San Donato Milanese (Milan), 17 January 2014 – With a record-breaking of 240,000 visitors flocking to Palazzo Marino for the Eni exhibition of The Madonna of Foligno by Raffaello, the masterpiece, now on its return trip from Milan to the Vatican Museums, will make a stop at Foligno. The special exhibition will be held in the church of the Monastery of St. Anne, a symbolic and important place that housed the work for 217 years before being requisitioned by French officials and taken to Paris under Napoleon’s instructions.
The exhibition is opening tomorrow and will run until 26 January, with the support of Eni and in collaboration with the Vatican Museums and the City Council and Diocese of Foligno. The general public will be able to explore many aspects, relating not only to the work itself, its painting technique, its conservation, and the extraordinary personality of the artist, but also to its history, closely tied with this territory (free entrance, opening hours: 18 January, from 14:00 to 19:30; all the other days, from 9:00 to 19:30. Foligno, Church of the Monastery of St. Anne, Via dei Monasteri 24; for information, call 800149617).
During the renovation of the church of Aracoeli in Rome, for which the work had been commissioned by the Foligno-born papal chamberlain Sigismondo de' Conti, the work was transferred in 1565 to the Monastery of Sant'Anna at Foligno, by the will of the Abbess Anna Conti, granddaughter of Sigismondo.
The iconography in the painting was inspired by a story from the Legenda Aurea (Golden Legend): on Christmas Day, the Virgin and Child are said to have appeared to Augustus before a solar disk, surrounded by angels, and the emperor, refusing to be worshipped as a god, is said to have recognised the greatness of the Child and consecrated the site of the appearance of Our Lady. In the painting, the Mother and Son are represented in the upper part of the altar piece, while below, on earth, their appearance is witnessed by St. John the Baptist, St. Francis, Sigismondo de' Conti and St. Jerome, considered the first papal secretary. An angel in the foreground of the composition holds a small plaque, the meaning of which has for long interested scholars. In the background, two celestial phenomena illuminate a village: a rainbow in shaded hues and a fiery body falling on a house. The latter has been interpreted as a bombard, a comet or a meteorite, and in all probability it represents Sigismondo's scrape with death. The painting underwent a complex operation during its stay in Paris under Napoleon, to transfer the film of paint from the panel onto canvas. This operation, considered highly invasive by modern restorers, has nonetheless preserved in the time this masterpiece, which has survived intact and with its original colours.
After the French returned the work, a series of events brought the Madonna of Foligno to Rome, the city for which it had been commissioned.
The formula proposed in the exhibition distinguishes Eni: the idea was first developed in 2008 as an opportunity for dialogue and exchange, with the main objective of exhibiting a single work and offering space for new interpretations. It is not intended as an exhibition in the ordinary sense of the term, but as the display of a masterpiece in a "special" environment, supported by several in-depth presentation tools aimed particularly at children and at schools.
Foligno has been having a long standing wish: to have Raffaello' s masterpiece back, albeit for a short time, given the history that has closely linked the city's path and its worship with the work for two entire centuries.
And now, Eni and the Vatican Museums have made this dream come true.