Sistine Chapel on Stamps







The Last Judgement

Quattrocento Decoration

The Ceiling Frescoes

Raphael's Tapestries and their cartoons



Raphael's Tapestries and their cartoons

The Sistine Chapel was the official private chapel of the popes, where the Conclave, the body which elected a new pope, also met. The rebuilding of St Peter's made it necessary for other high-level ceremonies to be held in the Chapel. Pope Sixtus IV della Rovere, the uncle of Julius II, had had the Sistine Chapel built, and had commissioned the leading artists in Florence in the late 15th century to adorn it with episodes from the lives of Christ and Moses. He also had imitation tapestries showing the della Rovere coat-of arms painted.

On important Church feast days venerable wall-hangings were hung in front of these simulated tapestries. The hangings depicted scenes of Christ's Passion, and, according to one legend, they came originally from Jerusalem. In Leo X's opinion these had become too worn and unsightly and had therefore to be replaced. The timing was clearly excellent, for this replacement gave Leo an opportunity to leave behind a visible sign of his own papacy in the most important chapel in Christendom. The coat-of arms of Leo X, commissioned from Raphael, unmistakably adorns the borders of the new tapestries.

Initially a scholar was presumably commissioned to provide a program for the cycle of tapestries, and instructed to select the scenes that would accord with the key features of the new pope's ecclesiastical policy while remaining in keeping with the decoration already there. Leo expected Raphael to interpret these themes artistically. Presumably, Raphael was commissioned to do this in late 1514 or early 1515; by June 1515 he had received an advance payment. The designs were completed by late 1516, since we have documentary evidence that the final payment was made on 20 December.

The tapestries were woven in the finest tapestry workshop of the day, that of Pieter van Aelst in Brussels. One tapestry was completed by 1517, and seven tapestries were ready to be hung in the Sistine Chapel for the Christmas festivities of 1519. Three others must have arrived shortly before Leo's death in 1521, for the inventory made just after his death lists a total of ten tapestries. During the Sack of Rome in 1527, these works were stolen, and were not returned until the 1550s. Seven of the cartoons - designs drawn to scale - are in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. The tapestries themselves, all woven by Pieter van Aelst, are now in the Vatican Museums.

The ten tapestries recount stories from the Acts of the Apostles.


Four scenes depict scenes from the life of St Peter.

1. The Handing-over of the Keys;

2. The Miraculous Draught of Fishes;

3. The Healing of the Lame Man;

4. The Death of Ananias.

Six tapestries illustrate scenes from the life of St Paul.

1. The Stoning of St Stephen, which depicts an event St Paul ordered;

2. The Conversion of St Paul;

3. The Blinding of the Sorcerer, Elymas;

4. The Sacrifices in Lystra;

5. St Paul in Prison;

6. St Paul Preaching in Athens.


St Peter and St Paul were both martyred in Rome, a fact that substantiated and legitimated the choice of this city as the seat of the papacy. Leo X was using the program of the tapestries to demonstrate this, and thus to assert that ecclesiastically his immediate predecessors had been right to return to Rome after the so-called Babylonian Captivity in Avignon.

(Source of Text : Web Gallery of Art)




Sanzio Raffaello (1483 - 1524)





Handing-over the Keys
1515, Tempera on paper, mounted on canvas, 345 x 535 cm
Victoria and Albert Museum, London






Miraculous Draught of Fishes

1515, Tempera on paper, mounted on canvas, 360 x 400 cm

Victoria and Albert Museum, London






Miraculous Draught of Fishes

1519, Tapestry in silk and wool, with silver-gilt threads, 490 x 441 cm

Musei Vaticani, Vatican





St Paul Preaching in Athens

c 1515, Tempera on paper, mounted on canvas, 390 x 440 cm

Victoria and Albert Museum, London








Healing of the Lame Man

1515-16, Tempera on paper, mounted on canvas, 340 x 540 cm

Victoria and Albert Museum, London