Ubi Maior - Card 49

Ubi Maior Rome Card School of Athens, Ubi Maior – Card 49, Rome Guides


The School of Athens is a fresco created between 1509 and 1511 by the Italian Renaissance painter Raphael Sanzio and is located in the Signature Room, one of the four halls of the Papal Apartment, located inside the Apostolic Palaces.

The School of Athens offers a representation of the seven liberal arts with grammar, arithmetic and music in the foreground from the left, geometry and astronomy on the right, and rhetoric and dialectic at the top.

In the fresco, the most famous ancient philosophers and mathematicians are portrayed as they discuss with each other in the backdrop of an imaginary classical building, represented in perfect perspective. The figures are arranged on two floors defined by a wide staircase, with one the top Plato and Aristotle who converse with each other. A second group on the left is represented by thinkers interested in the knowledge of nature and celestial phenomena, while on the right are the mathematicians, with Euclid drawing a geometric demonstration.

The fifty-eight figures in the fresco have always challenged scholars to identify them. What is certain is that to figure various characters Raphael chose the face of artists contemporary with him. For example Plato, who holds the Timaeus and raises his finger upwards to indicate the Goo, has the appearance of Leonardo da Vinci. The character on the left, dressed in white with ephibic features and looking towards the spectators would be Francesco Maria Della Rovere, Duke of Urbino and nephew of Pope Julius II. Euclid was depicted with the appearance of the architect Donato Bramante, while Michelangelo Buonarroti would have given his face to the philosopher Heraclitus. Raphael chose to put himself in the fresco too, impersonating the figure of the famous Greek painter Apelles, on the extreme right of the wall.

Raphael’s great fresco was a sort of manifest of the Renaissance, that placed the man at the center of the universe: the human was able to dominat the reality, thanks to the intellect.