From the Citizen-Times:

Soaring 47 feet above UNC Asheville's Highsmith University Union Café is a stunning recreation of Raphael's masterpiece painting "School of Athens." The large mural, considered to be one of the biggest recreations in the world, was unveiled in February.

"It is truly difficult to understand and appreciate the grandness of this work of art without seeing it in person," said S. Tucker Cooke, lead artist on the project and retired UNC Asheville art professor. "Most art lovers have seen photos of 'School of Athens' in books, but those images are so small - barely bigger than a postage stamp.

“Seeing this painting depicted in consistent scale with the original is very special - and you don't have to travel to Rome to experience it."

Cooke conceived of the project more than two years ago when the university asked him to create artwork for the vast wall space in the Highsmith University Union Café. Cooke, a talented painter, chose to reproduce Raphael's 1510 fresco for its "beauty, depth and content," he said. "It is a celebration of learning and the liberal arts."

He didn't work alone. For more than 18 months, some 50 students, faculty, staff, alumni and community members worked together for over 15,000 hours on the project. The mural is made up of 4-foot-square panels, each painted by different artists. The completed mural is 40-by-37 feet, composed of 60 separate canvases. It is 10 feet above the floor of the café and reaches to the skylights.

"This is something I have always dreamed of doing," said Asheville artist Gloria Gaffney. "When I heard that Tucker had gotten started, I wanted to join in. It was like working in a Renaissance atelier."

In the center of the "School of Athens" stand Plato and Aristotle who exemplify the liberal arts tradition. Surrounding Plato and Aristotle are some of the greatest philosophers, scientists and mathematicians of the classical world. Though scholars disagree on the identity of some of the figures, others are recognizable, including Epicurus, Pythagoras, Heraclitus and Ptolemy.

While tradition reigned, the painters did make one addition to the original. Two English bulldogs were added to the lower left-hand corner of the mural in tribute to Rocky, UNC Asheville's mascot.

The Highsmith University Union is open 7:30 a.m.-midnight weekdays and 9 a.m.-midnight weekends when classes are session. Visitors who wish to view "School of Athens" may park in the 15-minute visitor parking spaces in front of the building. Those who wish to stay longer are invited to obtain a parking pass from the Campus Police Office.