Stanza della segnatura, Vatican

   In 1509, Pope Julius II commissioned Raphael to fresco the Stanza della Segnatura in the Vatican, a meeting room for the papal tribunal of the Segnatura (seal), normally presided over by the pope. The frescoes represent the fields of theology, philosophy, law, and the poetic arts, reflecting the room's function as well as the humanistic interest of its occupants. The Disputa represents theology. It depicts the disputation over the doctrine of transubstantiation, the moment when the host, after having been blessed by the priest during the mass, becomes the actual body and blood of Christ. In the fresco, a church council presided over by the Holy Trinity and witnessed by saints, patriarchs, and prophets has gathered to discuss the doctrine's validity. The host, object of the debate, is displayed in a monstrance above the altar. The School of Athens on the opposite wall represents philosophy. Here, Plato and Aristotle stand in the center of a space that recalls Donato Bramante's design for New St. Peter's. Plato holds the Timaeus, one of his texts, and points upward to denote that his interests are in the world of ideas. Aristotle holds his Nichomachean Ethics and points down, as his concerns were directed at nature and its phenomena. In the niches behind them are Apollo, god of poetry and eloquence, and Minerva, goddess of wisdom, to provide inspiration to the men depicted. Nearby, Socrates speaks to the Athenean youths he is said to have corrupted, Pythagoras demonstrates his system of proportions, Ptolemy holds a celestial globe, Euclid solves a problem of geometry, and Diogenes, the father of Cynicism, ponders. In the foreground is Heraclitus, a portrait of Michelangelo dressed in the smock and boots of a stonecutter and posed as Melancholia, the personality trait of a genius. Raphael included him in the fresco after viewing the Sistine ceiling (1508-1512; Vatican) to pay homage to the man's brilliance. The law and poetic arts are represented in the lunettes at either side of the windows. The first shows Emperor Justinian Presenting the Roman Civil Law to Trebonianus and Gregory XI Approving the Canon Law Decretals, this last a portrait of Julius and members of his court. The second is a representation of Parnassus where Apollo and the Muses convene. Here, Dante, Petrarch, Giovanni Boccaccio, and Ludovico Ariosto exchange ideas with Homer, Virgil, and Sappho, their ancient counterparts. The fresco cycle also includes a depiction of the Cardinal Virtues in a lunette. Fortitude holds an oak tree, heraldic symbol of the della Rovere family to which Julius belonged. The Stanza della Segnatura's decorative program speaks eloquently of the general feeling that permeated the Renaissance as it depicts the greatest minds from antiquity who inspired the intellectual reawakening of the era.

Historical dictionary of Renaissance art. . 2008.

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