Question about Rapahel's "The School of Athens"

The subjects of Rapahel’s “The School of Athens” (Plato, Aristotle, etc.) are shown occupying an architectural space that is clearly Roman. The Greeks didn’t build large vaulted spaces.

So what gives? Am I missing some obvious meaning? It’s hard to believe it would have been a mistake.


It was a bit of artistic license? I studied that piece years ago, when I’m at work I’ll try and find the notes about it…

I was looking at this picture in a book in my shop just today. Was he not just showing off his mastery of perspective?

Perhaps - as I speculate an answer to my own question - he was trying to be very didactic about the idea that the Renaissance was a rebirth of classical (Greek AND Roman) values. Seems kind of heavy-handed though.

Or was he showing Plato & Aristotle ‘revived’ in a contemporary (Renaissance) space? It looks vaguely like St. Peter’s…

In the Italian Renaissance they didn’t have such a firm grasp on ancient period styles-- if anyone knew about classical architecture it was Raphael (he later becomes minister of antiquities, basically), but this shows about what they knew. The space is based on something like bath spaces. But to 1500, classical is classical: high classical Pericles-era Greek, Hellenistic, Roman-- it was all ‘good ancient/classical.’

The subjects of the painting also lived over a timespan of close to 300 years. Hard to capture them all in one space while staying true to such a petty thing as ‘realism’ or ‘historical authenticity’. I’ll vote for artistic license. A crowded agora wouldn’t be half as cool looking as an open temple.

I’ve got a print of that painting hanging in my study. Rafe staring at me from the lower corner always creeps me out a litt.e

Don’t be confused by the title. There is no evidence for anyone calling it The School of Athens before 1671 and the first reference to it as that in print dates from 1685. (Indeed, some early commentators, including Vasari, didn’t even think that it showed a group of Greek philosophers.) Once you realise that Raphael never called it by its later name, it becomes easier to recognise that he didn’t necessarily intend it to be anywhere in particular.

Also, as well as the points others have mentioned, there’s the fact that the Stanza della Segnatura is vaulted, so the barrel vaults in the background not-so-subtlely pick up on that semi-circular emphasis.

The painting is based on a sketch by Bramante, who was Pope Julius ll’ architect for the rebuilding of St. Peter’s. This is the closest rendition we have of Bramante’s original design for the Basilica. Bramante wanted to combine the Greek Cross with the Dome of the Pantheon. So instead of holding the dome up with a cylinder, he hoped to hold it up with four immense piers. He drew this for Raphael, who painted it in the Pope’s library, so Julius could see what it would look like. This is Raphael’s first real fresco. And, yes he was showing off. He was in direct competition with Michaelangelo who was painting the Sistine Chapel less than 300’ away.
A good book on the Popes, architects, and artists who worked on St. Peters; Basilica by R. A. Scotti

(And, but the way, Bramante and Raph are from the same hometown (Urbino) and B probably hooked him up with his first jobs in Rome, and Raph will become, for a time, the head architect on the Peter’s project after B dies and before R dies-- a hot-potato project for some time. But this architecture was ‘buon antica’)

So who did they think the figures were standing at dead center holding volumes of Plato’s *Timaeus * and Aristotle’s Ethics?