Santa Cecilia, Raffaello. Pinacoteca Nazionale di Bologna

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Bologna and the Renaissance

Posted on 30 September 2022 From Bologna Welcome

Although Bologna is widely known for its medieval character, it was in fact one of the most historically and artistically important cities of the Italian Renaissance period. The Bentivoglio family and Pope Julius II were the two prime history makers here. Lose yourself in the past and discover some truly unmissable sites of the Bolognese Renaissance.

Basilica di San Francesco (Basilica of Saint Francis)

It is the most important Franciscan convent complex in the city and was one of the largest in northern Italy. In the 15th and 16th centuries, it was the nucleus of remarkable decorative endeavours, including the construction of numerous chapels, the only remaining example of which is San Bernardino. Inside, visitors can still admire the monumental Tomba di Papa Alessandro V (Tomb of Pope Alexander V), completed by Sperandio da Mantova during the time of Giovanni II Bentivoglio. Other masterpieces are instead kept in the Pinacoteca Nazionale (National Art Gallery).


San Petronio (Saint Petronius)

During the Renaissance, this majestic basilica symbolised the devotion of the Bolognese population and was central to a number of important artistic programmes. It has many notable features, such as the decoration of the side windows, on which Niccolò dell'Arca and Francesco di Simone Ferrucci also worked, or the current layout of the façade. The interior contains masterpieces by all the key artists of the era, including the Cappella De’ Rossi (De Rossi Chapel) by Lorenzo Costa, the Lamentation by Vincenzo Onofri and various paintings by Amico Aspertini.


Collezioni Comunali d’Arte (Municipal Art Collections)

The Collezioni Comunali d’Arte are housed in the Palazzo D’Accursio (D’Accursio Palace) in Piazza Maggiore. The building was pivotal to some of Bologna's most important events and indeed hosts some of its Renaissance structural adornments, such as the great Corte d’Onore (Court of Honour), the Scalone (Staircase) or the Torre dell’Orologio(Clock Tower), still admired by the public today. The collections contain works of considerable importance such as the Crucifixion with Saints John and Jerome by Francesco Francia or the Virgin and Child by Amico Aspertini.

Museo Civico Medievale (Medieval Civic Museum)

The museum occupies one of Bologna's best-preserved Renaissance palaces and boasts a collection whose historical and artistic importance makes it quite unique. The Bentivoglio era is represented by rare artefacts such as the Stocco, a splendid sword donated by Pope Nicholas V to Ludovico Bentivoglio, or the Targone, a processional shield emblazoned with a Saint George and the Dragon painting, or the famous tomb of Domenico Garganelli – a multi-material work that stands as one of the masterpieces of Francesco del Cossa


Cattedrale di San Pietro (Saint Peter's Cathedral)

The Cathedral was a treasure trove of Renaissance masterpieces – above all, the famous Cappella Garganelli (Garganelli Chapel); but changing tastes and the march of time have sadly resulted in the loss of almost all of these works. Today's building has been almost completely reconstructed, but fortunately still possesses some outstanding works of the period, such as the magnificent Lamentation over the Dead Christ by Alfonso Lombardi. The large terracotta statues demonstrate a refined classicism balance by narrative tension and naturalistic detail.


Basilica di San Martino (Basilica of St Martin)

This important Carmelite church in Bologna has undergone extensive changes over time, as amply evidenced by its 19th-century façade. Today it houses several masterpieces of Renaissance art: visitors can admire the Assunta (Assumption) by Lorenzo Costa, the Madonna e Santi (Madonna and Saints) by Amico Aspertini or the Bust of Beroaldo attributed to Vincenzo Onofri. The Marescotti and Boncompagni chapels are also noteworthy, not only for their architecture and original decoration, but also for their altarpieces by Francesco Francia and Girolamo da Carpi.


Pinacoteca Nazionale di Bologna (Bologna National Art Gallery)

To mark its hosting of Raphael's Ritratto di Giulio II (Portrait of Pope Julius II) on exceptional loan, the Pinacoteca has mounted an exhibition focusing on the Bolognese Renaissance, tracing its development from 1475 to 1530. The exhibition begins with the painters of the Bentivoglio court, then traces the changes in the city's art environment after the arrival of Michelangelo, Bramante and Raphael under Pope Julius II after 1506, and ends with Parmigianino’s masterpieces painted in Bologna after 1527.


Museo di Palazzo Poggi (Museum of Poggi Palace)

Here, the focus shifts from the Renaissance of the courts and the great artists to the “other Renaissance” of the early scientists, collectors, and observers of nature. The rooms of Palazzo Poggi, decorated with frescoes from the Mannerist period, are where the University of Bologna houses an exceptional treasure: the collection assembled by Ulisse Aldrovandi (1522-1605), professor and inventor of the modern science museum. The Aldrovandi museum, donated to the Municipality of Bologna, has resisted dispersal over time and comes to us almost intact.


Oratorio Santa Cecilia (Santa Cecilia Oratory)

The Oratorio Santa Cecilia is home to the most important painting cycle of the Bolognese Renaissance. The work was begun in 1506 by the leading artists of the time: Lorenzo Costa, Francesco Francia and Amico Aspertini. It is curious that these frescoes bear no iconographic signs identifying Cecilia as the patron saint of music. The truth is that these references only became widespread after the city saw the arrival in 1515 of Raphael's painting, now in the Pinacoteca.


