated.
"The second message in the painting is the unity of knowledge.
At the School of Athens, many different disciplines are taught,
but it is their simultaneous teaching that constitutes the strength
and uniqueness of the liberal arts. Note the metaphor that Raphael
himself uses to signify the unity of knowledge -- the architectural
structure. If we look again at the fresco, we see that the School,
in which many characters are moving around, is physically enclosed
by three arches which trace imaginary circles around the main actor/teachers.
The architecture forms a unifying element, and therefore serves
as our final metaphor for the College of Arts and Sciences; the
locus is not a physical but an intellectual one, which provides
the opportunity for the development of both the community and the
dialogue which bring the liberal arts back to life."
The School of Athens and Heritage Month. The Italian-American
Heritage Committee believes that "Scuola Di Atene" is
a fitting work of art for our Home Page because we believe that
a proper observance of Italian-American Heritage Month requires
that people engage in a dialogue between the present and the past.
"Scuola D'Atene" represents an artistic rendering of just
such a dialogue.
For us, the painting symbolizes the simple but profoundly important
truth that our reality is shaped by the past in ways that we can
see and in ways that are not visible, and it reminds us that our
cultural heritage is the result of the contributions of many different
cultural influences. Thus, in a sense, there is a unity of cultural
traditions just as there is a unity of knowledge.
What is your interpretation? What does "Scuola D'Atene"
mean to you? We invite you to reflect on the meaning of this important
work of art, and to share your thoughts with us. We therefore invite
viewers to submit essays on the meaning of this painting and its
contemporary significance to our webmaster.
Submit an essay. Essays should be no more than 750 words.
Essays must be the original work of the author and must give credit
to any sources on which the author relies. Each essay we receive
will be submitted to our Cultural Affairs Committee and the essay
that is deemed to be the best will appear on our Web page during
Additional images of the painting. For an interesting arrangement
of the individual personalities in the painting, See
Additional material about Renaissance Artists. One of the
most famous collections of biographies of Renaissance artists was
published in Florence in 1550 Giorgio Vasari and is titled "Lives
of the Artists." See http://easyweb.easynet.co.uk/giorgio.vasari/vaspref.htm
This site also contains an interesting list of links. Also, see
our extensive collection of cultural
links with many references to art and artists.
Click here to contact the webmaster