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Discordant Notes on Raphael's Slate

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journal contribution
posted on 31.10.2019, 03:51 by John Bigelow

This is an English version of a paper that has been published in the Russian journal, Ideas and Ideals (2019).


In the Vatican there is a room, the Stanza della Segnatura, that contains works of art; and the room, too, is a work of art, but it is an art object of a very different kind. There are abstract geometric and arithmetic relationships among the frescoes and other decorations in this room; those interlocking interrelationships collectively constitute a kind of ‘abstract object’ that can be grasped more fully by the intellect than by merely passive vision alone. Some of these abstract patterns are described on a slate that is depicted within one of the frescoes in this room, which is known as The School of Athens.

We may never know for certain whether Raphael was the one who invented all the mathematical patterns that can be found in this room, or whether he was merely implementing arithmetical plans that had been imposed upon him by the Pope or the Pope’s advisors. Nevertheless, we can establish without any significant room for doubt that the visual iconography in the Stanza della Segnatura does align, within a credible ‘margin of error’, against central features of the mathematical music theory that is described in Plato’s Timaeus and teased out on Raphael’s Slate. If Raphael’s Stanza della Segnatura is indeed ‘the Room of the Signature’, then that ‘Signature’ is the musically harmonious ‘World Soul’ of Plato’s Timaeus.


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