If we pass over Reggio and Modena in unseemly haste it is not because they had no cherished heroes of sword or brush or pen. In Reggio an Augustinian monk, Ambrogio Calepino, compiled a dictionary of Latin and Italian, which in successive editions grew into a polyglot lexicon of eleven languages (1590). Little Carpi had a handsome cathedral designed by Baldassare Peruzzi (1514). Modena had a sculptor, Guido Mazzoni, who shocked his townsmen by the realism of a terra-cotta Cristo morto; and the fifteenth-century choir stalls of the eleventh-century cathedral matched the beauty of the façade and campanile. Pellegrino da Modena, who worked with Raphael in Rome and then returned to his native city, might have become a painter of note had he not been murdered by ruffians bent upon killing his son. Doubtless Renaissance violence snuffed out in their growth a regiment of potential geniuses.
Bologna, standing at a main crossing of Italy’s trade routes, continued to prosper, though her intellectual leadership was passing to Florence as humanism dethroned Scholasticism. Her university was now only one of many in Italy, and could no longer read the law to pontiffs and emperors; but its medical school was still supreme. The popes claimed Bologna as one of the Papal States, and Cardinal Albornoz had passingly enforced the claim (1360); but the schism of the Church between rival popes (1378–1417) reduced papal control to a technicality. A rich family, the Bentivogli, rose to political mastery, and maintained throughout the fifteenth century a mild dictatorship, which observed republican forms and acknowledged but ignored the overlordship of the popes. Ascapo or head of the Senate, Giovanni Bentivoglio governed Bologna for thirty-seven years (1469–1506) with sufficient wisdom and justice to win the admiration of princes and the affection of the people. He paved streets, improved roads, and built canals; he helped the poor with gifts, and organized public works to mitigate unemployment; he actively supported the arts. It was he who brought Lorenzo Costa to Bologna; for him and his sons Francia painted; Filelfo, Guarino, Aurispa, and other humanists were welcomed to his court. During the later years of his rule, embittered by a conspiracy to depose him, he used harsh methods to maintain his ascendancy, and forfeited the good will of the people. In 1506 Pope Julius II advanced upon Bologna with a papal army, and demanded his abdication. He yielded peaceably, was allowed to depart intact, and died in Milan two years later. Julius agreed that Bologna should thenceforth be ruled by its Senate, subject to veto, by a papal legate, of legislation opposed by the Church. The rule of the popes proved more orderly and liberal than that of the Bentivogli; local self-government was unhindered; and the university enjoyed remarkable academic freedom. Bologna remained a papal state, in fact as well as name, till the advent of Napoleon (1796).
Renaissance Bologna was proud of its civic architecture. The guild of merchants raised an elegant Mercanzia, or Chamber of Commerce (1382f), and the lawyers rebuilt (1384) their imposing Palazzo dei Notari. The nobles built handsome palaces like the Bevilacqua, where the Council of Trent would hold its sittings in 1547, and the Palazzo Pallavicini, described by a contemporary as “not unworthy of kings.”3 The massive Palazzo del Podestà, seat of the government, received a new façade (1492), and Bramante designed a stately spiral staircase for the Palazzo Comunale. Many façades had arcades on the street level, so that one might walk for miles in the heart of the city without being exposed—except at crossings—to sun or rain.
