In Depth

Fendi: why the fashion house is investing in Rome's patrimony

From Caravaggio to Bernini, the Italian label is throwing its support behind Roman art and culture

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In early December last year, Fendi supported the exhibition on 17th century sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini held at Rome's Galleria Borghese, marking the first phase of a three-year partnership with the Italian museum. Among the exhibits on show at the Baroque villa – noted for its breathtaking frescoes and intricate Corinthian columns – was a marble sculpture of Apollo and Daphne (below), capturing the female nymph's metamorphosis into a laurel tree after Cupid's arrow has struck. The Bernini statue is a spiral of theatricality starting with Daphne's raised arms, one of which has already become a leafy branch; Apollo has managed to capture his one true love but the skin he touches has already turned to wood.

Apollo e Dafne, G. L. Bernini, copyright Ministero dei Beni e delle Attività Culturali e del Turismo

Water gods, it seems, often need saving, and Fendi has had a turn at playing Cupid too: the Italian label financed the restoration of Rome's Trevi fountain which it unveiled in 2015, returning Oceanus and his seahorses to their former glory. The house's 90th anniversary show in July 2016 was subsequently held over the basin of the fountain, with models appearing to walk on water thanks to a see-through Plexiglas floor.

Courtesy of Fendi Facebook

The partnership between Fendi and Galleria Borghese underscores the fashion house's commitment to preserving city's rich patrimony. In addition to supporting exhibitions at the villa, Fendi will fund a series of Caravaggio exhibitions around the world over the next few years; Los Angeles' Getty Museum was the first in line last November and the event marked the first time that three of the Italian master's most recognisable paintings - David with the head of Goliath, Saint Jerome and the Boy with a basket of fruit – had ever travelled to the Sunny State. Fendi is helping to export Roman heritage even further by supporting the creation of the digital Caravaggio Research Centre, a searchable database chronicling the artist's life and work. "It's about building a long-term relationship and something that is very authentic and credible," explained the house's former Chairman and CEO Pietro Beccari who can be credited with investing heavily Fendi's promotion of the arts.

"The Caravaggio Research Institute is an ambitious project that wants to reintroduce within museums the most advanced research to make them producers of culture and not blockbuster exhibitions. We are proud that such an innovative and not easy project has had the trust of a large company such as Fendi; a company which has based its excellence on techniques and materials research," says Anna Coliva, Director of the Galleria Borghese.

David con la testa di Golia, Caravaggio, copyright Ministero dei Beni e delle Attività Culturali e del Turismo

The database will provide different access levels including a strictly specialist area reserved to scholars and technicians. General information about every Caravaggio work will be matched with conservation history, historical documents, bibliography and scientific findings. More in-depth information available to experts will include analysis of pigments and frames, radiographies, infrared photographs, stereo microscope examinations and all manner of mind-boggling 'forensic' data that will allow professional art historians to pursue projects and doctorates on the Italian master's works.

Beccari also commissioned sculptor Giuseppe Penone, an original member of Italy's Arte Povera (Poor Art) movement, to erect two of his signature bronze cast trees outside Fendi’s flagship boutique on Largo Carlo Goldoni. Impressively, the spindly but beautiful trees cradle a 11-ton concrete boulder; the artwork (Leaves of Stone, below) is the first permanent and public modern artwork in the centre of Rome.

"It's in the DNA of Fendi to love beauty and culture in every form", says Pietro Beccari about the on-going initiative. And only a man born in Italy could put it so romantically.

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