Raphael recalls era of Vatican intrigue

The visit of Pope Benedict XVI to Britain this autumn comes at a time of controversy for the Catholic church. It is therefore fairly obvious why the Vatican is making a flamboyantly generous cultural gesture to mark the occasion. Raphael's cartoons for a set of tapestries to hang in Rome's Sistine Chapel have long been among Britain's great art treasures, and this September the Victoria and Albert Museum will host a one-off exhibition in which the tapestries themselves, lent by Rome, can be compared with the prototypes.

A treat for lovers of high art, this is also a timely allusion to the great artistic inheritance of the Vatican. The message is surely: forget the recent scandals, remember the church-sponsored glories of the high Renaissance. But is that epoch really such a good one to stress if you want to distract from the moral failings of the clergy?...

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