Raphael's School of Athens: A Research Paper

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" Bell's article underlines the thinking behind Raphael's masterpiece. It is not simply an imagined portrait of famous people; rather it is a philosophical treatise, in symbolic form, of what it meant to be a great man, as embodied in these different figures.

Glenn Most, in his 1996 article "The School of Athens and its Pre-text" from Critical Inquiry agrees that the central question of the School of Athens is "How can an artist represent pictorially an intellectual activity like philosophy? In the School of Athens, Raphael chooses to do so by depicting the manifold set of ratiocinative and discursive activities performed on a sunny day in a splendid building by a large number of adult male philosophers… because Raphael's image has embedded itself so deeply in our visual unconscious. It requires an effort of the historical imagination to recognize that this was not an inevitable, or even a likely, way to represent philosophy in the first decade of the sixteenth century -- indeed, that the fundamental conception of the School of Athens is entirely without precedent in the tradition of European art.

" in doing so, Glen Most suggests, Raphael created the symbolic ideal of what modern, Western culture now identifies as the iconic image of 'the philosopher.' The obviousness is retroactive, and to read the painting with the eyes of a medieval observer, one must not take the identities for granted in a physical sense like Bell stresses, but also the fact that certain identities of particular philosophers were selected and others were excluded by Raphael. Glenn Most stresses that it is not simply that Raphael was selecting figures from the great cannon of philosophy, art, history, and science of the ancient world -- he was also creating that cannon in his painting. Now, we cannot think of what looks like a Greek philosopher without thinking of Raphael, and we define what constitutes the cannon of ancient philosophy at least in part because of our vision of the past, as seen through
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the eyes of the Renaissance era art's work.

Most's postmodern analysis is an important reminder not to look at the School of Athens with the eyes of a modern critic and assume that the sense of history we bring to it, and our vision of pristine Greek philosophy, is how Raphael's contemporaries would have seen it. Bell's article underlines the fact that how Raphael chose to illustrate the work was quite deliberate, and part of his own philosophy and ideas, not simply an intuitive creation. Reading Most and Bell's analysis that mainly pertains to the Greek figures within the School, however, should be contextualized in relationship to Alkholy's more radical analysis. Alkholy suggests that not only did contemporary readers view the painting in a different light than we do today, but that much has been lost in translation from the medieval world to our own.

The School of Athens created how modernity sees ancient philosophers. Analyzing the way that the painting is seen today, however, is also noteworthy for what 'read out' of it, such as the importance of Islamic science and math. Perceptions of the Raphael work are influenced by external historical events: The School of Athens has shaped how viewers see the classical past, but perceptions of the work are likewise influenced by how critics and students see the historical present. Art can never be perceived as existing in a vacuum, even a work of art that is symbolic and iconic as the School. Unpacking the assumptions viewers today bring to the painting is itself a 'schooling' in how the ancient world -- pagan, Islamic, and Christian -- is perceived.

Bibliography

Alkholy, Inas. "The Presence of Secular Books in Raphael's Fresco the School of Athens."

Comparative Islamic Studies, 2.1 (2006) 51-65.

Bell, Daniel Orth. "New identifications in Raphael's School of Athens." Art Bulletin. 77.5

(1995): 639-646.

Most, Glenn. "The School of Athens and its Pre-text." Critical Inquiry. 23.1 (1996): 145.

Inas Alkholy, "The Presence of Secular Books in Raphael's Fresco the School of Athens," Comparative Islamic Studies, 2.1 (2006): 58.

Daniel Orth Bell, "New identifications…

Sources Used in Documents:

Bibliography

Alkholy, Inas. "The Presence of Secular Books in Raphael's Fresco the School of Athens."

Comparative Islamic Studies, 2.1 (2006) 51-65.

Bell, Daniel Orth. "New identifications in Raphael's School of Athens." Art Bulletin. 77.5

(1995): 639-646.

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