Updated on November 4th 2022
Oratorio dei Battuti in Bologna
The Sanctuary of Santa Maria della Vita is the most important example of Baroque art in Bologna, although the actual presence of a church on this site is much older than the building you see today. The original church was built for the religious confraternity known as the “Compagnia dei Battuti,” active in Bologna as early as 1260, to offer shelter to pilgrims and treat the sick. That building was destroyed by an earthquake in 1686, and was subsequently completely rebuilt in the baroque style you see today.
An easy walk in the city center will take you to Via Clavature 10, very close to the main square of Piazza Maggiore in the ancient neighbourhood of Bologna known as the Quadrilatero.
On the first floor of the church of S. Maria della Vita in Bologna you will enter the stupendous Oratorio dei Battuti which has been recently restored. It is unique example of the Bolognese Baroque style. Thanks to the excellent acoustics of the Oratorio it quickly earned a reputation as the ideal place for praying, as well as for songs and acting performances.
The walls and vaults of the large room are completely decorated by paintings and frescoes in the Baroque style. The most amazing work however is the Death of the Virgin by Alfonso Lombardi (1479 - 1537). His powerful group of 15 nearly life-size figures have been miraculously modelled in clay and still speak to us across the centuries. Commissioned around 1519 and most likely completed around 1522.
The composition represents the twelve Apostles surrounding the Virgin's tomb. A Judean is trying to smash the tomb in order to show his contempt for this new faith, arousing the indignation and anger of the Apostles, but an Angel is seen in the act of preventing the intended vandalism.
The powerful movement and exaggerated musculature and facial expressions are not, in my opinion, expressions of the Baroque which comes later. There were a handful of artists who followed the almost expressionistic designs of Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo of course whose use of contorting and twisting the human form added to their vigorous and emotional compositions. I see a similar energy and expression in the terracotta works of Lombardi.
It is well worth discovering one of the great artistic highlights of Bologna.
Photos by Donata Donati.
Discover everything you need to know about visiting the church of Santa Maria della Vita which houses the Oratorio dei Battuti and so much more.
Don’t forget that the complex is closed on a MONDAY
This story was originally published on November 4th 2022
Peter Kilby is an artist, writer, story-teller, journalist and avid traveller who lived and worked in Italy from 1987 to 2018. He created Perfect Traveller to bring the world of Italian art and history closer to you and in a way that is entertaining and informative; together with great travel tips. Getting off the beaten track in Italy is always an adventure and he invites you to join him in discovering an Italy that will surprise and amaze you.