Monday, 10 November 2014

The School of Athens (Raphael)

Half an hour before my 9am lecture slot this morning I projected this image of Raphael's 'School of Athens'(1510), sat myself a few metres back, and tried to figure it out. It's a painting (fresco) my old tutor James Madge used to talk about fondly and he probably got his enthusiasm from Colin Rowe when at Cambridge, who had an ongoing upset with the bottom left corner. I remember going to the Vatican to see it in the flesh as it sits in what was Julius II's library, and getting carried away with it's compositional abstractions; which of course (at that stage) I confused with the actual meaning of the painting (look it up). 
Today I noticed fresh things about it; the naked statue with the lyre, for harmony, on the left, equal to the statue with shield, for war, on the right above this seeming cacophony of the worlds great thinkers. I thought I saw a Greek god in the melee (far left) and then I noticed something else: I couldn't work out the meaning of the box Michelangelo (in brown, left centre front) was leaning against. This box became more and more obvious the longer I looked.
Fancifully, I rather thought the box to be Pandora's, prefiguring what romanticism would unleash on this calm classical stage, then I suppose it could be a bit of stone, but it is regularly shaped, and the church around the gaggle of philosophers looks finished to me. So what's inside? I decided modernity lurked within, with all the chaos it brought with it, and perhaps full blown capitalism lurked in there, ready to jump out like a jack in the box and shock everybody. Or could it be his tools, reminding us of physical work and toil? 
It was as pleasant a half hour as you could wish for.

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