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Raphael Sanzio (Italian: Raffaello) (1483 - 1520)  The School of Athens  Fresco, 1509-1510  500 cm × 770 cm (200 in × 300 in)  Apostolic Palace, Rome, Vatican City
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Title: The School of Athens
Raphael Sanzio (Italian: Raffaello) (1483 - 1520)
The School of Athens
Fresco, 1509-1510
500 cm × 770 cm (200 in × 300 in)
Apostolic Palace, Rome, Vatican City

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.
The "School of Athens" is one of a group of four main frescoes on the walls of the Stanza (those on either side centrally interrupted by windows) that depict distinct branches of knowledge. Each theme is identified above by a separate tondo containing a majestic female figure seated in the clouds, with putti bearing the phrases: “Seek Knowledge of Causes”, “Divine Inspiration”, “Knowledge of Things Divine” (Disputa), “To Each What Is Due”. Accordingly, the figures on the walls below exemplify Philosophy, Poetry (including Music), Theology, Law.  The traditional title is not Raphael's, and the subject of the “School” is actually "Philosophy", or at least ancient Greek philosophy, and its overhead tondo-label, “Causarum Cognitio” tells us what kind, as it appears to echo Aristotle’s emphasis on wisdom as knowing why, hence knowing the causes, in Metaphysics Book I and Metaphysics Book II. Indeed, Aristotle appears to be the central figure in the scene below. However all the philosophers depicted sought to understand through knowledge of first causes. Many lived before Plato and Aristotle, hardly a third were Athenians, and the architecture is Roman, not Greek.

Commentators have suggested that nearly every great Greek philosopher can be found within the painting, but determining which are depicted is difficult, since Raphael made no designations outside possible likenesses, and no contemporary documents explain the painting. Compounding the problem, Raphael had to invent a system of iconography to allude to various philosophers for whom there were no traditional visual types. For example, while the Socrates figure is immediately recognizable from Classical busts, the alleged Epicurus is far removed from the standard type for that philosopher. Nevertheless, there is widespread agreement on the identity of certain figures within the painting. Aside from the identities of the philosophers shown, many aspects of the fresco have been interpreted, but few such interpretations are generally accepted among scholars. The popular idea that the rhetorical gestures of Plato and Aristotle are kinds of pointing (to the heavens, and down to earth) is a likely reading. However Plato’s Timaeus – which is the book Raphael places in his hand – was a sophisticated treatment of space, time and , including the Earth, which guided mathematical sciences for over a millennium. Aristotle, with his four elements theory, held that all on Earth was owing to the motions of the heavens. In the painting Aristotle carries his Ethics, which he denied could be reduced to a mathematical science. It is not established how much the young Raphael knew of ancient philosophy, what guidance he might have had from people such as Bramante, or what detailed program may have been dictated by the Papal sponsor. Heinrich Wölfflin observed that "it is quite wrong to attempt interpretations of the School of Athens as an esoteric treatise ... The all-important thing was the artistic motive which expressed a physical or spiritual state, and the name of the person was a matter of indifference" in Raphael's time. What is evident is Raphael's artistry in orchestrating a beautiful space, continuous with that of viewers in the Stanza, in which a great variety of human figures, each one expressing "mental states by physical actions", interact, and are grouped in a "polyphony" unlike anything in earlier art, in the ongoing dialogue of Philosophy.
The identity of some of the philosophers in the picture, such as Plato or Aristotle, is incontrovertible. But the identification of the central figure lying on the stairs as Diogenes is clearly incorrect. Daniel Ort Bell has argued convincingly that this figure is in fact Socrates. The bowl from which he has just drunk his hemlock rests beside him, and the two figures to his left gesture in his direction with distress at the philosopher's suicide. The figure usually identified as Socrates in the upper left, although it seems to be based on images of Socrates known during the Renaissance, is placed in a far too decentralized position for the founder of Greek philosophy. The identification of Raphael's' figures has always been a matter of conjecture, and Bell's work thoroughly re-examines all of these identifications. Scholars have always tended to disagree on many of the other figures, some of whom have double identities as ancients and as figures contemporary to Raphael. 
In the center of the fresco, at its architecture's central vanishing point, are the two undisputed main subjects: Plato on the left and Aristotle, his student, on the right. Both figures hold modern (of the time), bound copies of their books in their left hands, while gesturing with their right. Plato holds Timaeus, Aristotle his Nicomachean Ethics. Plato is depicted as old, grey, wise-looking, bare-foot. By contrast Aristotle, slightly ahead of him, is in mature manhood, handsome, well-shod and dressed, with gold, and the youth about them seem to look his way. In addition, these two central figures gesture along different dimensions: Plato vertically, upward along the picture-plane, into the beautiful vault above; Aristotle on the horizontal plane at right-angles to the picture-plane (hence in strong foreshortening), initiating a powerful flow of space toward viewers. It is popularly thought that their gestures indicate central aspects of their philosophies, Plato's his Theory of Forms, Aristotle's his empiricist views, with an emphasis on concrete particulars. However Plato's Timaeus was, even in the Renaissance, a very influential treatise on the cosmos, whereas Aristotle insisted that the purpose of ethics is "practical" rather than "theoretical" or "speculative": not knowledge for its own sake, as he considered cosmology to be.
The building is in the shape of a Greek cross, which some have suggested was intended to show a harmony between pagan philosophy and Christian theology (see Christianity and Paganism and Christian philosophy). The architecture of the building was inspired by the work of Bramante, who, according to Vasari, helped Raphael with the architecture in the picture. Some have suggested that the building itself was intended to be an advance view of St. Peter's Basilica.

There are two sculptures in the background. The one on the left is the god Apollo, god of the Sun, archery and music, holding a lyre. The sculpture on the right is Athena, goddess of wisdom, in her Roman guise as Minerva.

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Raphael Sanzio (Italian: Raffaello) (1483 - 1520)  Portrait of Baldassare Castiglione  Oil on canvas, 1514-1515  82 cm × 67 cm (32 in × 26 in)  Louvre, Paris, FranceRaphael Sanzio (Italian: Raffaello) (1483 - 1520)  The School of Athens  Fresco, 1509-1510  500 cm × 770 cm (200 in × 300 in)  Apostolic Palace, Rome, Vatican CityRaphael Sanzio (Italian: Raffaello) (1483 - 1520)  St. Michael Vanquishing Satan  Oil on canvas, 1518  268 cm × 160 cm (106 in × 63 in)  Louvre, Paris, France
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