While in the university skeptics like Pomponazzi questioned the immortality of the soul, the people and their rulers built new churches, adorned or repaired old ones, and brought hopeful offerings to miracle-working shrines. The Franciscan friars added to their picturesque church of San Francesco one of the fairest campaniles in Italy. The Dominicans enriched their church of San Domenico with choir stalls painstakingly carved and inlaid by Fra Damiano of Bergamo; and they engaged Michelangelo to carve four figures for the ornate arca or tabernacle in which the bones of their founder were zealously preserved. The great pride and tragedy of Bolognese art was the cathedral of San Petronio. Far back in the fifth century this Petronius had served the city as its bishop, and had been deeply loved for his beneficence. In 1307 many worshipers claimed to have been healed of blindness, deafness, or other infirmities by washing the diseased parts with water from the well beneath his shrine. Soon the city had to provide accommodations for hundreds of pilgrims seeking cures. In 1388 the communal council decreed that a church should be built for San Petronio, and on a scale that would humble the Florentines and their duomo; it was to be 700 by 460 feet, with a dome rising to 500 feet from the ground. Money proved less ample than pride; only nave and aisles to the transept were completed, and only the lower part of the façade. But that lower part is a masterpiece that attests the noble aspirations and taste of Renaissance art. The portal jambs and architrave were carved with reliefs (1425–38) challenging in subjects and surpassing in power Ghiberti’s gates to the Florentine Baptistery, and yielding to them only in refinement of finish; and in the pediment, along with unprepossessing figures of Petronius and Ambrose, a Madonna and Child, carved in the round, worthy of comparison with Michelangelo’s Pietà. These works of Iacopo della Quercia of Siena were an inspiration to Michelangelo, and he might have been saved from the muscular exaggerations of his sculptural style had he accepted more of the classic purity in della Quercia’s designs.
Sculpture rivaled architecture in Bologna. Properzia de’ Rossi carved a bas-relief for the façade of San Petronio; it won such praise that when Clement VII came to Bologna he asked to see her; but she had died in that week. Alfonso Lombardi, whose reliefs won Michelangelo’s praise, stepped into history on the coattails of Titian. Learning that Charles V, during the conference at Bologna (1530), was to sit for Titian, he persuaded the painter to take him along as a servant; and while Titian painted, Alfonso, partly concealed behind him, modeled the Emperor in stucco. Charles spied him, and asked to see his work; he liked it, and asked Alfonso to copy it in marble. When Charles paid Titian a thousand crowns he bade him give half to Alfonso. Lombardi brought the finished marble to Charles at Genoa, and received an additional three hundred crowns. Now famous, Alfonso was taken to Rome by Cardinal Ippolito de’ Medici, and was commissioned by him to carve tombs for Leo X and Clement VII. But the Cardinal died in 1535; and Alfonso, losing his commissions and his patron, followed him, within a year, to the grave.
Painting, in fourteenth-century Bologna, was chiefly illumination; and when it graduated into murals it followed a stiff Byzantine style. It was apparently two artists from Ferrara who aroused Bolognese painters from the rigor mortis of Byzantium. When Francesco Cossa came to make his home in Bologna (1470) there was still in his painting a certain Mantegnesque severity and sculptural hardness of line, but he had learned to infuse his figures with feeling as well as dignity, to set them in motion, and to bathe them in a living play of light. Lorenzo Costa arrived in Bologna when he was a lad of twenty-three (1483), and he stayed there for twenty-six years. He took a studio in the same house as Francia; the two men became fast friends, and influenced each other to mutual advantage; sometimes they painted a picture together. Costa won the praise and ducats of Giovanni Bentivoglio by painting an excellent Madonna Enthroned in San Petronio. When Giovanni fled at the approach of the terrible Julius (1506), Costa accepted an invitation to succeed Mantegna at Mantua.
