Raphael’s Woven Masterpiece

Most everyone knows of and has seen the stunning images that Michelangelo painted on the ceiling of the Sistene Chapel. Less well known, but equally stunning are the tapestries designed by the Renaissance painter Raphael.

Commissioned in 1515 by Pope Leo X (who wanted to make his own contribution to the chapel but found it was already completely painted), these are the only tapestries Raphael ever designed, and they are considered by many to rival the chapel's more famous frescoes. Even the cartoons for the tapestries which were painted by Raphael over the course of a year before they were cut up and sent to Flemish weavers, one shown here, are considered masterpieces in their own right and are currently owned by the British royal family.

In 2010, four of these stunning works of wool travelled to England where they were displayed for the first time in history together with the original cartoons. Such a display not only let visitors see how perfectly weavers recreated Raphael’s paintings, but also how they didn’t. As art critic Adrian Searle points out in this video, some of the weavers took a few liberties with the original design.

For those who want to learn more about historical tapestries, the November/December 2011 Handwoven features an article about the similarly stunning Pastrana tapestries now on exhibit in Washington D.C. If you prefer creating your own works of woven art, check out the Mirrix Looms tapestry weave-along. No purchase is required, and one lucky weaver will win an OttLite® crafting light. 

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