The now traditional extraordinary exhibition organised by Eni and hosted by the City of Milan in the Sala Alessi of Palazzo Marino continues this year, from 28 November 2013 to 12 January 2014, with the first ever opportunity to see the masterpiece by Raphael La Madonna di Foligno outside of its permanent home in the Vatican Museum. Following the extraordinary exhibition of Caravaggio's The Conversion of Saul and four years of intense collaboration with the Louvre in Paris that made it possible to bring to Milan works by Leonardo da Vinci, Titian, Georges de La Tour, Canova and Gérard, this year eni inaugurates a partnership agreement with the Vatican Museum, one of the world's most prestigious cultural institutions. The Raphael masterpiece is part of the museums vast collection and it will be shown completely free of charge in the Sala Alessi of Palazzo Marini.

Thanks to the commitment and efforts of the City of Milan, which has hosted these exhibitions from the beginning, from 28 November to 12 January, experts and art historians will accompany visitors, along with digital tablet devices that will be used to deliver the essays and commentaries in the catalogue and available for the entire duration of the exhibition at a special price. In addition, as usual, visitors to the exhibition can also watch a background documentary in the video room that has been specially prepared for the occasion about the Restoration Laboratories of the Vatican Museum, normally not open to the public; a fascinating journey rich in history but also of technology and modernity.

The programme


Palazzo Marino
Piazza della Scala, 2

from 28 November 2013 to 12 January 2014

Admittance free

Opening times
Every day from 9.30 am to 8.00 pm  
(last entry at 7.30 pm)
Thursdays from 9.30 am to 10.30 pm
(last entry at 10.00 pm)

Early closing
7 December, the exhibition will close at 12.00 midday
24 and 31 December,
the exhibition will close at 6.00 pm

Extraordinary opening
The exhibition will be open on 8 and 25 December 2013
and 1 January 2014

For 24h-information
Free phone 800.14.96.17

The exhibition

The design for the exhibition at Palazzo Marino of Raphael's Madonna of Foligno meets what we consider the priorities for this extraordinary occasion: the placing of a masterpiece in a context that will exalt its splendour while, at the same time, offering a perspective that thanks to a "clean" stylistic choice is able to create a filter between the work and the magnificent Renaissance hall in which it will be on display.

The composition of the exhibition (books , materials, musical accompaniment etc.) has drawn inspiration from a reading of the work that focuses on the more airy chromatic elements of the Urbino-born master's design and ideas based on one of the hypotheses that historically explain its commissioning: a falling meteorite.

The contrast between the black stone apse that hosts the work and the depths of the sky, that "embrace" the visitor, is like an invitation to linger over a guided analysis that is illustrated by projected images. The walls surrounding the work have been designed to follow the curvature of segments that in turn follow the proportions of the room, in much the same way as the geometric structure of the painting is based on circumferences. In addition, the almost physical sensation of a gentle breeze emanating from the painting is offered to the sensory perceptions of the public as a way of underlining the "harmony of beauty" that is such a significant feature of all of Raphael's work. 

Finally, this year particular attention has been given to the background music. Luca Berni has selected pieces that enhance the idea behind the exhibition, opting for exclusively choral music from different sources and settings, by composers ranging from the Middle Ages to the present day. The emphasis shared by all of the pieces featured is the "breath" of the voice.

The work

The Madonna of Foligno is the first Roman altarpiece by Raphael. It was commissioned around 1512 as a votive offering by Sigismondo de' Conti, secretary to Pope Julius II, for the church of Santa Maria in Aracoeli on Capitol Hill. The iconography of the painting is inspired by a story from the Legenda Aurea: on Christmas Day, the Virgin and Child appear to Augustus, with the sun behind them, surrounded by angels, and the emperor, refusing to be worshiped as a god, recognises the magnificence of the Child and consecrates the place where the vision of the Madonna occurs. The Mother and Child are represented in the upper part of the composition, while below, on earth, St. John the Baptist, St. Francis, the patron and St. Jerome, considered the first papal secretary, participate in the vision.

The harmony of line and colour that governs the scene becomes an expression of celestial harmony, giving form to the invisible. In the foreground, a putto holds a blank slate, the meaning of which has long puzzled scholars. The background features two celestial phenomena that illuminate a small town: a rainbow of vaguely defined colours and a flaming body falling on a house. The latter has been variously interpreted as a bomb, a comet or a meteorite, but it is most likely attributable to a brush with death experienced by Sigismund who commissioned the work. The painting we see today was subjected to a delicate operation to transfer the colour from the original table to canvas during the time it spent in Paris in the Napoleonic era. 

This operation, now considered highly invasive, did however manage to conserve this masterpiece over time and it has survived intact essentially in its original colours. And, from the Vatican Museum to Palazzo Marino, this great work by the master from Urbino continues to enjoy a surprising popularity that, since the sixteenth century, has brought travellers, pilgrims and enthusiastic visitors to contemplate its sublime beauty.

Raphael, Madonna di Foligno, 1512
Oil on wood, transferred to canvas, 301 x 198 cm
Pinacoteca Vaticana, Vatican City

Raphael (born Raffaello Sanzio)

Raphael was born in Urbino on 6 April 1483. His father Giovanni Santi was the owner of the city's most important artistic studio and was the official artist of the court of Montefeltro. Indeed the Urbino of the closing years of the fifteenth century would be of decisive importance in the development of the young Raphael teaching the young boy, who was destined to become the most celebrated artist of the century, two fundamental lessons: the omnipresence and pervasiveness of beauty, which is and reaches everywhere. Raphael completed his first apprenticeship within the Court and surrounded by the masterpieces by Piero della Francesca and the Flemish masters that hung on the walls of the palace. An extremely precise artist he was, like the young Mozart with whom he is often compared, an authentic 'enfant prodige'. Already in his adolescence and as a very young man he produced extraordinary masterpieces, such as the Coronation of the Virgin in the Vatican Museum or the Madonna and Child Enthroned with Saints (the Colonna altarpiece) in the Metropolitan in New York. At the end of 1504 Raphael went to Florence where he would live for four years, observing, absorbing and transforming everything he saw and becoming the universal painter that we know. The first to recognise this was Giorgio Vasari when he wrote "by studying the work of both the old and the modern masters, he was able to take the best from all of them and thereby enriching the art of painting with that perfection that can be found in the ancient figures of Apelles and Zeuxis."

1508 would prove to be a decisive year for Raphael as it was the year when Giuliano della Rovere, as Pope Julius II, called on the services of two artists. The first was the thirty-three year-old Michelangelo Buonarroti. The other was Raphael, a twenty-five year-old who the Pope commissioned to paint the walls of his new apartments, since he no longer wished to live in what had been the home of his detested predecessor Alexander VI Borgia with walls that had been frescoed by Pinturicchio. These apartments would become known to the world as the Stanze di Raffaello or the Raphael Rooms and the show, along with his last great masterpiece the Transfiguration, also in the Vatican Museum, Raphael at the height of his powers. Of the Transfiguration Vasari tell us that Raphael left it unfinished when he fell suddenly ill and died on 6 April 1520, the same day on which he had been born thirty-seven years before. His funeral was held at the Pantheon where his tomb remains to this day. All of Rome was in attendance and wept at the extraordinary image of the Transfiguration placed behind the corpse of the master. It was impossible not to weep, seeing both "the dead body and the living".

From Raffaello in Vaticano (Raphael in the Vatican)by Antonio Paolucci

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