To commemorate the 500th year anniversary since Raffaello Sanzio’s premature death at the age of 37 in Rome on the 6th of April 1520, the tapestries designed by the great Renaissance master were extraordinarily set-up for one week only in February at their original location, the majestic Sistine Chapel, dominated by Michelangelo’s eternal frescoes.
The monumental cycle of ten tapestries characterized by different sizes was commissioned by pope Leone X de’ Medici, specifically designed by Raffaello with assistants for the Sistine Chapel walls between 1515 and 1516, and created by the renowned Pieter van Alest’s workshop in Bruxelles between 1519 and 1521. The magnificent artworks are usually displayed in the Sala VIII also called "Salone di Raffaello", at the Pinacoteca Vaticana, whereas seven of the original cartoons are conserved at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and the last three are dispersed.
You find it here
Title: "Raffaello's tapestries set-up at the Sistine Chapel for the Anno Sanzio".
Type: Renaissance art.
Timetable: 17 - 23 February 2020; same as the Vatican Museums: 9.00 am - 6.00 pm (last admission two hours before closing); open on the last Sunday of the month.
Place: Sistine Chapel, Vatican Museums.
Tickets: included in the Vatican Museums tickets.
Curator: Alessandra Rodolfo.
The tapestries illustrate the "Stories of Saints Peter and Paul" from the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles to complete the religious message brought by the decoration of the whole Sistine Chapel, in a harmonious correspondence with the sacred scenes frescoed in the middle register of the walls depicting the "Stories of Jesus Christ and Moses", executed during Sixtus IV’s pontificate, and the masterpieces created by Michelangelo Buonarroti on the chapel vault during Julius II's pontificate.
In particular, the tapestries were destined to decorate the inferior section of the narrative framework, simply filled with a faux-drapes mural painting. Under the "Stories of Jesus Christ", the four tapestries representing the "Stories of Saint Peter" were intended to face the six "Stories of Saint Paul" on the opposite side, articulated below the previous "Stories of Moses" frescoes.
A fancy likewise took the Pope to have some very rich tapestries made in gold and floss−silk; whereupon Raffaello drew and coloured with his own hand, of the exact form and size, all the cartoons, which were sent to Flanders to be woven; and the tapestries, when finished, were brought to Rome. This work was executed so marvellously, that it arouses astonishment in whoever beholds it, wondering how it could have been possible to weave the hair and beards in such detail, and to give softness to the flesh with mere threads; and it is truly rather a miracle than the work of human art, seeing that in these tapestries are animals, water, and buildings, all made in such a way that they seem to be not woven, but really wrought with the brush.
Giorgio Vasari, "Lives of the Most Eminent Painters Sculptors and Architects", 1568.
The unique event
As extraordinarily anticipated at the Vatican last November 2018, on the occasion of the presentation of the book disclosing the latest restoration works performed on the Vatican Stanze, the historical event took place in the Sistine Chapel between 17 and 23 February 2020. The uniqueness of the set-up of the complete series of tapestries back in their historical location, hung up at the original 16th century hooks where they were originally destined, lies in the rarity of this touching occurrence.
Only a selection of these tapestries was shown before in the Sistine Chapel, in fact, for few hours and not in the same position on the walls as in the latest philological re-enactment: on the occasion of an exhibition curated by John Sherman dating back to 1983 and on July 14, 2010, in conjunction with the exhibition entitled "Raphael cartoons and tapestries for the Sistine Chapel", organized in collaboration with the Vatican Museums at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London between September 8 and October 17, 2010.
This exceptional re-enactment is the result of demanding studies carried out by international specialists, who compared the meager historical information concerning the ancient liturgical ceremonies when the tapestries were displayed with the actual context of the Sistine Chapel walls.
Moreover, the cycle of tapestries is not even visible in its entirety at the Pinacoteca Vaticana, because the delicate textile artworks are displayed in rotation to ensure the best possible conservation conditions.
The impressive show of Raffaello’s tapestries happened on his 500th anniversary ties a knot in the special history of the solemn celebrations inside the Vatican, directly to evoke the night of the 26th December 1519 when the first weaved tapestries were displayed for the first time to embellish the Sistine Chapel on the occasion of the Holy Mass, raising the wonder of the lucky witnesses, as testified by the master of ceremonies Paris de Grassis in his Diarium. The last three tapestries, Saint Paul in prison, Death of Ananias, and Saint Paul preaching in Athens entered the Vatican by 1521.
Even Raffaello Sanzio couldn't admire the complete series of tapestries inside the papal chapel, since his premature death ripped his brilliant artistic career apart, yet not his legendary sign in Renaissance art history.
Ut fuit universale juditium, sunt res qua non est aliquid in orbe nunc pulchrius.
Paris de Grassis, Diarium, 1513-1521.