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Commemorating The Tapestries Of Raphael

Queen Elisabeth II and Pope Benedict XVI to inaugurate unique event at Victoria and Albert Museum in London

Mario Masciullo, eTN  Jul 27, 2010

(eTN) - To commemorate the historic visit by HH Pope Benedict XVI to England and Scotland in September, the Victoria and Albert Museum, in collaboration with the Vatican Museums, will hold this “once in a lifetime event” entitled: Raphael: Cartoons and Tapestries for the Sistine Chapel.

The official announcement was made in occasion of a press conference hosted in the magnificent Sala Regia in the Vatican Apostolic Palace, followed by the privilege of admiring Raphael’s tapestries displayed in the Sistine Chapel, their original sixteenth century location.

The forthcoming event is a unique and memorable experience made even more memorable since the Pope and Queen Elisabeth will present the complementary parts of the two collections as a contribution of the common cultural traditions of European heritage. The fact that the tapestries were made in Brussels, at that time a stronghold of textile art, adds another dimension to the culture behind these tapestries.

The V&A (Vatican and Arts) announced that four of the ten tapestries designed by Raphael for the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican City will go on display from September 8 to October 17, 2010. These are the original tapestries from the only series designed by Raphael of which examples survive and are comparable to Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceilings as Masterpiecies 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 design and tapestries have been displayed together – something Raphael himself never witnessed. The tapestries have not been shown before in the UK.

The Raphael cartoons were commissioned from the great Italian Renaissance painter Raphael Sanzio in 1515 by Pope Leo X (1513-21). The cartoons and tapestries depict the histories of St. Peter - “ex Lege” - and St.Paul - “ex gentibus” - represented as twin founders of the early church, the Papacy. They were designed to cover the lower walls of the Sistine Chapel, below the frescoes depicting the Life of Moses and the Life of Christ created during the period of Pope Sixtus IV (1471-1484). The first delivery of seven of these magnificent works of art, made of wool, silk, and gold and silver thread, were displayed in the Sistine Chapel for Christmas in 1519, while the remaining three tapestries reached the Vatican in 1521.

The tapestries were woven in Brussels, Europe’s leading center 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 brought to England to have his own set woven in the Mortlake tapestry workshops, and they have remained in England ever since. The Vatican Museum owns 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 correspond 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.
Martk Jones, director of the V&A said: “This is a marvelous 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.”

The exhibition is made possible by a collaboration between the V&A and the Vatican Museums and is generously supported by Michael and Dorothy Hintze and the Hintze Family Charitable Foundation, with further support from the Patrons of the Arts in the Vatican Museums.

The patrons of the Arts in the Vatican Museums is an organization dedicated to the conservation and preservation of one of the word’s greatest collections of art, which has been displayed in the Vatican for more than 500 years. More info may be found at and .

Queen Elisabeth II and Pope Benedict XVI to inaugurate unique event at Victoria and Albert Museum in London
Tapestries on display after restoration at Sistine Chapel / Photo by Mario Masciullo

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