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San Petronio

Many buildings were demolished to build San Petronio, including eight churches. It is not Bologna’s cathedral but has long been its civic religious heart, and is the 5th-largest church in Italy. It was begun, when the first stone was laid, on June 7th 1390 to designs by Antonio di Vincenzo, a local builder-architect who, with the heplp of the friar Andrea Manfredi from Faenza, oversaw the construction until his death in 1401, by which time only four chapels were completed. Work continued until 1663, when the nave vault was finally completed, but the church's apse was still not fully completed and it lacked a transept. The church is dedicated to Bologna's patron saint, Petronius, who was bishop of Bologna from 431–50 and was buried in Santo Stefano. Amongst the historical events held here are the coronation of Charles V on 24th February 1530, held here as politically neutral venue after the Sack of Rome, and sessions IX and X of the Council of Trent in 1547, moved here to avoid the plague in Trent. These events followed on from the 1506 ousting of the Bentivoglio family by Pope Julius II. He wanted to reclaim Bologna for the Papal States and found willing allies in the members of the other noble families of Bologna keen to claim the power and properties that the Bentivoglio had hoarded. Bologna thereby became second only to Rome as the most important city in the Papal States in the 16th century.

Only the lower part of the brick façade was ever finished, with Istrian stone and red Verona marble decoration begun in 1538.
The central doorway (the Porta Magna) has sculptures by Jacopo della Quercia, begun in 1425 and considered amongst his best work, although left unfinished on his death in 1438. The ten large bas-reliefs flanking the door tell the story of Genesis, with the smaller inner pilasters decorated with half-figures of prophets. The lintel has five reliefs of the childhood of Christ and in the lunette are the Madonna and Child with Saint Petronius, who holds a model of the church, also by Jacopo. The Saint Ambrose on her other side was added in 1510.
The two flanking portals date from 1518–30, with bas-reliefs on the pilasters by Amico Aspertini, Nicolò Tribolo, Alfonso Lombardi and others. The lunette in the left one to is the Risen Christ with Soldiers by Lombardi. The Deposition in the lunette of the doorway on the right is by Amico Aspertini, flanked by the Virgin and St John the Evangelist.

A characteristic Bolognese brick-vaulting-and-white-plaster nave, with circular windows at clerestory level and above the aisles' paired chapels. Because of the church's north/south orientation light floods in from the west windows. The nave is separated from the aisles by ten massive compound piers. The Gothic vaulting dates from 1648 and is the work of Girolamo Rainaldi, who adapted the 16th-century designs of the local architect Francesco Morandi (Terribilia). The twenty-two side chapels are all closed by screens of marble, dating from the late 15th century, or of wrought iron. The pair of 12th/13th century crosses are what remains of the four supposedly used by Saint Petronius himself to protect and mark the limits of the city in the 4th century, and were moved here in 1798.
The chapels have lights which take 20 cent pieces.

South (right) aisle
The second chapel has a gold-ground Madonna and Child with Saints polyptych by Tommaso Garelli  from 1477, and early-15th-century frescoes on each side. In the third chapel there is, we are told, a frescoed polyptych by the school of the Vivarini.

