During the lockdown, the huge Raphael Cartoons which are on display in a dedicated gallery within the V&A were given a rare refurbishment.

Recording the colour of the Raphael Cartoons at the V&A using panoramic composite photography. (c) Gabriel Scarpa for Factum Foundation

The Raphael Cartoons are among the greatest treasures of the Renaissance in the UK. Shortly after his election in 1513, Pope Leo X commissioned Raphael to create a set of ten full-scale designs for a series of tapestries for the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican Palace, 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’ve been in the V&A since 1865, on long term loan from the Royal Collection.

Although planned long before the lockdown, while the museum was closed they’ve refurbished the gallery — which was a bit dark and offputting — with new lighting that’s designed to reduce reflections off the protective glass, and new seating.

However, last August, the huge drawings were also scanned to create a digital display as well to explain what the cartoons are showing and how they were made.

Each image took over 95 hours to capture with four of Factum’s Lucida 3D Scanners mounted on scaffold towers. The resulting images reveal the Cartoons’ unique surface texture, showing the composite sheets of paper that make up each Cartoon; evidence of the process of duplicating the Cartoons by ‘pouncing’ the paper – a series of minute holes used by the tapestry weavers to transfer the designs; and the marks of previous restorations.

The refurbished gallery reopens on 14th November 2020 — it’s free as part of the V&A Museum.

The Lucida 3D Scanner recording the surface of a Raphael Cartoon at the V&A. (c) Gabriel Scarpa for Factum Foundation (c) Victoria & Albert Museum

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