The Riddle continued  . . .

Last month our young writers shared their ideas of what the man, front and center in this master painting, represents. He was added as an “after thought,” it seems, according to all the early known sketches for the painting.  
     Two of our readers, a mother and daughter, joined in the game with such wonderful ideas that we wanted to share them with you.
 Thank you Winnie and Ellen.

     I was fascinated by “The Riddle” and the students’ reactions. So thoughtful. My thought is that he is not of that period (as Polina wrote). The fact that he is center stage, actually the focus point of the painting, tells me that he is “us”. He is common humankind trying to puzzle through all the philosophy. My daughter is an art teacher; I am going to ask her. —Winnie

Dear Mom,

     What a wonderful inquiry and a great practice of looking closely at things. Here’s my take:
Michelangelo/Heraclitus was added after the painting was “finished”. Raphael was painting the “School of Athens” while Michelangelo was painting the “Sistine Chapel”.  They were artistic rivals. Michelangelo was about 35 years old and Raphael, 27. Michelangelo/Heraclitus is the only figure in contemporary dress. That fact would explain the boots. During the Renaissance, painters and sculptors were always trying to convince each other that their branch of the arts was superior. Leonardo famously described Michelangelo, the sculptor, as
coated with flour (i.e. with marble dust) like a baker. Painters thought themselves superior to the sculptor because they didn’t have to get into a brutish and messy job. They could dress in their finest clothes and simply paint. The boots give evidence that Raphael was presenting Michelangelo more as a laborer than an artist through his heavy boots—the boots being necessary protection to a sculptor, not a painter.
     As for the ink pot of the edge, and we are open to the idea that it shows symbolism, I would hope to think that Raphael recognized Michelangelo’s genius and wanted to show that once Michelangelo died, his level of genius and artistry would never be repeated. In a way, Raphael was poking fun at Michelangelo for his choice of profession but overall he was praising him for his genius.
     The thing that I never could figure out is if Raphael is such a great artist, why is the block of marble and the position of Michelangelo on the stairs so off in terms of perspective? I think the ink pot is positioned on that corner of the block to hide the fact that the perspective is all messed up. The ink pot looks so out of place. —Ellen 


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