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The School of Athens Painting

Who was raphael?

He was known for creating a personal style characterized by the utilization of colors and compositional elegance. He was commissioned by the Pope to paint in the Vatican Palace, creating a series of frescoes that were part of his major artworks.

the school of athens in context

The School of Athens (c. 1509 - 1511) is among one of the most revered Renaissance paintings.


The School of Athens painting was part of the commissioned artworks by Pope Julius II when Raphael moved to Rome.

The central figures are two of the most revered Ancient Greek philosophers, namely, Plato who is to our left, and next to him is Aristotle, to our right.

Other prominent figures in the left part of the composition include the Greek philosopher Epicurus, the man with the green crown of leaves on his head busy writing.

Sitting with his head resting on his left hand, undoubtedly in the process of writing something is Heraclitus of Ephesus.

There are two statues in the background, each on opposite sides of the court area. To the far left is Apollo and to the far right is the Greek goddess Athena.

We see Raphael’s face in between other figures to the far right where the arch meets the pillar. He stands, wearing a black hat, next to the figure who is holding a globe.

The entire composition depicts a light-filled space.  We see this especially near the background where the architectural space opens and shows us only glimpses of the blue sky and white clouds.


The use of linear perspective and a vanishing point relies on Raphael's use of the architectural setting. The foreground opens as if it is a stage that we can walk onto.


An important question that pops up is, namely, what is Plato’s gesture, and what is meant by it? We see Plato’s right index is pointing to the sky while Aristotle’s right hand indicates towards the ground.


The hand gestures of both philosophers give clear examples of their respective philosophical beliefs. Plato believes in a "real" world that is not seen, while Aristotle argues for the real world that becomes real through our senses.