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Italian greatest artists: 9 artworks in Emilia-Romagna

by /// August 31, 2021
Estimated reading time: 7 minutes



After you’ve enjoyed the wealth of street art that adds colour to our region like an open-air gallery, here’s a cultural tour #inEmiliaRomagna on the trail of 9 great Italian artists: each artwork is in a museum, gallery or church, in a different town or city.

These locations may be less famous than the Uffizi or the Galleria Borghese, but they have so many treasures it would be a real shame to miss Leonardo, Raphael, Canova, Bernini, Botticelli, Piero della Francesca, Correggio, Guercino, Guido Reni.

Take your time, avoid the queues that often bedevil the best-known museums, and admire this feast of Italian art #inEmiliaRomagna by some of the world’s all-time greats.
Ready? Off we go!

Sandro Botticelli (Piacenza)

Artist: Sandro Botticelli
The unmissable masterpiece: Tondo of the Virgin adoring the Child with the infant St. John
Where: Palazzo Farnese, Piacenza

Sandro Botticelli, The Virgin and Child with the Infant Saint John the Baptist (Palazzo Farnese, Piacenza)

Sandro Botticelli, The Virgin and Child with the Infant Saint John the Baptist (Palazzo Farnese, Piacenza) | Ph. © Delpapa

The Pinacoteca, on the 1st floor of Palazzo Farnese, houses a precious Tondo by Botticelli, depicting the Madonna adoring the Child with San Giovannino.

Painted about 30 years before the more famous Tondo Doni preserved in the Uffizi, it is said to have been made on the basis of the fourteenth-century apocryphal text by Giovanni De Cauli from San Gimignano in which it is told of San Giovannino in an adoring attitude towards the Child Jesus.

The splendid original carved and gilded frame immediately catches the attention, highlighting the subject.

Our tip: come as soon as the building opens (in the morning or afternoon) to leave yourself time to do the Civic Museums justice. The Museum of carriages, the Italian Unification museum, the Archaeology Museum, and the Weaponry hall are particular highlights.

Bonus artworks in the city: Ecce Homo by Antonello da Messina at the Collegio Alberoni

Find out more about the city of Piacenza; its sober aristocratic finery is sure to win you over.

Leonardo da Vinci (PARMA)

Artist: Leonardo da Vinci
The unmissable masterpiece: Head of a girl, La Scapigliata
Where: National Gallery, Palazzo della Pilotta, Parma

Leonardo da Vinci, La Scapiliata (Parma)

Leonardo da Vinci, La Scapiliata (National Gallery, Parma) | Ph. ©

The monumental Palazzo Della Pilotta has a gallery where you can savour an exquisite remnant from Leonardo’s time in Emilia-Romagna.

Experts agree that La Scapigliata is a unique work in the da Vinci oeuvre that’s alive with vigour, freedom and femininity.

It might look like a drawing or preparatory sketch, but it’s actually a monochrome painting on board. The work emerges from a metallic-grey backing to create a sublime colour contrast with the gold and brown of the paint and the recently added period frame.

Our tip: plan to see as much of the gallery as you can; treat it like the Prado in Madrid: you won’t be disappointed.

Bonus artworks in the surrounding province: Parmigianino’s frescoes of Diana and Actaeon at Sanvitale castle in Fontanellato.

Discover more of the city of Parma and 20 reasons to visit.

Correggio (Correggio, Reggio Emilia)

Artist: Correggio
The unmissable masterpiece: Pietà
Where: Civic museum, Correggio

Antonio Allegri da Correggio, Pietà (Civic Museum, Correggio)

Antonio Allegri da Correggio, Pietà (Civic Museum, Correggio)

Correggio Civic museum, on the first floor of Palazzo dei Principi, is home to this oil painting whose Leonardo-Esque traits enable us to date it confidently to before 1514.

In this, the only Pietà that Correggio painted, Christ appears in quite a complex pose. One arm hangs down, the other foreshortened across his stomach as the Virgin holds his legs tightly crossed.

That there are many copies, including one by Carracci, suggests the work might have been hung in a public place – like the Palazzo dei Principi chapel in front of the “field of honour” at Correggio castle, where duels were held.

