The Raphael Cartoons are seven large cartoons for tapestries, belonging to the British Royal Collection but since 1865 on loan to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, designed by the High Renaissance painter Raphael in 1515–16 and showing scenes from the Gospels and Acts of the Apostles. They are the only surviving members of a set of ten cartoons commissioned by Pope Leo X for the Sistine Chapel tapestries for the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican Palace, which are still (on special occasions) hung below Michelangelo's famous ceiling. Reproduced in the form of prints, the tapestries rivalled Michelangelo's ceiling as the most famous and influential designs of the Renaissance, and were well known to all artists of the Renaissance and Baroque. Admiration of them reached its highest pitch in the 18th and 19th centuries; they were described as "the Parthenon sculptures of modern art".
Raphael – whom Michelangelo greatly disliked – was highly conscious that his work would be seen beside the Sistine Chapel ceiling, which had been finished only two years before, and took great care perfecting his designs, which are among his largest and most complicated. Originally the set was intended to include 16 tapestries. Raphael was paid twice by Leo, in June 1515 and December 1516, the last payment apparently being upon completion of the work. Tapestries retained their Late Gothic prestige during the Renaissance.Most of the expense was in the manufacture: although the creation of the tapestries in Brussels cost 15,000 ducats, Raphael was paid only 1,000.
The tapestries were made with both gold and silver thread; some were later burnt by soldiers in the Sack of Rome in 1527 to extract the precious metals. The first delivery was in 1517, and seven were displayed in the Chapel for Christmas Day in 1519 (then as now, their display was reserved for special occasions).
The cartoons are painted in a glue distemper medium on many sheets of paper glued together (as can be seen in the full-size illustrations); they are now mounted on a canvas backing. They are all slightly over 3 m (3 yd) tall, and from 3 to 5 m (3 to 5 yd) wide; the figures are therefore over-lifesize. Although some colours have faded, they are in general in very good condition. The tapestries are mirror-images of the cartoons, as they were worked from behind; Raphael's consciousness of this in his designs appears to be intermittent. Raphael's workshop would have assisted in their completion; they were finished with great care, and actually show a much more subtle range of colouring than was capable of being reproduced in a tapestry. Some small preparatory drawings also survive: one for The Conversion of the Proconsul is also in the Royal Collection, and the Getty Museum in Malibu has a figure study of St Paul Rending His Garments. There would have been other drawings for all the subjects, which have been lost; it was from these that the first prints were made.
The seven cartoons were probably completed in 1516 and were then sent to Brussels, where the Vatican tapestries were woven by the workshop of Pieter van Aelst. This set was partly destroyed in the Sack of Rome in 1528, but the Vatican Museums have acquired tapestries and recreated sections to complete a full set, now usually displayed in a gallery, but sometimes moved to the Sistine Chapel for special occasions. They were displayed in the chapel for a week in February 2020, to mark the 500th anniversary of Raphael's death. Their layout around the chapel is a matter of discussion among scholars, as there is no record of what was originally intended.
The tapestries had very wide and elaborate borders, also designed by Raphael, which these cartoons omit; presumably they had their own cartoons.Some of the side borders are separate pieces. The borders included ornamentation in an imitation of Ancient Roman relief sculpture and carved porphyry, as well as scenes from the life of Leo. They were themselves very influential, and sometimes used for other tapestries.
Raphael knew that the final product of his work would be produced by craftsmen rendering his design in another medium; his efforts are therefore entirely concentrated on strong compositions and broad effects, rather than felicitous handling or detail. It was partly this that made the designs so effective in reduced print versions. The Raphael of the cartoons was revered by The Carracci, but the great period of their influence began with Nicolas Poussin, who borrowed heavily from them and "indeed exaggerated Raphael's style; or rather concentrated it, for he was working on a much smaller scale". – the Raphael whose influence the Pre-Raphaelites wanted to reject was perhaps above all the Raphael of the cartoons.Thereafter they remained the touchstone of one approach to history painting until at least the early 19th century
The Raphael Cartoons represent scenes from the lives of Saints Peter and Paul.As was usual, the completed tapestries reverse are a mirror image of) the cartoon designs. The programme emphasised a number of points relevant to contemporary controversies in the period just before the Protestant Reformation, but especially the entrusting of the Church to Saint Peter, the founder of the papacy. There were relatively few precedents for these subjects, so Raphael was less constrained by traditional iconographic expectations than he would have been with a series on the life of Christ or Mary. He no doubt received some advice or instructions in choosing the scenes to depict. The scenes from the Life of Peter were designed to hang below the frescoes of the Life of Christ by Perugino and others in the middle register of the Chapel; opposite them, the Life of Saint Paul was to hang below the Life of Moses in fresco. An intervening small frieze showed subjects from the life of Leo, also designed to complement the other series. Each sequence begins at the altar wall, with the Life of Peter on the right side of the Chapel and Life of Paul on the left. Including the three subjects with no surviving cartoons, the set contains (the full scriptural quotations and a commentary are on the V&A website):
Cartoons were sometimes returned with tapestries to the commissioner, but this clearly did not happen here, perhaps because of the death of Leo. This allowed four other recorded sets to be made later in Brussels, all of nine tapestries, missing the small Saint Paul in Prison. One was bought by Henry VIII of England in 1542. After being sold in 1649 in the dispersion of the collection of Charles I of England, eventually Henry's set ended up in Berlin, where it was destroyed by the RAF in World War II. King Francis I of France had another of similar date, now lost. The Ducal Palace, Mantua has a set, made in Brussels for Cardinal Ercole Gonzaga in the early 16th century, with the arms of Gonzaga in the borders. Dussler describes these as "in better condition than the series in the Vatican". A set woven around 1550 that joined the Spanish royal collection some time in the following decades now belongs to the Patrimonio Nacional, and is usually hung in the Royal Palace, Madrid.
