(Image courtesy of The Royal Collection)
Next week Pope Benedict XVI is visiting Britain and as a "gift to the British people" has sent the only four surviving tapestries designed by Raphael - woven almost 500 years ago - to be exhibited at London's Victoria and Albert Museum for a unique exhibition granting the audience a privilege Raphael himself never had.
These masterpieces of High Renaissance art, comparable to Michelangelo's ceiling paintings of the same chapel, normally cover the lower walls of the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican and were displayed when major liturgical services were celebrated by the Pope.
Professor Arnold Nesselrath, Director of the Vatican Museums, explains that the artist never had the privilege to see his cartoons, or full scale compositions, commissioned by Pope Leo X in 1515 together with the finished work as the cartoons were sent to the Tapestry Manufacture in Belgium.
Seven surviving cartoons were bought on behalf of the Prince of Wales in 1623 in Genoa from where they made their way into the Royal Collection and eventually into the Victoria and Albert Museum on a permanent loan in 1865 where they have been since as they are too fragile to travel.
This unique exhibition runs until 17th October.
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