In 1515 Pope Leo X (r. 1513-21) commissioned Raphael (1483-1520) to create ten full-scale coloured cartoons for a set of tapestries he wished to have made at the Brussels workshop of the renowned Flemish tapestry-maker, Pieter van Aelst (died 1536). The tapestries were intended to be hung, albeit only on very special occasions, in the Cappella Sistina(Sistine Chapel).
The tapestries, which, apart from one, measure between three and a half by four/five metres, depict scenes from the lives of St Peter and St Paul. The first seven tapestries arrived in Rome at the end of 1519 and were first hung in the chapel on December 26th, which is St Stephen's Day. All ten tapestries had arrived by the time of Leo X’s death on December 1st, 1521.
By great fortune, seven of Raphael's cartoons have survived and form part of the collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum in London.
The Stoning of St Stephen
St Stephen was one of the seven men ordained by the Apostles as the first deacons responsible for distributing alms to the needy. He was falsely accused of blasphemy and when he rebuked his accusers he had an apparition of Jesus and God the Father. St Stephen was stoned to death. One of the witnesses was Saul, who guarded the executioners’ garments.
St Paul Preaching at Athens
St Paul is depicted preaching in the agora before the judicial council of Athens on the subject of the immortality of the soul, a subject dear to Pope Leo X, who defined official church doctrine in the papal bull Apostolici Regiminis, which was issued on December 19th 1513.
St Peter and the Healing of the Lame Man
A crowd is gathered at the Porta Speciosa (Beautiful Gate) inside the complex of the Temple of Jerusalem. At the centre St Peter heals a lame man, while a youthful St John looks on.
Christ's Charge to St Peter
At Caesarea Philippi Christ addressed his disciples and said to Peter ‘I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven' (Matthew 16:19). After his resurrection Christ appeared to his disciples and thrice charged Peter to ‘Feed my sheep’ (John 21:15-17). These two texts were the most important scriptural justifications of papal authority.
St Peter and the Death of Ananias
The Apostles persuaded wealthy men to sell off land and property so that the proceeds could be distributed to the poor. One of them, Ananias, retained some of the proceeds of the sale for his own personal use. Peter rebukes Ananias for his greed and deceit and strikes him down. On one side we see the Apostles distributing alms while on the other the wife of Ananias counts their money.