Raphael's tapestries

Known as the Italian painter and architect during the Renaissance, he formed part of the traditional trinity of great masters of that period, together with Leonardo and Michaelangelo. Besides his very important paintings, one of his most important works, now known as the Raphael Cartoons, are seven large cartoons (the only surviving pieces of a ten piece set) commissioned by the Medici Pope, Leo X, in 1515. The cartoons were the blueprints for tapestries that were woven by Belgian weavers, including Pieter van Aelst who also made the Abraham tapestries for Henry VIII.

"The cartoons are painted in a glue distemper medium on many sheets of paper glued together (as can be seen in the full-size illustrations); they are now mounted on a canvas backing. They are all slightly over 3 m tall, and from 3 to 5 m wide; the figures are therefore over-lifesize. Although some colours have faded, they are in general in very good condition. The tapestries are mirror-images of the cartoons, as they were worked from behind; Raphael's consciousness of this in his designs appears to be intermittent. Raphael's workshop would have assisted in their completion; they were finished with great care, and actually show a much more subtle range of colouring than was capable of being reproduced in a tapestry."

"Raphael knew that the final product of his work would be produced by craftsmen rendering his design in another medium; his efforts are therefore entirely concentrated on strong compositions and broad effects, rather than felicitous handling or detail. It was partly this that made the designs so effective in reduced print versions. The Raphael of the cartoons was revered by The Carracci, but the great period of their influence began with Nicolas Poussin, who borrowed heavily from them and "indeed exaggerated Raphael's style; or rather concentrated it, for he was working on a much smaller scale". Thereafter they remained the touchstone of one approach to history painting until at least the early 19th century – the Raphael whose influence the Pre-Raphaelites wanted to reject was perhaps above all the Raphael of the cartoons."

"The Raphael Cartoons represent scenes from the lives of Saints Peter and Paul. The programme emphasised a number of points relevant to contemporary controversies in the period just before the Protestant Reformation, but especially the entrusting of the Church to Saint Peter, the founder of the Papacy."

In 1623 the cartoons were bought by the Prince of Wales and has since then moved to various different palaces. They belong to the British Royal Collection but since 1865 is on loan to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.