It took him three years to make the painting or fresco, which measure 5 x 7,7 meters. The motif is philosophers in classical Athens. In the middle stands Platon and Aristotle, and around them the rest of the learned men of Greece, and the great thinkers, who have left their mark on our society up until our days. The painting says something about each philosopher and their personal character through their poses and gestures. The painting is a "philosophical course for dummies".
All the philosophers in the painting did not live at the same time. It would have been difficult to gather them all in one room, since they probably liked to talk more than to listen! To the top left is Socrates (470-399 B.C.), who uses no tools in his teachings. Only the spoken word. You can see him here counting on his fingers to visualise what he means. He did not write any books and we know him mostly from Platon's "Dialogues".
Platon (427-347 B.C.) is in the centre. Together with Aristotle, they are the most import thinkers in the Western world. For a long time their views of the world guided our lives. Platon points upwards because he considered the truth to be in the world of ideas and not on earth. There are some art critics that thinks that Platon wears the features of Leonardo da Vinci, who at this time was an old man, with a long white beard and furrowed face.
Next to him we find Aristotle (384-322 B.C.) who is pointing downwards to indicate that he search for the truth in the nature on earth. In his hand's he wears his own "Ethics". Possibly has Rafael used Michelangelo as a model.
The environment of the school has puzzled experts. Which place is it? The old Athens? The Church of St Peters? Somewhere else? The high cupolas, the vaults and the big statues might indicate that it is the new Church of St Peter that is used as a background. Rafael saw it being built during his time there. Or he just used something from his imagination!
Bottom left we see Heraclitus (540-480 B.C.) who according to legend was a really gloomy person. His philosophy was difficult to understand. He was talking about fire as an original subject, and that the world would disappear in a "world fire" where everything would turn into its opposite; cold will become warm, the warm cold, the wet dry, the dry wet. Nobody really understood what he meant. His most famous idea is that about "panta rei", that "everything is floating". With this he meant that the world was constantly changing. That is at least easier to understand!
On the stairs we see a man half lying, reading. It is Diogenes (dead 323 B.C.). He was a little bit of an odd person. Rafael did well in showing the philosophers with their ideas, but here he has missed something. It is said that Diogenes lived in a barrel and only owned a cape, a stick and a bag of bread. When Alexander the Great visited him, Diogenes said to the mightiest man in the world at the time: "Step aside, you're blocking the sun." Alexander did not get put off and said: "If I would not be Alexander, I would like to be Diogenes!"
To the right we see Euclid, who lived in Alexandria in the 4th century B.C. and was a pupil of Socrates. Here is is drawing mathematical figures on a wax tablet for an enthusiastic crowd of young men. He is known for his work "Elements" where you find everything you have to know about geometry and arithmetic. School children up to this day are drilled in his teachings!
The information above from an article in "Aftonbladet".