In The School of Athens, Pythagoras has been generally acknowledged as the balding and chubby figure who is writing something in a book in the foreground. Giovanni Pietro Bellori (1613-1696) was the first to identify this figure as Pythagoras and analyzed the small tablet near the figure. The tablet contains symbols representing number ratio and musical harmony. This tablet is a symbol that may be associated with Pythagoras, and Bellori's argument has faced no objection so far.
However as mentioned in the ancient literature, Pythagoras (c. 582-c. 497 BC) was called “the long-haired Samian”, a vegetarian, and a mystic. His personal characteristics became well-known through the revival of classical literature during the Renaissance. In the early 16th century, when Raffaello Sanzio (1483-1520) worked the frescoes in the Stanza della Segnatura, the Bibliotheca Apostolica Vaticana housed a collection of literature manuscripts, such as literature by Diogenes Laertius and Iamblichus. Julius II had humanists who could read the classics through various ties, and Raffaello, based on the advice of the humanists, was able to refer to these sources to estimate Pythagoras’ tendencies and physical characteristics. Based on this knowledge, the character and symbolism of the characters of The School of Athens were expressed.
These findings suggest that the figure pointed out by Bellori as Pythagoras in The School of Athens is not Pythagoras but another ancient scholar. The real Pythagoras is near the tablet with an appearance close to the depiction in ancient literature. This study thus set out to analyze Pythagoras' tendencies and appearance based on ancient literature and publications of the Renaissance, and to figure out where the real Pythagoras was in The School of Athens.
At this time, the newly identified Pythagoras adds importance in two respects. First, the ancient philosopher Pythagoras was presented as a prophet and ideal figure reflecting the spirit of the Renaissance. Second, Pythagoras, embodied in the exposition of ancient texts, proves that Renaissance art was not limited to the representation of antiquity through remains, but also shared the meaning of the Renaissance as a literary revival of the humanities.