Scuola D'Atene ("SCHOOL OF ATHENS")

Introduction:
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 October
2001.

Additional images of the painting. For an interesting arrangement of the individual personalities in the painting, See un2sg4.unige.ch/athena/raphael/raf_ath4.html

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.

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