2020 marks the 500th anniversary of Raphael’s death. In preparation for the celebrations around this occasion, we are temporarily closing The Raphael Court from 29 July to 6 September 2019 for an ongoing research project that will reveal in-depth stories about the iconic Raphael Cartoons, loaned from the Royal Collection by Her Majesty The Queen. This phase of the project will produce high-definition images of the monumental works to enhance our understanding of the Cartoons, and will be followed in 2020 by a refurbishment of the gallery itself as part of our FuturePlan programme.
The Raphael Cartoons – full-scale preparatory designs for a series of tapestries – have a fascinating story. In 1515, Pope Leo X commissioned Raphael to create a set of ten designs for the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel. Each measuring approximately 4.5 metres wide, the designs depict scenes from the lives of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, known as the Fathers of the Christian Church.
Raphael was at the peak of his career at the time, and with the help of his large workshop, he finished the ten designs in two and a half years. Once complete, the Cartoons were sent to the workshop of merchant-weaver Pieter van Aelst in Brussels. Ten tapestries were then delivered to the Vatican Palace between December 1519 and December 1521, but only seven Cartoons have survived. The survival of these Cartoons is remarkable, and today they are among the greatest treasures of the Renaissance in the UK. Charles I brought them to Britain in the 17th century, and they have remained in the Royal Collection ever since.
The Cartoons were first loaned to the museum by Queen Victoria in 1865 in memory of Prince Albert, who had greatly admired Raphael’s work. Today they are displayed in Room 48a, commonly known as The Raphael Court and one of the V&A’s best-known galleries. Following our current research project – and coinciding with celebrations for the 500th anniversary of Raphael’s death – we will be refurbishing the gallery in 2020, updating and improving the display of the Cartoons and providing brand-new interpretation.
To get a sneak peek of the exciting activities taking place in the gallery during its August 2019 closure, have a look through the window into the space.
The refurbishment of The Raphael Court is supported by Lydia and Manfred Gorvy, Julia and Hans Rausing, American Express, Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851, The Hintze Family Charitable Foundation, Robert H. Smith Family Foundation, American Friends of the V&A, and many other generous donors.