I was just passing through, the V&A was more of a shortcut than a destination, but I had to sit down because I was exhausted, it was nearly 1pm and I had not yet had lunch.
I sat down in the dimly lit room containing The Raphael Cartoons. I had to read this several times – the word ‘Cartoons’ just didn’t make sense in this context. Gradually I found out what was going on – these were essentially the designs for tapestries painted at full scale, which explained the subtle ‘plainness’ of the blended colours… coloured thread behaves in a certain way so you cant expect it to look exactly like paint. Nonetheless the effect was quite subtle.
A ‘Cartoon’, it seems, is a plan for a work in another medium; a painting to be made into a picture made from coloured thread. It is interesting that the modern use of ‘cartoon’ usually indicates a line drawing or a very simplified style as opposed to an image that uses realistic shading to represent an objective view.
So hear is an ancient ‘planning technique’ – a scale reproduction in simpler medium used to guide the production of the finished piece. Today we still use this idea. In fact, the production of a cartoon in a comic (graphic novel) involves an un-inked drawing which is traced using a light box in ink and coloured (is the colour before the black ink lining?). This keeps the finished artwork pristine – without sketch marks.