Meanwhile Francesco Francia was making himself the head and crown of the Bolognese school. His father was Marco Raibolini, but as surnames were loose in Italy, Francesco became known by the name of the goldsmith to whom he was apprenticed. For many years he practised the goldsmith’s art, silverwork, niello, enameling, and engraving. He was made master of the mint, and engraved the coins of the city for both Bentivoglio and the popes; and his coins were so distinguished by their beauty that they became collectors’ items, bringing high prices soon after his death. Vasari describes him as a lovable man, “so pleasant in conversation that he could divert the most melancholy individuals, and won the affection of princes and lords and all who knew him.”4
We cannot say what turned Francia to painting. Bentivoglio discovered his talent, and commissioned him—already forty-nine—to paint an altarpiece for a chapel in San Giacomo Maggiore (1499). The dictator was pleased, and engaged Francia to decorate his palace with murals. They were destroyed when the populace sacked the palace in 1507, but we have Vasari’s word for it that these and other frescoes “brought Francia such reverence in the city that he was reckoned as a god.”5 Commissions poured in upon him, and perhaps he accepted too many to allow his best potentialities to mature. Mantua, Reggio, Parma, Lucca, and Urbino received panels from his brush; the Pinacoteca Bolognese has a roomful of them; Verona has a Holy Family, Turin an Entombment, the Louvre aCrucifixion, London a Dead Christ and a striking portrait of Bartolommeo Bianchini, the Morgan Library a Virgin and Child, the Metropolitan Museum of Art a delightful portrait of Federigo Gonzaga in youth. None of these is of the first order, but each is gracefully drawn, softly colored, and suffused with a tenderness and piety that makes them heralds of Raphael.
Francia’s epistolary friendship with Raphael is one of the pleasantest episodes of the Renaissance. Timoteo Viti was among Francia’s pupils at Bologna (1490–5), and became at Urbino one of Raphael’s early teachers; possibly some quality of Francia passed to the young artist.6 When Raphael had achieved fame in Rome he invited Francia to visit him. Francia excused himself as too old, but he wrote a sonnet in Raphael’s praise. Raphael sent him a letter (September 5, 1508) rich in Renaissance courtesy:
M. Francesco mio caro:
I have just received your portrait, brought to me in good condition… for which I thank you very warmly. It is most beautiful, so lifelike that I sometimes mistake, believing myself to be with you and to hear your words. I pray you to excuse and pardon the delay and postponement of my self-portrait, which, because of important and incessant occupation, I have not yet been able to execute with my own hand in accordance with our agreement…. However, I send you meanwhile another drawing, of the Nativity, done amid so many other things that I blush for it; I do this trifle rather in sign of obedience and love than for anything else. If in exchange I shall receive [the drawing of] your story of Judith I shall place it among the things that are dearest and most precious to me.
Monsignor il Datario expects your little Madonna with great anxiety, and Cardinal Riario the large one.… I look for them with that pleasure and satisfaction with which I see and praise all your works, never seeing any others more beautiful, or more devout and well done, than yours.
Meanwhile take courage, take care of yourself with your wonted prudence, and be assured that I feel your afflictions as if they were my own. Continue to love me as I love you with all my heart.
Always entirely at your service,
Your Raffaelle Sancio.7
We may allow here for some mannerly flourish, but that this mutual affection was real appears from another letter, in which Raphael sent his famous St. Cecilia to Francia, to be placed in a chapel at Bologna, and asked him, “as a friend, to correct any errors he might find in it.”8 Vasari relates that when Francia saw the picture he was so overwhelmed by its beauty, and so painfully recognized his own inferiority, that he lost all will to paint, grew ill, and presently died, in the sixty-seventh year of his age (1517). This is one of many dubious deaths in Vasari; but he adds, graciously, that there were other theories.
Perhaps, before his death, Francia saw some engravings made in Rome by his pupil Marcantonio Raimondi from the drawings of Raphael. Visiting Venice, Mark saw some engravings by Albrecht Dürer on copper or wood. He spent almost all his travel money buying thirty-six wood engravings by the Nuremberg master on the Passion of Christ; he copied them on copper, made prints from the copies, and sold the prints as Dürer’s works. Going to Rome, he engraved on copper a drawing by Raphael, so faithfully that the painter allowed a great number of his drawings to be engraved, and prints to be made and sold. Raimondi copied also the paintings of Raphael and others, transferred the copy to copper, and sold the prints. While he made a living in this novel way, the artists of Europe, without visiting Italy, could now know the design of the famous paintings of the Renaissance masters. Finiguerra, Raimondi, and their successors did for art what Gutenberg and Aldus Manutius and others did for scholarship and literature: they built new lines of communication and transmission, and offered to youth at least the outlines of its heritage.