Thanh’s essay, inspired by The School of Athens – one of the most famous frescoes or murals by renowned Italian artist Raphael during the Renaissance – was selected for the prize among 2,000 entries from 44 countries in this year’s contest, which challenged students to do a close reading of a work of art that inspires them. Two dozen professors of composition and art history narrowed the field to 20 semifinalists, and a panel of judges from the College Board and the magazine made the final selection. The fresco, which was painted between 1509 and 1511 under the commission of Pope Julius II, depicted some of the most prominent thinkers and great minds of history such as Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, Leonardo de Vinci and Michelangelo. In his essay, titled “Reading Raphael in Hanoi”, Th a nh not only pointed out that all the figures in the fresco share one thing in common – a quest to pursue knowledge and make sense of the world – he also pondered the meaning it conveys for the viewer. His interpretation highlighted the artist’s intention for his work to be an invitation, one that encourages viewers to engage with “the great thinkers of the…
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