The Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) has released an online tool that allows viewers to take in the stunning beauty and mystery of one of the most impressive Renaissance artists, Raphael. Marking the painter's 500th anniversary, this V&A virtual magnifying glass is a product of collaborative work with the Factum Foundation for Digital Technology in Conservation.
The resulting program renders Raphael's work in breathtakingly minute detail, down to the shafts of light and warmth or conversely, darkness on figures' faces. Even the faint wrinkles in certain men's foreheads become easier to spot. The series showcases The Miraculous Draught of Fishes, Jesus' Charge to Peter, The Healing of the Lame Man, The Death of Ananias, The Conversion of the Proconsul Known as The Blinding of Elymas, The Sacrifice at Lystra, and Paul Preaching At Athens.
Part magnifying glass, part history lesson — Each painting, with the help of this new tool, is now open to the public's view for an in-depth look at the characters, the symbolism in each piece of work, the kind of strokes and watercolor Raphael used for tapestries, and even history lessons on how these paintings came to be.
The V&A gives readers a look into the past when the young Raphael was commissioned to create art that not only impressed the public, especially the Christian followers, but also was in complete compliance with the Sistine Chapel, it also had to display reverence for the stylistic work of the previous generation of artists, and his art had to be able to physically endure the weaving process that tapestries went through at the time without losing color, meaning, or integrity.
The museum also gives viewers a look at Raphael's figure studies, for example how he observed the folds in tunic fabric to paint Saint Paul in The Sacrifice at Lystra.
The tale behind The Sacrifice at Lystra is as gripping as Raphael's painting of it is. In this painting, which you can zoom in on and see the different colors, contours, and shades and even manic expressions at V&A, apostles Paul and Barnabas are being harangued by a crowd in Lystra who believe the two men to be Hermes and Zeus respectively. Citizens of Lystra try to sacrifice both men. If you look closer, you will notice that Paul is trying to tear his red tunic off in rage while Barnabas, in his orange tunic behind Paul, is praying while pleadingly staring at the sky. Here's an even closer look at both men in despair.
V&A's tool is a delightful offer for anyone interested in time traveling back 500 years and closely observing the little adjustments Raphael made to his work, the techniques he exercised to make his paintings even more realistic. It's exceptionally helpful during a pandemic when many are unable to visit museums and galleries in person.
Additionally, it's helpful for people who don't own books like Michelangelo and Raphael In The Vatican. V&A's tool is partial entertainment, partial education, and total (free) captivation.