Niccolò dell’Arca: A Cry that Weathers Time

Compianto sul Cristo morto di Niccolò dell’Arca
Niccolò dell’Arca, Compianto sul Cristo morto, Santa Maria della Vita, Bologna (1463-90 ca)

One of the most admirable works of fifteenth-century Italy can be found in the heart of Bologna, like a small miracle, nearly 600 years after it was made. Even the illustrious Gabriele D’Annunzio was so charmed by it during a visit that he described Niccolò dell’Arca’s Lamentation “the sublime, violent image of a petrified cry”.

Entering the church of Santa Maria della Vita and coming to the chapel to the right of the high altar, the terracotta group strikes the visitor like a theatrical epiphany, immediately drawing you into a mythical, profoundly dramatic narrative infused with telluric, eternally vital pathos. Everything shakes and vibrates, like a symphony, play or poem. Christ’s unchanged grace is rashly shattered by the polyphonic group of six figures, especially the vivid, hyper-realistic expressionism of the faces of the female figures, literally sculpted in the wind, the vibration of their garments and features anticipating the great Gian Lorenzo Bernini.

A 17th-century Emilian writer accurately described them as the “endless weepers”. A bold work for its time and restless synthesis of late-Gothic and Tuscan humanism, an art-historical diamond in the rough forever able to move, shake and seduce. And we can still hear that cry in the wind.

Niccolò dell’Arca, Compianto sul Cristo morto (Lamentation), Santa Maria della Vita, Bologna (1463-90 ca)

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BolognaEmilia-RomagnaReligious architecture