In fact Raphael's painterly skills were soon in such demand that he was obliged to leave more and more work to his assistants, such as Giovanni Francesco Penni (1496-1536), Giulio Romano (1499-1546) and Perino del Vaga (Piero Buonaccorsi) (1501-47). Responsible for numerous altarpieces, such as The Sistine Madonna (1513-14, Gemaldegalerie Alte Meister, Dresden) and The Transfiguration (1518-20, Pinacoteca Apostolica, Vatican), as well as other examples of religious art , he also produced several famous Renaissance portraits of ecclesiastical and secular subjects - such as Portrait of Baldassare Castiglione (1514-15, Louvre) and Pope Leo X with Cardinals (1518, Galleria Palatina, Pitti Palace, Florence). Arguably the finest painter of the Italian Renaissance, Raphael remains one of the best artists of all time .
Centered in the composition and striding through a series of illustionistic arches are the philosophers Plato and Aristotle engaged in a lively dialogue on the source of wisdom or truth. Plato, Aristotle's teacher, points to the sky, arguing that wisdom comes from above, divinely inspired. Aristotle motions to the earth indicating that wisdom comes from empirical observation. Small groups of thinkers flank the central figures while others are scattered about, some sprawled on the floor. In The School of Athens by Raphael, they seem to be debating their various philosophies in the search for truth.
The setting is a building in the shape of a Greek cross, meaning all four sides are the same length. This could reflect that same message of harmony between ancient Greek and 16th-century Christian cultures. It is also possible that the building represents St. Peter's Basilica, the church of the Vatican. At the time, an architect named Bramante had been commissioned to rebuild St. Peter's in the shape of a Greek cross. He was a friend of Raphael's and probably helped him with the architecture of the painting. Bramante also appears in this painting as Euclid. The two statues are Apollo, god of light and music, and Athena, goddess of wisdom.