UK Displays Raphael's Sistine Tapestries, Designs

Unprecedented Exhibit Marks Benedict XVI’s Visit

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LONDON, SEPT. 6, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Four of the tapestries Raphael designed for the Sistine Chapel will go on display this week alongside the drawings that were the models for the weavings.

The Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) announced the display, to begin Wednesday and run through mid-October. The drawings (called “cartoons”) for the tapestries have been on display at the V&A since 1865 but this will be the first time that the cartoons and tapestries have been displayed together — something Raphael himself never witnessed.

The tapestries were commissioned in 1515; Raphael was asked to make drawings of Sts. Peter and Paul to complete the Sistine Chapel but in a medium quite unlike Michelangelo’s.

The cartoons are the same size as the final project (more than 11 feet by 17 feet) and are mirror images of the tapestries, since they were woven from the back.

Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster noted that the unprecedented display marks Benedict XVI’s visit to the United Kingdom this month.
 
“The tapestries are significant works in their own right, but they are also a powerful language,” the prelate proposed. “They are reflections on the mission of the Apostles Peter and Paul, not only to care for the Church but to witness the gift of Christ in a world that had, as yet, no language capable of speaking about him.”
 
The archbishop proposed that great art “requires us to be open” and “give permission for our world to be reorganized.”

“We come away not only informed but changed,” he said. “All great art, even when it is uncomfortable, teaches us to be generous.”

Archbishop Nichols suggested the same can happen in an encounter with Catholicism.

“Of course, the centuries, the conflicts and human sinfulness can dull and disfigure it, but Christianity’s creative vitality is not dimmed. As with art, the problem lies in knowing how to understand it. If we come with suspicion, with limited language drawn from reductionist sources, then of course we will see only something old, antiquated and dusty,” he reflected.

The prelate also suggested that the joint display of the tapestries (which belong to the Vatican) and the cartoons (owned by the queen) is a metaphor for the papal visit itself.

“Each casts new light on the other; together they bring enrichment,” he said. “When Pope Benedict comes next week, my hope is that people will indeed listen to what he has to say. But I hope that they will also be open to experiencing the creative imagination of a living faith.”

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