PORTRAIT OF ZOROASTER AT THE VATICAN
Zoroaster’s portrait was painted on the wall of Pope Julius II’s (Pontiff from 1503 to 1513) private library by the illustrious painter Raphael when he was at his best, around 27 years old (between 1509 and 1511).
Today, the fresco ‘School of Athens’ stands in the Stanza Della Segnatura (the highest court of the Holy See), the first of the four public reception rooms (Raphael Rooms) in the Apostolic Palace (Pope’s apartment).
Whether the fresco was the Pope’s idea or Raphael’s is not known. It depicts in one frame an idyllic collection of ancient classical intelligences, from different historical periods. A group of greatest mathematicians, philosophers and scientists, assembled in a beautiful space with Roman features, interacting, discussing and sharing and learning from each other; articulating “mental states by physical actions” — Raphael’s vision of the domain of Enlightened Thought.
Neither are all the thinkers Athenians nor was there any visual traditional depiction existing of many of them. For example, the face Leonardo da Vinci was used for Plato and Michelangelo as Heraclitus (the two central figures), Raphael’s own for one of the students crowding Pythagoras. However, whose face was used to represent Zoroaster is not certain.
Experts opine that, Zoroaster, Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, Ptolemy, Pythagoras, Euclid, Raphael, Sodoma and Diogenes can be definitely identified in the fresco. The other figures are “more or less speculative”. Heinrich Wolffin explained that, in the times that the fresco was painted, “The all-important thing was the artistic motive which expressed a physical or spiritual state; and the name of the person was a matter of indifference”.
He further noted, “It is quite wrong to attempt interpretations of the School of Athens as an esoteric treatise …”
Recently, experts interpret the fresco “as an exhortation to philosophy and, in a deeper way, as a visual representation of the role of Love in elevating people toward upper knowledge.”