Art That Makes You Smarter- The School of Athens

Using Art Prints in the Classroom

Raphael Santi, The School of Athens, c.1509/11
Fresco, base length approx. 770 cm

Raphael Santi's father, Giovanni Santi, was a painter who was often invited to the palace in Urbino, Italy. Because of this, the young Raphael was most likely exposed to some of the best artists, writers, and thinkers of the time and place. Raphael eventually apprenticed under an artist friend of his father's named Pietro Vannucci, nicknamed Perugino. By 1504, Raphael had moved to Florence, Italy. Raphael's friendly personality helped him establish himself professionally there. Raphael died in 1518 at the age of 35. His last work Transfiguration for the Cathedral of Narbonne was left unfinished.

The School of Athens is one of the best examples of how he creates depth in his pieces. He uses steps to move his figures back into space. The figures are grouped so as to create depth. The School of Athens was commissioned by Pope Julius II as part of a series at the Vatican meant to unify the Church, classical ideas, literature, and philosophy. Here, Raphael assembles the most famous philosophers of the Golden Age of Greece. He used the likeness of himself and some of his contemporaries to paint the figures in the piece. He wears a black hat on the far right of the painting.

Questions for Students to Ponder and Explore:
What is the sphere the man is holding on the right? Why would children be at the School of Athens? What might be written on the slate in the foreground on the left? What could the men be studying from this slate? Is that a woman standing on the right with a white gown? Who might she represent at the School of Athens? Are any of the other figures female?

Arts Integration Ideas (adapt for specific grade levels as needed):
History/Social Studies/Religion-There are so many things for this category. This is a painting of the philosophers of ancient Greece!! Focus on Greece, philosophy, mythology, etc. 
Science- Look at the black slate on the bottom left. The drawing looks like water in a pipe. Is the water draining? Students could design their own pipe/water system for their dream house. Explore how gravity, force, etc. moves water through pipe systems. How do water systems and piping relate to the subway systems we have in large cities today? (This is a very broad and open ended topic. Upper level students and advanced learners could take this in many directions.) There are tons of pipeline- building games on the internet that students could play. These games force students to think and act quickly to develop piping systems that will work for the flow of liquid. Students could use straws and tape to build their own piping system. OR Raphael studied anatomy to understand how the human body worked. This helped him with his accuracy of drawing/painting the human form. Students can draw from models of human organs. 
Writing- Students can write about where they would place themselves in the painting based on the activities in which they see the philosophers taking part. They should justify this by explaining what they think the philosophers are doing and why they think they belong there. By doing this, they need to be able to describe themselves in such a way that would explain why their presence should be in a certain section of the painting (understand themselves and use written language to convey their understanding).  OR Write a dialogue between the two central figures or a conversation between a selected group of figures that fits with what the figures are doing in the painting. 
Math-Symmetry and tessellations are key factors in this piece. The arches create symmetrical balance. What else about the piece creates this? Take measurements. Students can also identify each tessellation in the painting (there are several). They can expand the tessellation on the floor, making it more complicated with intricate patterns. 
Language- Students can write the sentence that each figure might be speaking (based on their expression in the painting). They will use each of the four sentence types multiple times. To make this activity take less time, students can choose two figures from each quadrant of the painting (upper left, upper right, lower left, lower right). 

Helpful Resources:

 Copyright 2012 Amanda Koonlaba-There's a Party in the Art Room


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