Everyone knows about Raphael Sanzio’s immortal mural entitled the School of Athens featuring an array of philosophers across the ages centred around the epistemological divide between the founder of the School of Athens named Plato (in motion, holding his Timaeus while pointing to the eternal realm of ideas) in a debate with the chief sophist of the Lyceum, Aristotle (featured fixed in his static position holding his Nichomacean Ethics and invoking the material realm of “solid” facts)… But how many people know about the entire Vatican chamber in which this mural is located?
How many people know that this painting is but one part of a much larger piece of work?
Even though one may enjoy the last movement of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, or a single Act of a Shakespearean play, it is ultimately a much greater joy to listen to the whole symphony or experience the whole play rather than simply a beautiful part out of context.
Such is the case with the Stanza della Segnatura- the entire chamber Raphael was commissioned to paint from 1509-1511 which features four great murals (the Cardinal Virtues, Parnassus, Disputation of the Holy Sacrement and School of Athens) as well as an elaborate ceiling filled with rich artistry and symbolism which re-enforces the singular theme of the room as a whole.
What is this unifying theme which unites the various movements into one visual symphony? In the following video, historian/musicologist Fred Haight discusses all of these questions and more.