In late 2010 I was in the V&A checking out the Raphael Cartoons and Tapestry exhibit. “Cartoon” had a very different meaning compared to today’s, and the exhibit has several of the real-size full colour paintings, plus their corresponding tapestries. All are huge, and the resulting tapestries, often full of the difficult reds and blues and gold thread, are simply amazing (and, to some people’s surprise, the mirror opposite of the cartoon).
The exhibit was packed – thankfully met a school group coming out, which meant that there was a little more room! For once, standing well back was the only way to see the pictures as to go close lost all detail. The Tapestries were designed for the Sistine Chapel to be placed at ground level, and are on loan from the Vatican for the exhibit. Raphael was of course, a contemporary of Michaelangelo, and it was the same Pope (Pope Leo X). A free handout guided you round all images and gave a brief description of each item.
I didnt take any photos – whilst the V&A is pretty good at allowing people to take photos of items in their collection (it is their collection after all!), they dont allow people to take photos of items on loan from elsewhere, which is only fair.
There is also a book – Raphael: Cartoons and Tapestries for the Sistine Chapel, by Claire Brown and Mark Evans, reasonably priced at £10. I have yet to read it, but has details on all the cartoons, the tapestries, plenty of colour photographs of both, and what appears to be a reasonable amount of text to put things in context.
As well as seeing the Raphael, the girl I was with and I also went upstairs and went through the Textiles gallery. Some of the items in here are amazing (including some of the lacework, where you can simply appreciate the work that went into it, even if you dont do lace yourself). I found it fun and interesting that much of the work was pinned up on wooden boards, which you could then pull out of the stack and look at closely, especially useful if you are doing research.
A few days later, and I hijacked myself onto a private tour, which took us round even more of the textiles held in the museum, and stuff Sharon and I would not necessarily have found otherwise (who’d have thought to go downstairs to see embroidery when “textiles” is marked as upstairs?). The guide had previously worked at the museum, clearly in the textiles department, as she was able to give us quite specific details about stitches used, how they were done etc – especially appropriate since it was a group of stitchers and knitters!
I do know that I, for one, dont take advantage of the museums that are available, but then again, would never have seen this exhibit if I had never schlepped my way down to London. I am always grateful for the fact that our Museums are still/currently! still free, but that was a £70 round trip and a night in a hotel – thankfully I had to do other things in Town too otherwise it would have been a very expensive trip to an exhibit!
And I was shocked and a little disappointed to find that someone I knew had never heard of the V&A, what it was for, and when I tried to explain what it displayed (including modern fashion, something I thought she might have gone for), she wasnt tempted. Sigh. I knew about the V&A since I was a child, and never got the chance to go see it until recently – but at least I knew it was there and have a vague interest in what it displayed.