The seven cartoons now in London were bought from a Genoese collection in 1623 by King Charles I of England, then still Prince of Wales, using agents. He only paid £300 for them, a price that suggests they were regarded as working designs rather than works of art in their own right. Charles had in fact intended to make further tapestries from them at the Mortlake Tapestry Works near London, which he did, with new baroque borders by their designer Francis Cleyn, paying £500 each, but was well aware of their artistic significance.They had been cut into long vertical strips a yard wide, as was required for use on low-warp tapestry looms, and were only permanently rejoined in the 1690s at Hampton Court. In Charles' day these were stored in wooden boxes in the Banqueting House, Whitehall. They were one of the few items in the Royal Collection withheld from sale by Oliver Cromwell after Charles' execution. The fate of the other three cartoons from the set is unknown; that for the Conversion of Saint Paul was recorded in the collection of Cardinal Grimani in Venice in 1521, and of his heir in 1526.
William III commissioned Sir Christopher Wren and William Talman to design the "Cartoon Gallery" at Hampton Court Palace in 1699, specially to contain them. By this date, the prestige of tapestries in general was beginning to wane, and those of the early sets that had survived were probably already rather faded and dirty. From this point on, the cartoons became regarded as the most authentic and attractive expression of Raphael's conceptions. European taste had also moved in their favour; their dignified classicism was very much in tune with a movement away from the more frenzied versions of the Baroque. The fame of the cartoons, as opposed to the designs in general, grew rapidly.
In 1763, when George III moved them to the newly bought Buckingham House (now Buckingham Palace) there were protests in Parliament by John Wilkes and others, as they would no longer be accessible to the public (Hampton Court had long been open to visitors). They had been greatly studied by artists and cognoscenti alike whilst at Hampton Court, and played a crucial role in forming English expectations of a monumental style of painting; one of the great preoccupations of English art in the 18th century. These were often mentioned in the Discourses of Sir Joshua Reynolds, the dominant English critical work on art of the century. Having explained that "The principal works of modern art are in fresco" he specifically adds the cartoons "which, though not strictly to be called fresco, yet may be put under that denomination" before claiming that "Raffaelle ... stands in general foremost of the first painters..." (i.e. the best painters) and comparing Raphael's works in oil unfavourably to his frescoes.
In 1804 they were returned to Hampton Court, where in 1858 they were photographed for the first time by Charles Thompson Thurston, having been taken out into the courtyard and placed upside down on special scaffolding.In 1865 Queen Victoria decided that the cartoons should be exhibited on loan at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, where they are still to be seen in a specially designed gallery. There are also copies at many locations, including Knole House and Hampton Court Palace, where the copies painted in the 1690s by an artist named Henry Cooke are displayed in the Cartoon Gallery. The Royal Collection also has a set of the tapestries. A set of copies painted by Sir James Thornhill have been owned by Columbia University since 1959, and another is in the Royal Academy.
Several other sets were made in Mortlake; Cleyn had made copies of the designs, and these were used. Charles I's set was bought by Cardinal Mazarin, and now belongs to the French government.Forde Abbey, Chatsworth House, the Duke of Buccleuch and others have sets. A set of six tapestries is now in the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister in Dresden, and the Ducal Palace, Urbino displays a set.
