Blockbuster Raphael Exhibit

Blockbuster Raphael Exhibit Gets Extended Lease on Life

Italy celebrates its geniuses in a big way, and with no paucity of artistic talents who have left their creative mark on the world, the nation’s calendar of anniversaries of births or deaths to commemorate is almost always a busy one.

No sooner did than 2019’s abundance of exhibitions and other events to mark 500 years since Leonardo da Vinci’s passing wrap up, as followers of Destination Inspiration may recall, did 2020 bring datebooks filled with activities to toast another Renaissance master, Raphael, who died in Rome 500 years ago, on April 6. 1520, 37 years after his birth in the hill town of Urbino.

The unquestioned blockbuster event of this year in Italy promised to be the exhibition simply titled “Raphael,” to be hosted for three months at the Scuderie del Quirinale, an elegant gallery across the piazza from the presidential Quirinal Palace in the heart of Rome.

But after only three days of being open to the public, amid rave reviews, the exhibition was put on hold when Italy, like much of the rest of the world, went into lockdown, which included temporarily shuttering museums and galleries.

Luckily the biggest lender to the exhibition was the Uffizi Galleries in Florence which boasts the world’s largest collection of Raphael’s paintings and drawings. So, with many more of the artist’s works still in Florence, the Uffizi was quick to allow its pieces in the Rome show to stay there beyond the originally scheduled closing date of June 2.

And that’s wonderful news indeed, because, with other lenders also willing to keep their Raphael works on display longer, the exhibition has received a new lease on life just as Italy begins opening up again tourism.

The show brings together some 100 of Raphael’s works, including 40 from the Uffizi. A visit to the exhibit offers a never-before had the opportunity to see so many of Raphael’s works in one place.

“Raffaello” now runs run through August 30, and visitors are encouraged to do their part to keep the exhibition open by cooperating with safety-distancing rules.

Visitors must wear masks and buy tickets online. Entrance times will be staggered, with six people allowed to enter every five minutes. Then, to discourage art-lovers from clumping together in front of each masterpiece, lines have been indicated on the floor to follow, and personnel will ensure visitors don’t linger in each room and keep some six feet apart, even among family members.

Eighty minutes are being allowed for the entire visit. Even before the lockdown, dispensers of sanitizing hand gel were strategically placed throughout the Scuderie. Other treasures in this bonanza of artworks have been lent by the Louvre, the British Museum, the Albertina in Vienna and London’s National Gallery, as well as several fine Italian museums and galleries which possess some of the works of the artist, whose legacy is prolific despite his brief life.

A sure star of the show is “La Velata,” or “Woman with a Veil,” from the Pitti Palace collection in Florence. The portrait dazzlingly displays Raphael’s virtuosity in depicting details, in this case, the billowing folds of a gorgeous, creamy-colored silk outfit. Gazing upon the painting, admirers of Raphael might be reminded, because of the position of the sitter’s arms, of another portrait, “La Fornarina,’’ the artist’s tribute to the far less-veiled Rome baker’s daughter who was his muse and mistress, painted in the last year of Raphael.

It’s fitting that the tribute is held in Rome as Raphael’s art came to evolve and gloriously adorn the city’s prestigious palaces. Recommendations always help in finding work, and architect Donato Bramante, a native of the east-central region of Le Marche as Raphael was, suggested to Pope Julius II that he bring him to the Vatican. Raphael’s crowning achievement as a papal commission is his stunning wall paintings of the then papal apartments — what is now known as the Raphael Rooms. Part of the Vatican Museums, the rooms are sometimes barely given a glance by tourists eagerly rushing to see the Sistine Chapel, which lies ahead. Among the personages depicted on the walls by Raphael are his patron, Julius, Dante wearing a poet’s laurel and himself — yes, a self-portrait of Raphael, in a black hat, looks intently out at the viewer.

One’s tribute to Raphael includes a stop by the majestic Pantheon. The artist was laid to rest in Rome’s remarkably preserved, imposing monument.