[MR] BBC Culture: Raphael's "School of Athens"

Garth Groff and Sally Sanford mallardlodge1000 at gmail.com
Thu Sep 10 03:51:20 PDT 2020

Noble Friends,

Today BBC Culture is offering a story about Raphael's famous "School of
Athens" painting. The original was commissioned about 1509 by Pope Julius
II for the walls of the Vatican's "Stanza della Signatura", a room where
the Pope's inner council, The Supreme Tribunal of the Apoltolic Signatura"
met. This room was where official Catholic doctrine was formalized. Here's
the article:

Raphael chose a different theme for each wall. The "School of Athens"
fresco was designed to pay homage to the great philosophers. However,
Raphael had to have models for his philosophers, and several artistic
contemporaries were used, whether they knew it or not. For example, Plato
is represented by Leonardo Da Vinci, while the seated figure pausing in his
writing is thought to be based on Michaelangelo, who was busy daubing away
in the nearby Sistine Chapel at about the same time. Raphael also drew
inspiration from existing paintings and sculpture. Aristotle, next to
Plato/Da Vinci is thought to be derived from St. Thomas in Da Vinci's "Last
Supper". Raphael even stuck himself into the painting:
. All this gives scholars great fodder for argumentation, and everybody
seems to have a different opinion about most of the figures.

The most interesting figure to me is perhaps the only woman in the whole
composition. She is wearing the white robe and standing at the bottom of
the steps in the lower left foreground. This figure is sometimes identified
as Hypatia of Alexandria, a neo-Platonist philosopher and mathematician.
Hypatia was torn to pieces by a Christian mob incited by Saint Cyril in
415. Considering the circumstances of Hypatia's death, putting her in the
painting was a bold and somewhat cheeky move by Raphael. Commentators are
divided over whether this really is Hypatia, and also whether the model was
Raphael's mistress, an alleged male lover, or Raphael himself. For a
blow-up see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_School_of_Athens#/media/File:"The_School_of_Athens"_by_Raffaello_Sanzio_da_Urbino.jpg

Just in case you can't make it to Rome to see the original, there is a copy
in the Victoria and Albert Museum. Closer to home, there is a copy behind
the performance stage in Cabell Hall at the University of Virginia, and
another in the Student Union at the University of North Carolina's
Asheville campus.

Yours Aye,

Lord Mungo Napier, Laird of Mallard Lodge  🦆

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