Sacred images were often placed in such locations for protagonists wanting to swear reconciliation.

Our tip: make the most of the free entry to see another two works attributed to Correggio: the painting “Face of Christ” and a two-sided drawing.

Bonus artworks in the surrounding province: the Basilica Della Ghiara in Reggio Emilia has the Guercino altarpiece Crucifixion with Christ consoled by an angel, one of his most admired and controversial works.

Discover more about the towns of Correggio and Reggio Emilia.

Gian Lorenzo Bernini – MODENA

Artist: Gian Lorenzo Bernini
The unmissable masterpiece: Bust of Francesco I d’Este
Where: Estense Gallery

Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Bust of Francesco I d’Este (Gallerie Estensi, Modena)

Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Bust of Francesco I d’Este (Gallerie Estensi, Modena) |  Ph. ©

Bernini’s sculpture is part of the Dukes of Este’s art collection and has been here in the Palazzo dei Musei since 1894. Commissioned by Francesco in August 1650, Bernini reluctantly had to create the piece without ever meeting his subject.

He worked from existing painted portraits and accurate measurements of the Duke’s height and across his shoulders. Despite these difficulties, the marble bust has a remarkable lightness to it, with features like the wig and cape.

Our tip: don’t miss the chance to see the Estense university library, the Museum of monumental masonry, the Duke’s palace in Sassuolo, and the National Gallery in Ferrara.

Bonus artworks in the city: raise your gaze to the painted ceilings by Tintoretto, also at the Estense Gallery, inspired by Ovid’s Metamorphoses.

Discover more about the city of Modena, from motor heritage to fine food and wine: you’ll be pleasantly surprised!

Raphael (Bologna)

Artist: Raphael
The unmissable masterpiece: The ecstasy of St Cecilia
Where: National Gallery, Bologna

Raffaello, The Ecstasy of St. Cecilia (National Gallery, Bologna)

Raphael, The Ecstasy of St. Cecilia (National Gallery, Bologna) | Ph. CC-00

Oil on canvas, the ecstasy of St Cecilia was commissioned by a Bologna noblewoman for the chapel dedicated to the saint in the church of San Giovanni in Monte.

The link with the city is also reflected in the façade of the church visible behind, which is not unlike Santa Maria del Monte in Bologna.

The painting broke new ground, focusing on the ecstasy and not the traditional image of divinity. It was stolen by Napoleon as part of the plunders of war, only to return to Italy in 1815.

The work has enjoyed great celebrity, with numerous imitators from Carracci to Guido Reni.

Our tip: allow yourself an entire day to explore the gallery. Raphael’s masterpiece isn’t the only one that’s worth the entry price on its own.

Bonus artworks in the city: San Domenico’s Basilica offers a chance to appreciate the genius of Michelangelo Buonarroti, with his statues of St Petronius, St Proclus, and the Angel holding a candlestick on the tomb of St Dominic.

Discover more about Bologna, the famous city of towers and arcades.

Guercino (FERRARA)

Artist: Guercino
The unmissable masterpiece: Martyrdom of St Maurelius
Where: National Gallery, Ferrara

Giovan Francesco Barbieri, detto il Guercino, Martyrdom of Saint Maurilius (Ferrara)

Giovan Francesco Barbieri, detto il Guercino, Martyrdom of Saint Maurilius (Ferrara) | Ph. ©

Commissioned for St Maurelius’ chapel in St George’s church in 1634 to replace a polyptych by Cosmè Tura, the painting was moved to the gallery when it was founded in 1836.
In those days, Guercino was already a celebrated master. His highly personal stylistic language buzzes with energy in works of great inner intimacy and no little emotion – like this one.

Ferrara’s co-patron saint is shown just before being decapitated, amid an atmosphere suspended between the naturalism of the three foreground figures and a frozen unreality in which the angel appears bathed in golden light.

Our tip: the gallery is part of a major exhibition centre – the Palazzo dei Diamanti – so plan your visit to take in the current show!

