Famous Illustrators: Raphael, and His Cartoons

Calling the Renaissance master Raphael, a cartoonist, would certainly be a trick of language. But calling him an illustrator, would not. In 1515, Raphael Sanzio designed ten extraordinary narrative illustrations of the Acts of the Apostles on assignment for Pope Leo X. The images he created were in the form of “cartoons” to be used for tapestries, and later, for prints.


Cartoon by Raphael (The Miraculous Draught of Fishes)

Illustration is the creation of artwork to be seen in reproduced form, and for communication purposes, and Raphael’s work was certainly that. The “cartoon” above is the original art, but not the finished product. The cartoons weren’t created to be seen as  objects. It was the image that was meant to be seen; as tapestries, created in Brussels. If you look closely, you can see that the illustrations were created on many sheets of paper, sealed together. That allowed for the creation of a huge image (nine feet high) that was then translated, in reverse, into huge woven wall hangings.


Tapestry created from Raphael’s Cartoon

As to the term “cartoon,” we often forget that the illustration-associated word derives from works such as Raphael’s. “Cartoon” is the term for a drawing, usually on paper, from which final art was created. Drawings used for frescos are also called cartoons.

The job for Raphael was no small task. Commissioned by Pope Leo X, the tapestries were created for the lower walls of Sistine Chapel in Rome (We all know what was commissioned for the ceiling). The woven works were made with the most expensive materials, silk from the Far East, along with gold and silver thread. More sets were created from the cartoons through the Eighteenth Century. St. John Divine in New York, holds the only ones in the United States. Of the ten original cartoons created, seven survive, all owned by the English Royal Family, and on loan to the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. They are considered masterpieces of the High Renaissance. Not bad for cartoons.


Christ’s Charge to Peter


The Death of Ananias


St. Paul Preaching in Athens


Further Observation

A short video of the cartoons and tapestries created to explain a recent exhibit of their reunion: