Raphael: Cartoons and Tapestries for the Sistine Chapel, 8 September – 17 October 2010

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The V&A has announced 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.

Archbishop Vincent Nichols said:

“This week the V&A opens an exhibition bringing together, for the first time, the royal collection of Raphael’s cartoons for his tapestries of Peter and Paul and the Papal tapestries themselves. Both are stunning works, technically as well as artistically. The tapestries were commissioned by Pope Leo X to hang on the walls of the Sistine Chapel. Now, almost 500 years later, they come to our country to mark the historic visit of Peter’s successor, Pope Benedict XVI, and to hang alongside Raphael’s original cartoons.”

“The tapestries are significant works in their own right, but they are also a powerful language. They are reflections on the mission of the Apostles Peter and Paul, not only to care for the Church but to witness the gift of Christ in a world that had, as yet, no language capable of speaking about him.”

“Art isn’t just entertaining or decorative. It is life-giving. Whatever its medium, in the hands of a great master art puts us in touch with a truth about our world, our desires, our culture and ourselves.”

“Great art requires us to be open, to give permission for our world to be reorganised. We come away not only informed but changed. All great art, even when it is uncomfortable, teaches us to be generous.”

“I think the same experience can happen in an encounter with Christianity, especially Catholicism. Of course, the centuries, the conflicts and human sinfulness can dull and disfigure it, but Christianity’s creative vitality is not dimmed. As with art, the problem lies in knowing how to understand it. If we come with suspicion, with limited language drawn from reductionist sources, then of course we will see only something old, antiquated and dusty. We may even see something that seems hostile.”

“Our society has much to gain from recovering a way of understanding faith. A culture that has space for the soul and values the gifts of faith that come in art not only makes life worth living, but also gives us space in which to become truly human. Faith, like art, shows us how to be generous in our thought and in our acts, for we all have the capacity to be creative, to find that arc of transcendence whatever limits are placed upon us.”

“The creative juxtaposition of tapestries and cartoons, the gifts of Pope and Queen, is a metaphor for the Papal Visit itself. Each casts new light on the other; together they bring enrichment. When Pope Benedict comes next week, my hope is that people will indeed listen to what he has to say. But I hope that they will also be open to experiencing the creative imagination of a living faith.”

The Tapestries

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.”

More information

This 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 organisation dedicated to the conservation and preservation of one of the world’s greatest collections of art which has been displayed in the Vatican for more than 500 years. More information at vaticanpatrons.org and mv.vatican.va

Tickets to the exhibition are free. Timed tickets will be in operation. Advance booking is strongly recommended and tickets will be available from 1 July 2010. Visit vam.ac.uk from 1 July for more information.

The V&A is the world’s greatest museum of art and design, with collections unrivalled in their scope and diversity, and with 3000 years’ worth of amazing artefacts from many of the world’s richest cultures including ceramics, furniture, fashion, glass, jewellery, metalwork, photographs, sculpture, textiles and paintings.