The third, fourth and fifth chapels are all currently (October 2019) closed for restoration work. The  stained glass in the fourth chapel, the Capella della Santa Croce (in restauro behind scaffolding since at least 2017) was made by Michele di Matteo and the Dominican friar Jacob Griesinger (known as Jacob of Ulm) in 1466. The chapel has boards detailing the work, with the finished top roundel of The Resurrection (see right) as the centre piece and looking fine. Jacob died in Bologna and is buried in his church of San Domenico.
In the fifth chapel is a dark Pietà with Saints Mark, Augustine, John the Evangelist and Anthony Abbot of 1519 by Amico Aspertini and some nice but worn frescoed wall decoration. In the sixth chapel (helpfully open) is Lorenzo Costa’s architecture-dominated Enthroned Saint Jerome of 1484.
In the eighth chapel are intarsia work stalls by the Olivetan monk Fra’ Raffaele da Brescia (1521) with nine panels each side of still lifes and architecture.
The ninth chapel has a statue of Saint Anthony of Padua over the altar and monochrome frescoes of the saint’s life, all by Girolamo da Treviso and dating from 1525. There are also large frescoed panels here, higher up on the side walls and trompe l'oeil ones in the vault. The design of the stained glass here is attributed to Pellegrino Tibaldi. The very stout screen of iron bars is topped by busts of blindfolded figures.
The marble screen (c. 1460) of the tenth chapel is fine and the eleventh chapel has a very good framed high relief on the left wall of the Assumption, by Nicolò Tribolo. The altar is piled with reliquaries with six shelves of them behind, forming the altarpiece, and also in cases left and right. On the right wall is a tall (c.1560) Annunciation by Brusasorci, with high-relief carved angels either side, reportedly the work of Properzia de' Rossi.
Opposite this chapel, below left of the organ, one of the two in this church, is a striking early-16th-century polychrome terracotta Lamentation group by Vincenzo Onofri.
The presbytery has intaglio choir stalls by Agostino de' Marchi, working from 1467-79 and the marble-columned tribune by Vignola from 1548. The apse-end fresco is The Virgin and Child with Saint Petronius by Marcantonio Franceschini from 1672.

Crossing the church to the east end and the
North (left) aisle
At the end is the entrance to the museum which, in two small rooms, has façade drawings, models, vestments, reliquaries and choir books, including one with miniatures by Taddeo Crivelli. Here you will also find, from her commission to create three sibyls, two angels, and a pair of bas-relief panels, as reported by Vasari, Properzia de' Rossi's masterful panel depicting Joseph and Potiphar's Wife. Vasari wrote that the sculptress was paid 'a most beggarly price for her work', blaming the painter Amico Aspertini for working aginst her. Either side of the door to the museum are two doors painted by said Amico Aspertini in 1531 for the organ now in the sanctuary. They illustrate The Life of Saint Petronius and are not in the best condition.
The tenth chapel, the chapel of the city of Bologna, has The Glory of Santa Barbara by Tiarini, the ninth has The Archangel Michael defeating the Fallen Angels by Donato Creti (1582). The winningly empty eighth chapel has a Mannerist painting of a prancing Saint Roch by Parmigianino (1527) but was in restauro in October 2019.
The seventh chapel has a particularly fine marble screen attributed to Pagno di Lapo, and a lovely altarpiece (see photo left) of the Madonna and Child with Saints Sebastian, James, Jerome and George signed by Lorenzo Costa (1492), one of his best and most Bellini-inspired. The neoclassical funerary monument on the right (1845) is for Elisa Bonaparte, Napoleon I’s sister who became Grand Duchess of Tuscany, and her husband Prince Felice Baciocchi, and is by Cincinnato Baruzzi.
The sixth chapel has a cutesy Assumption altarpiece by Scarsellino (c. 1600), who worked with the Carracci. And casts of Jacopo della Quercia's panels from around the main door - Old Testament scenes from the sides and the Life of Christ from the top. The strange and huge wooden pulpit in the aisle here was built in the 15th century.
The fifth, Vaselli chapel (roped off) preserves all its decoration intact from 1487–97. The lovely huge altarpiece of the Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian is by an unknown artist of the late 15th century. It is flanked by the Annunciate Angel by Francesco Francia and the Annunciate Madonna is by Lorenzo Costa, who also painted the Twelve Apostles around the walls. The stalls and pavement enamelled tiles are by Pietro Andrea da Faenza, also 15th century.

