The Raphael Cartoons: Paul Preaching at Athens

The Raphael Cartoons are considered one of the greatest treasures of the Renaissance. These huge, full-scale designs for tapestries were created by Raphael – one of the most important masters of the Renaissance period. Commissioned by Pope Leo X, shortly after his election in 1513, for the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican Palace, the Cartoons depict key episodes of the lives of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, the founding fathers of the Christian church.

Paul Preaching at Athens (Acts 17: 16 – 34)

In the last episode of Raphael's series of the Acts of the Apostles, Paul is in Athens to preach and convert the believers of the ancient pagan religion to the Christian faith.

Paul stands on a platform in the Agora (a traditional meeting place in Ancient Greek cities) with his arms raised and preaches on divine nature and the immortality of the soul. The audience is the 'Aeropagus' or city council, who display a range of attitudes, from surprise, to deep thought and scepticism.

The corresponding tapestry was delivered later than most of the other tapestries and so was not displayed in the Sistine Chapel on St Stephen day, 26 December, 1519. It's likely Raphael did not see its installation (no later that December 1521) as he died on 6 April, 1520.

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Click on points of interest to discover more about the painting's characters, symbolism and Raphael's masterly technique.

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  • Colour (visible paint layer) – Explore the Cartoon's paint layer, including Raphael's individual brushstrokes.
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Select your layer from the key or use the scroll bar to transition between the layers and observe subtle differences between the charcoal underdrawing and the paint layer, and the paint layer and the surface texture.

Raphael Cartoon, Paul Preaching at Athens (Acts 17: 16 – 34), cartoon for a tapestry, by Raphael, about 1515 – 16, Italy. Museum number: ROYAL LOANS.7. Photo: © Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Courtesy Royal Collection Trust / Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, 2021

Explore the Cartoons

Background image: (Detail) Raphael Cartoon, Paul Preaching at Athens (Acts 17: 16 – 34), cartoon for a tapestry, by Raphael, about 1515 – 16, Italy. Museum number: ROYAL LOANS.7. Photo: © Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Courtesy Royal Collection Trust / Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, 2020.