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Sacred magnificence: civic intervention and the arca of San Domenico in Bologna

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In 1469, the commission of an ambitious new addition to the arca of San Domenico passed from its traditional custodians, the Dominicans, to the civic government, making it a focus of Bolognese civic munificence. While the earlier thirteenth century sarcophagus by Nicola Pisano and assistants has received considerable scholarly attention, the complex and remarkably inventive fifteenth-century monument by Niccolò dell'Arca is still little-known, despite contributions by the young Michelangelo.

Incorporating the earlier sarcophagus as a sign of sacred self-referentiality, the fifteenth-century arca outgrew its original intentions as it outgrew its original dimensions; it was transformed from a funerary and commemorative reliquary/tomb into an honorific civic monument. The tomb of San Domenico had exceptional diplomatic and strategic value that exceeded local boundaries. Its embellishment and ‘marking’ as a civic focus legitimized and promoted the city as it sought to assert its sacred significance and political autonomy. In this study, formal analysis, archival research, and contextual explorations are employed to situate the arca as a nexus of the dynamic self-imaging of Renaissance Bologna. It contributes to the rich discussions of the mechanisms of art and architectural patronage as cultural statecraft, discussions traditionally defined by the models of Renaissance Florence, Siena, Venice, and Rome. By re-evaluating an artistic project of unique significance, this study also suggests alternative visions to the still predominantly Tuscan orientation of artistic development, and expands understanding of the interweaving of civic, religious, and cultural patronage in fifteenth-century Bolognese history.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 1999-12-01

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