Art Web | Arth Home | Special Topics | Ambassadors Home | | Back | Contact


Ceiling of the Stanza della Segnatura

Macrocosm diagram from Charles de Bovelles.

Clearly the plan of the ceiling resembles the macrocosm diagram. Closer examination of the ceiling suggests that Raphael used the syntax of the macrocosm pattern in laying out the ceiling.





Here the lightness and airiness of Theology is contrasted to the heaviness and solidity of Philosophy. Here Theology is associated with Air while Philosophy is appropriately linked with Earth.





Similarly, the sharpness and angularity of Justice is contrasted with the fluid curves of Poetry. Justice is equated with fire while Poetry is linked with Water.

The linking of the narrative scenes at the corners of the ceiling operates like the Qualities shared by adjacent Elements in the macrocosm system. For example, Theology and Justice are linked with the Fall of Man like Heat is shared by Air and Fire.

Edgar Wind ("The Four Elements in Raphael's 'Stanza della Segnatura,'" Journal of the Warburg Institute, II, 1937/38, pp.75-79) identifies the scenes in the framework joining the personifications of the disciplines with the four elements. The upper pictures, in grisaille, are drawn from Roman history, while the lower ones, in color, have mythological subject matters. The following table summarizes Wind's identifications:

Mythological Scene
Roman History
Forge of Vulcan
Mucius Scaevola placing his hand in the burning flame of the altar.

Between Theology and Poetry

Amphitrite fleeing Neptune hides herself on the Island of Atlas. Standing on a dolphin, Amphitrite holds a sail so that the wind may speed her journey.
Pax Augustea: the triumphant Augustus is crowned by the winged Nike, holding a palm in her hand.
Between Poetry and Philosophy
Satyr disturbing a pair of lovers by pouring water over their head.
The Sabine Mettius Curtius, rather than submitting to the pursuing Romans, leads his horse into the waters of the swamp which became known as the Lacus Curtius.
Between Philosophy and Justice
Fettered Giants, the offspring of Earth.
The Justice of Junius Brutus who condemned his own sons to death for their part in the Tarquinian Conspiracy. He also ordered the destruction of the Tarquinian fields, whose crops thrown into the Tiber, formed a mass of new soil, the Campus Martius.
Between Justice and Theology


The 4 Elements in Red refer to Wind's identification of the Mythological and Roman History scenes with the Four Elements. The 4 Elements in Blue refer to the identification of the different disciplines with the Four Elements.

Art Web | Arth Home | Special Topics | Ambassadors Home | | Back | Contact