This year marks the 500th anniversary of the death of Raphael (1483-1520), one of the most acclaimed artists of the Italian Renaissance. Yet 2020 has also been marked by the unprecedented spread of Covid-19, the life-threatening respiratory virus that locked down entire countries, halted the art world and shrunk economies. Cautious optimism is now returning to Italy, as Rome’s blockbuster exhibition on Raphael is set to reopen for an additional three months from June.
The once-in-a-lifetime exhibition had only been open for three days before the Scuderie del Quirinale was unexpectedly forced to shut its doors on 9 March due to coronavirus. Over 70,000 tickets had been pre-sold to those eager to see the largest ever line-up of Raphael’s artworks.
Museum workers at the Scuderie quickly prepared the exhibits with the hope of reopening in the future. “We covered everything in fabric and were able to tell our lenders that all of the works on paper had no exposure to light,” explained Matteo Lafranconi, the director of the Scuderie del Quirinale.
A total of 204 works of art were displayed in the exhibition, with major loans secured from the Louvre in Paris, the Prado in Madrid, the Uffizi Galleries in Florence, the National Gallery in London and the National Gallery in Washington. These important loans were set to expire on 2 June and curators were beginning to fear that the show would never be revived.
According to the museum’s director, it was in fact “really easy” to negotiate the new opening dates with lenders. “So far, everybody we have approached to extend the loans has said yes,” declared a spokesperson for the museum.
“We are very happy to extend the loan of about 50 masterpieces for as long as necessary,” announced Eike Schmidt, director of the Uffizi Galleries in Florence. “The exhibition offers the opportunity to admire a concentration of Raphael works that we have never seen in the same venue.”
This week, the Italian government began to ease restrictions after two months of nationwide lockdown, seeing bars and cafes reopen, Catholic churches resuming mass, and museums once again welcoming visitors. Strict social-distancing measures will remain in place to reduce the risk of a second wave in the country, where almost 32,000 people have died from the virus.
“We are implementing a sort of militarised system,” assured Lafranconi. Visitors to the Scuderie will be organised into groups of six and escorted around the exhibition by a guard. The whole procedure will dramatically reduce the number of overall visitors and “will need to run like clockwork.”
Reflecting on the “incredible” support received from lenders, Lafranconi remarked during a webinar entitled ‘Art and Museums in Times of Crisis’ that “there is a new sense of community in the museum world; everyone is feeling that the only way to get out of the crisis together is to all row in the same direction. I hope this new sense of community will remain in the future.”
‘Raffaello’ will reopen at the Scuderie del Quirinale in Rome from 2 June until 30 August.