Six huge, breathtaking tapestries designed by Italian Renaissance master Raphael are being shown for the first time in the United States at the Columbus Museum of Art.
Running through October 30, Raphael – The Power of Renaissance Imagery: The Dresden Tapestries and their Impact is a collaboration between the Columbus Museum and the Dresden Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister (GAM). The Columbus Museum is the first and only location in the US for the tapestries, which will most likely not travel to the US for decades.
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The tapestries, each about 20 feet tall and depicting New Testament scenes featuring the apostles Peter and Paul, are the focal points of this multifaceted exhibition. Also included are two reproductions of Raphael’s tapestry preparatory paintings – known as cartoons – as well as nearly 50 other paintings, drawings and sculptures inspired by the tapestries or reflecting the young artist’s widespread influence.
Raphael: The Renaissance artist designed tapestries for the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel
Born Raffaello Sanzio of Urbino, Italy, Raphael was an impressively prolific and renowned artist during his short life. Along with Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, he was part of the trinity of masters of the time. In 1520 Raphael died at the age of 37 from a sudden illness, probably syphilis.
Around 1516 Raphael finished caricatures for the tapestries commissioned by Pope Leo X to hang in the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel in Rome. The Dresdner Gobelins were another group of works created after the artist’s death. They had numerous owners and patrons, including the Englishman Charles I, who founded the London factory where the Dresden tapestries were woven.
At the Columbus Museum, the tapestries hang on the second floor of the Walter Wing, the only part of the museum “tall enough to display them,” according to museum director Nannette V. Maciejunes.
Stephan Koja, director of Dresden’s GAM Museum, who accompanied the tapestries to Columbus, said: “They look better here than in Dresden.”
The Gobelins, restored in Dresden from 1991 to 2003, are brilliant in colour, texture and narrative composition. They are regal and imposing, full of detail and surrounded by borders with floral motifs, coats of arms and more.
“The Miraculous Draft of Fishes” is a scene by the sea in which Jesus recruits Peter and Andrew as disciples while others in boats behind them pull fish out of the sea. “Paul Preaching in Athens” shows the converted Saul addressing a crowd whose members seem skeptical, enraptured, or on the way to becoming true believers.
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In Christ’s Accusation of Peter, the kneeling disciple stretches out his hands to Jesus. On the Vatican tapestry, Peter is holding a bunch of keys, which is not present on the tapestry woven in London, since the authorities had this symbol of Catholicism removed.
Raphael drawings and cartoons show the preliminary drafts of the tapestries
Among the tapestries are the life-size reproductions of Raphael’s cartoons and two small Raphael drawings that preceded the cartoons; a variety of works by Baroque and Renaissance artists reinterpreting the scenes of the tapestries or presenting other biblical scenes, and portraits of people instrumental in the making or acquisition of the tapestries. Among them: Anthony Van Dyck’s 1637 portrait of King Charles I, Peter Paul Ruben’s 1626 painting The Meeting Between Abraham and Melchizedek, and coincidentally a huge 17th-century painting by an unknown artist, The Miraculous Draft of Fishes “. the Carlo Croce Collection in Columbus.
The multiple dimensions of the artworks in the exhibition as well as informative panels and multimedia enhancements make for a rich viewing experience. Mobile visitors can access audio commentary and video clips that provide more story and context.
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The experience is completed by the gallery’s soundtrack of pre-recorded historical music provided by two Columbus-based groups: the Fior Angelico Chamber Choir, which performs music from the 16th and 19th centuries.
As noted by Maciejunes, the collection and many exhibits at the Columbus Museum of Art focus primarily on modernism. The Raphael Tapestries offer a museum rarity: a vivid and thoughtful look at ancient masterpieces.
At a glance
Raphael – The Power of Renaissance Imagery: The Dresden Tapestries and their Impact runs through October 30 at the Columbus Museum of Art, 480 E. Broad St. Hours: Tuesday through Sunday 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Thursdays until 9:00 p.m. Admission: $10 special exhibition fee plus regular admission of $18 for adults, $9 for seniors, students, and 4-17 year olds, free for ages 3 and under and members; free Sundays; $5 Thursday evenings (with special exhibition admission $5 Thursday evenings); free to veterans and active military personnel and their families. Parking is $7. Call 614-221-6801 or visit www.columbusmuseum.org.