San Giacomo Maggiore
The church is dedicated to Saint James, but is known as Saint Rita locally. Although there is only a chapel here devoted to her her cult is strong. Cursed with a cruel husband, before becoming an Augustinian nun later in life, from her canonisation in May 1900 she became the patroness of abused wives and wronged women, with a second film of her life released in 2004.
There had been a Romanesque church here, the current church was built by Augustinian Hermits between in 1267 and 1315. They had originally been a community of hermits founded by the Blessed John the Good of Modena, established near the walls of Bologna by 1247. They had founded a monastery and church dedicated to St. James the Greater and were merged in 1256 by the papal decree with other hermit communities into the Order of Hermits of St. Augustine. The church has been much rebuilt, so that only the façade and side wall remain of this original construction. In the late 15th century the interior was remade in Renaissance style by Pietro da Brensa, and the side portico was built. By the 16th century it had become THE church for Bologna's noble families. The monastery was suppressed by Napoleon and in 1802 part of the complex was taken over by the college of music later called the Conservatorio Giovanni Battista Martini, where Rossini was once musical director. The Augustinian friars returned to part of the complex in 1824 but were expelled again when the Kingdom of Italy was established, keeping the church.
Topped by a statue of the saint with a rose window and burial niches at ground level. The very damaged triptych of frescoes of the Virgin and Child with Saints James the Great and Augustine over the portico entrance to the left of the façade are by Antonio Leonelli da Crevalcore, his first known work.
An aisleless nave, the chapels are crowned with a terracotta frieze of statues of Christ and the Apostles and urns, added in 1727. This is a church of much fresco fascination, both complete and in tantalising patches. The best stuff is in the ambulatory chapels.
The less-interesting nave has 17th and 18th century works, mostly, in nine chapels on each side, all frescoed on their side walls. Each group of three chapels has a ledge with statues of two saints above and a window, real or trompe l'oeil, behind (see photo below right).
The second chapel on the left side has a fine Cena del Signore by Federico Barocci. The fourth on the right is made much of and is dedicated to Saint Rita. In the fifth chapel on the right is a large altarpiece of The Virgin and Saints (8) of 1565 by Bartolomeo Passarotti, with a strange naked smiling and pointing figure front centre, in a frame by the workshop of Formigine (and a scagliola altar frontal dating from 1674) In the ninth chapel is a dark painting of Saint Roch by Ludovico Carracci. The largest chapel on the right side, making a sort of transept arm at the entrance to the ambulatory, has Mannerist frescoes by Pellegrino Tibaldi of 1555. The altarpiece here is a Baptism of similar date by Prospero Fontana.
The facing last chapel before the ambulatory, on the north side, has a very Mannerist (in colour and vigour) Martyrdom of Saint Catherine by Tiburzio Passarotti (1577), and in the chapel to its left is a Virgin in Glory with Saint Nicholas and the Three Daughters by Bartolomeo Cesi.
On the high altar is a polyptych of the Coronation of the Virgin and Saints by Jacopo di Paolo of c.1420. Above hangs a large painted Crucifix, also by him. The huge altarpiece of The Resurrection on the east wall behind, in the very chunky gilt frame under the scalloped apse, is by Tommaso Laureti (1574).
The sequence of highlights in the ambulatory chapels begin, from the right, in the second chapel with its fine polyptych by Paolo Veneziano, dating from c.1350, commissioned by a private patron as the high altarpiece. It has 21 panels painted in tempera, of varying sizes, featuring Saints Martin and George on horseback, top right and top left, and three scenes from the life of Saint Nicholas of Tolentino in the predella's centre, below a cross-shaped reliquary space where there may once have been another painting. The damaged detached frescoes in here of the Life of Saint Mary of Egypt by Cristoforo da Bologna also date from the late 14th century. In the third chapel (see photo left) is a Crucifix signed and dated 1370 by Simone dei Crocifissi, commissioned by a private patron for the tramezzo. There's a studio of Guercini Saint Jerome in this chapel too, as well as another polyptych, of The Coronation of the Virgin with Saints, by Jacopo di Paolo, painted around the same time as his high altarpiece.
The Bentivoglio Chapel
The Cappella Bentivoglio (see photo below right) ends the sequence of chapels in the right wing. It has a coin-operated light, but the gate is kept closed, except on Saturday mornings from 9.30 to 12. 30, thanks to the Touring Club of Italy. It was built in 1451 for condottiere Annibale I Bentivoglio, who had become Lord of Bologna after wresting rule from Milanese condottieri in 1443. His reign was short, lasting until his assassination in 1445. His 1458 memorial is in here. The chapel was enlarged in 1486 by Giovanni II Bentivoglio, who himself ruled from 1463 until 1506, when the Bentivoglio were ousted by Pope Julius II who wanted to reclaim Bologna for the Papal States and found willing allies in the members of the other noble families of Bologna keen to grab the power and properties that the Bentivoglio had hoarded.
