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.
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?
Third, in this room, important papal documents were signed, thus the name, Stanza della Segnatura (“Room of the Signature”), and this room was intended to be Pope Julius II’s library. The program that Julius II ordered includes not only the School of Athens, but also what is usually called the “Disputa” (historic figures, including theologians, popes, and authors, discuss transubstantiation, that is, the Catholic belief that the bread and the wine of the Eucharist, or communion, don’t just represent the body and blood of Christ but actually become them), the Parnassus (the home of Apollo – Apollo and poets of Raphael’s time and antiquity are depicted), and the Cardinal Virtues (Fortitude, Temperance, and Prudence).
So Julius included not just religious subjects on the walls of his library, but also ancient authors and philosophers. And not in separate paintings, either – ancient and modern were mixed. Which leads me to the last thing that I love about this room. In the School of Athens, Raphael painted himself as an ancient painter, Apelles of Kos, and Leonardo and Michelango as ancient philosophers, Plato and Heraklitis, respectively.
There’s something about an artist putting himself or herself in their own painting that I find particularly interesting. And in this case, Raphael places himself on the edge of the painting and behind other people, while Michelangelo and Leonardo are front and center. I’m sure that Hasan would have something insightful to say about this. What he did say in a caption to details from this painting was characteristically witty: “Figures resembling Leonardo and Michelangelo join Raphael in the epic toga party.” Epic toga party. Perfect.
I’d very much like to put Hasan’s face onto one of the figures in the School of Athens, but I’m not sure he’d approve. So I’ll leave you with something that I know he’d approve of: the epic basketball team. Here’s to you, Hasan!