This year marks the 500th anniversary of Raphael’s death, and oddly, the V&A has decided to close its Raphael Court for most of the year.

The court, said to be modelled on the (unpainted) Sistine Chapel, is home to the iconic Raphael Cartoons, loaned to the V&A from the Royal Collection by Her Majesty The Queen. The Raphael Court will be refurbished from 27th January 2020 until late 2020, which it will reopen with a new darker appearance to make the cartoons stand out.

The cartoons aren’t little sketches though – but were life-scale drawings for massive tapestries commissioned by Pope Leo X in 1515.

(c) Victoria and Albert Museum

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 17th century by the Prince of Wales, later Charles I. They remained in the Royal Collection and were loaned to the South Kensington Museum – now the V&A – by Queen Victoria in 1865 in memory of Prince Albert, where they have been on public display ever since.

(c) Victoria and Albert Museum

As part of the refurbishment works, a LED lighting will be used to reduce reflections on the glass and produce a marked increase in visibility of the works. Following a photography project, enhanced gallery interpretation will also reveal in-depth stories about the production and history of the Raphael Cartoons.

The original set of tapestries for the Sistine Chapel is still on view in the Vatican palace in Rome, while an example of a later tapestry made in the 17th century in England after Raphael’s design – The Miraculous Draught of Fishes, on loan from the Duke of Buccleuch – is on display in the Raphael Court.

(c) Victoria and Albert Museum

If you want to see the Raphael Court in its current state, you have until 27th January to visit.


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