Decoding Raphael’s ‘School of Athens’ in the High Renaissance

"The School of Athens" is not just a depiction of scholars gathered in an architectural setting. It symbolizes the intellectual pursuits and philosophical ideas of the Renaissance. Raphael cleverly incorporates various Greek philosophers and their schools of thought into the composition.

The painting features two main groups of philosophers, each representing different philosophical traditions. On the right side, Plato and his followers are depicted, emphasizing idealism and the realm of forms. On the left side, Aristotle and his followers symbolize empirical observation and the pursuit of knowledge through the senses.

The central figures of the painting are Plato and Aristotle, engaged in deep conversation as they walk down the steps. This represents the Renaissance interest in reconciling the ideas of these two influential philosophers, as well as the balance between theory and practice.

The architectural backdrop of "The School of Athens" is a blend of classical elements, combining Roman and Greek architectural styles. This setting serves as a metaphor for the Renaissance revival of classical learning and culture.

Many of the philosophers depicted in the painting can be identified through their gestures, attributes, and historical context. For example, Plato points upward to signify his focus on ideal forms, while Aristotle gestures outward to indicate his emphasis on empirical observation.

Raphael included himself in the painting as one of the figures. He is believed to be the figure on the right side, standing next to the ancient Greek mathematician Euclid. This self-portrait serves as a testament to Raphael's skill and importance within the artistic and intellectual circles of his time.