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Basilica Santa Maria dei Servi

Religious building, Bologna

Basilica Santa Maria dei Servi: Attraction informations

The Basilica Santa Maria dei Servi was built on behalf of the Order of Servi di Maria who arrived in Bologna in 1265. Its construction started in 1346 and was finished 10 years later, although in 1381 some works of enlargement took place on behalf of Father Andrea da Faenza. As many other buildings in the city of Bologna, the church has been subject to several restorations, particularly between 1910 and 1927 by the hands of Guido Zucchini.

The first feature that makes this church easily recognized is the presence, in front of its main façade, of a four-sided marbled portico. Although at first sight it may look like an architectural ensemble, truth is that most of the elements of this church belong to different periods: the porticos were built in 1393, its progression towards Strada Maggiore is from a century after and the completion of the frontal part of the church belongs to the beginning of the XVI century.

The side of the church is decorated with window frescoes showing the Storie della vita di san Filippo Benizzi which are unfortunately very damaged nowadays and therefore difficult to read. Its main façade, composed of simple bricks, is characterized by the presence of a closed oculus belonging to a never-built rose window.

The interior of the church

Santa Maria dei Servi is divided in 3 naves and is decorated by masterpieces of the last centuries on display in the chapels. Some of the most important artists of Bologna participated in the works, such as Marcantonio Franceschini, Denis Calvaert, Luigi Crespi and Lippo di Dalmasio, among others. The altar is decorated by a marble reredos sculptured in the ‘500s by Giovanni Angelo Montorsoli, and in its apse we can admire the wooden choir by Andrea da Faenza.

However, the main artistic heritage of this church is “La maestà” by Cimabue, preserved in one of the chapels. The altarpiece, over 2 meters high, represents the Madonna sitting on a throne, holding Jesus and overlooked by two polychromatic-winged angels. This incredible altarpiece was thought to be the work of an unknown artist until 1885, when it was finally attributed to Cimabue, and it is considered a previous piece to the frescoes of Assisi, which date from 1288.
It was belatedly attributed to Cimbaue because the altarpiece was severely damaged through the centuries and covered by different artists’ paintings.

Another important feature is the presence of some frescoes from the 14th-century by Vitale da Bologna, visible in the cross vault of the bell tower. The social and political climate in Bologna during the XIV century was perfectly represented in Vitale’s art: economy was flourishing, and the university had reached one of its main development peaks and was full of students from all around Europe. Some of Vitale’s main art works are preserved in the Pinacoteca di Bologna and other museums.

The decoration of the church is completed by the sacristy made by Giuseppe Marchesi and Vittorio Bigari during 1700. The nearby convent, once directly connected to the church, was expropriated during Napoleon’s era and is nowadays a Carabinieri’s station. It can be visited during special openings throughout the year.