Arts & Culture

Fondazione Luigi Rovati, where Milan meets Etruria

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The long, straight road that goes from Piazza San Babila to Porta Venezia is one of the most chaotic in Milan. Cars move in all directions, bicycles make their way through traffic, while people observe the fashionable shops that constellate the area. It can be an overwhelming sensory experience, especially during the weekend, when the shopping district is a standard destination. And yet, as it often occurs in these boisterous places, there is an oasis that brings peace to mind. One, in particular, was opened a few months ago and offers comfort from the hectic rhythms of this city. 

The Fondazione Luigi Rovati, located where Corso Venezia converges to the homonymous Porta, is named in honor of Luigi Rovati, a renowned doctor and researcher. He was the founder of Rotta Research Laboratorium in 1961, that soon became a reference point in the growing landscape of Italian pharmaceutical companies and was conferred the highest Italian civil awards. Yet, Professor Rovati had interests that spanned well beyond pharmaceuticals, and was particularly fascinated by the connection between history and art. The Foundation is indeed a powerful testimony to this passion.  

The building that hosts the Foundation is very subtle: it does not give way to excesses but is nonetheless quite visible to the attentive eye. As Armani would have it, it is not “noticed but it is remembered.” Once inside, the ground floor hosts a superbly furnished bookshop and a help desk, with large panes that lead into a small but spruce garden. In the garden, a little dépendence allows visitors to learn more about the story of Professor Rovati and the Foundation. The actual visit begins by following the stairs that lead, metaphorically, into the “underworld.” 

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It is quite well-fitting that this part of the permanent exhibition at the Foundation is below the ground, because it features an exquisite collection of Etruscan art. Indeed, the epitome of Etruscan craft can be found in the center of Italy, where it is possible to visit the necropolis, which features some of the most spectacular tombs of antiquity. The Fondazione Rovati is the ideal place to delve into this fascinating culture without leaving Milan.  

In the dimly lit room, the pieces stand out against the surroundings, while the ground is illuminated with a map of the cradle of Etruscan civilization, at the border between Lazio and Tuscany. Each a few meters apart, there are large display cabinets that resemble shrines and hold vases, everyday objects, or even canopic jars from the Etruscan era. One jar from the 7th century BC is especially striking because of its anthropomorphic features, which give the otherwise aloof canopic urn an eerily human resemblance. Amid works that are millennia old, visitors may be baffled to see precious works from Andy Warhol and Arturo Martini, who had also experimented, in their vast production, with Etruscan art.  

The tone changes radically when moving to the first floor. The white walls project light everywhere, and windows, that were absent in the Etruscan “underworld,” are in every room. Here, too, juxtapositions prevail: very colorful, contemporary art shares space with sober vases. The pavements, ceilings and furniture have remained unaltered, but have benefited from new additions that create a dialogue between epochs. A room is entirely dedicated to temporary exhibits and highlights talent from emergent and recognized artists alike.  

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The central location and tranquility make the Fondazione Luigi Rovati the ideal place to flee the stresses of modernity, whether it is for a relaxing Sunday afternoon or to get some air after a day in the Bocconi library. If it were not enough, a Michelin-rated restaurant is inside the building and the Indro Montanelli Park on the other side of the road. Hard not to stop by.  

Author profile

I was born in Rome, Italy, and I have studied at an international school. I use photography and writing since childhood to try to seize the beauty around me. I am currently enrolled in Economic and Social Sciences at Bocconi.

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