If you go to Milan, don’t miss the opportunity to visit the Casa del Manzoni, which since December has been the home of the Fondazione Per Grazie Ricevute. The Fondazione is a non-profit institution which was set up in July 2013 as a means of preserving and publicising an important private collection of Catholic votive tablets. It takes its name from the phrase commonly written on Italian ex votos, which translates roughly as ‘[In return] for the divine favours received’.
The two images that you can see on this page come from a much larger collection of over 700 votive tablets, which were painted between the fifteenth and twentieth centuries on materials ranging from tin and wood to canvas and clay. They were bought during the 1960s and 70s when many parishes around Italy were getting rid of their votives after the Church had deemed them unsuitable for veneration. The publication that accompanies the exhibition contains a fascinating interview with the collector, who talks about the history of the collection and her aims in bringing it to the attention of a wider public. Most of these ex votos were in fact amassed by her father, who at one point had more than 6,500 in his possession (the majority have since been donated to the Museo del Paesaggio in Pallanza and the Diocese of Bergamo). She recalls going to look at the tablets in churches with him when she was a little girl, and admits that during her youth she found them quite boring, particularly when she was made to catalogue them on an ancient IBM computer! Later she fell in love with these wonderful documents of popular history and faith, and since the 1990s she has been busy creating a database from her father’s archives, as well as organising a series of exhibitions and publications.
The votive tablets in the Casa del Manzoni will change twice a year, and the displays will be organised thematically. At the moment, all the tablets on view depict bedroom scenes, in which the sick dedicant often lays in wait for a healing miracle. These will be in place until April, when the theme will change to shipwrecks (‘Navigando tra gli ex voto’). You can find out more on the Fondazione Facebook Page, and we’ll also keep you informed via our blog.
With special thanks to Andrea Santini and the Fondazione Per Grazie Ricevute for allowing us to reproduce these images from the exhibition.