The fourth north is the Cappella Bolognini, one of the first chapels to be built. It has famous frescoes covering the three walls, dating from 1412–20 (restored in 2013) which are the best, and best-known, work of Giovanni da Modena, whose work is unknown outside Bologna. The frescoes were commissioned by a silk merchant called Bartolomeo Bolognini, whose tomb is here, in the middle of the pavement. The chapel is dedicated to the Three Magi and on the right wall are eight scenes, some of them unusual - Bolognini's commission didn't specify the exact scens. Reading top to bottom, right to left, they are 1 The start of the journey, 2 See the star, 3 Follow the star, 4 Meet Herod, 5 Herod with his councillors, 6 Leave Jerusalem, 7 Reach the stable, 8 Return home by sea.
On the opposite wall is a huge Last Judgement. The hell scene, inspired by Dante, is dominated by a fearsome dark devil (with no willy) consuming the damned from both ends. Sinners are all around and all is chaos, although the sinners are grouped by sin. The presence of a helpfully-labelled Muhammad in the fresco, chained to a rock and tormented by a demon, has angered Islamists - plots to blow up the church were thwarted in 2002 and 2006, and there are now always armed soldiers at the enrances to the church. Ranged in the brighter panel above are the Saved, Saints and Virgins, sitting in diagonal pews below Christ crowning the Virgin, in a mandorla, whilst Saint Michael judges, in a triangle in the centre. On the altar wall are eight scenes of the Life and Miracles of Saint Petronius, reading top to bottom and left to right.
The stained glass windows here depict the Twelve Apostles (with Judas replaced by Saint Paul and the four bottom left figures not identified) and are to designs by Jacopo di Paolo, who was working in Bologna between 1378 and 1426. The gothic carved polychrome polyptych here is by an unknown artist named for this work the Master of San Petronio. It shows the Coronation of the Virgin with many saints, seventeen figures in all. The painted predella, also by Jacopo di Paolo, has eight scenes again showing The Magi's Journey to Bethlehem.
The second chapel contains the head of Saint Petronius and features overwhelmingly Baroque decorative work by the Bolognese architect Alfonso Torreggiani (c. 1750) with a fine grille and the tomb of Benedict XIV. Giovanni da Modena probably also painted the Virgin in the vault here while he was at work in the first chapel, in which the framed allegorical frescoes oddly show the theological issues of Redemption and Sacrifice on the right and the Triumph of the Church over the Synagogue, to the left, in which the arms of the Cross have hands (see photo left). This chapel is where Emperor Charles V's coronation took place in 1530.
Above the right door on the inner façade are Adam and Eve, attributed to the Ferrarese sculptor Alfonso Lombardi.

Lost art
The predella from the Cospi polyptych by Simone dei Crocefissi, from c.1396/98, showing Seven Scenes from the Life of the Virgin, is in the Pinacoteca.
The Griffoni Polyptych (see right) was painted (1470-73)  for the chapel of the same name (now the chapel of Saint Vincent) in this church by Francesco del Cossa, with the help of the young Ercole de' Roberti, who was entrusted with the smaller panels and predella. The altarpiece was dismembered and sold when the chapel passed to the Aldrovandi family in 1725. There are 16 surviving panels. The main panels are split between the National Gallery in Washington (the Crucifixion roundel and the flanking Saints Florian and Lucy), The Brera in Milan (Saints Peter and John the Baptist), and the National Gallery in London (Saint Vincent Ferrer). Of the small full-length saints from the pilasters, all by Ercole, San Petronio is in the Ferrara Pinacoteca Nazionale, two more are in the Louvre, one is in Rotterdam, and three are in the Palazzo Cini in Venice. The predella, depicting The Miracles of Saint Vincent Ferrer, is in the Vatican, and the small round Annunciation panels are in Gazzada.


Built by Pietro da Brensa in 1492

Opening times
Monday - Friday 7.45–1.30 & 2.30–6.00
Saturday 7.45 – 6.00
Sunday 7.45 – 7.00
Capella Bolognini: €3 entry fee 10.00-6.00



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Liberation Day, April 21st 1945 showing brick defensive works.


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