A large gallery in the V&A museum has been given a major refurbishment and swept away pale grey walls for a richer darker look that really brings out the artwork on the walls.
One of the V&A’s largest and most dramatic galleries, The Raphael Court is almost identical in proportion to the Sistine Chapel and is home to the Raphael Cartoons, which are among the greatest treasures of the Renaissance in the UK. They’ve been in the V&A since 1865, on a long term loan from the Royal Collection.
During the lockdown, the cartoons themselves have been given a restoration, but they also took the opportunity to renovate the gallery as well.
The most dramatic change, for anyone who has ever visited, is the colour of the room. Away with the rather insipid grey walls and in with a deep blue-green colour. Comparing the two effects, the older pale walls seemed to bleed the colour out of the cartoons, whereas now they leap out at you.
The effect is helped with new lighting that reveals the texture and vitality of the works.
In addition, new acoustic panelling in the ceiling helps to deal with the rather echoey effect of the large room, especially when groups are visiting – and it’s often used for large events.
The room being roughly the same size as the Sistine Chapel is no accident, as the cartoons in it are seven surviving full-scale designs for a series of tapestries for the Sistine Chapel, illustrating scenes from the lives of Saint Peter and Saint Paul.
Once complete, the Cartoons –each measuring around 5 metres wide and 3.5 metres high – were sent to the workshop of merchant-weaver Pieter van Aelst in Brussels, which transformed the monumental designs into tapestries. Seven of the Cartoons survive to this day, brought to Britain in the early 17th century by the future Charles I.
They’re now in the V&A, which reopens on the 19th May 2021. The gallery is part of the main museum and is free to visit.
You can also explore the Raphael Cartoons in close up detail here.