The Eloquence of Symbols: Studies in Humanist Art

By Edgar Wind; Jaynie Anderson | Go to book overview

VI · Platonic Justice designed by Raphael

IN the fresco crowning the wall of the Stanza della Segnatura which is meant to exemplify Jurisprudence1 -- in accordance with that universal plan in which Philosophy is exemplified by the School of Athens, Poetry by the Parnassus, and Theology by the Disputa -- Raphael painted the three virtues of Fortitude, Prudence, and Temperance (Fig. 15), which in the classical canon of the cardinal virtues ought to have Justice for their companion; but Justice herself does not appear.2 Some explain this paradox by saying that Justice appeared already on the ceiling and could not therefore be repeated on the wall. Others declare that Prudence, Fortitude, and Temperance are virtues 'necessary for the just'. But neither of these arguments, though satisfactory to those who suggest them, can be ascribed to the author of Raphael's programme. The mind (or minds) that invented the School of Athens should not be credited with such dullness as to place Justice first on the ceiling and, failing to think of something appropriate for the wall below, simply fill it with the other three virtues.

There is a riddle in this arrangement, and its key is to be found in Plato. In the first books of the Republic Socrates goes in search of Justice. He encounters the other virtues -- Prudence, Fortitude, Temperance but justice will not appear. The explanation given is that justice is not a particular virtue juxtaposed to Prudence, Fortitude, and Temperance, but the fundamental power of the soul that assigns to each of them its particular function.3

This is one of the tenets in Plato's philosophy which was not contradicted but accepted by Aristotle.4 In the encyclopaedic plan of the Stanza della Segnatura the 'Concordia Platonis et Aristotelis' plays a decisive role. It seems natural, therefore, that in choosing a theme to demonstrate the nature of Justice, the author of the programme should have selected a passage that aptly supports this concordance.

____________________
Journal of the Warburg Institute, 1 ( 1937), pp. 69 f. (with additions).
1
[Throughout his lectures and unpublished papers on Raphael as well as in the article on the Four Elements in the Stanza della Segnature ( Journal of the Warburg Institute, 11 ( 1938), pp. 75-9), Wind referred to this wall representing jurisprudence, following the generally accepted interpretation of the four walls as the Four Faculties. The first sentence has been amended to make his meaning clear.]
2
[A recent discovery (cf. M. Putscher, Raphaels Sixtinische Madonna, 1955, pp. 83 and 225; also J. White and J. Shearman, 'Raphael's Tapestries and Their Cartoons, 11', The Art Bulletin, XL ( 1958), p. 306) shows that there was an earlier project for a Last Judgement on the Giustizia wall of the Stanza, recorded in a drawing made in Raphael's studio (Louvre no. 3866, reproduced in Putscher, fig. 44). For further discussion of the drawing, see Shearman, 'Raphael's Unexecuted Projects for the Stanze', Walter Friedlaender zum 90. Geburtstag ( 1965), pp. 164 f.]
3
Respublica, IV, 432B ff.
4
Ethica Nicomachea, v, i, 1129a ff.

-56-

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