The chapel has a domed centrally-planned design, supposedly inspired by Brunelleschi but much more decorated - the architect was Pagno di Lapo Portigiani. It has decorations dating from the 1480s and 90s. There's a c.1494 Sacra Conversazione altarpiece by Francesco Francia, The Virgin and Child with angels, Saints Proculus, Augustine , John the Evangelist, and Sebastian called the Pala Bentivoglio (see below right). The two figures kneeling either side of the Virgin are said to be two of Giovanni's children. But the chapel's famous frescoes are earlier and by Francia's friend and frequent collaborator Lorenzo Costa. On the left wall he painted The Apocalypse (in the lunette) and The Triumph of Fame and Death (both 1490) in the panel below. The earlier one on the right wall looks a little flat and shows The Virgin Enthroned with Giovanni II Bentivoglio and his wife Ginevra from 1488, also featuring their 11 children. The wife is said to have been cruel and violent and the children were doomed to soon suffer from their family's downfall, and a couple would become cruel and murderous too. The exception is Camilla the daughter in a nun's habit who took the veil at Corpus Domini in Ferrara, where her sister Isotta joined her later. The relief of Annibale on horseback dating from 1458 and attributed to Niccolò dell'Arca, was inserted to the right into a previous landscape fresco. There are three more frescoed lunettes on the walls above by a pupil of Costa. The left one has lost its middle third... The Annunciation in? by?
The original, and very worn, majolica floor tiles remain, are credited to the della Robbia workshop (1498) and are to be admired.
Against the sanctuary wall, opposite the chapel entrance, is the tomb of Antonio Galeazzo Bentivoglio, Annibale’s father, who had been interred originally in the church of San Cristoforo del Ballatoia, but whose remains where brought here after Annibale's purchase of the chapel opposite. It has a panel showing him sitting at his desk surrounded by pupils below his effigy (see photo right). This is one of the last works of Jacopo della Quercia, and assistants from 1435.
The Poggi Chapel nearby has a Baptism of Christ by Prospero Fontana from 1561 and a very decorated vault. Another nearby chapel (the Calcina) has an Virgin and Child with Saints Catherine of Alexandria, Cosmas and Damian and a Donor (1589) by Lavinia Fontana (see right). The donor being Scipione Calcina, a banker, from a family of doctors, who commissioned the work as part of his strategy to ingratiate himself back into Bolognese society and demonstrate his commitment to his strategic new wife, named Catherine. He needed to marry and ingratiate after having been fined massively and banished from Bologna for the crime of sodomy, and where better to show this than in the church patronised by the greatest number of bologna's noble families. The Calcina chapel had been built and dedicated to Saints Cosmas and Damian in 1408 by a Calcina ancestor, and the altarpiece features the pair wearing ermine robes, with Calcina kneeling in front appealing to Saint Catherine, his new wife's name saint.
Lost art in the Pinacoteca
A large fresco panel of Saint James at the Battle of Clavijo (c.1315/1320) by the Pseudo-Jacopino. This mythical battle happened sometime in the mid-9th century. Saint James is said to have appeared, 800 years after his death, and lead the Spanish Christians to defeat the Muslims.
A fresco panel of the Virgin and Child Enthroned with Saints James and John the Baptist by Jacopo da Bologna (c.1350/60).
Two panel fragments from a polyptych (centred on The Coronation of the Virgin) by Lorenzo Veneziano, showing Saints Anthony Abbot and Bartholomew (1368) from the monastery here.
A pair of panels showing Saints Bartholomew and Peter by Jacopo di Paolo.
A tondo of Man of Sorrows by Francia, from the Bentivoglio Altarpiece in the Bentivoglio chapel here.
Lost art elsewhere
The early-14th- century Istrian stone tomb of Bonandrea de' Bonandrei is now in the Medieval Museum.
The church in art
Portico of Via S. Donato and Facade of San Giacomo Maggiore by Antonio Basoli (see right).
Monday to Friday - 7.30 - 12.30 and 3.30 - 6.30
Saturday, Sunday and holidays - 8.30 am - 12.30 am and 3.00 - 6.30 pm.
On Saturday mornings the Touring Club of Italy opens the Bentivoglio Chapel from 9.30 to 12.30.
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