Tapestries by Raphael at the Columbus Museum of Art in the only American exhibition

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Six enormous and magnificent tapestries designed by Italian Renaissance master Raphael are on display for the first time in the United States at the Columbus Museum of Art.

“Raphael – The Power of Renaissance Imagery: The Dresden Tapestries and Their Impact”, which runs until October 30, is a collaboration between the Columbus Museum and the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister (GAM) Dresden, in Germany. The Columbus Museum is America’s first and only venue for tapestries that, most likely, won’t return to the United States for decades.

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The tapestries, each about 20 feet tall and depicting New Testament scenes involving the apostles Peter and Paul, are the focal points of this tiered exhibit. Also included are two reproductions of Raphael’s preparatory tapestry paintings – called caricatures – as well as nearly 50 additional paintings, drawings and sculptures inspired by the tapestries or reflecting the young artist’s widespread influence.

Raphael: Renaissance artist designed tapestries for Vatican’s Sistine Chapel

Raphael, born Raffaello Sanzio of Urbino, Italy, was a remarkably productive and renowned artist during his short life. Along with Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, he is part of the trinity of masters of the time. In 1520, at the age of 37, Raphael died of a sudden illness, probably syphilis.

Around 1516, Raphael finished the cartoons for the tapestries, commissioned by Pope Leo X to be hung in the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel in Rome. The Dresden Tapestries were another set of works created after the artist’s death. They had many owners and patrons, including Charles I of England, who established the London factory where the Dresden tapestries were woven.

Manufacture of Mortlake (according to drawings by Raphaël), "Saint Paul preaching in Athens"

At the Columbus Museum, the tapestries hang on the second floor of the Walter Wing, the only part of the museum “with enough height to display them,” according to museum executive director Nannette V. Maciejunes.

Stephan Koja, director of the GAM Museum in Dresden who accompanied the tapestries to Columbus, said: “They are more beautiful here than in Dresden. »

The tapestries, which were restored from 1991 to 2003 in Dresden, are brilliant in color, 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 seaside scene depicting Jesus recruiting Peter and Andrew as disciples while others in boats behind them pull fish from the sea. “Paul Preaching in Athens” shows the converted Saul addressing a crowd whose members seem skeptical, delighted, or on the way to becoming true believers.

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In “The Charge of Christ to Peter”, the kneeling disciple stretches out his hands towards Jesus. In the Vatican tapestry, Peter holds a set of keys, absent from the tapestry woven in London, because the authorities had this symbol of Catholicism removed.

Drawings by Raphael, the caricatures show the preliminary drawings of the tapestries

Interspersed with the tapestries are the life-size reproductions of Raphael’s caricatures and two small drawings by Raphael that predated the caricatures; a variety of works by Baroque and Renaissance artists that reinterpret scenes from the tapestries or feature other biblical scenes, and portraits of individuals who contributed to the production or acquisition of the tapestries. Among these: Anthony Van Dyck’s 1637 portrait of King Charles I, Peter Paul Rubens’ 1626 painting “The Meeting of Abraham and Melchizedek” and, coincidentally, a huge 17th century painting of an unknown artist, “The miraculous catch”, from the Carlo Croce collection in Columbus.

Peter Paul Rubens, "The Meeting of Abraham and Melchizedek"

The many dimensions of the artworks featured in the exhibition, along with the informative panels and multimedia enhancements, make for a rich visual experience. Through cell phones, visitors can access audio narration and video clips that provide more history and context.

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The experience is complemented by the soundtrack from the Gallery of Recorded Period Music provided by two Columbus-based groups: the Fior Angelico Chamber Choir, which performs music from the 16th and 17th centuries, and The Early Interval, dedicated to Renaissance and Baroque music performed on historical instruments.

As noted by Maciejunes, the collection and many exhibits at the Columbus Museum of Art focus primarily on modernism. Raphaël’s tapestries offer something of a museum rarity: a lively and thoughtful look at ancient masterpieces.

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In one look

“Raphael – The Power of Renaissance Imagery: The Dresden Tapestries and Their Impact” continues through October 30 at the Columbus Museum of Art, 480 E. Broad St. Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday to Sunday, until 9 p.m. on Thursday. Admission: $10 special exhibit fee plus regular admission of $18 for adults, $9 for seniors, students, and ages 4-17, free for ages 3 and under and members; free Sundays; $5 on Thursday evenings (with special admission for the exhibition $5 on Thursday evenings); free for veterans and active military personnel and their families. Parking is $7. Call 614-221-6801 or visit www.columbusmuseum.org.

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