Raphael, School of Athens

Raphael, School of Athens

November 29, 2019 53 By Stanley Isaacs


– [Voiceover] We’re in the very crowded and not very large room called
the Stanza della Segnatura that is not only dense with people, but it’s dense with imagery. We’re looking at frescoes by Raphael. – [Voiceover] Painted
during the High Renaissance at the same time that
Michelangelo was painting the Sistine Chapel ceiling
just a few doors away. This room was originally a library, part of the papal apartments, that is the apartments
where the Pope lived. In order to imagine what this
room would have looked like at the beginning of the 16th Century, imagine away all of these people and imagine instead the
lower walls lined with books. – [Voiceover] And also imagine quiet which is hard to do here, and an environment of
learning where you could look up at what Raphael
painted here on the four walls which are the four branches
of human knowledge, philosophy, having to do
with things of this world. – [Voiceover] The philosophy at this time also meant what we know call the sciences. – [Voiceover] On the
opposite wall theology, having to do with issues relating to God and the divine. And on the two other
walls, poetry and justice. So these four areas of
human knowledge symbolized by allegorical figures
that we see on the ceiling, and it’s so clear that a few
doors away is Michelangelo because Raphael is clearly looking at Michelangelo’s figures on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel
especially the prophets and the Sybils. What a moment in the High Renaissance all commissioned thanks to Pope Julius II. – [Voiceover] And think
about what it means for theology to be presented equally with human knowledge. It is this extraordinarily liberal moment in church history. – [Voiceover] When
humanist’s classical learning can be united with the
teachings of the church. In the center of the School of Athens, the frescoe that represents philosophy, we have the two great
philosophers from antiquity in the center Plato and Aristotle surrounded by other great
thinkers and philosophers and mathematicians from antiquity. – [Voiceover] Virtually,
every known great figure, but let’s start with
the two in the center. We can tell Plato from Aristotle because Plato is older. Plato was, in fact, Aristotle’s teacher, but also because he holds
one of his own books, the Timaeus. – [Voiceover] And Aristotle
holds his book, The Ethics. – [Voiceover] Both of
those books represent the contrasting philosophies
of these two men. Plato was known for being
interested in the ethereal, the theoretical, that
which could not be seen, and, in fact, we see him pointing upward. – [Voiceover] This idea that
the world of appearances is not the final truth, that there is a realm that
is based on mathematics, on pure idea that is more true than the everyday world that we see. – [Voiceover] Whereas,
Aristotle, his student, focused his attention on the observable, the actual, the physical. You’ll notice that his palm is down, and he seems to be saying, “No, no, no, “let’s pay attention to what is here.” – [Voiceover] Right, to what we can see and observe in the world. – [Voiceover] In fact,
if you look at the colors that each of the figures wear, they refer to this division. Plato wears red and purple, the purple referring to the ether what we would call the air, the red to fire, neither
of which have weight. Aristotle wears blue and brown that is the colors of earth and water which have gravity, which have weight. – [Voiceover] So the
philosophers on either side of Plato and Aristotle
continue this division. On the side of Plato, we see philosophers concerned with issues of the ideal. For example, on the lower
left we see Pythagoras the great ancient mathematician who discovered laws of harmony
in music, in mathematics. This idea that there is
a reality that transcends the reality that we see. – [Voiceover] Compare
that to the lower right where we see Euclid, the figure
we associate with geometry. In fact, he seems to be
drawing a geometric diagram for some very eager students. But he is interested in measure, that is the idea of the practical. – [Voiceover] Euclid is modeled actually on a friend of Raphael’s
and that’s Bramante the great architect
asked by Pope Julius II to provide a new model
for a new Saint Peter’s. – [Voiceover] And in fact, appropriate to his reincarnation here as Euclid, Bramante’s design for
Saint Peter’s was based on a perfect geometry of circles and squares. – [Voiceover] And is really
visible in the architecture that Raphael constructed
for the School of Athens. Here we see an architecture
that is very Bramantian, but also very ancient Roman. We have coffered barrel vaults, Pilasters. This is a space that ennobles
the figures that it contains. – [Voiceover] And we
can see representations of classical sculpture in
the niches on the left, that is on the platonic side. We see Apollo, the God of the Sun, the God of Music, the God of Poetry, things that would be
appropriate to the platonic. In turn on the right, we see Athena, the God of War and Wisdom, who presumably is involved in the more practical affairs of man. – [Voiceover] All of
this seems to me to be a place that is the
opposite of the Medieval where knowledge was something
that was passed down by authority and one had to accept it. But here, on the walls
of the papal apartments, we get this image of sharing knowledge and the history of the
accumulation of knowledge all with figures who move beautifully who in their bodies
represent a gracefulness that is a reflection of their inner wisdom and knowledge. – [Voiceover] You’ll notice that Raphael has not placed any names
