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Journal of Humanistic Mathematics

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Full-Text Articles in Ancient, Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque Art and Architecture

Raphael's School Of Athens: A Theorem In A Painting?, Robert Haas Jul 2012

Raphael's School Of Athens: A Theorem In A Painting?, Robert Haas

Journal of Humanistic Mathematics

Raphael's famous painting The School of Athens includes a geometer, presumably Euclid himself, demonstrating a construction to his fascinated students. But what theorem are they all studying? This article first introduces the painting, and describes Raphael's lifelong friendship with the eminent mathematician Paulus of Middelburg. It then presents several conjectured explanations, notably a theorem about a hexagram (Fichtner), or alternatively that the construction may be architecturally symbolic (Valtieri). The author finally offers his own "null hypothesis": that the scene does not show any actual mathematics, but simply the fascination, excitement, and joy of mathematicians at their work.