Raphael Paints the "School of Athens"

The School of Athens, or Scuola di Atene in Italian, is one of the most famous paintings by the Italian Renaissance artist Raphael.

It was painted between 1510 and 1511 as a part of Raphael's commission to decorate with frescoes the rooms now known as the Stanze di Raffaello, in the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican. The Stanza della Segnatura was the first of the rooms to be decorated, and The School of Athens the second painting to be finished there, after La Disputa, on the opposite wall. The picture has long been seen as "Raphael's masterpiece and the perfect embodiment of the classical spirit of the High Renaissance."

This fresco in the Vatican has been called The School of Athens for the past 300 years for want of a better title. It represents an assembly of the greatest philosophers of antiquity. For the first time in Western Art a painter was able to represent the harmonious unity underlying the diverse pursuits of human reason by portraying some of the rationalist tradition's most exemplary individuals as all at work in one mythical place and at one mythical time.

The School of Athens is something of an ambiguous title in that despite the presence of such eminent Athenians as Socrates, and his various students Xenophon, Alcibiades and Diogenes, there are many non-Athenian worthies in the famous scene. We see non-Athenian figures who are known to have visited Athens such as Parmenides and his disciple Zeno, and there are also thinkers who lived long after the death of Aristotle such as Epicurus. Most interesting is the brooding presence of Zoroaster from ancient Persia who lived long before the time of Athens, and Averroes the great Islamic commentator on Aristotle who lived many centuries later. As it turns out the "school" of Athens can be found in places and times very distant from where the tradition of Greek moral and philosophical reasoning actually began. Raphael wishes us to see how reason is truly multicultural and trans-historical.