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Ex-voto, Tolentino, Viadana family survive an earthquake

Ex-voto, Tolentino, Viadana family survive an earthquake
- The Viadana family prays to St Nicholas to save them from an earthquake. Italy, Le Marche, 16th century, tempera on panel, 20.5 x 26.7 cm. Tolentino, Museo di San Nicola (Gatta et al. no. 81)

This striking scene shows a family at a point of crisis. There is an earthquake in the town of Tolentino. Deep cracks appear in the buildings, panic is all around, yet within the home of the Viadana family (identified by the name on the building), parents and children are calmly praying to Saint Nicholas. Saint Nicholas appears, smiling serenely, and despite the devastation which surrounds them, they and their house are miraculously saved. This small painting would have been commissioned by the Viadana family to be donated to the local shrine as an act of thanksgiving.

The image has a particular poignancy and relevance now, as earthquakes have struck again in August and October 2016 in central Italy. Thousands from Tolentino have had to abandon their homes, and even the museum which houses this collection of ex-votos was itself badly damaged. As project administrator I have been in regular contact with many individuals in the Marche to help manage the loan of the ex-votos from the Museo di San Nicola in Tolentino and various other works from the region, so the news of these events shocked and concerned me on a personal level. That we are able to borrow these ex-votos at all at this difficult time is a small miracle in itself, and one which is due almost entirely to the determination and generous spirit of the lenders.

I am drawn in by the togetherness of the family in this little cross-section of a home. We see young and old, male and female on their knees together, unified at a time of disaster. Their rather charming orderly formation, praying two by two in order of height, seems to me to exemplify an ideal of the pious family.

Rachel Burgess Administrator, Domestic Devotions project.

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