Raphael fever hits Italy but art isn’t immune from virus

A man wearing a mask attends a press preview of Raphael’s exhibition in Rome on March 4.

By Frances D’Emilio / The Associated Press

ROME—The paintings, drawings, tapestries and sketches in the most ambitious exhibition of Renaissance superstar Raphael’s works are collectively insured for €4 billion ($4.4 billion) against theft, vandalism or other damages.

But no money can guarantee that Italy’s outbreak of coronavirus, the largest in Europe, won’t play havoc with the three-month run in Rome of this year’s eagerly-awaited art blockbuster.

Nervousness was palpable at a preview on Wednesday that the Italian government’s increasingly restrictive measures aimed at containing the outbreak might prematurely shut down the Raffaello exhibition, which is being mounted to mark the 500th anniversary of his death.

The project brings together 120 works by Raphael, including from collections ranging from those of Queen Elizabeth II to some of the world’s most prestigious museums. Entitled Raffaello 1520-1483, the exhibition opens on Thursday in the Scuderie del Quirinale, an 18th-century former stables converted into an elegant palazzo.

There was reason to be nervous. Italy closed all schools and universities Wednesday  and barred fans from all sporting events for nearly the next month to try to tamp down the deadliest coronavirus outbreak outside of China. So far, over 3,000 people have been infected in Italy and 107 of them have died.

On April 6, 1520, at the height of a brilliant career as a painter and architect in Rome, Raphael succumbed, on his 37th birthday, to eight days of fever and was buried in Rome’s Pantheon.

Some 40 of the paintings and sketches come from the Uffizi Galleries in Florence, whose director, Eike Schmidt, sought to tamp down apprehension about viewing the show. He stressed that the recommended 1-meter (yard) distance between people in public places would be respected to reduce risks of any contagion, and hand sanitizers were affixed to exhibit walls. He was interviewed in front of one of the show’s top draws, Portrait of Pope Leo X. The painting underwent a painstaking, three-year restoration that enhanced the rich hues of the scarlet cap and cape of the pontiff, one of Raphael’s patrons, and the cardinal-red robes of two cardinals. So exquisite is Raphael’s detailing that a silver bell near the pontiff’s left hand looks like you could pick it up and ring it.

Pausing in front of Raphael’s creations—including preparatory sketches as breathtakingly beautiful as the paintings that ensued—viewers feel caught in the gaze of the artists’ subjects.

Schmidt noted that while Michelangelo was “constantly interested in the anatomy of the human body,” and Leonardo da Vinci was “principally interested in the scientific analysis of the world,” Raphael’s interest “was really the psychology of his sitters” for portraits. Raphael was intent on exploring “how can you express a human character—a soul—through painting, which is very difficult, if not impossible.”  But, Schmidt added, switching to Raphael’s Italian name “ if anyone came close to do it, that was Raffaello.”

Drawing; with ink, or red or black chalk, provide ample examples of Raphael’s success in infusing human figures with emotion. Two of Raphael’s celebrated portraits have inspired countless musings about the women who posed for a painter known for his lively love life.

One, informally known as Fornarina, or the baker’s daughter, was said to be his mistress and was painted in his last year of life. A finger on her right hand appears to point to an slim armband on her bare arm with the artist’s name. Nearby is a portrait of a woman called La Velata, or the veiled woman.

When Italy’s COVID-19 outbreak surfaced last month, more than 70,000 tickets had already been sold for the Raffaello exhibit.

Organizers on Wednesday said “the number of visitors accessing the halls will be controlled” to dilute the risks of any visitors transmitting the new coronavirus.

But if Raffaello was forced to temporarily close its doors or slash entrance numbers, it’s highly unlikely that it could be extended.

While the Uffizi has so many Raphael works it could lend 40 and still keep its Raphael room open in the Florence museum, other lending institutions, among them the Prado, the Louvre, the National Gallery in London and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., would be reluctant to deprive for more weeks their own visitors of an opportunity to view their Raphael works in their own collections.

The viral outbreak has already inconvenienced art lovers in Italy.

Last week, admirers of Caravaggio, the Baroque master painter, found themselves locked out of a church in Rome, Saint Louis of the French, which has three of the painter’s works. A priest at the church had tested positive for the virus after passing through Italy’s north, the heart of the outbreak in Europe. When the church reopened on Wednesday, several tourists wore face masks.

Image credits: AP


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Previous Article

Meralco’s revised power deal TOR out this week

Next Article

PNP chief rules out ‘sabotage’ in chopper crash

Related Posts

Read more

Handling workplace confrontations

Carlo Atienza-Sui Generis

ONE of the things I noticed when I started working was that we generally avoid being confrontational in the workplace. Maybe it is the culture, the way we were raised, or the way everyone is expected to be at work, but I find that we typically avoid confrontations because we want to avoid conflict and we are averse to calling someone out for bad behavior. The issue then escalates into a problem once someone implodes and angrily confronts the aggressor.

Read more

Traveling this summer? Personal care brand reminds shoppers to take care of their skin

AS summer approaches and travel restrictions ease in the country and around the world, many are eager to hit the road and explore new destinations. The desire to break free from the confines of the past year is fueling a surge in bookings for flights and accommodations, leading to a hoped-for tourism rebound. However, while travelers ferry out to faraway beaches and exotic islands, Watsons, one of the largest health and beauty retailers in the Philippines, reminds vacationers to take care of their skin, which can be easily damaged by the sun and other environmental factors.

Read more

LGBTQIA+ inclusion, safe spaces to be discussed in free webinar

Filipino researcher Gregorio “Gio” R. Caliguia III, who specializes on the history of gender and sexuality, discussed important points on how to create a safer Philippines for the LGBTQIA+ community in a free and public online lecture last March 21. Titled “Break Down The Walls,” the webinar sought to raise awareness on the different challenges currently faced by the members of the LGBTQIA+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning, intersex and asexual or allied), as well as several tips on how to provide a more affirming environment for them.