The Raphael Cartoons, one of the greatest treasures of the Renaissance in the UK can now be viewed via a new online service from the V&A museum.
The Raphael Cartoons were commissioned by Pope Leo X as designs for a series of tapestries for the Sistine Chapel, showing 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 designs into tapestries.
The tapestries went to Italy, but the cartoons were also kept and they were later bought by the future King Charles I for the Royal Collection, and are have been on loan to the V&A museum since 1865.
The room the cartoons hang in has been recently refurbished, but the cartoons are far too large to be able to see them up close and also let people see them from a distance, so the digital scans will offer a close-up study for the first time.
With interactive features and in-depth stories, it’s now possible to learn about the design and making of the Cartoons and their 500-year history, exploring the works of art as never before by zooming into ultrahigh-resolution photography, infrared imagery, and 3D scans.
The online features include The Story of the Cartoons, which explores the Cartoons’ commission, production and incredible survival, as well the complex process of translating a Cartoon into a tapestry. It also reveals in-depth details about Raphael’s compositions which translate the Biblical narrative into painterly images with their wealth of characters and complex scenes.
Users are able to transition between the layers to see subtle differences between the underdrawing, the paint layer, and the surface texture – from the tiny pinholes that were made to translate the Cartoons into tapestries, to the composite sheets of paper that make up each Cartoon, the creases and tears, and subsequent restoration and repair throughout their lifetime.
This new online content was produced as part of the V&A’s Raphael Project, marking the 500th anniversary of Raphael’s death in 2020.
You can explore the Raphael Cartoons here.