Part of the fun of watching an Alfred Hitchcock film, like Psycho, is the quest to pick Hitchcock himself out of the many extras used in the film. He may have been the man crossing the street or a simple bystander at a magazine stand. But Hitchcock fans everywhere knew he was there somewhere. Long before Hitchcock’s horror films, Italian Renaissance painter Raphael was performing his own little blending act within the masterpieces he stroked. Take a look at The School of Athens and see if you can find the face of the artist himself.
Raphael was a native of Urbino, Italy, and was only 27 years old when fellow Urbino native and architect Donato Bramante recommended him to Pope Julius II. After seeing some of Raphael’s frescoes, the Pope commissioned him to paint the whole papal suite at the Vatican. Pope Julius planned to house a small collection of books for his personal use in his library the Stanza della Segnatura. Raphael was instructed to paint four frescoes, each with its own unique theme: Philosophy, Poetry, Law and Theology. The second of the frescoes completed by Raphael as part of this commission is known as The School of Athens. Though no one knows who each of the figures is in the painting, many scholars have found the faces easy to identify. But hold on. Not every character depicted in the painting has his own face. And to add to the intrigue, many believe Raphael pre-empted Hitchcock and painted his own face within the fresco.
It has been attested by many art historians such as Giorgio Vasari, that nearly all of the Greek philosophers, as well as ancient scientists, are depicted in The School of Athens. The central two figures walking in a peripatetic manner through the Lyceum are obviously Plato and Aristotle. Scholars in Plato’s Academy, which is sometimes referred to as Plato’s Park of Olive Trees, were Democritus, Anaxagoras, Empedocles, Parmenides, Xenophanes, Socrates, Plato, Speusippus, Xenocrates of Chalcedon, Polemno, Crates, Crantor, Arcesilaus, Lacydes of Cyrene, Evander, Hegesinus, Carneades, Clitomachus, Philo, and Damascius. The painting features 29 members of the school. But are the faces painted by Raphael the faces of the scholars themselves?
Plato holds a copy of his Timaeus and gestures upward to the aetherial realm of his eternal forms. But is this the face of Plato? Probably not. Many seem to believe this is actually a portrait of the great Renaissance artist, sculptor, and inventor Leonardo da Vinci. Look closely at the far right side of the fresco. The second figure from the right is presumed to be Apelles. A second closer look will show you that the face is not that of Apelles but one that belongs to Raphael himself.
We learn much about the artist from our inner need to know. With his subjects, he shows his knowledge of Greek philosophy and the men of science at the time. Some say it is unfortunate that Raphael left no personal notes on his work and no way to identify the faces. I say it leads us into conversation, into a quest to find an answer, a need to explore this masterpiece. It causes us to delve deeper into the thoughts of the Renaissance master of frescoes. His Hitchcock-like method brings us closer to the art. If you haven’t yet been drawn into this “little game”, check the painting out on the Internet. There is much conversation about The School of Athens.
Photo 1: Fossil HD Cover-The School of Athens-Public Domain
Photo 2: Raphael-Public Domain
Photo 3: The School of Athens-Public Domain