In the early 16th century many Italian artists learnt the lesson of the huge, and very rapid, international prestige that Albrecht Dürer had gained through his prints, and set out to emulate him. Raphael had no knowledge of printmaking himself, and was probably too busy to want to learn the techniques, but he was the most successful of the Italians in spreading his fame through prints, through his much debated relationship with the engraver Marcantonio Raimondi and his workshop.Raphael made many drawings solely as designs for prints, and the workshop made a large number of prints, apparently working always from drawings rather than the finished work, of Raphael's paintings in the Vatican and elsewhere; the tapestry designs were no exception. These prints themselves were very widely copied by other printmakers, and spread rapidly through Europe.
The earliest datable print after one of the designs is an engraving of 1516 by Agostino Veneziano, then working in the workshop of Marcantonio Raimondi, of the Death of Ananias. This was probably made even before that tapestry was woven. The composition is in the same direction as the tapestry, but since the printmaking process would also reverse the direction of the composition, this almost certainly means it was deliberately reversed compared to the detailed preparatory drawing in the Royal Collection on which it was based (see above; the two agree in all details), probably by taking a counterprint from the chalk drawing.All Raimondi and Veneziano's prints of Raphael's designs in Raphael's lifetime were based on drawings, according to both Landau and Pons. Raimondi himself engraved one of the set, which were presumably all produced around 1516, so that even many in the Roman art world may have seen prints of the designs before they saw the tapestries themselves.
Agostino's engraving was rapidly copied in another well-known version, a four-colour chiaroscuro woodcut by Ugo da Carpi, dated 1518.The da Carpi woodcut is often cited in studies of the complex question of early image copyright, as it bears (in its first state) a Latin inscription beneath the image claiming "copyright"-style privileges from both the Venetian Republic and the Papacy (covering the Papal States) and threatening excommunication for anyone breaching the latter. Apart from other straightforward copies of the prints from the Raimondi set, Parmigianino did a typically individual print version of one design from the set in about 1530.
A later large set of engravings by Matthaeus Merian the Elder illustrating the Bible, from around the end of the century, used some of the compositions, slightly increasing the height, and elaborating them. These were much used and copied in popular books, further widening the knowledge of the designs to a much larger audience.
After the cartoons were reassembled at the end of the 17th century, by which time printmakers were well accustomed to copying direct from large paintings, they became the dominant source of new print copies. By the 18th century many different print versions were in circulation, of varying faithfulness and quality.
Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino, known as Raphael, was an Italian painter and architect of the High Renaissance. His work is admired for its clarity of form, ease of composition, and visual achievement of the Neoplatonic ideal of human grandeur. Together with Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci, he forms the traditional trinity of great masters of that period.
The Sistine Chapel is a chapel in the Apostolic Palace, the official residence of the pope, in Vatican City. Originally known as the Cappella Magna, the chapel takes its name from Pope Sixtus IV, who restored it between 1473 and 1481. Since that time, the chapel has served as a place of both religious and functionary papal activity. Today, it is the site of the papal conclave, the process by which a new pope is selected. The fame of the Sistine Chapel lies mainly in the frescos that decorate the interior, most particularly the Sistine Chapel ceiling and The Last Judgment by Michelangelo.
Tapestry is a form of textile art, traditionally woven by hand on a loom. Tapestry is weft-faced weaving, in which all the warp threads are hidden in the completed work, unlike cloth weaving where both the warp and the weft threads may be visible. In tapestry weaving, weft yarns are typically discontinuous; the artisan interlaces each coloured weft back and forth in its own small pattern area. It is a plain weft-faced weave having weft threads of different colours worked over portions of the warp to form the design.
The Vatican Museums are the public art and sculpture museums in the Vatican City. They display works from the immense collection amassed by the Catholic Church and the papacy throughout the centuries including several of the most renowned Roman sculptures and most important masterpieces of Renaissance art in the world. The museums contain roughly 70,000 works, of which 20,000 are on display, and currently employ 640 people who work in 40 different administrative, scholarly, and restoration departments.
Giulio Romano, also known by his real name of Giulio Pippi, was an Italian painter and architect. He was a pupil of Raphael, and his stylistic deviations from High Renaissance classicism help define the 16th-century style known as Mannerism. Giulio's drawings have long been treasured by collectors; contemporary prints of them engraved by Marcantonio Raimondi were a significant contribution to the spread of 16th-century Italian style throughout Europe.
Bernard van Orley, also called Barend or Barent van Orley, Bernaert van Orley or Barend van Brussel, was a versatile Flemish artist and representative of Dutch and Flemish Renaissance painting, who was equally active as a designer of tapestries and, at the end of his life, stained glass. Although he never visited Italy, he belongs to the group of Italianizing Flemish painters called the Romanists, who were influenced by Italian Renaissance painting, in his case especially by Raphael.
