Exhibition catalogs are displayed for the exhibition “Raffaello”, dedicated to Renaissance master Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino, known as Raphael, at the Scuderie del Quirinale in Rome.-AFP

Rome’s blockbuster exhibition marking 500 years since the death of Renaissance master Raphael fell victim Sunday to a government decree shutting all museums because of the new coronavirus threat. The show at Rome’s Scuderie del Quirinale presidential palace opened after years of preparations to great fanfare on Wednesday. It includes 200 works by the prolific painter and architect-a child prodigy who died aged only 37 in 1520 — and had been due to run until June 2. But the museum said on its website Sunday that the exhibition was closing until further notice.

“As a result of the Prime Ministerial Decree of March 8, 2020, Scuderie del Quirinale will remain closed to the public until new government provisions are issued,” the Scuderie del Quirinale website said. “Visitors who purchased the ticket will be contacted starting tomorrow.” Devotee from around the world had pre-ordered 70,000 tickets for the show months in advance.

Organizers sounded confidents that it would go ahead when giving reporters a sneak peak Tuesday at the treasure trove of Raphael paintings assembled from the world’s greatest museums. But the outbreak has only been gaining strength and the Italian government took the unprecedented step on Sunday of quarantining more than 15 million people in Italy’s north. The lockdown of regions around the Italian financial capital Milan and the tourist favorite Venice is set to run until April 3.

The government is simultaneously shuttering museums and other cultural institutions for the same period to avoid crowds and lower the risk of contagion. They could re-open on April 4 — or the government could extend the shutdown in some form in another decree. The virus has killed 233 people and infected nearly 6,000 in Italy in the past two weeks. The revenues generated by tourism account for around 13 percent of Italy’s national output and the museum closure will only contribute to the economic pain brought on by COVID-19.

The Vatican museums are also closing-as are the Uzzizi Gallery in Florence and other showpieces of Renaissance and other fine Italian art. “All the museums of the Uffizi Galleries remain closed until 3rd April 2020,” its website said. Rome’s archeological attractions at the Colosseum and the Forum are closing for the same reason. – AFP