San Donato Milanese (Milan), 27 January 2014. Almost 50,000 visitors flocked to the church of the Monastery of Foligno to admire Raffaello’s masterpiece “Madonna of Foligno‘ organised by Eni in collaboration with the Vatican Museums and the City Council and Diocese of Foligno. Indeed an extraordinary success which has relied on an average number of 7,000 visitors a day to worship the canvas. Following the 240,000 visitors registered at the exhibition of Milan at Palazzo Marino, that of Foligno is a truly record breaking number considering that the whole city of Foligno’s counts 56,000 inhabitants.
The exhibition of the Madonna of Foligno restate the depth of the bond between the work and its original land which, highlights Eni's ability to capture and meet the expectations of communities by promoting remarkable events and encouraging a new way of supporting and promoting culture.
After two centuries, the entire population of Foligno, including the archbishop of Perugia, Gualtiero Bassetti and the President of the Umbria regional authorities, Catiuscia Marini, have been queuing to celebrate the Madonna’s return home.
The city of Foligno has lived the delight of having the opera back home after two centuries by organising a number of initiatives throughout the whole week of its staying: the "Ad Cantus" choir from Spello sung medieval Marian hymns to celebrate San Feliciano, the patron saint of Foligno, alternated by prayers led by the Bishop to honour the presence of the painting; the Archbishop Gualtiero Sigismondi wrote a prayer that was delivered to visitors in order to emphasise the pastoral importance of the occasion; special chocolates and biscuits were made for the occasion, bearing both the image and the technical and historical details of the work; finally, the city's historic library dedicated its entire shop window to the painting. The exhibition of the Madonna of Foligno turned out to be a unique spiritual and cultural event that moved all of those who witnessed it, leaving the people of Foligno with an unforgettable memory.
Eni and the Vatican Museums have thus fulfilled the city of Foligno’s long standing desire of having Raffaello’s masterpiece back, whose history is so closely tied to its territory, even though, for a short time.
The success of Eni's formula is rooted in the uniqueness of its approach to culture and on the format of the exhibition: this creates an opportunity for dialogue and for offering the territory a special attention, with the firm intention of putting the focus upon a single art work providing so an unprecedented interpretation. Therefore, not only an exhibition in the ordinary sense of the term, but the exposition of a masterpiece placed in a "special" environment, complemented with several in-depth presentation tools particularly addressed to children and to schools.
Valeria Merlini e Daniela Storti, Curators of the exhibition.
The Church of the Monastery of Saint Anne housed for more than two centuries the opera “The Madonna of Foligno‘ . The opera gives its popularity to the greatness of its author, Raffaello after its transfer in 1565 from the Church Saint Mary Aracoeli in Rome, where the canvas was realized in 1511-12 under commission of Sigismondo de’Conti at the monastery of Sain Anna. In the same Monastery lived also the granddaughter of Sigismondo’s nun Anne, for more than sixty years. The real reasons behind the transfer of the canvas from the Church Saint Mary Aracoeli to the Monastery of Saint Anne in Foligno have never been disclosed.
The iconography of the painting is inspired by a story told in Golden Legend: on Christmas Day, the Virgin Mother and Child would appear to Augustus, in front of the solar disk, surrounded by angels, and the emperor, refusing to worship himself as a god, would have recognized the greatness of the Child and consecrated the place of the vision to Our Lady. The Mother and her Son are represented in the upper part of the altar; below, on earth, St.John the Baptist, St. Francis, the developer and St. Jerome, considered the first papal secretary, participate in the vision. The harmony of lines and colors that presides over the scene thus becomes an expression of celestial harmony, giving form to the invisible. In the foreground, a boy presents to the observer a tabula ansata which lacks an inscription; the meaning of this has long interested scholars.
The background shows two celestial bodies that illuminate a town: a poorly defined rainbow of colors and a fiery body that falls on a house. The latter has been variously interpreted, sometimes as a bombing, a comet or a meteorite, but is attributable, in all likelihood, to Sigismondo’s escape from death, the genesis of this work. The painting we see today underwent a delicate transport operation of the color from panel to canvas during its stay in Paris in the Napoleonic era. This operation, now considered highly invasive, has however helped to preserve this masterpiece through time, and has been handed down to us intact with its original colors. Even today the masterpiece from the Master from Urbino continues to enjoy a surprising popularity. Since the sixteenth century it has brought travelers, pilgrims and visitors to see it eager to contemplate its sublime beauty.