One of the nicknames commonly given to Bologna is “La Rossa” or “The Red”. This refers to the appearance of the city, although in the past it also referred to the political orientation of the city’s local government.
The plains of the River Po have sparse deposits of stone suitable for building but good deposits of clay and so brick and terracotta have been common building materials since the times of the Etruscans ( see my post The Etruscans and Bologna). Also, unlike other parts of Italy, there were few remains of ancient Roman art to copy other than coins and medallions.
The red aspect of the city is emphasised by the traditional colours of external cloth blinds and shades of paint.
Any walk around Bologna’s streets will pass many attractive building facades utilising terracotta decoration. I’ll describe a few in this post, allowing you to discover many more for yourself on a visit to the city.
A small but interesting example is the terracotta cross located in Vicolo Borchetta. This is thought to be a remnant of the Knights Templar ‘maison’, La Magione di Santa Maria del Tempio, from where they managed their Northern Italian affairs. It probably dates from the 13th century.
Another early example is the portico of the little ex-orphanage of San Leonardo in Via Begatto, built in the 14th century.
One of my favourites is the beautiful Oratorio dello Spirito Santo at 4 Via Val D’Aposa. It was constructed by Celestine monks in the late 15th century, but modified during restoration towards the end of the 1800s. The present colour of the façade is a result of the matching of new work and old and was quite controversial at the time.
The decoration and the five figures are attributed to the sculptor and medallist Sperandio da Mantova.
Also from the 15th century is the door of the church of Corpus Domini at 23 Via Tagliapietre, again attributed to Sperandio da Mantova. Inside the church you can visit the mummified body of Saint Catherine of Bologna.
An attractive façade can be admired in Piazza Santo Stefano. Entering the Piazza walking towards the churches ( Santo Stefano – Bologna’s Mystical Past ) the Palazzo Salina Amorini Bolognini is on the right. Built over a long period through the 16th century, its façade boasts a series of terracotta heads made by Alfonso Lombardi and Nicolo da Volterra.
Terracotta was used not only for architectural detailing, but also for art work. The best known of such works in Bologna is the set of figures “Lamentation over the Dead Christ” that can be found in the church of Santa Maria della Vita church in Via Clavature. They are the work of Nicolo dell’Arca who we came across in an earlier post Michelangelo in Bologna .
A similar set of figures is located just inside the right hand door of Bologna’s cathedral, San Pietro, in Via Indipendenza. This is the work of Alfonso Lombardi and was completed in 1526.
The use of terracotta for building decoration went out of fashion around the 1600s, however some use continued. For example, when Palazzo Tartagni at 12 Strada Maggiore was restored in the 18th century, the sculptor Giacometti Rossi provided a series of grotesque terracotta masks for the facade.
Another poignant example is the statue of a Weimaraner dog called Tago. The dog would wait for his master, the Marquis Tommaso de’Buoi, to return home, watching out from an upper window. On one occasion Tago was so excited on his master’s return that he lost his balance and fell to his death. The devastated marquis had a statue made by the celebrated artist Luigi Aquisti.
The statue remained at the window in via Oberdan from which Tago fell from 1777 until 2008 when it was removed for restoration. You can visit Tago at the Collezioni Comunali d’Arte in Palazzo d’Accursio.
Terracotta as a building decoration returned to popularity in the mid 1800s with both restoration work on Bologna’s medieval and renaissance treasures and construction of buildings along the then new Via Indipendenza.
Bologna’s Museum of Industrial Heritage ( see my previous post A Walk along Bologna’s Navile )is housed in an old terracotta and brick works, the Fornace Galotti del Battiferro, built in the 19th century. There, amongst a wide collection representing many industries of the region, you can find displays relating to the production of terracotta.
Production of terracotta products from the humble flower pot to reproductions used in building restoration continues today.
Enjoy Bologna’s magnificent terracotta on your walks around the city. There are so many little treasures to admire once you start looking.