Santa Maria
della Vita

Monumental
Complex

 

Considered the most important terracotta sculptural complex of the entire Italian Renaissance, the Lamentation over the Dead Christ by Niccolò dell'Arca is a must-see for every traveller visiting Bologna. A work of exceptional expressive power that has fascinated scholars and intellectuals, captivated by its exaggerated realism, for centuries, from Carlo Cesare Malvasia to Francesco Arcangeli and Gabriele D'Annunzio. D’Annunzio visited here on 19 September 1906 and was so impressed by the work that he jotted down some reflections in his notebooks, including the expression "scream in stone", to date the most intense imagery ever used to describe the Lamentation.

Currently positioned to the right of the church’s main altar, the group – sculpted between 1463 and 1494 – was commissioned of the artist by the Confraternity of the White Penitents, founded two centuries earlier and established at the church to assist the sick and needy. Originally in polychrome terracotta, the Lamentation revolves around the lifeless body of Christ lying on a rectangular bier, a suffering and emaciated figure around which the others are arranged in a semicircle, all life-sized.

Each figure participates in the agonising grief in different ways: Mary Magdalene seems to interrupt her race towards Christ, throwing herself, petrified and incredulous, into a scream, while her robe is lifted by the wind. Mary of Cleopas shields herself with her hands in a gesture of horror, almost rejecting Christ's death. St. John, silent and sad, tries to maintain composure in his grief, in contrast with the desperate tears of the Virgin, a mother who has lost her son. Mary Salomé tries to hold back her tears by clutching her robes, and Nicodemus, kneeling near Christ's head (identified by the tongs and hammer he holds in his hands) gazes at the viewer as if to involve them in the ongoing tragedy.

The Lamentation was the first work created in Bologna by Niccolò dell'Arca, originally from Apulia, as indicated by the inscription "OPUS NICOLAI DE APULIA" on the cushion under Christ's head. The artist’s presence in the city is documented from 1462. His Lamentation is a masterpiece that immediately became an object of worship, both for its religious significance and its exceptional artistic value. A unique work, with immense expressive power and great realism, one of the most important masterpieces of Italian art.

 

 

"Enraged by pain, maddened by pain were the Maries. One, at the bedside, reached out her hand as if not to see the beloved face; and the cry and the sob contracted her mouth, furrowed her forehead, her chin, her neck. Listen to me. Can you imagine what the scream in stone is? Can you imagine, amidst the Christian tragedy, the eruption of the Erinyes?"

Gabriele D'Annunzio, "Le Faville del Maglio", 1924

Built in the 13th century, the Complex of Santa Maria della Vita originally consisted of the Hospital and Church. Their construction was commissioned by Riniero Barcobini Fasani, a Perugian who, in 1260, left his city for Bologna with a number of followers, inspired by a mission from the Virgin Mary. Upon arriving in the city with 20,000 followers, in 1261, he founded the Confraternity of the White Penitents, establishing a place for the care and aid of pilgrims and the infirm.

The Hospital, Church, and Confraternity dedicated to Santa Maria della Vita were thus born, becoming an important place of care over the centuries and a grand sanctuary enriched with splendid works of art. This includes the church's dome – designed by Bibiena, and one of the finest examples of Bolognese Baroque – and Niccolò dell'Arca’s magnificent Lamentation over the Dead Christ, created between 1463 and 1490. Often described as a "scream in stone," as D’Annunzio famously defined it, the sculptural group has influenced the history of Italian culture. Also noteworthy is Alfonso Lombardi’s Assumption of the Virgin, housed in the adjacent Oratory, inspired by a dramatic episode from Jacopo da Varagine's Golden Legend and the apocryphal gospels. Fifteen terracotta statues, slightly larger than life-size, displayed inside a high niche. They portray a Jewish priest’s attempt to profane the Virgin's body during her funeral, thwarted by the appearance of an angel with a sword.

With the Napoleonic reforms of 1796-1797, the assets of the Confraternity were expropriated and became public. Beginning in 1801, other Bolognese hospitals merged into the Grand Hospital of Life and Death until 1814, when the complex was given the new name of Ospedale Maggiore. It was later destroyed by bombings in 1943 and reconstructed elsewhere. In 2006, the complex was entrusted to the management of the Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio and, after careful restoration, reopened to the public in May 2010. The Sanctuary and its annexes constitute the heart of Bologna's historic centre, known as the Quadrilateral

Via Clavature 8-10, Bologna

Monday-Sunday: 10:00 AM - 6:30 PM (last entry 6:00pm)



+39 051 19936329 (Mon-Fri, 9.00am-1.00pm and 2.30pm-4.00pm)

Bus stop Rizzoli 11 A-B-C, 13, 14 A-B-C, 19, 25, 29, 30.
Bus stop Archiginnasio NAVETTA A (from Parcheggio Tanari).

Buy the ticket

 

Visit to the Lamentation of Niccolò Dell'Arca

Full ticket | € 5

 

Reduced ticket | € 3
Groups of min 15 people
Ticket from another Genus Bononiae Museum
Agreements
Young people aged 6 to 18
University students with badge (19-26 years old)

 

Reduced ticket for school groups | € 2

 

Free ticket

Children up to 5 years
Visitor with disabilities
Tourist guide with badge
Group leaders (1 per group)
Police
Genus Bononiae Membership Card holders
Card Cultura holders
Bologna Welcome Card holders
Residents with identity document - EVERY WEDNESDAY
Journalists with card (professionals, practitioners, publicists) - upon request for accreditation to esposizioni@genusbononiae.it
Permanent members religious orders
ICOM members

 

 

Visit to the Lamentation of Niccolò Dell'Arca and Oratorio dei Battuti

Full ticket | € 9

 

Reduced ticket - Type 1 | € 6
Groups of min 15 people
Ticket from another Genus Bononiae Museum
Agreements
Young people aged 6 to 18
University students with badge(19-26 years old)

 

Reduced ticket - Type 2 | € 5
School groups
Card Cultura Bologna holders
Bologna Welcome Card holders

 

Free ticket

Children up to 5 years
Visitor with disabilities
Tourist guide with badge
Group leaders (1 per group)
Police
Genus Bononiae Membership Card holders
Residents in Bologna with identity document - EVERY WEDNESDAY
Journalists with card (professionals, practitioners, publicists) - upon request for accreditation to esposizioni@genusbononiae.it
Permanent members religious orders
ICOM members

 

 

Special packages

Visit to the Lamentation +
Visit to Palazzo Pepoli - Museum of the History of Bologna

Intero | € 13
Groups | € 12