El Parnaso is a work by the Renaissance painter Rafael de Sanzio, it is one of the frescoes that decorate the Vatican Rooms, a series of rooms located on the second floor of the Vatican Palace. Each of the frescoes in the rooms stands out for its careful composition and some of them, like the one in The School of Athens, have become icons of Renaissance painting.
Rafael de Sanzio or Urbino as he is also known, (1483 – 1520) is one of the most relevant artistic figures of the Renaissance. He descended from an artist family, he was orphaned at a very young age, training in the workshop of different artists of his time. However, the quality of his work spoke for itself and when the artist was only twenty-five years old he was called to Rome to decorate the Vatican Rooms, a work that would consolidate him as one of the great painters of his time and would give him great fame.
The decoration of the Vatican Rooms –the Pope's private apartments-was an initiative of Pope Julius II which was later continued by his successor Pope Leo X. Raphael intervened in the decoration of the frescoes between the years 1508 and 1524, decorating, with the help of his assistants, at least four complete rooms, each of which had frescoes on the four walls and the vault.
The fresco of Parnassus is in thethe first Room known as the Room of the Seal, together with the frescoes of The Dispute of the Sacrament, The School of Athens or the Cardinal Virtues. In it, Raphael represents some of the most outstanding poets of all time, placing them on Mount Parnassus, where the muses live. In the center of the composition appears the god of poetry Apollo, holding a viola; it seems that the artist represented the face of Pontiff Julius II in the figure of the god.
Around the god, nine of the most important muses appear, four on one side and five on the other. Likewise, the artist represented nine poets of Classical Antiquity and nine other Contemporary poets; the literati mingle engaging in lively conversations with each other and outsiders to the god's music. It is not easy to identify each and every one of the poets represented, although we do know the identity of some of them such as Dante, Homer, Petrarch… Raphael himself represented himself in one of these poets. Also appearing are two unknown figures who have been identified by art historians as two poets from the future who come to judge the poetry of the past.
Be that as it may, the truth is that the artist has developed an interesting composition placing the poets in a semicircle as if each of them formed the frame of the composition. His postures are very varied with powerful foreshortenings that tell us about the artist's technical domain, in the same way Rafael has managed to capture the personality of the multiple characters withvarious gestures that enhance individuality.