For the first time since the late 1500s, tapestries featuring sketches by the famed Renaissance artist Raphael are on display at the Sistine Chapel, where they initially hung while Raphael’s Renaissance rival Michelangelo was painting the chapel’s famous ceiling and The Last Judgment behind the altar.
These 12 tapestries are returning “home” in celebration of Raphael’s 500th death anniversary. “They were conceived for this space and so we thought it was the best way to celebrate,” says Vatican Museums director Barbara Jatta. Woven in Brussels by the famed studio of Pieter van Aeslt from Raphael’s sketches, the tapestries—made with silk, wool, gold, and silver thread—depict scenes from the Acts of the Apostles, such as The Stoning of St. Stephen and St. Paul Preaching in Athens.
“This place is of universal importance, not only for visual arts but for our faith,” continues Jatta. “So we really want to share this beauty with people, even if only for one week”.
Pope Leo X commissioned the creation of seven tapestries and had them hung in the Sistine Chapel on Dec. 26, 1519 (Feast of Saint Stephen). Raphael is assumed to have seen the tapestries before he died four months later aged 37—the remaining five tapestries were finished after his death.
Vatican Museums’ conservationists and restorers allowed to have all the delicate tapestries be displayed together for only a week, as a precautionary measure and because some of them will be loaned to other museums. Previous exhibitions just last a few hours and only feature the 10 large tapestries that measure around 30 square meters—the other two are narrow and hung vertically as borders. Normally when on display, the tapestries are shown in rotation behind glass in climate-controlled spaces.
After the celebration, one tapestry will head to Rome’s Quirinale Palace’s Scuderie museums while another will be going to the National Gallery in London. “It’s exactly what Pope Francis is asking us, which is to share and to be a museum open to everybody and to share our beauty,” Jatta ends. REUTERS