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500th Anniversary of the Death of Raphael: Publication on the Lost Tapestries and Catalogue of the Highlights of the Berlin Collection


6 April 2020 marks the 500th anniversary of the death of Raphael. To mark this occasion, the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin is bringing out a publication that investigates the history of the Raphael tapestries that were on display in the Bode-Museum up until the Second World War, and whose whereabouts have since been unknown. In honour of this master of the Italian Renaissance, the catalogue Raffael in Berlin – featuring the madonnas from the Gemäldegalerie and Raphael’s drawings from the Kupferstichkabinett – will be made available for free download on the website of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin.

“Even though it is currently necessary to close our museums, there is no need for our visitors to have to go without access to Raphael’s masterpieces”, said Michael Eissenhauer, Director-General of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin and Director of the Gemäldegalerie and the Skulpturensammlung. “While the publication Apostles in Prussia looks into the fascinating history of the lost Raphael tapestries, which were some of the Berlin museums’ major crowd-pullers until the museums were emptied in the course of the war, with the publication Raffael in Berlin, the famous madonnas and the graphic work of this genius of the Italian Renaissance can now also be admired from the comfort of your home. And of course, you can find more on Raphael – as well as on all the other collection highlights and venues of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin – on our website."

The Lost Tapestries of the Bode-Museum 

In 1515, Raphael began work on a series of motifs for tapestries in the Sistine Chapel, which depicted the lives of the Apostles Peter and Paul. In the 19th century, nine of the large-format tapestries based on these designs were acquired in London for Berlin’s museums, and until they were lost during the Second World War, they were presented at a number of prominent locations on the Museumsinsel in Berlin – most recently in the Gobelins tapestry room of the Bode-Museum.

The Publication Apostles in Prussia: The Raphael Tapestries of the Bode-Museum

Published to mark the 500th anniversary of the death of Raphael, the publication Apostles in Prussia: The Raphael Tapestries of the Bode-Museum sheds light on the history of these tapestries for the first time, and on their significance in the collection and cultural history of Berlin’s museums. Edited by Alexandra Enzensberger for the Staatliche Museen and the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz – Max-Planck-Institut, it takes an art-historical approach to the designs in order to unlock their motifs, while investigating debates about the restoration of the Berlin series around the turn of the century and tracing the history of their connection with the museums and the way they were displayed after their acquisition in 1844. The reconstruction of a special exhibition from 1848 illustrates the artistic and cultural-historical meaning that was ascribed to the tapestries, and compares it with other forms of presentation in major European galleries. It also uncovers historical photographs of the objects and their exhibition locations.

Gobelins Tapestry Room To be Open to the Public Once More

After being on display for around 50 years in the Rotunda of the Altes Museum, with the opening of the Kaiser-Friedrich-Museum (today the Bode-Museum) in 1904, for the first time, a dedicated room was created for the Raphael tapestries. Originally planned as the first room in the museum circuit and named the “Raphael Room” by the then-director Wilhelm Bode, it was reserved exclusively to the Raphael tapestries. It was not until 1987, after the room was restored toward the end of the GDR era, that it was renamed the Gobelins tapestry room. When the museums are reopened, this room will be open to the public with extended opening hours, from Tuesday to Sunday, from 11 am to 6 pm, providing visitors with further information on the lost tapestries.

Catalogue of the Highlights of the Berlin Raphael Collection

Five famous madonnas by Raphael from the Gemäldegalerie

The catalogue Raffael in Berlin creates a dialogue between the five famous madonnas from the Gemäldegalerie and the Madonna of the Pinks from the National Gallery in London, shining a spotlight on the museum’s early acquisition policy in the context of the broader history of collecting in Europe. It introduces readers to the “young Raphael” who was so sought after when the first museum was founded in Berlin in 1830, and traces the exhibition history of Raphael’s madonnas, from the Royal Museum Unter den Linden (today’s Altes Museum) to the Kaiser-Friedrich-Museum (today’s Bode-Museum) and the post-war era in the West Berlin museum precinct in Dahlem, right through to the present day.

Raphael’s Drawings: Treasures from the Collection of the Kupferstichkabinett

The catalogue also presents the small but significant group of drawings by Raphael’s own hand from the collection of the Kupferstichkabinett. Primarily consisting of studies the artist produced on paper in preparation for his large paintings, the drawings are taken from all of Raphael’s creative phases, and are among the most prized treasures of the collection, vividly illustrating Raphael’s outstanding artistic range. These works are complemented by drawings from his closest companions, as well as an extensive panorama of printed matter that was produced during Raphael’s lifetime.

Free Download 

To mark the anniversary of Raphael’s death on Monday 6 April 2020, the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin is offering a free download (PDF, 3 MB) of the catalogue Raffael in Berlin (German only) on its website.

Raphael Anniversary on the Blog and on Social Media

A blog post (German only) by Dagmar Korbacher, Director of the Kupferstichkabinett, on the enduring fascination of Raphael’s oeuvre rounds off the anniversary. The Staatliche Museen zu Berlin is also marking the Raphael anniversary on social media with the hasthag #raffaelo500, and during the closure of the museums, is using the hashtags #SMBforHome and #ClosedButOpen.

Raffael in Book Form

The publications

  • Apostles in Prussia: The Raphael Tapestries of the Bode-Museum (Sandstein-Verlag, 140 pages., 81 illustrations, ISBN 978-3-95498-509-8, price: €24) and
  • Raffael in Berlin (German only, 63 pages, 60 illustrations, ISBN 978-3-88609-842-2, price: €9)

are available in hard copy from the online shop of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin.