Sunday, March 21, 2010

The School of Athens - Part 1

I was talking with a fellow Liberal Arts second year student this year and she told me that I had to look at The school of Athens because it was a very interesting and unique painting because it has so much history, colors and symbols in it. Once I started researching on Raphael’s painting, I realized I had too much information for a single article, therefore, I will divide it into parts which I will continue throughout the semester.
The school of Athens was a painting made by Raphael in 1510. He was asked by the pope in Florence to destroy the old paintings on the walls of the Vatican Palace in order to replace those of older painters. Raphael painted the School of Athens which is in fact, his vision of the world of Humanistic thought. It represented an ideal community of intellects from the entire classical world. The room is very spacious and airy. The artist used major philosophical figures in order to represent classical wisdom and science. Two of these characters are Aristotle and Plato, located at the very center of the painting. It is said that they were arguing about Idealism vs. Realism. Plato, the one with the red robe, is holding a book he wrote called Timaeus, as he was explaining how '’ the universe was created from perfect mathematical models, forms and the regular geometric solids.’’ His right hand is pointing towards the sky, indicating that his theory on the Ideals of Beauty, Goodness and Truth are above us. Aristotle, the man dressed in a blue robe, is pointing his finger straight ahead and this apparently means that he is pointing ‘’out into the solid world of material reality, into the world of physical science and practical reason.’’
The painting has some sort of a mirror effect for it looks as if our gaze keeps going further away until it is at its focus point: Plato and Aristotle. The arches of the door frames gives us the illusion of narrowing our sight to the central point of the picture. Around these two philosophers heads is a semi-circle and this is an ancient symbol for perfection, therefore, making it represent the mind of God. There is a statue of Apollo on Plato’s right. He is naked and is the god of poetry and fine arts. The way he is standing makes his figure look feminine yet masculine at the same time. He stands in the classical contra position pose that goes way back to the Greek "Canon" of Polycleitus. He might be on Plato’s side for all poets and abstract thinker are allied with Plato. On Aristotle’s left, there is a statue of Athena, the goddess of reason. Unlike Apollo, she is fully dressed and is dressed in her battle dress. She must be on Aristotle’s side for all those who are said to be physical scientists and more empirical thinkers are associated with Aristotle. If we look at the painting closely, we see that Raphael had fun with lines for Apollo and Plato’s heads are connected by a diagonal line as well as Athena and Aristotle’s heads.

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