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School of Athens
After Raphael's fresco
Engraving. 679 x 903 mm
Inventory number: E477
Works, relating to this work: Raphael, School of Athens, 1508-11, fresco, Room of the Segnatura, The VaticanEnlarge photo
The School of Athens represents rational truth. Here, we see mathematicians, physicians, metaphysicians and others arranged in a series of smaller groups, each discussing or teaching. In the left foreground, the philosopher Pythagoras (570-490 BC) is seated as he explains to those around him the meaning of the word diatessaron – which directly translated means “at intervals of four”, and so relates to the pure fourth in the world of music. (A head of Pythagoras can be seen in the museum inv. no. E1965). The group on the right represents the mathematician Euclid (c. 300 BC) engaged in teaching his pupils geometry. (A head of Euclid can be seen in inv. no. E1964). Likewise, logicians, rhetoricians and grammarians are grouped together in Raphael’s (1483-1520) The School of Athens, which in Thorvaldsen’s collections is found for instance in this copperplate engraving by Domenico Cunego.
A renewed interest in the art and culture of antiquity was a characteristic of the time in which Raphael was working. Not until 1855 did the French art historian Jules Michelet (1798-1874) introduce the concept of “renaissance” in order to emphasise that he saw a rebirth of antiquity in the art of this period. Thorvaldsen’s collections leave us in no doubt that Thorvaldsen and his contemporaries admired not only the art of antiquity, but also the quiet splendour of Raphael’s works.