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Santa Maria dei Servi

Bologna's Gothic Jewel

Santa Maria dei Servi

The city’s Gothic jewel, Santa Maria dei Servi, is preceded by a rare and lovely quadroporticus mingled amidst the portici of the Strada Maggiore. This is in the Early Renaissance Tuscan style, with slender columns and iron braces; one side of it dates from the 1390s, while the rest had to wait until 1855.

The church was a little slow too; begun in 1346, according to a design by Friar Andrea da Faenza, and assisted by Antonio di Vincenzo, it wasn’t completed for another two centuries. Typical for Bologna, however, they never got around to the façade.

Inside, also in typical Bolognese medieval fashion, the brick ribs of the vaulting of the three naves and pillars handsomely contrasts with the white walls and vaulting. And on the walls there's a fine mix of medieval and Baroque art art. The first chapel on the right contains The Virgin with the Seven Founders of the Servites by Marcantonio Franchesini and God the Father by Guido Reni.

Three scenes from the Life of John the Baptist (1620-23) by Mastelletta are in the Sacristy, and in the convent, if it's open, there's the Madonna del Santuario di Mondovì by Alessandro Tiarini; St Charles Borromeo and Angels (1613) by Guido Reni and a Madonna by Giovanni da Modena.

In the ambulatory, the Maestà di Santa Maria dei Servi (1280s) holds pride of place: a rare enthroned Madonna and child by Giotto's teacher, Cimabue (or his workshop—the attribution is hotly disputed); be sure to bring a euro coin for the light. Nearby is a polyptych in an unusual painted terracotta frame by Lippo di Dalmasio, and the all terracotta Madonna with SS. Lorenzo e Eustachio by Vicenzo Onofri, not one of his best works, although his Monument to Gian Giacomo e Andrea Grati, is. Also of note, Alessandro Tiarini's Presentation of the Virgin at the Temple.

Then there are the sadly damaged fragments of a late trecento fresco cycle by Vitale da Bologna, only rediscovered in the 1950s. Among the bits is a rarely-depicted scene of the Madonna del Parto—the pregnant Virgin, shown here seated, dozing, with a closed book on her lap, her long loose hair symbolizing her youth and virginity. Next to her on the table, the potted bush with three branches symbolized the Tree of Jesse; the little dragon at her foot was the dragon of the Apocalypse.

The 16th-century Servite friar Giovanni Angelo Montorsoli, a pupil of Michelangelo, sculpted the marble high altarpiece of the Resurrection. Lastly on the left, have a look at a Noli me tangere (second chapel) and St Andrew (fifth chapel), both by Francesco Albani.

From the 14th century, but especially in the 17th, Santa Maria dei Servi was famous for music, boasting no fewer than four organs to belt out the sound. Today it only has one, but it's a humdinger: a 1967 mechanical action Tamburini, used for the occasional concert. As at San Petronio, the church's once renowned Cappella Musicale dei Servi was revived, in 1933, and performed Mozart's Requiem for John Paul II. Check their website below for concert schedules.

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Strada Maggiore 43

Hours 7.30 am-12.30pm and 3.30-7pm (winter); summer afternoon 4-8pm

Cappella Musicale dei Servi: website

+39 051 226807

Text © Dana Facaros and Michael Pauls

Images by: Sailko, GNU Free Documentation License