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The School of Athens
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Arty Fact

cschuster's picture

Sr. Contributor

Stare at The School of Athens long enough, and you'll become a master debater.

That's the point. This verifiable greatest hit of the Western canon brings together some of the most important topics your noodle needs to kick your opponent's butt in rhetoric. If you just study real hard like the grand masters of the ancient liberal arts in this painting, you'll get there in no time. It's all here: Astronomy, arithmetic, geometry, ethics. And it's all about as subtle as an advertisement for the University of Phoenix. Except Raphael's educational program has to be legit. The fresco takes up a wall in what use to be the study of Pope Julius II. That's about as good as a celebrity endorsement from the Renaissance can get.

There's a bunch of celebrity appearances at play here, as well. Leonardo da Vinci is the model for Socrates, the bald guy pointing to the sky at center left. Aristotle is to his right. Other liberal arts heroes are scattered about, the likes of Pythagoras, Diogenes, Zoroaster, Ptolemy and others. Bramante makes an appearance as Euclid, and Raphael does a little self-portrait as the guy to the right in the douche-y beret. And then, there's mopey Heraclitus. Front and center leaning on a block of stone. That, dear reader, is a rendering of none other than Michelangelo.

Michelangelo getting a treatment like this by Raphael is about as likely as seeing Ultron help Iron Man. The two had a bad relationship. Rumor has it the bad blood sprung from a time Bramante got Raphael into the Sistine Chapel for a sneak peak of the masterpiece before it was finished. But really, Raphael was an ascendant painting superstar in Rome when Michelangelo was top dog. And Michelangelo was a jealous guy. It didn't take long for him to set sights on destroying Raphael like Rachel McAdams on Lindsay Lohan in Mean Girls. Raphael had the gall to be so talented that people gossiped he actually did the Sistine Chapel. I mean, what nerve, right? To be so talented that people presume you did stuff and it not be the case. But, Michelangelo wasn't a reasonable guy. Raphael shrugged off the feud and kept on a simple regimen of ignoring him.

The fresco's had some super random musical tie-ins in the last couple decades. A graphic rendition of the character Plotinus (the leggy fella writing on his knee to the right) was the focal point for the Guns 'n Roses double-album Use Your Illusion I & II. More recently, the music video for Alt-J's no traction track "Tessellate" is a meandering reworking of the painting, featuring a cast of ne'er do wells dancing and throwing bones in, from what I can discern, is a ghetto fabulous basilica at the bottom of a shark tank.

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Here is what Wikipedia says about The School of Athens

The School of Athens (Italian: Scuola di Atene) is a fresco by the Italian Renaissance artist Raphael. It was painted between 1509 and 1511 as a part of Raphael's commission to decorate 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, representing Philosophy, was probably the third painting to be finished there, after La Disputa (Theology) on the opposite wall, and the Parnassus (Literature). The picture has long been seen as "Raphael's masterpiece and the perfect embodiment of the classical spirit of the Renaissance".

Check out the full Wikipedia article about The School of Athens.