Art and Philosophy Meet, August 2013
by Amy Wessan
Coming out of this harsh New York winter into spring is more than welcome from where I’m sitting. It has been one crazy winter and being an art consultant for the most part involves running around the city, in and out of galleries, customers’ spaces, and visiting artists’ studios non-stop. It is definitely not a desk job.
Challenging moments have included clutching a delicate sculpture on my lap, in a taxi as the driver slid through snowdrifts. I also got to hold my breath while a skid of framed pieces was held on a truck south of Atlanta during the famous ice storm that halted all operations in Atlanta. Then the piece de resistance was driving up to Boston to install a project in between snowstorms.
I did however have one peaceful respite before the ides of winter set in. I was invited to speak at an international conference about the philosopher Plato. Over 150 scholars from all around the world gathered in upstate New York to discuss Plato’s dialogues. Particular attention was placed on the study of Socratic dialogue Gorgias. The symposium was led by the Centre for the Study of the Platonic Tradition from Trinity College Dublin, which is in the works of providing a new translation of the Complete Dialogues of Plato.
My lecture was based upon the painting by Raphael, in the Sistine Chapel called “The School of Athens” mural (see top of page). A young Raphael was asked by Pope Julius II in 1508 to decorate his private apartment and library with murals.
This mural encompasses over 58 characters representative of all walks of knowledge. We see philosophers, scientists, mathematicians set up in this imaginary meeting of minds. Each of the portraits of the characters was painted to reflect that character’s personality and philosophy. So we see Euclid explaining a mathematical theorem and Aristotle holding his book of Ethics and so on.
This mural is considered one of the finest examples of art from the high Renaissance. Preparing for this lecture, allowed me to dive deep into the period, the artist Raphael, and learn a great deal about the philosophers portrayed in the mural. I time traveled back to that period and fell in love with the Renaissance as never before. I do suggest if you are in Rome, to try and see this work in situ at the Vatican Museum. It’s a gem.