Bonus artworks in the surrounding province: the “Il Guercino” civic gallery in Cento has the world’s largest collection of works by Guercino and his workshop, including drawings and engravings showing how the artist’s style developed.

Discover more about Ferrara, the city of the Este, and Cento, Guercino’s birthplace

Guido Reni (Ravenna)

Artist: Guido Reni
The unmissable masterpiece: The gathering of the manna
Where: Ravenna cathedral

Guido Reni, The Gathering of the Manna (Duomo, Ravenna)

Guido Reni, The Gathering of the Manna (Duomo, Ravenna) | Ph. CC-00

Many artists have risen to the challenge of depicting the gathering of the manna, the food of the angels; Guido Reni is no exception.

His fresco in the Chapel of the holy sacrament in Ravenna cathedral is packed with figures. Moses wears a scarlet robe while a man in the foreground picks up the precious food and several women hold bowls and urns containing gathered manna.

Interesting facts: Moses’ horns are probably down to a translation mix-up. In early translations of the Bible, the Hebrew “karan” or “karnaim” – meaning “rays” – seems to have been confused with “keren” = “horns”. The correct verse (Exodus 34:29) is “Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone [it emitted rays] because he had been talking with God”.

Bonus artworks in the surrounding province: San Francesco’s church in the village of Brisighella houses Guercino’s painting SS Francis and Louis of France.

Discover more about Ravenna, the former Byzantine capital and city of mosaics.

Antonio Canova (Forlì)

Artist: Antonio Canova
The unmissable masterpiece: Hebe
Where: San Domenico Museums, Forlì

Antonio Canova, Ebe (Musei San Domenico, Forlì)

Antonio Canova, Ebe (San Domenico Museums, Forlì) | Ph. ©

Canova made as many as four versions of this statue. The Forlì exemplar was commissioned by Countess Veronica Zauli Nardi Guarini to embellish her mansion in the city – Palazzo Guarini Torelli.

The goddess Hebe is depicted with a graceful almost dancerly gait, hair gathered up in a sophisticated style under a tiara, ruffled by a breath of wind.

She is the personification of adolescence, with a budding beauty that is beginning to bloom into perfect, prodigious forms. It was a supremely modern work of art, as contemporaries immediately acknowledged, for it created a model of beauty that chimed perfectly with the aesthetic tastes of the time.

The statue is in the San Domenico Museums, in the circular room designed to evoke the octagonal hall in palazzo Guarini Torelli; you can walk around and admire it from all sides.

Our tip: when you visit the gallery, find out which exhibition is on; it’s sure to be a treat!

Bonus artworks in the surrounding province: Cesena gallery has the oil painting St Francis receiving the stigmata by Guercino, originally commissioned for the Capuchin friary.

Discover more about the cities of Forlì and Cesena.

Piero della Francesca (Rimini)

Artist: Piero della Francesca
The unmissable masterpiece: Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta praying in front of St Sigismund
Where: Malatesta Temple

Piero della Francesca, Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta in prayer in front of St. Sigismund (Malatesta Temple, Rimini)

Piero della Francesca, Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta in prayer in front of St. Sigismund (Malatesta Temple, Rimini)

In Rimini, the bathing resort par excellence, the cathedral is the Malatesta Temple. It guards a precious fresco by the wandering master from Tuscany, Piero della Francesca, summoned to serve the Malatesta lords by Pandolfo himself.

Once inside, head for the last chapel on the right of the altar; the monumental fresco is there. It teems with symbolism, part religious, part political (e.g. the white greyhound represents fidelity; the black one, vigilance).

Interesting facts: the Malatesta Temple was designed as a neoclassical tomb by Leon Battista Alberti. Although never finished, it is considered the cornerstone of the Rimini Renaissance style and one of the most important 15th-century architectural works anywhere in Italy.

Bonus artworks in the city: stay in town for another great artist, Giotto, and his Rimini crucifix, a painting in gold and tempera on board.

Discover more about the city of Rimini: the historic centre has a wealth of fascinating art treasures to explore.

Italy is brimming with art, and our region is no exception. We look forward to welcoming you #inEmiliaRomagna!


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