within the painting. The only identifiers are
perhaps the titles of the books that both Plato and Aristotle hold, and so we’re meant to understand who these figures are
through their movement, through their dress. Now, the artist has parted
both groups to the left and the right so that
the middle foreground is fairly empty. He does this, I think,
for a couple of reasons. He wants the linear perspective at the bottom of the painting to balance the strong orthogonals at
the top of the painting. He wants to make way for the advancement of Plato and Aristotle as
they walk down the stairs, but we also have two
figures in the foreground in the middle. We have Diogenes, and most interestingly, we have the ancient
philosopher, Heraclitus, who seems to be writing
and thinking quietly by himself. Most of the other figures in this painting are engaged with others, but not this man. He seems to be lost in his own thoughts. – [Voiceover] Well, and he is writing on a block of marble. In fact, his features are those of the great artist
Michelangelo known for his rather lonely and brooding personality. Raphael has painted him here in the same pose as the prophet Isaiah on the Sistine ceiling
although Isaiah looks up, and here Michelangelo’s
Heraclitus decidedly looks down. – [Voiceover] And so it’s so interesting that Raphael is paying
homage to Michelangelo the great artist here
personifying Heraclitus, the philosopher who
believed that all things were always in flux. – [Voiceover] That figure of Heraclitus was actually added later. Raphael finished the frescoe,
added some wet plaster, and added in that figure. We should also note that
Raphael included himself here. – [Voiceover] That’s
the young figure looking directly out at us in a black cap, and standing among some
of the most important astronomers of all time. – [Voiceover] Including
Ptolemy, who theorized about the movements of the planets. – [Voiceover] And Zoroaster, who’s holding the celestial orb. – [Voiceover] We’re so
far here from the Medieval idea of the artist as a craftsman. Here the artist is
considered an intellectual on par with some the
greatest thinkers in history, who can express these important ideas. So we have dozens of figures here without any sense of
stiffness or repetition. Raphael, like Leonardo, in The Last Supper divides the figures into groups. Each figure overlaps and moves easily between and amongst the others. My favorite two figures are
the ones just behind Euclid, one leaning against the wall with his leg crossed over the other who’s hurrying and writing some notes. The other leaning over and watching. – [Voiceover] There’s a wonderful
sense of intimacy there. – [Voiceover] I think
it’s a scene you could see walking along the hallway of
any college or university. – [Voiceover] For all the
free movement of the figures, the architecture itself is
using a linear perspective in a rigorous way. You can follow the orthogonal
either in the pavement, or in the cornices as they recede back. – [Voiceover] So the
illusion of space here in incredible. -[Voiceover] Look at the
way that the decoration of the Greek meander seems
as if it goes back in space. What’s interesting though
is if this architecture is harking back to any ancient tradition, it’s harking back to the Roman tradition not to the Greek’s who would never use barrel vaults in this way. -[Voiceover] Nearby, Bramante,
Raphael, Michelangelo could see the Baths of Caracalla, or the Basilica of
Manutius and Constantine. There was Roman architectural
ruins all over the city that resembled what
Raphael has painted here. – [Voiceover] It’s so
extraordinary that we’re celebrating here, the Pantheon
of great pagan thinkers. None of these men were Christians. Let’s take a quick look at the frescoes that’s opposite the School of Athens known as the Dispute. – [Voiceover] This frescoe
represents theology, the study of the divine. Figures here are divided
between the heavenly and the earthly. – [Voiceover] Close to the
top we see God the Father in the dome of heaven. Below him, Christ in this
marvelous full-body halo, or mandorla, and he’s
surrounded by the Virgin Mary on his right, and St. John
the Baptist on his left. Just below, a dove
against another gold disk, and this is the Holy Spirit, so all three together are the Trinity. – [Voiceover] On either side of the dove are the four books of the gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and
John, that tell the story of the life of Christ. On that wonderful bench of
clouds sit prophets and saints. – [Voiceover] And we can
actually recognize, for instance, Moses holding the 10 commandments. – [Voiceover] And then
another circle below contains the host, or the
bread that is miraculously the body of Christ during the Mass. – [Voiceover]The bread functions as a link between heaven and earth. We can see how separated
heaven and earth are in this fresco, and how
important that link is. -[Voiceover] The figures along the bottom are Popes, and Bishops, and Cardinals, and members of various religious orders. – [Voiceover] The fathers of the church, we can make out a portrait of Dante, the great Medieval poet. – [Voiceover] We have
a sense of the figures on the bottom of the frescoe, coming to divine knowledge
through the miracle of the host, and two figures on either end seem to be moving away
from that divine knowledge. – [Voiceover] But there’s efforts
being made to turn them around, to bring them back. – [Voiceover] So here, in
the Stanza della Segnatura a room that functioned as the library for Pope Julius II, a
celebration of all aspects of human knowledge.