The Frist Art Museum holds the first major exhibition in the United States devoted to medieval art in Bologna

The Frist Art Museum presents Medieval Bologna: art for a university town, the first major museum exhibition in the United States to focus on medieval art made in the prosperous city of Bologna, in northern Italy. Designed and curated by the Senior Curator of the Frist Art Museum, Trinita Kennedy, the exhibition of illuminated manuscripts, paintings and sculptures will be on display in the upper-level galleries of the Frist from November 5, 2021 to January 30, 2022.

The 70 or so objects in the exhibition span from 1230 to 1400, from the first great flowering of manuscript illumination in Bologna to the beginnings of the construction and decoration of the ambitious Basilica of San Petronio in Piazza Maggiore in the city. On display are numerous illuminated law books, fascinating for their distinctive layout and iconography, as well as for their remarkable size and weight. The works come mainly from American libraries, museums and private collections, including the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Library of Congress, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the National Gallery of Art, the New York Public Library and the Princeton University Library. . . Loans are also sought from the Museo Civico Medievale in Bologna.

The exhibition explores how medieval Bologna, with its porticoed streets, towers, communal buildings, main square and mendicant churches, became a center of higher education in the late Middle Ages. Home to the oldest university in Europe, Bologna has fostered a unique artistic culture with its large population of discerning readers. The city became the preeminent center of manuscript production south of the Alps, and it helped spark a revolution in the medieval book trade. The manuscripts circulated in a thriving market of scribes, illuminators, booksellers, and patrons mostly operating outside the traditional monastic scriptoria. The university first specialized in law, and many law books have been illuminated in Bologna with vivid tales. The teachers enjoyed high social status and were buried in impressive stone tombs carved with class scenes. A highly respected curator of medieval and Renaissance art, Kennedy also curated the award-winning exhibition Holiness in pictures: the art of the Dominican and Franciscan orders in Renaissance Italy, presented to Frist in 2014-15, and published the accompanying catalog of the same title. The research that emerged from the exhibit formed the basis of a specialist seminar at Tulane University.

Exhibition catalog The exhibition is accompanied by a richly illustrated 256-page hardcover catalog entitled Medieval Bologna: Art for a University Town, published by Paul Holberton Publishing (London). Edited by the Senior Curator of the Frist Art Museum, Trinita Kennedy, the publication comprises seven essays and is the first major study in English on the illumination, painting and sculpture of manuscripts in Bologna between the years 1200 and 1400. The essays- by academics, a curator, curators, and a museum educator – create a rich context for the works in the exhibition, many of which have never been studied in depth or published before. The book aims to broaden our understanding of art and its purposes in the medieval world. The catalog will be available for purchase in the Frist Art Museum gift shop and bookstores in October 2021.


Thursday November 11
Curator’s Perspective: Art and Learning in Medieval Bologna Presented by Trinita Kennedy, Senior Curator
6:00 p.m.
Featured on Zoom
To free; registration required.

Thursday January 13
Bologna Redux: A Fresh Look at the Beginnings of Legal Manuscript Illumination presented by Susan L’Engle, Emeritus Professor, Saint Louis University
6:00 p.m.
First auditorium

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