Many images of the Stanze can be found on the Web Gallery of Art website. The four Stanze are fairly small, adjoining rooms. The Stanze can be seen on the internet here. The walls and ceilings were painted by Raphael. The second and third room, Stanza della Segnatura and Stanza di Eliodoro, are were Raphael’s best work can be found.
The Stanza della Segnatura was the private study of Pope Julius II, the pope who commissioned the 26-year-old Raphael to paint this cycle of frescos. This is also the room were the pope signed the verdicts of the Segnatura, the church’s supreme tribunal. Standing in this relatively small room, we can see that it’s not just the walls that were painted, but the ceilings as well.
Across from the wall with the School of Athens is the Disputa del Sacramento. The Parnassus and the Cardinal Virtues are depicted on the two walls with windows (floor plan).
Raphael started with the Stanza della Segnatura. The frescos in this stanza are in no way connected to the Segnatura. Moreover, the name Disputation of the Holy Sacrament is incorrect. The theme of the fresco is the triumph of the faith and the truth.
“In the painting, Raphael has created a scene spanning both heaven and earth. Above, Christ is surrounded by an aureole, flanked by the Blessed Virgin Mary and John the Baptist to his right and left (an arrangement known as the Deësis). Other various biblical figures such as Peter (far left, holding keys), Adam (far left, bared chest), Paul (far right, holding book and sword) and Moses (right, with horns of light and holding tablets of the Ten Commandments) are to the sides. God the Father sits above them all in the golden light of heaven and adored by angels. Below Christ’s feet is the Holy Spirit, to whose sides are books of the four Gospels held open by putti.” Quoted from Wikipedia.
“Below, on an altar sits the monstrance. The altar is flanked by theologians who are depicted debating Transubstantiation. Christ’s Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity is the Holy Eucharist, which is discussed by representatives of the Church; among them are the original four Doctors of the Church (identified by their names inscribed into their halos), with Pope Gregory I and Jerome seated to the left of the altar and Augustine and Ambrose to the right, along with Pope Julius II, Pope Sixtus IV, Savonarola and Dante Alighieri. Pope Sixtus IV is the gold-dressed pope in the bottom of the painting. Directly behind Sixtus is Dante, wearing red and sporting a laurel wreath (symbolizing his greatness as a poet). Fifth from right, stands St. Thomas Aquinas. The bald figure reading a book and leaning over a railing in the left hand corner could be Raphael’s mentor and Renaissance architect Bramante.” Quoted from Wikipedia.
Raphael Study left lower part Disputa British Museum, London
Raphael Study left lower part Disputa Royal Collection Trust London Raphael Raphael Study left lower part Disputa Städelsches Kunstinstitut, Frankfurt
“The window below the fresco Parnassus frames the view of Mons Vaticanus, believed to be sacred to Apollo. Humanists, such as Biondo, Vegio, and Albertini, refer to the ancient-sun god of the Vatican.” Source Wikipedia
Click here for all depicted figures in the Parnassus.
The fresco entitled the School of Athens is about scientific truth. The two frescos on the windowed walls are about beauty and the cardinal virtues. In the tondi on the vaults of this room you will see the four personifications of philosophy, poetry, theology and justice.
In the School of Athens Plato and Aristotle are standing in the middle side by side. Plato, who has the face of Leonardo da Vinci, points up with his finger. Aristotle’s hand points forward. Plato assumed a higher reality behind the earthly world: the world of ideas (Youtube: the cave 3.10 minutes). He was deliberately placed on the right, in those days a place of honour. Aristotle’s philosophy (he holds his Ethics in his hand) is much more down to earth and much more concrete. The use of color further emphasizes the difference between the ideas of both philosophers. For example, Aristotle wears a blue robe with a brown dress underneath. These colors refer to water and earth. While the colors of Aristotle refer to fire and sky.
The interesting thing about this fresco is that it contains many of Raphael’s contemporaries. The painter also included himself, in the far bottom right corner of the image plane: the second figure from the right that is looking at you.
The bearded man sitting at a table, who supports his head with one head and holds a feather in the other (contemporary footwear), is Herakleitos (a portrait of Michelangelo). We know that Raphael saw part of the ceiling that Michelangelo was painting before it’s completion. The way he depicted Michelangelo in this fresco looks suspiciously similar to the way Michelangelo depicted figures on his ceiling. It is probably no coincidence that Herakleitos was depicted as Michelangelo.
After the first part of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel had been unveiled, Raphael in 1511 made one more change to his School of Athens. He was deeply impressed by the figures Michelangelo had painted in the Sistine Chapel. The chapel was close to the private quarters of Julius II, the Stanze, where Raphael was working on his frescos. One year after the completion of this fresco, Raphael decided after seeing the first section of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel to add one more figure to his work.
Both Heraclits and Michelangelo were not exactly cheerful characters. The basilica in which Raphael placed the philosophers and scientists was clearly influenced by Bramante, a friend and contemporary of Raphael’s. One the far left we find Pythagoras; he is writing in a book. Pythagoras and Plato greatly influence the doctrine of proportions that the Greeks also applied to architecture and sculpture. The man in the turban not far from Pythagoras is Averroës. This Muslim scientist wrote extensive comments on the works of Aristotle. On the left is Epicurus, the man with the vine leaves. The boy next to Epicurus who is looking at you, is Federico Gonzaga, who at the time was being held at the papal court. Also included is Julius II’s cousin, the tall man in a white cloak just to the right of Herakleitos. The man who is leaning back on the steps and connects the two groups at the bottom left and bottom right is the cynic Diogenes. At the bottom of the group on the right Euclid (a portrait of Bramante) is explaining a mathematical problem on a small slate (cartoon). On Euclid’s cloak the letters R.V.S.M. can be discerned. These letters are an abbreviation of Raphael Urbinus Sua Manu; this is how the painter signed his work.
Fifty figures can be seen in the school of Athens.
In addition to preliminary studies, Rafael also uses cartoons (Art history 101: what is a cartoon?) of which one is left. The lower part of the School of Athens can be seen in this cartoon.