Michiel Coxie the Elder, Michiel Coxcie the Elder or Michiel van Coxcie, Latinised name Coxius, was a Flemish painter of altarpieces and portraits, a draughtsman and a designer of stained-glass windows, tapestries and prints. He worked for patrons in the principal cities of Flanders. He became the court painter to successively Emperor Charles V and King Philip II of Spain.
Marcantonio Raimondi, often called simply Marcantonio, was an Italian engraver, known for being the first important printmaker whose body of work consists largely of prints copying paintings. He is therefore a key figure in the rise of the reproductive print. He also systematized a technique of engraving that became dominant in Italy and elsewhere. His collaboration with Raphael greatly helped his career, and he continued to exploit Raphael's works after the painter's death in 1520, playing a large part in spreading High Renaissance styles across Europe. Much of the biographical information we have comes from his life, the only one of a printmaker, in Vasari's Lives of the Artists.
Jacopo Caraglio, Giovanni Jacopo Caraglio or Gian Giacomo Caraglio known also as Jacobus Parmensis and Jacobus Veronensis was an Italian engraver, goldsmith and medallist, born at Verona or Parma. His career falls easily into two rather different halves: he worked in Rome from 1526 or earlier as an engraver in collaboration with leading artists, and then in Venice, before moving to spend the rest of his life as a court goldsmith in Poland, where he died.
Perinodel Vaga was an Italian painter and draughtsman of the Late Renaissance/Mannerism.
Pieter Coecke van Aelst or Pieter Coecke van Aelst the Elder was a Flemish painter, sculptor, architect, author and designer of woodcuts, goldsmith's work, stained glass and tapestries. His principal subjects were Christian religious themes. He worked in Antwerp and Brussels and was appointed court painter to Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor.
The Cappella Paolina is a chapel in the Apostolic Palace, Vatican City. It is separated from the Sistine Chapel by the Sala Regia. It is not on any of the regular tourist itineraries.
The Belvedere Torso is a 1.59 m tall fragmentary marble statue of a male nude, known to be in Rome from the 1430s, and signed prominently on the front of the base by "Apollonios, son of Nestor, Athenian", who is unmentioned in ancient literature. It is now in the Museo Pio-Clementino of the Vatican Museums.
An old master print is a work of art produced by a printing process within the Western tradition. The term remains current in the art trade, and there is no easy alternative in English to distinguish the works of "fine art" produced in printmaking from the vast range of decorative, utilitarian and popular prints that grew rapidly alongside the artistic print from the 15th century onwards. Fifteenth-century prints are sufficiently rare that they are classed as old master prints even if they are of crude or merely workmanlike artistic quality. A date of about 1830 is usually taken as marking the end of the period whose prints are covered by this term.
Agostino Veneziano, whose real name was Agostino de' Musi, was an important and prolific Italian engraver of the Renaissance.
The Mortlake Tapestry Works was established alongside the River Thames at Mortlake, then outside, but now on the edge of west London, in 1619 by Sir Francis Crane. It produced lighter, if vastly more expensive, decoration for rooms than the previously favoured Elizabethan wood panelling. King Charles I was a heavy investor and it prospered. The English Civil War disrupted all luxury goods businesses. Cromwell tried to help. Charles II imposed heavy duties on competitive imports, but the decline could not be reversed. It closed in 1704; some of the weavers continued to work privately.
A modello[moˈdɛllo], from Italian, is a preparatory study or model, usually at a smaller scale, for a work of art or architecture, especially one produced for the approval of the commissioning patron. The term gained currency in art circles in Tuscany in the fourteenth century. Modern definitions in reference works vary somewhat. Alternative and overlapping terms are "oil sketch" (schizzo) and "cartoon" for paintings, tapestry, or stained glass, maquette, plastico or bozzetto for sculpture or architecture, or architectural model.
John Kinder Gowran Shearman was an English art historian who also taught in America. He was a specialist in Italian Renaissance painting, regarded by many as "the outstanding figure" of his generation in this area, who published several influential works, but whose expected major books on Quattrocento painting, for the Penguin/Yale History of Art series, and on Raphael, never appeared.
Brussels tapestry workshops produced tapestry from at least the 15th century, but the city's early production in the Late Gothic International style was eclipsed by the more prominent tapestry-weaving workshops based in Arras and Tournai. In 1477 Brussels, capital of the duchy of Brabant, was inherited by the house of Habsburg; and in the same year Arras, the prominent center of tapestry-weaving in the Low Countries, was sacked and its tapestry manufacture never recovered, and Tournai and Brussels seem to have increased in importance.
Pieter van Aelst or Pieter van Aelst III was a Flemish tapestry weaver whose workshop commenced by his grandfather was one of the leading weavers of Flanders in the first half of the 16th century.
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