I studied many an art piece during my Art History course, but there was one in particular that stayed with me long afterwards: Raphael’s The School of Athens. You can imagine my excitement when I realised that the canvas copy of the fresco gracing the walls of the Vatican, once again hanged in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. After years of waiting, I would finally get to stand in front of my all-time favourite art pieces.
Commissioned by Pope Julius II to decorate his private apartments, the piece depicts the greatest philosophers, mathematicians and scientists. Though they’re from various eras, they all gather together under one roof in an airy, arched and endless corridor, painted in harmonious colours, giving it a heavenly feel. The vanishing point is between Aristotle and Plato, purposely pulling our attention to their animated conversation and, in turn, inviting us into the centre of the action.
I thought I knew every detail by studying it, but no amount of research could have prepared me for what I was about to see in front me. There it was! A full-size copy commissioned by the Duke of Northumberland 240 years after the original and displayed a lot higher than I would have preferred, but there it was, nonetheless. More breath-taking than I ever imagined. The colours were richer, the size monumental.
I wanted to be part of the conversations these great minds shared. To join them in their exchange of thoughts and ideas, wonder and curiosity about the world around us. I walked beside every figure, desperate to be among them, until finally I settled on one sitting atop the steps, head resting on his hand. That one figure whose pose is more sullen than the others. More pensive. That one figure who’s isolated but still manages to belong. That one figure I could relate to. Michelangelo as Heraclitus.
It’s Michelangelo who invites you to sit beside him. And, within seconds, I was there. Part of The School of Athens.