During this journey we will discover the "Bolognese liberty style" by following the traces of the Aemilia Ars company founded in Bologna at the end of the 19th century by the architect Alfonso Rubbiani. Around him a "guild" of artists and craftsmen built an aesthetic theory, a sort of "Arts & Crafts" inspired by the harmonious dialogue between art and applied arts.
Through floral style decorations, artistic craftsmanship and a renewed attention to Gothic lines in architecture, this itinerary leads to the discovery of the jewels of Aemilia Ars all over the plain north of Bologna.
Our journey into the Aemilia Ars begins in Budrio, where Alfonso Rubbiani held numerous political offices. He designed many of the interior decorations of the Palazzo Municipale (Town Hall), in particular the splendid Council Chamber and the entrance stairway, erected by Aemilia Ars’ masters. A curious fact: the characteristic floral motif background of the Council Chamber is made with hemp stems, which have been the pride and wealth of Budrio’s agriculture for a long time.
Another magnificent example of Art Nouveau architecture is Budrio’s elementary school building, restored to its former glory in the late 1990s. The palace is adorned with a suggestive colored frieze with the representation of water lilies, bright flowers and pomegranate fruits, designed by Alfredo Tartarini, exponent of the Aemilia Ars group.
Continuing along the route you will reach Minerbio, where the fairy-tale Castle of San Martino in Soverzano towers above the surrounding scenic moat, which reflects the castle’s towers and crenellated battlements. The manor was reconditioned by Rubbiani with that typical neo-Gothic style that reconnects many of his restoration interventions to medieval architecture. Nowadays, the castle is a private residence, so it can only be seen from the outside. However, once a year, on the first weekend of October, it is possible to "approach" it on the occasion of the traditional October Fair.
Our third leg continues through cultivated fields and characteristic pulping mills, towards Baricella, where we will find San Marco’s oratory, also known as Cappella Zucchini, which is considered among the most important examples of funerary art in the floral style of the Aemilia Ars. The small brick building, featuring a neo-Renaissance style with neo-medieval terracotta decorations, summarises the stylistic harmony between architecture, painting, sculpture and the craftsmanship typical of the movement. Every detail of the chapel -from the decoration of the walls with symbolic white poppies, to the sculptures of the memorial stone, from the inlaid woods to the wrought iron, proving extraordinary manual dexterity- constitute a magnificent example of the interaction between art and craftsmanship.
Our journey through the "Bolognese liberty" is bound to continue towards Bentivoglio, a town that hosts two important relics of the style.
The Castle, a fifteenth-century villa of the ruling Bentivoglio family, was restored at the end of the nineteenth century by Rubbiani, who rebuilt the collapsed wing, restored the crenellated battlements and divided the rooms according to the old plans, also adding numerous nineteenth-century details.
Across from the castle stands the Palazzo Rosso (Red Palace), a splendid late 19th century country residence. Inside the castle, the splendid murals painted by masters from Aemilia Ars portray a flight of ducks over an immense field of yellow irises. The Sala dello Zodiaco (Zodiac Room) is a masterpiece of decoration, where a spectacular fresco with references to Japanese art envelops the visitor. On the walls, the marshy environment of the Bentivoglio valley is recreated in Aemilia Ars style: with fish, eels and turtles swimming through seaweed and high reeds underneath flying flocks of ducks. Crowned by the section of the zodiac signs, the ceiling is brightly decorated with celestial symbols.
Both the Castle and the Red Palace can be visited during periodic guided tours or upon request in special cases. For more info visit this link.
A curious fact: Bentivoglio is also home to the Association called "I Merletti di Antonilla Cantelli"(Antonilla Cantelli’s lacework), which bequeaths the popular art of embroidery and needle lacework from Aemilia Ars.
By proceeding west, we will reach Sala Bolognese, where we will meet our fifth and last landmark: the Pieve di Santa Maria Annunziata e San Biagio (The parish church of Santa Maria Anunziata and San Biagio), an 11th century Romanesque building restored at the beginning of 1900 by a pupil of the Aemilia Ars school.
Among the most distinguished Lombard Romanesque style monuments in the Bologna area, the parish church preserves a suggestive crypt with three altars. It has been restored as it was in ancient times following the traces of the vaults and of the arches painted with symbols of the early Christian period. The church can be visited during opening hours.