The paintings found in Bologna’s Pinacoteca Nazionale are rather similar to the local cuisine: dark and heavy with the surprising twist. While the museum offers an excellent taste of Trecento and Quattrocento altarpieces from the surrounding schools, it is the extensive selection of works by the Baroque painters Guido Reni and Guercino that are the highlight of the collection.
Guido Reni is probably my favorite of the two artists. His Sibyl and Christ Crowned with Thorns are perfect examples of the dewy gazes, glowing bodies, and overwrought emotion of his work. The Sibyl, with her origins in the classical world, was a figure of shifting meaning and associations, and was a perennially popular subject, especially after the prominence given to her in Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel (I desperately want to say that Sibyls appeared in earlier fresco cycles of famous men and women, but I could simply be imagining that). If I recall my student days in Rome accurately, there is an equally luscious Reni Sibyl at one of the Capitoline museums — I’d have to do a little research to know if they were part of the same commission.
Guercino’s interpretation of the Sibyl is far more muted and has none of the lusciousness of Reni’s vision. This woman is actually identical to the figure appearing in the larger work next to it, in which the Sibyl has been transformed into a domestic figure tending to someone. It is not clear whether a single Sibyl was intended as a study for the larger work or if the artist merely appropriated a convenient form for the other work.
Perhaps more than the Sibyl, I enjoyed Guercino’s Madonna del passero, with its sfumato, dense atmosphere, and delicacy of interaction between the Virgin and the Christ Child. The sparrow (I know, you can barely see it) resting on the Virgin’s finger, the deep concentration of the two figures, and the coiled tension of the Child’s body as he decides whether to reach out and touch the tiny bird, and also steady himself against his mother, are poignantly captured and reflect the sensitive observation of the natural world that is the hallmark of these centuries in art.
A few other prominent works from the museum are Titian’s Crucified Christ with the Good Thief and, turning to the previous era, Parmigianino’s Madonna and Child with Saints, of which the latter is the better work, as Titian’s is either rather early or shows the hands of many shop artists. Another notable work, from a much earlier age, is a polyptych by Giotto.
And now for the twists. One of the things I love about visiting museums is seeing particular subjects or interpretations that are part of a regional school or tradition that are unlikely to be seen elsewhere or which incorporate some distinct local element. For example, I found two Padre eterno paintings that were probably part of larger altarpieces, dating from 1500 and 1524.
There was also this rather mysterious painting, unaccompanied by any identifying material, and could perhaps depict Padre eterno — or, well, I’m not really sure what:
Bologna also has it’s own leaning tower, and it makes an appearance in a variety of paintings dating from the 14th to the 16th centuries, and maybe even later.
I don’t recall this happening during my first visit to Italy (despite spending most of the semester with drunk American college students), but on this trip I witnessed two separate instances of unabashed public urination. Apparently, it’s just an Italian thing:
Finally, a polyptych panel with Pope Urban V holding a diptych. Mind blown.