Missing a Renaissance masterpiece isn’t
One Saturday last June my daughter and I wandered into the Church of Santa Maria della Vita in Bologna, Italy. We were killing time as we waited to meet friends (my daughter’s Italian language tutor, actually) for lunch and a quick tour of the public library before heading back to Venice.
That morning, after arriving by train from Venice, we had savored cappuccini and croissants and then toured the main attraction in Bologna, the Basilica de San Petronio. We spent about an hour there marvelling at the centuries-old church with the unusual brick and stone facade. Plan to read a future post on that experience soon, but here’s a taste.
We had also explored the Piazza Maggiore with its beautiful Fountain of Neptune and saw the city “square” rigged and ready with row upon row of temporary seating for hundreds plus a huge movie screen. Among other movies, Gone with the Wind was on the menu at some time during the summer season. How fun would that be?!
In our hour or two of free time, we also strolled down beautiful loggia-lined avenues. Eventually, we happened upon a church, the Santuario di Santa Maria della Vita.
It’s the copper-domed church in the large photo at the top of this post. While it’s quite a standout in a Bologna skyline photo, at street level it’s easy to miss. Tall buildings and narrow streets together conceal your vision of things in the upper reaches.
It was a warm and achingly brilliant sunny day. Taking a short break in a quiet place of worship enticed us to escape the Italian noonday rays.
Inside, sounds of the street faded to a cavernous quiet. The majesty and somber tone of the interior both cooled and stunned me.
The soothing soft green interior wall colors caught our attentions first. The ornate Baroque stylings caught our attentions second. The dome, completed in 1787 and designed by architect Giuseppe Tubertini, was beautiful as well.
But if only I had Googled to see what more this structure had to reveal.
Because here’s what we didn’t see: Lamentation Over the Dead Christ by Niccolò dell’Arca (1435-1494). Italy Magazine describes the work as “A life-size group of six separate terracotta figures lamenting in a semicircle around the dead Christ.”
I stumbled upon this sculpture as I was researching the church and I still can’t believe that I was in this very building and missed this very powerful example of Renaissance art.
I can’t get over the expressions on the faces.
Terror. Despair. Uncontrollable grief.
Truth be told, I often feel detached from historical art. The expressions are often glum and sullen, especially in depictions of Jesus Christ and the suffering he endured on the cross. That goes, too, for the the emotional suffering of those nearby who loved him. Sometimes it’s just hard to identify.
With Arca’s work, however, the emotions of the figures are real and painfully so. I understand that kind of hurt and sorrow and panic. We see humans in painful grief daily on the news and in our modern media. To think that an Italian Renaissance artist was able to capture it accurately — in terra cotta — six hundred years ago — baffles my small mind.
Words are not needed in the picture below. The emotion is palpable and horrible.
And on that note, I’ll close this post with this final thought: When travelling, it’s a good thing to have time to spare. However, once you arrive home, it’s heart-breaking to discover something wonderful that you missed.
Lesson learned: Next time, slow down, google it, and learn what more there is right in front of you.