Hasan, Raphael, and the Epic Toga Party (The Stanza della Segnatura)

This post is part of a celebration in honor of Hasan Niyazi, the writer behind Three Pipe Net (see below), and his favorite artist, Raphael. For more contributions to this collection by some fabulous art history writers, blogger, and teachers, click here.

I’ll be honest. I’ve never been a big fan of Raphael, and I never thought I’d write about him. Too sweet, too stable, too predictable. When I was studying the Italian Renaissance, I was more into the bad boys: Michelangelo, Caravaggio, Fra Lippo Lippi (who I would put in the bad boy category, monk or no). So when I started blogging and connected with Hasan Niyazi of Three Pipe Problem, I had a hard time understanding his passion for Raphael. Don’t get me wrong – I was inspired by and respected his passion. It was the object of his passion that baffled me. But as I started writing this and thinking about Raphael again, I remembered the Stanza della Segnatura (part of the Stanze di Raffaello, rooms in the Vatican painted by Raphael and his workshop). When I went back to look at what Hasan had to say about this painting, I couldn’t find a post that centered around it. I did, however, find the Schools of Athens (one of the works in the Stanza della Segnatura) referenced in a post about a documentary on Raphael (in which Hasan reiterates his disdain for “those talented miscreants, the Pre-Raphaelites [and] their childish choice of name”); a mention in a post on the artist as subject (Raphael included himself in the School of Athens); in a post in which he ran a contest, asking people to answer the question, “Which famous Rock group features a reference to Raphael’s School of Athens on an album cover. What was the album name? Hint: it was a double album”; and in a post on the evolution of Raphael’s style in which he says, “Whether Raphael’s striving for classical perfection gels with you or not, it is hard to argue against the fact that he had supreme technical ability as a painter. This ability, his positive outlook on learning from the past, and talent for adapting these lessons into innovations gave him a special place in the hearts and minds of scholars and creative artists alike.” This was a man who loved his Raphael.

So, in memory and celebration Hasan and Raphael, let me tell you briefly what I love about the Stanza della Segnatura.

School of Athens

Raffaello Sanzio di Urbino (Raphael), School of Athens, Stanza della Segnatura, Vatican, Rome, 1509.

First, the paintings are frescoes, my favorite paint medium. The way that the paint becomes one with the wall is a fascinating process. I can’t get enough of it. Second, the paintings in this room are essentially part of the architecture; the scenes are meant to look as if they extend back from the room, and I think they do. Don’t you feel like you could step up into that scene?

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Verulamium: It Gets Personal

Every once in awhile, I feel the need to return to my art history roots. I was thinking about this today and wondering exactly what that means. What are my art history roots? The first art history I studied was that of the Italian Renaissance, like so many of us, but I’d say that my roots actually go back to the year I spent in England when I was 10 years old. I think that even at that point, it was in my blood. It was certainly already in my environment: My dad was a historian who always included art in the classes that he taught, and my mom was also an art lover, particularly interested in the Impressionists. So when we went to England, we hit as many cathedrals, museums, and historical sites as possible. One that really sticks in my mind is Verulamium — Roman ruins that were so nearby, we went there repeatedly.

Verulamium, Roman Amphitheatre, 140 CE, St. Albans, Hertfordshire, England

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The Power to Surprise and Delight Us (René Magritte)

This came across one of my social media feeds today:

René Magritte, Empire of Light (L’Empire des lumières), 1953–54, oil on canvas, Peggy Guggenheim Foundation, Venice, Italy

I was momentarily taken aback, completely engaged in the moment. Clearly, I thought, this painting is showing that time of day when the sun’s going down, in the spring or fall, but the sun’s behind the trees, so where you are is already dark while the sky is still light. It’s getting cooler where you are, without the sun. But it’s not yet night. Kind of cozy. Maybe you’re hurrying home or heading out to meet friends. A lovely moment, I thought, captured beautifully.

But wait. That looks like Magritte, although this painting isn’t supernatural or weird (in a good way, Magritte). It’s a building lit by a streetlight as the sun’s going down. I’m not a Magritte expert, but I didn’t think that Magritte would paint a lovely moment. So I peeked at the caption (yep, Magritte) then clicked through to the description by the Guggenheim, where their writer uses very different words than I do to describe this painting: paradoxical, confusing, unease, confusion, unsettling. Magritte has painted day and night together, and  experts agree that this is unnerving. Continue reading