The Vatican's Pinacoteca (Picture Gallery) is home to ten large tapestries, masterpieces from the workshop of the renowned Flemish weaver Pieter van Aelst (died 1536), which were commissioned by Pope Leo X (r. 1513-21).
The designs for the tapestries, which depict scenes from the lives of St Peter and St Paul, were provided by the artist Raphael (1483-1520) and his assistants. They created a series of full-scale coloured cartoons (seven of which survive).
The tapestries, which measure four by five metres, arrived in Rome between December 1519 and December 1521. They would be hung, albeit only on very special occasions, in the Sistine Chapel.*
Following the delivery of the tapestries, all trace is lost of the cartoons until the sudden reappearance of seven of them in Genoa at the beginning of the 17th century. They were subsequently purchased by the Prince of Wales, the future King Charles I, and brought to England in 1623 to serve as tapestry designs for the recently founded Mortlake tapestry manufactory.
Since 1865 Raphael's cartoons have been on loan to the Victoria & Albert Museum
*The tapestries were last displayed in the Sistine Chapel for a week in February 2020 to mark the 500th anniversary of Raphael's death. It was a rare and memorable occasion.
My name is David Lown and I am an art historian from Cambridge, England. Since 2001 I have lived in Italy, where I run private and
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