Monday, February 22, 2021

Raphael's Cartoons

One of the many wonders of London's fantastic free museums is the Raphael Court in the Victoria and Albert Museum. This large gallery hosts the enormous Raphael Cartoons, which were created by the Renaissance artist in the 16th Century.

In 1515 Pope Leo X commissioned seven huge tapestries which he wanted to hang in the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel. Michelangelo had completed his ceiling in the Sistine Chapel just two years before the tapestries were commissioned. Raphael was very conscious that his tapestries would be shown beneath this magnificent ceiling, he therefore took great care in perfecting the designs in the cartoons, from which the tapestries would be made.

These seven cartoons, the full-scale designs for the Vatican tapestries, can be viewed in the V&A. At the time of writing the V&A is closed because of the pandemic. However you can now examine Raphael's Cartoons online using the museum's new Explore the Raphael Cartoons interactive site. The V&A's site allows you to examine each cartoon as you would an interactive map, allowing you to zoom in on details in the cartoons. The cartoons depict biblical scenes from the lives of Saints Peter and Paul. Each cartoon on the V&A site includes interactive markers which you can click on to learn more about the scene depicted.

The actual tapestries, created from Raphael's cartoons, are still hung in the Vatican on special occasions. Unfortunately the Vatican's Sistine Chapel Virtual Tour doesn't show the chapel with the tapestries in situ. However the virtual tour does allow you to see where the tapestries are hung (where the plain tapestries are hanging in the panoramic tour). This allows you to get some sense of the scale of Raphael's cartoons (which is not very obvious from viewing the V&A's interactive versions of the cartoons).

The interactive image of each of cartoons on the V&A website has been visualized using the OpenSeaDragon viewer for high-resolution images.


If you want to explore more of the world's best museums and galleries during lock-down then here are a few more virtual tours that you might enjoy:

The Uffizi Galleries Virtual Tour - one of the greatest collections of Renaissance art in the world
The Metropolitan Museum of Art - includes a number of virtual exhibitions
The National Gallery - London's National Gallery has a number of virtual tours
The Rijksmuseum Masterpieces Up Close - a virtual tour of the museum's Gallery of Honour
The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural Museum - has created a number of virtual tours
The Stonehenge Virtual Tour - places you in the center of this mysterious pre-historic monument
Beijing Palace Museum - the Palace Museum has created a number of virtual tours which allow you to explore some of the museum's galleries and also some of the amazing buildings of the Forbidden City
Buckingham Palace - take a virtual tour around the Queen's favorite pad
Van Eyck Virtual Tour - the Ghent Museum of Fine Arts' impressive Van Eyck virtual exhibition

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