Conjecture and Proof: A Case of Shifting Identities in Raphael's School of Athens

Katherine Smith Abbott and Stephen Abbott
Proceedings of Bridges 2011: Mathematics, Music, Art, Architecture, Culture (2011)
Pages 527–530 Short Papers


Perhaps the greatest challenge presented by Raphael's School of Athens is its potentially intentional ambiguity. Try as we might to secure identifications for the huddled philosophers massed in its soaring spaces, those identities have a way of shifting with the passage of time. A case in point is a relatively recent argument for Hypatia's inclusion in the painting. Inextricably linked to the complex program of the Stanza della Segnatura (the room in which it is located), and by extension, to the Neoplatonism of Julius II's papal court, Raphael's painting makes an awkward mirror for contemporary notions of mathematical achievement.