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Lamentation over the Dead Christ, by Niccolo dell'Arca

The most beautiful sculpture at the end of the Emilian Middle Ages

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Where is


Via Clavature, 6a, 40124 Bologna BO, Italia (72m s.l.m.)


What it is and where it is

In the Quadrilatero, the beating heart of the city under the Towers, the Sanctuary of Santa Maria della Vita holds, in its precious casket, the most beautiful Bolognese, Emilian sculpture of the late Middle Ages. It is the Lamentation over the Dead Christ by Niccolò dell'Arca, known as "d'Apulia" but who moved to central Italy, where he would model in the forms of terracotta that 15th-century spirit straddling the end of one world and the dawn of the new, between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.

Why it is special

That this is not just another sculpture is clear at first glance. Indeed, at the first: the figures in this play have gathered around the lifeless body of Christ, but all of them together cannot be contained in a single moment, as if each lives a life of its own and, as we look at one, the other moves. One woman clutches her flesh with her hands, one has just come running, still her robe floats in the air, already screaming in pain a "cry of stone."

Not to be missed

Upstairs is the complex's Oratory, a place of collective but more intimate devotion. Here then, leaving behind the terrible images of the Lamentation below, one would turn during prayer to the altar decorated by Nosadella's splendid altarpiece, a Madonna and Child with Saints, dated 1550. If Niccolò dell'Arca is the end of the Middle Ages, Nosadella is the end of the Renaissance. The colors brighten, the lines free themselves from the yoke of proportion. It seems that the finest liminal art, on the threshold between two things, has gathered in these rooms.

A bit of history

Riniero Barcobini Fasani, inspired by Our Lady, left his Perugia in 1260 and set out with the tide of his followers. When he arrived in Bologna, he founded the Confraternity of the White Battuti there. Against this all-Medieval backdrop sank the foundations of the Sanctuary of Santa Maria della Vita in Bologna, established so that the lives of the poor and needy could be saved in the adjoining rooms of the Hospital named after the Virgin. The year was 1287. Each of the later ones left a trace. So that the sculpture is late Gothic, the altarpiece Mannerist, the altar Baroque, the roof covering everything, neoclassical.


Perhaps one of the most beautiful descriptions of this sculpture was made by Gabriele D'Annunzio in his 1914 collection Le faville del maglio (The Sparks of the Hammer). "Infuriated by pain, demented by grief were the Marys. One, by the bedside, stretched out her open hand as if not to see the beloved face; and the cry and the sobbing contracted her mouth, wrinkled her forehead her chin her neck. Listen. Can you imagine what the petrified scream is? Can you imagine in the midst of Christian tragedy the breaking in of the Erinni?"

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Giacomo Confortin

More than a terracotta sculptural group, it looks like a fragment of life frozen forever.


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