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Raphael's Cartoons and Tapestries for the Sistine Chapel Announced at the V&A
Raphael, The Miraculous Draught of Fishes. Photo © Vatican Museums.
LONDON.- The V&A announces that four of the ten tapestries designed by Raphael for the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City will go on show in September 2010. These are the original tapestries from the only series designed by Raphael of which examples survive, and are comparable with Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel Ceiling as masterpieces of High Renaissance art. The tapestries will be displayed alongside the full-size designs for them – the famous Raphael Cartoons, which have been on display in the V&A since 1865. This will be the first time that the designs and tapestries have been displayed together – something Raphael himself never witnessed. The tapestries have not been shown before in the UK.

The tapestries, of the Acts of St Peter and St Paul, The Miraculous Draught of Fishes, Christ’s Charge to Peter, The Healing of the Lame Man, and The Sacrifice at Lystra, were made for the Sistine Chapel almost 500 years ago. Raphael was commissioned by Pope Leo X to design these great tapestries, which were woven in Brussels, Europe’s leading centre for tapestry-weaving, and then sent to Rome for display. As the cartoons remained in Brussels, Raphael himself never saw the cartoons beside the tapestries woven from them.

Several European monarchs, including Henry VIII, later commissioned copies of the tapestries which were made from the cartoons in Brussels. In 1623 Charles I, while Prince of Wales, had the cartoons brought to England to have his own set woven in the Mortlake tapestry workshops, and they have remained in England ever since.

The Vatican Museums own the tapestries from the Sistine Chapel. The cartoons belong to the Queen, but have been on long-term loan to the V&A since Queen Victoria lent them in 1865. The cartoons are too fragile to leave the Museum building so they have never left the V&A.

The four tapestries will be hung in the V&A’s Raphael Gallery next to the seven cartoons. The design of each cartoon corresponds in every point, but in reverse, to the tapestry it was made for. The weavers cut Raphael’s cartoons into strips and copied them closely, weaving each tapestry from the back. The front image was thus the reverse of its cartoon. The painted strips of cartoon were joined together again later, and became prized as artworks in their own right.

The exhibition of the tapestries will take place over a six week period to coincide with the historic visit to England and Scotland of Pope Benedict XVI.

Mark Jones, Director of the V&A said: “This is a marvellous opportunity to see great Renaissance masterpieces reunited for the first time in almost 500 years. We are very happy to show these important works in our Raphael Gallery.”

V&A | Raphael | Mark Jones |


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