Raphael's tapestries return to the Sistine Chapel

Updated 18th February 2020
VATICAN CITY - FEBRUARY 17, 2020: A tapestry of The Acts of the Apostles cartoons designed by Italian artist Raphael (1483-1520) on display at the Sistine Chapel. The tapestries weighing 50-60kgs, made with silk and wool threads and depicting acts of St Peter and Paul are hung onto mountings made for them centuries ago. The exposition marks the 500th anniversary of the painter's death. Vera Shcherbakova/TASS (Photo by Vera Shcherbakova\TASS via Getty Images)
Credit: Vera Shcherbakova/TASS/Getty Images
Raphael's tapestries return to the Sistine Chapel
Written by CNN Staff
For the first time in centuries, 10 magnificent tapestries designed by Renaissance master Raphael will hang together on the walls of the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City.
The tapestries are usually only displayed on rotation in the "Raphael Room" at the Vatican Museum, according to the Vatican.
But from this week until Sunday, they are being brought together to mark the anniversary of Raphael's death.
"We wanted for the celebration of 500 years of Raphael's death to give the opportunity to share the beauty that is represented by the tapestry together in this beautiful, universal place that is the Sistine Chapel," said Barbara Jatta, director of the Vatican Museums.
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Pope Leo X commissioned Raphael to design the tapestries in 1515. Michelangelo had just finished his elaborate work on the ceiling and the pontiff wanted to ensure the lower walls weren't bare.
Raphael painted 10 intricate images that depicted the lives of Saints Peter and Paul, now known as the Raphael Cartoons. The cartoons were then sent to the workshop of master weaver Pieter van Aelst in Brussels to be woven into tapestries.
At Aelst's workshop, they were cut into vertical 90 centimeter-wide strips so the weavers could place them under their looms to recreate the image in thread.
The first tapestries were delivered to the chapel in late December 1519, however, Raphael died months later and did not see all the tapestries completed and together.
After Pope Leo X's death in 1521, some of the tapestries were even pawned to pay off Leo X's debts.
Centuries later, and after a decade of restoration, the tapestries will hang this week where they were intended, below Michelangelo's famous Sistine Chapel ceiling and near his "The Last Judgment."
Raphael and Michelangelo were rivals for the Vatican's commissions. Michelangelo was known to accuse Raphael, nearly a decade his junior, of plagiarizing his style.
Only seven of the original cartoons exist and are held at the Victoria and Albert (V&A) Museum in London, where they have been preserved since 1865.
The Raphael tapestries will be on show at the Sistine Chapel until 23 February.