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The Art of Monarchy

A collaboration with BBC Radio 4 to mark Her Majesty The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee

Raphael (Urbino 1483-Rome 1520)

The Miraculous Draft of Fishes c.1515-6

RCIN 912944

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The Miraculous Draft of Fishes is one of seven surviving cartoons by Raphael commissioned by Pope Leo X soon after his election in 1513. The cartoons were later purchased by Charles I, and are some of the greatest masterpieces to have survived from his collection, as well as being the largest and finest works by Raphael outside Italy.

The cartoons commissioned by Leo X were to be the actual-size coloured designs for a set of tapestries of the Act of Apostles to hang in the Sistine Chapel. The cartoons were sent to the tapestry factory of Pieter van Aelst in Brussels, where the tapestries were woven. Seven of the tapestries were hung in the Sistine Chapel at Christmas 1519, and whole set was complete by 1521.

After the completion of the Vatican tapestries, the cartoons remained in Brussels, where they were used to make additional sets of the tapestries. By 1623 they had somehow made their way to Genoa, and it was from that Italian city that the cartoons were purchased by Charles I, when Prince of Wales. The cartoons were acquired so that further sets of the tapestries could be woven to the designs of the great Renaissance artist in the recently founded tapestry works at Mortlake, on the Thames to the west of London.

The cartoons were acquired primarily as working models; they had been cut into strips to simplify the process of weaving, and their artistic importance was fully realised only when the strips were reassembled during the reign of William III and placed on display in 1699 at Hampton Court Palace, in a gallery designed by Sir Christopher Wren. In 1865, the cartoons were loaned to the South Kensington Museum (now the V&A) by Queen Victoria, and since 1950 they have been on display in the specially constructed ‘Cartoon Court’.