Explain why Raphael's fresco The School of Athens is considered one of the best examples of Italian High Renaissance painting.
Raphael's fresco The School of Athens exemplifies the Renaissance idea of taking Greek (and Roman) classical models as inspiration both for artistic and philosophical purposes. The fresco is in the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican in Rome. Raphael painted it between 1510 and 1511 in the Stanza della Segnatura (Room of the Signatura) which was the study with the library of Pope Julius II. The room was the place where the most important Vatican documents were signed (thus its name) and the frescoes in the room stress the importance of wisdom and different forms of knowledge as well as the coehesion and continuity between Greek and Christian teachings. This continuity is highlighted through the subjects of the frescoes as The School of Athens faces the earlier Disputation of the Holy Sacrament, whose title really means Adoration of the Holy Sacrament, and shows both the militant, earthly church and the spiritual heavenly one placed one below the other forming a shape that recalles that of an abside. Taken together the frescoes represent the transition to Christianity and the fundamental role that Greek philosophers like Aristotle still played in Christian theology.
While the Disputation portrays the importance of "knowledge of things divine" as the related inscription reads, The School of Athens is about the importance of knowing the causes of things (the latin inscription is "causarum cognitio" where cognitio means knowledge, awareness). The fresco is thus about ancient Greek philosophy and Aristotle stands at its center. The School reunites in one single scene philosophers from different eras and different Greek cities. Some of the philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle are easy to identify, while the identity of others is still the subject of debate. Some commentators have suggested that some philosophers are portrayed as Renaissance artists, for example Plato as Leonardo Da Vinci. The fact that the fresco is highly dynamic, capturing the philosophers moving forward, almost coming out of the fresco to get to the opposite fresco of the Disputation, suggests that the pre-Christian philosophy is completed by Christian teachings.