Structure and Paintings: School of Athens

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Structure and Paintings
Analyzing Architecture and Perspective within Paintings
Curated by Max Cantu-Lima

Raphael, School of Athens, 1509-1511

"A object, surface, or space usually will feel more balanced or whole when its secondary articulation runs counter to its primary geometry." 
#88, 101 Things I Learned in Architecture School, Matthew Frederick

By now we've fully covered the concept of space and perspective. But what Raphael does within School of Athens is quite different, which propelled it to its popularity. Raphael does not solely focus on the architecture, but depicts philosophers and authors of the time. Center stage we find Plato and Aristotle discussing the difference between idealistic world-views and the greater concern with the real world. The scene itself has become iconic, brought up commonly within philosophy classes and even making its way into pop culture as the inspiration for alternative band Alt-J's music video for Tessellate. And while the subjects are done well and cleverly, the architecture behind these great minds stands tall, towering over them. For in the end, the building will last longer, outliving all of them. Its beauty remaining for future generations to see.

Raphael widens the space he was restricted to working in, making the work seem larger than its true size. He not only increases the size, but also extends it further back creating even greater depth. One indication as to the talent and genius of Raphael, are the gaps Raphael places between the barrel arches. He's creating a more complex image by doing so, separating the perspective, almost vertical, lines with horizontal ones. He does this in sets of three. This not only creates more space, but more appealing space, while also allowing the sky to peek through. It's successful because of the way he utilizes color and shadow, capturing how light plays off the walls and columns.

This painting made its way into this collection, like other paintings, for its attention to detail. Raphael became a classical master because of this painting. With this statement, I am not saying his other work lacks talent but rather this painting has so much of it in one space it has become his most remembered. Both symbolic and executed well, Raphael's complexity creates a work that the viewer could analyze for hours.


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