Basilica San Giacomo Maggiore (Basilica of Saint James the Greater)

The Bentivoglio family chapel is located in the Chiesa di San Giacomo Maggiore and is a true masterpiece of the Bolognese Renaissance. Commissioned by Annibale Bentivoglio in 1445 and finished by Giovanni II in 1486, the chapel was decorated by two leading artists active in Bologna at the end of the 15th century: Lorenzo Costa and Francesco Francia. Giovanni II Pope built the elegant Renaissance portico that runs alongside the church and leads to the Oratorio di Santa Cecilia (Santa Cecilia Oratory).


Complesso di Santa Maria della Vita (Church of St. Mary of Life)

The “Scream of Stone was how Gabriele D’Annunzio defined the sculptural group The Lamentation over the Dead Christ by Niccolò dell'Arca, dating from around 1463. The dynamic and strongly realistic style of this work signals the influence of Donatello and artists of the Ferrarese school such as Ercole de' Roberti. The work resides in the Church of Santa Maria della Vita, which dates back to 1200, the year in which the eponymously-named institute was founded to care for the sick, prisoners and those condemned to death. In the chapel to the right of the high altar of this important place of worship, visitors can admire a sculptural masterpiece that still arouses pathos and awed admiration after six hundred years.


Palazzo Pepoli (Pepoli Palace) – Museo Storia di BO (Bologna History Museum)

Palazzo Pepoli Vecchio was home to one of Bologna's most powerful families in medieval times and is now a museum charting the city’s history from the Etruscan era to the present day. Amidst the centuries of history that unfold in the rooms of the Palace there is a large space is dedicated to the Bologna Renaissance. This was a time marked by power struggles between Guelph and Ghibelline factions, against a background of fraught, compromised relations with the papacy. This complex historical environment led to the rise to power of the Bentivoglio family. Its apotheosis is portrayed by some of the greatest artists of the period such as Lorenzo Costa. The Museo della Storia is an essential visit for anyone wanting to understand the historical background to the Renaissance phenomenon in the city of Bologna.


Chiesa San Giovanni in Monte (St. John’s Church on the Hill)

This is one of the best-preserved churches, featuring a Venetian-style façade, Niccolò dell'Arca’s Eagle sculpture and Bentivoglio-style stained glass windows, including a Francesco del Cossa design depicting St John. Inside there are some excellent works, such as the Incoronazione (Coronation) or the Madonna in trono (Madonna Enthroned) by Lorenzo Costa and the copy of Saint Cecilia, placed next to the body of the Beata Duglioli dall’Olio (Blessed Elena Duglioli) in the chapel of the same name. It was in this same place that Raphael's masterpiece, now in the Pinacoteca Nazionale (National Art Gallery), was admired for centuries.  


Museo Davia Bargellini (Davia Bargellini Museum)

The Museo Davia Bargellini, housed in the beautiful Palace of the same name, preserves the memory of the powerful family allied to the Bentivoglio dynasty. Of all them, Gaspare and Virgilio in particular were prominent figures in the Bolognese epic era. The numerous Renaissance works include the bust of Virgilio di Onofri, his supposed portrait attributed to Aspertini and the Raphael-esque paintings by Innocenzo da Imola depicting Saint Lorenzo and Saint Petronius, previously held in Santa Maria dei Servi.


Basilicadi San Domenico (Basilica of St. Dominic)

A key site in the city’s history, this was the world’s most important Dominican church in Renaissance times and was the setting for extraordinary artistic endeavours. The most striking example was the marble crowning of the Arca di San Domenico (Ark of St. Dominic), begun in 1469 and completed in 1473. Adorned with exquisitely beautiful statues, the work ensured that history would never forget its creator’s name: Niccolò dell’Arca. The maestro sculpted almost all the statues, but at the time of his death there were still some were missing; three of them were done by Michelangelo: Saints Petronius, Proculus and the Angel Holding the Candelabra (1494).


Chiesa di Santa Maria della Misericordia (Church of Our Lady of Mercy)

The church was rebuilt in the 15th century by the Olivetans and, despite the many alterations and restorations since then, has retained many of its original elements. The layout of the apse, the roof and the entrance portico are peculiar to the Renaissance architecture of the Padania plain. Also of note are the extant stained glass windows based on drawings by Francesco Francia, the maestro who also painted several large altarpieces for the church and which are now in the Pinacoteca Nazionale (National Art Gallery).    


Chiesa della Santissima Annunziata (Church of the Holy Saints)

Beginning in 1475, the church was completely renovated by observant Franciscan friars. Despite the many changes down through the centuries, there are several remaining Renaissance architectural elements, such as the large portico or the vaults. Some magnificent Julian-era paintings, now on display in the city's museums, were originally in this church: first and foremost is the altarpiece of the high altar with saints by Francesco Francia, now in the Pinacoteca Nazionale (National Art Gallery). 

Palazzo Boncompagni

Palazzo Boncompagni is an extraordinary example of the mature Bolognese Renaissance and it was the residence of Pope Gregory XIII until his election to the papal throne on 13 May 1572. Visit the imposing Papal Audience Hall, frescoed with five stories of the youth of David, the splendid loggia with its inlaid columns and beautiful Magnolia tree, and the spiral staircase designed by Jacopo Barozzi also known as the Vignola. 



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