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
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
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
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
Annunciation by Brusasorci, with high-relief carved angels either
side, reportedly the work of Properzia de' Rossi.
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
Massimiliano De Giovanni, Andrea Accardi -
Matteo e Enrico: a graphic novel
Day, April 21st 1945 showing brick defensive