Galleria degli Arazzi Vatican Museums Rome

The Galleria degli Arazzi (“Tapestry Gallery”) is one of the sections of the Vatican Museums in Rome. Among the items on display here are tapestries made in Brussels in the 16th century. Originally they were in the Sistine Chapel.

Galleria degli Arazzi Vatican Museums Rome (Tapestry Gallery)

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History and description

The Galleria degli Arazzi was founded in 1838. The most famous tapestries exhibited there were designed by Raphael’s pupils. However, the work on these tapestries was carried out in Brussels, by the studio of Pieter van Aelst. The tapestries were first shown in 1531, in the Sistine Chapel.

Acts of the Apostles

"Jesus handing the keys to St. Peter", Galleria degli Arazzi, vatican Museums Rome
“Jesus handing the Keys to Saint Peter”

This series of tapestries executed by Pieter van Aelst is dedicated to the Acts of the Apostles (the fifth book of the New Testament). The commissioner was Pope Leo X. The real name of Pieter van Aelst was Pieter van Everdingen.

Four of the canvases depict events from the life of Saint Peter. The remaining six depict the life of Saint Paul.

The tapestries were made in a period when papal power was under severe pressure. Pope Leo X himself chose the themes of the works, with carefully selected Biblical events. The works in which Saint Peter takes up central position are meant to demonstrate the absolute power of the pope himself, while the ones of the Pauline cycle show the righteousness of the church (when compared to ancient philosophy).

The bottom parts, and sometimes the sides as well, of some of the tapestries are woven imitations of reliefs. These show events from the life of Pope Leo when he was just Giovanni de’ Medici. Some of these borders disappeared during the sack of Rome of 1527.

Pope Urban VIII

A second cycle of tapestries depicts events in the life of Pope Urban VIII. These were made in Rome itself, by the Manifattura Barberini, which was founded by Cardinal Francesco Barberini, a cousin of the pope. This cycle dates back to the 17th century.