Rafael at the Palace
Royal Palace of Madrid. Gallery, ES
Exhibition until April 2021

Rafael at the Palace<br>Royal Palace of Madrid. Gallery, ES<br>Exhibition until April 2021

Photo: Lala de Dios

This exhibition represents an unique opportunity to see for the first time the whole series of tapestries woven following Raphael's cartons.

The temporary exhibition Raphael at the Palace. Tapestries for Philip II is Patrimonio Nacional’s tribute to Raphael (Raffaello Santi, 1483−1520) on the 5th centenary of his death, commemorated in 2020. It is on show in the Gallery of the Royal Palace of Madrid, a fitting backdrop to the monumentality and architectural structure of Raphael’s Acts of the Apostles tapestry series. 

Two circumstances make this a once-in-a-lifetime exhibition. Firstly, the Acts of the Apostles tapestry series from the collection of Philip II (1527−1598) has never before been publicly displayed in its entirety. Secondly, the show is the last of the major international events staged in 2020 to celebrate the 5th centenary of the death of the Urbino-born artist.

In addition, this is the first temporary exhibition Patrimonio Nacional has hosted since the lockdown caused by Covid-19. This important cultural event has been organised with all the health and safety measures adopted since the reopening of the Royal Sites. The exhibition is running through April.

This Acts of the Apostles series dates back to a commission Raphael received from Pope Leo X (1475−1521) in 1514 to paint full-scale cartoons for 10 tapestries to adorn the lower part of the Sistine Chapel on feast days. By then the best artists of the period had worked on this symbolic space in the Vatican: Perugino (c.1450−1523), Botticelli (1445−1510), Ghirlandaio (1449−1494) and Raphael’s legendary rival Michelangelo (1475−1564). 

The pope and his circle of theologists chose an iconographic programme that emphasised the legitimacy of the pontiff as Saint Peter’s successor and the Church’s mission to preach the word of Christ. Raphael thoroughly documented the subject and even demanded that an assistant be permanently present to read the canonical texts aloud to him.

The result of his work was a compendium of unprecedented compositions, landscapes and majestic architecture executed according to the Renaissance principles of perspective and geometry and life-sized human figures that attest to his thorough knowledge of anatomy, classical sculpture and the expression of states of mind.  

Coupled with this is the technical mastery of the Brussels tapestry weavers of the workshop of Pieter van Aelst (c. 1450−c. 1533) who reproduced Raphael’s designs in warp and weft threads of gold, silver, silk and wool, working on them from 1516 to 1521. But Raphael died unexpectedly on 6 April 1520, the day of his 37th birthday, and only lived to see seven of the tapestries displayed in the Sistine Chapel. 

The appeal of the Sistine cycle and the interest it aroused were incomparable in art history. Monarchies all over Europe vied with each other to obtain re-editions, conscious of the prestige of owning one. Sadly, some of these replicas are now lost: that of Francis I of France during the French Revolution, and that of Henry VIII in the last bombings during the Second World War. 

In connection with this exhibition, Patrimonio Nacional has published a monograph entitled Tapices de Rafael para la Corona de España (Raphael tapestries for the Spanish Crown) which can bei acquired online.


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