The significance of beauty: an interview with Matteo Lafranconi, curator of Raffaello 1520 - 1483
Arguably one of the most groundbreaking exhibitions of the decade, if not the century, ‘Raffaello’ was curated in honour of the 500th anniversary of the artist’s death to showcase his varied works and overall influence on art. Our Roman hotels are united in their commitment to cultural heritage and arranged for an exclusive interview with Matteo Lafranconi, art historian, Director of the Scuderie del Quirinale and curator of the show, to find out more.
Why was the Scuderie del Quirinale chosen as the venue for this exhibition?
“The Scuderie del Quirinale is an exhibition venue owned by the Presidenza della Repubblica Italiana and managed by the Ministero di Cultura. The high profile of its institutional role makes the venue especially suitable for relevant initiatives of national scope. The Raphael exhibition is the main expression of a program of events which have been approved by the Comitato Nazionale per le Celebrazioni del Quinto Centenario della Morte di Raffaello [the National Committee for the celebrations of the 5th Centenary of Raphael’s death], established by the Ministero di Cultura and chaired by Antonio Paolucci.”
Why, in your opinion, is Raphael an important artist for us to consider now?
“The relevance of Raphael, his dominant role in the history of art and his fame have always been widely recognised. However, his masterful research for a balanced idea of beauty which is naturally dynamic and harmonious seems to go against the widespread interest of the public – and at times even of art historians – in favour of more eccentric, titanic or ‘doomed’ characters, such as Michelangelo or Caravaggio.
The anticipation preceding Raphael’s exhibition reveals that there is probably a change in direction, so that the ‘positive’ artistic signature of Raphael, one that expresses a mature and complete humanism, is newly eloquent and resonates once again.”
The exhibition brings together a number of works which may never have been seen together before. What are the reasons for this?
“The exceptional nature of the event on this 500-year anniversary is considered by many as an unrepeatable occasion to offer a tribute to one of the most accomplished artists in human history. It is also relevant that this anniversary was celebrated in Rome, where Raphael accomplished his main artistic achievements and where he gained international fame.
These main reasons, together with the fact that the project has been conceived as an ambitious scientific one involving a truly prestigious international committee, pushed lenders to make an extraordinary effort which would not have been possible otherwise.”
Are there any works on show that would otherwise be difficult to see as they are in private hands?
“There aren’t many works by Raphael still owned by private collectors – the majority of them are part of public collections. In this exhibition there are; however, significant masterpieces coming from private hands, such as the superb study for one of the figures represented in the Parnaso fresco, in the Vatican – Musa Polimnia – or the truly exquisite Portrait of Valerio Belli; and the study for a female portrait which dates back to his early years, now shown to the public for the first time.”
What was the reason for the decision to begin the display with Raphael’s latest works and work back to his earliest?
“We wanted to highlight Raphael’s passing, the object of the 5th centenary we are celebrating. On top of this, there’s the great symbolic meaning of his burial in the Pantheon – a passionate act of love for the ancient world which Raphael wanted to express in his short-lived but highly intense career.
We decided to begin the exhibition’s itinerary with his spectacular tomb on a 1:1 scale –wonderfully realised by Factum Foundation – and, from that, the concept of moving backwards seemed natural and also appropriate, because it helped us put emphasis on the multidisciplinary approach that characterised his final years. His letter to Leone X, for instance, became a fundamental piece in conservation and restoration theory.”
Can you tell us more about the relationship between Raphael and the two Popes who commissioned him?
“It is thanks to two Popes, Julius II della Rovere and Leo X Medici, that Raphael had the chance to truly show his prodigious design potential on a big scale.
Pope Julius II, highly cultured, allowed Raphael to work on the most important painting cycle of his life – the sequence for the papal apartments in the Vatican ending with The School of Athens, which is the visual representation of a fully accomplished Humanism.
Leo X gave him an even bigger opportunity, offering him a sort of ‘mandate’ to supervise the entire cultural programme in which the Medici Pope helped Rome to re-establish its universal cultural leadership and become the new capital of the Renaissance.
For the first time, the famous portraits of the two Popes created by Raphael are reunited and shown in the same exhibition.”
The exhibition marks the 500th anniversary of Raphael’s mysterious death – is there a general consensus among art historians as to the cause of it?
“There has been much debate about Raphael’s death and there’s a risk of seeing an over-representation of its most sensational or perhaps morbid aspects, but it would certainly have an influence on our studies to know once and for all what were the causes and circumstances that surrounded it.”
Do you have a favourite piece on show and which is it?
“This is the most challenging question for a curator, however from a sentimental point of view I would say that the Madonna Alba – exceptionally lent by the National Gallery in Washington – is, for the perfectly peaceful synthesis it represents, especially touching and particularly representative of Raphael’s extraordinary qualities.”
Can you share any advice for art lovers during this period of confinement? Are there are any virtual exhibitions or books you recommend?
“For those who are interested in finding out more about Raphael, there are many online initiatives on social channels. The Scuderie del Quirinale has contributed with a series of insights focusing on the ‘choral’ character of the exhibition, to which many specialists and researchers of this great artist have contributed.”
Enjoy an online walkthrough of Raffaello 1520 – 1483 on the Scuderie del Quirinale’s website. We look forward to welcoming you at Hotel de la Ville or Hotel de Russie at a future date, to enjoy the exhibition in person and our Concierges will be delighted to arrange exclusive access.