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Palazzo Pepoli Campogrande

Herculean Ceilings

Detail of Canuti's Triumph of Hercules

It was called 'Campogrande' from the big field Taddeo Pepoli, boss of Bologna in 1337–47, had to clear to build it. Taddeo’s heirs sold Bologna to Milan for 200,000 florins (not a popular move, but they later kissed and made up with the Bentivoglio), so that when Odoardo Pepoli was made a senator in 1653, there was still enough gold in the familu pot to rebuild the palace from scratch and commission lavish frescoes from Bologna’s best Baroque painters.

Along the grand stairway Domenico Canuti painted a history lesson of the Pepoli family. He also frescoed one of two incredible ceilings on the same theme, one obviously dear to the Pepoli heart, the Triumph of Hercules (1665). Canuti's is very florid and busy, while Giuseppe Maria Crespi is a later, more restrained version (1691), with Allegories of the Seasons in the four corners. A third ceiling has Alexander Cutting the Gordian Knot (1708) by Donato Creti.

Today the palazzo belongs to the Pinacoteca Nazionale, and houses archives, photos, and the Collezione Zambeccari of paintings donated to the city by the Marchese Zambeccari in the 18th century, including works by Ludovico Carracci, Guercino, Albani and Crespi.

The Pepoli must have been attached to the neighbourhood. Their previous palace, the Palazzo Pepoli Vecchio (now the History Museum of Bologna), and the 13th-century Casa Gadda Pepoli, are right across the street.

*Note: The scene from Canuti's Hercules pictured above seems to be crying out for an explanation, so here it is. The Cercopes were two brothers, little ape-like imps who were always causing trouble. One day they made the mistake of robbing a sleeping traveller, who turned out to be Hercules. Hercules, of course, caught them. He gave them a good beating, tied them by their feet to a pole and carried them off over his shoulder.

Now, the Cercopes' mother was something of a seer, and she had always warned them to beware of 'Old Black Bottom'. Hercules, as we know, never wore anything under his lion's skin, and as the Cercopes enjoyed their upside-down view of his big black bum (either exceptionally tanned, or exceptionally hairy; the mythographers differ), they finally realized what mother had been on about and started laughing uncontrollably. When they let Hercules in on the joke he could only laugh too, and he let them go.*

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Via Castiglione 7

Hours Tues–Sun 8.30am-7.30pm, July & Aug Tues & Wed 8.30am-2pm, Thurs-Sun 1.45-7.30pm

Adm €6; ages 18-26 €3; under 18 free. Adm includes the the Pinacoteca Nazionale.


+39 051 420 9411

Text © Dana Facaros and Michael Pauls

Images by: Archeobologna