The School of Athens is a fresco located in the Stanza della Segnatura in the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican.
Raphael was commissioned to decorate the public reception rooms of the Papal Apartments intended for Pope Julius II. These rooms are referred to as the Raphael Rooms in the Vatican Museums. They consisted of four rooms, namely Sala di Constantino, Stanza di Eliodoro, Stanza della Segnatura and Stanza dell’incendio del Borgo. The first room to be painted was the Stanza della Segnatura. Its four walls were decorated with frescoes depicting the four branches of knowledge, namely theology, philosophy, jurisprudence and poetry. The resulting frescoes depict The Disputation of the Holy Sacrament and The School of Athens on opposing walls, and similarly, The Cardinal Virtues and The Parnassus on opposing walls. The School of Athens was the second fresco to be painted and dates from 1509-1511. This fresco shows a series of twenty-one Greek philosophers, Renaissance painters and patrons. The Figures represent different aspects of classical thought and liberal arts, ranging from arithmetic, astronomy, dialect, geometry, music and rhetoric. The figures at the centre are Plato and Aristotle, who are accompanied by figures such as Socrates, Pythagoras and Diogenes. Leonardo da Vinci is referred to in the guise of Plato, with his facial features and long white beard. Similarly, Donato Bramante is shown in the guise of Euclid.
The fresco shows a mastery of disegno and perceptive in its depiction of figures and recessive architectural elements. It is one of the highlights in the Vatican Museums and should be on any art lover bucket list.
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The figure in the centre foreground leaning on a block was a later addition to the fresco. The figure represents Heracleitus but is given the features of Michelangelo Buonarroti. Raphael added this figure to the composition in homage to the great painter. It is believed that, after completing the fresco in 1511, Raphael returned to add this figure after seeing the first half of the frescoes on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. The Sistine Chapel is also part of the Apostolic Palace and is located around the corner from the Raphael Rooms.