Raphael Tapestries Exhibition Illustrates ‘Dawn of Image Reproduction’

An exhibition of six historic tapestries of biblical scenes designed by Raphael, including some of the same designs that were used to create the 12 tapestries in the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican, will be presented for the first time in the United States at the Columbus Museum of Art ( CMA) in Ohio in the exhibition Raphael—The Power of Renaissance Imagery: The Dresden Tapestries and Their Impact (July 15-October 30).

The tapestries traveled from Germany’s Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister (GAM) in Dresden, where the show opened in 2020 as part of the worldwide celebration of the 500th anniversary of Raphael’s death.

Raphael was commissioned by Pope Leo X in 1515 to create several large format cartoons for the Sistine Chapel tapestries, now housed in the collection of the Vatican Museums. The preparatory drawings, held by the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, were purchased in Genoa in 1623 by the future King Charles I of England, who sent the drawings to the prominent British workshop Mortlake near London.

The so-called floor-to-ceiling “Dresden tapestries”, which depict scenes from the lives of Catholic Saints Peter and Paul, were woven at Mortlake in the 17th century for the British Royal Collection and then brought to Germany in the 18th century by Auguste le Fort.

The exhibition deals with what happened during this time through a chronology conveyed by paintings, sculptures and engravings of figures involved in the history of the works, and also contextualizes the lasting influence of the tapestries with a series of works by Renaissance and Baroque masters such as Albrecht Dürer, Nicolas Poussin, Peter Paul Rubens and other 19th century artists.

Manufacture of Mortlake after the drawings of Raphael, Saint-Paul preaching in Athens (after 1625). Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister.

“What’s interesting to us as Americans is the effect Raphael’s tapestries had on American colonial painters, or what we might call Anglo-American artists, especially artists like John Singleton Copley and Benjamin West, who are represented in the exhibition”, David Stark, the chief curator of the CMA, tells The arts journal.

“The medium has also been neglected, marginalized and supplanted by painting for centuries,” Stark says. “While these tapestries were designed during the Renaissance and would have been considered comparable to other art mediums. There is always a fair wow factor in terms of the scale and monumentality of these works.

The exhibition aims to highlight “the dawn of the idea of ​​prints”, according to Stark. “We live in a digital age where the reproduction, communication and transmission of images are so ubiquitous, but it is interesting to note that tapestries have been as influential as they were due to their transmission through of prints, whether by engravings, etchings and so on.

He adds: “We hope that something we take for granted – something that is so much a part of our visual culture today – will inspire people to think about the origins and sources of image reproduction in the digital age. , or to think about the inheritance of the transmission of images.

Several pieces from the exhibition have been loaned by American museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Hood Museum in New Hampshire.

The CMA is the exclusive US venue for the exhibition. The museum has already organized several important exhibitions in collaboration with the GAM, including an exhibition dedicated to the Italian Renaissance painter Titian in 2018 which included his masterpiece Portrait of a lady in white (circa 1561) on loan from the German Museum.

  • Raphael—The Power of Renaissance Imagery: The Dresden Tapestries and Their Impactuntil October 30 at the Columbus Museum of Art, Ohio

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