The School of Athens by Raphael

During the Italian Renaissance, there was great interest in the Classical era. Ancient Greece and Rome were glorified and their architecture, literature, music and other creative expressions were copied. They were considered, as Plato might have described them, “pure forms.”

I have always been intrigued by this 1511 painting by Raphael. Not just whom he chose to include in this idealized cast of historic greats, but that he left no record of who all of these people were. Plato and Aristotle are clearly shown, but even Raphael’s contemporaries didn’t know who all the others were. Is that Ptolemy? Raphael himself? Diogenes? Or perhaps Sodoma? It is as if Raphael painted to delight himself, not his audience, and through this created art.

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