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Paintings by Giotto, Raffaello, Carracci and Reni highlight the Pinacoteca of Bologna

by Marco Carminati

Visitors of Bologna’s “Pinacoteca” can find paintings that date from the fourteenth century up until the eighteenth century, mostly by regional artists. However, its two most important masterpieces, a painting by Tuscan painter Giotto and the famous “Santa Cecilia” painting by Rome-based Raffaello Sanzio, were brought here from other regions. These two paintings in themselves make the gallery well worth a visit.

The Pinacoteca was first conceived during the Baroque era but it was only in 1712 that this idea was turned into a reality, with the construction of “Accedemia Clementina,” the city’s first public art school.

It was Prospero Lambertini, Bologna’s archbishop and soon-to-be elected pope Benedict XIV, who pushed to create a gallery within the newly established art school. The bishop donated his personal collection of drawings to the gallery and was imitated by Francesco Zambeccari, a fellow clergyman who supplied the gallery with a series of paintings from the 1600s. Half of them were bought from local antiques dealers while the other half were found in an old church that was being demolished.

A few decades later, another member of the Zambeccari family, the marquis Giacomo Zambeccari, donated to the Pinacoteca many of the paintings and sculptures of his collection.

Starting from 1794, following the advent of Illuminism and the Napoleonic era, many of Bologna’s churches and convents were deprived of their artworks –which mostly ended up in the former church of San Vitale. The most important pieces were sent to the Napoleonic court in Paris.

In 1805 Milanese painter Andrea Appiani visited Bologna and selected fifty paintings that he took to Milan’s Brera art gallery.

What was left of Bologna’s artworks was eventually moved to the former convent of Sant’Ignazio, which used to serve as the Jesuit headquarters.

It was here that the Pinacoteca Nazionale, which was opened to the public since its very first days, was founded. The new Accademia delle Belle Arti, built right next to it, took the place of Bologna’s historic art school, the Accademia Clementina, which was shut down.

Between the eighteenth and nineteen centuries, Antonio Canova, one of the most influential painters and sculptors of the time, attempted to take back to Bologna the masterpieces that had been taken to Paris during the Napoleonic era.

Canova succeeded in his mission, and boxes filled of paintings were delivered to the former convent of Sant ’Ignazio, where a crowd gathered to admire the masterpieces of Raffaello Sanzio, Annibale Carracci and Guido Reni that were finally seeing the light again, after being wrapped up and stored in wooden containers.

It took decades to restore all of the paintings. In 1883 the second donation of the Zambeccaris was finalized and finally, in 1885, the museum –with all of its historic restored masterpieces—was opened to the public.