Basilica of San Petronio

Basilica of San Petronio
Basilica of San Petronio

The Basilica of San Petronio located in the Plaza Mayor of the Italian city of Bologna is the perfect example of how power struggles are faithfully reflected in the art of the societies that generate them. The work that promised them as one of the most beautiful churches in all of Italy ended up being an amalgamation of architectural and decorative styles in whose parts the different phases through which such an arduous project ended, which even today is still not complete, can be guessed..


Its construction dates back to the end of the 16th century, when in 1390 it decided to build a great basilica dedicated to the saint of the city of Bologna, San Petronio, who had been the Bishop of the city in the 5th century and was martyred. The initial project proposed the creation of a huge temple with almost one hundred and thirty-five meters long, forty-five meters high and more than sixty meters wide, surpassing in this way even the Basilica of Saint Peter in the Vatican itself. In this context, the aspirations of the Basilica of Bologna were too majestic for the pontiff Pius XII, who determined in a papal bull the prohibition to continue with the construction of the temple according to the Pope, to build a building larger than the Basilica of Saint Peter would be an attack against the principles of the papal hierarchy.

The design of the temple was carried out by the architect Antonio di Vicenzo (1350 – 1401) wasa respected and well-known Bolognese architect. Not much information is known about his life, but it seems that Vicenzo came from a family of artists and was able to train in the family workshop; Most of his production took place in his hometown and it was precisely there that he achieved the greatest success. It seems that Vicenzo worked for ten years on the project for the Basilica and proposed a building with a Gothic structure with a Latin cross floor plan, configured through three naves with the largest one being wider and higher than the lateral ones and reinforced by pointed transverse arches that they match the former arcades that give way to the side naves. The interior of the temple mixes elements from different authors and periods, thus the dome of the transept was built by Vignola, the bichromatic decoration of the interior was carried out in the 17th century by Girolamo Rainaldi and the choir made of wood -one of the most beautiful of all Italian art- was the work of Agostino de Marchi.

The façade is one of the most surprising elements due to its unfinished appearance, its decoration was entrusted to the artist Jacopo della Quercia however it remained unfinished and different artists proposed throughout of the centuries other forms for its completion; In the end, none of the solutions was carried out, so today it presents a strange dichotomy between the lower area richly decorated with pinkish marbles and the upper area without any coating.

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