Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index

  • Title: Santa Giuliana de' Banzi
  • Creator: Niccolò dell’Arca, sculptor
  • Description:

    This terracotta sculpture portrays Santa Giuliana de’ Banzi, a legendary saint who may have lived between the fourth and fifth centuries. It is attributed to Niccolò dell’Arca and dated between 1470 and 1475. The bust is praised for its striking realism and psychological depth. Santa Giuliana is reanimated through dell’Arca’s careful technique and skill. The saint appears deep in meditative thought, with parted lips and careful eyes conveying poised intelligence and grace. The saint is garbed in a white wimple, white tunic, and a heavy black cape. The clothing showcases dell’Arca’s mastery. The saint’s habit drapes and folds with elegant detail. The inscription GIVLIANA located on the socket provides evidence that the work is modeled after the Bolognese saint. Additionally, identifying the bust as St. Giuliana aligns with the increased popularity of her cult during the 15th century. The aristocratic Banzi family claimed her as their ancestor and promoted her memory in Bologna. Pope Sixtus IV officially recognized the cult of Giuliana in 1476, only a few years after dell’Arca produced the bust.

    Santa Giuliana was a wealthy widow and benefactor who helped fund the construction of many Benedictine monasteries, as well as the beginnings of the complex of churches in Bologna dedicated to Santo Stefano. One of the chapels in the complex was dedicated to St. Giuliana and contains her remains in a late antique sarcophagus. Giuliana was a good friend of both St. Petronius and St. Ambrose, bishops of Bologna and Milan respectively. St. Ambrose spoke about Giuliana with enormous praise and admiration. In addition to her wealth, Giuliana was said to have possessed relics of St. Agricola and St. Vitalis. Relics are physical remains or personal effects of those deemed holy. Giuliana is said to have lived in the women's monastery dedicated to St. Vitalis and Agricola for fifty years, up until her death at the age of 73.

    Widowhood was among the primary topics of theological discussions in the fourth and fifth centuries. Widows were considered more blessed than wives, though less blessed than virgins. A widow’s authority was a product of the sum of her life; after marrying, birthing children, and losing a spouse, widows held valuable insight on faith and the world’s inner workings. Because of their wisdom, the church called on widows to mentor virgin girls. Widows typically guided the girls towards chastity and religious conviction. During a sermon given by St. Ambrose, he took on Giuliana’s voice and exclaimed, “to be a mother of virgins is the closest thing to having kept my virginity”. Through Giuliana, Ambrose aligns religiously-dedicated motherhood with virginity, affording widows and mothers a larger role within the church. In essence, raising chaste children and mentoring young girls offered widows a path through which to redeem themselves from life in the world.

    The artist, Niccolò dell’Arca, is documented in Bologna from 1462 until his death in 1494. Some recent scholarship suggests his origins may lie in Dalmatia in the city of Ragusa (now Dubrovnik) rather than in Apulia in south-eastern Italy. He was an accomplished sculptor both in marble and clay, taking his nickname from the work he did on modernizing and embellishing Nicola Pisano's Arca di San Domenico, the monumental tomb of Saint Dominic in the church of San Domenico. Niccolò's sensitivity and skill in capturing emotions are showcased in his seven life-size terracotta statues, the Lamentation over the Dead Christ [Feminae image record], commissioned by the confraternity of Santa Maria della Vita in Bologna for their hospital church (dated to 1463).

  • Source: Roko Rumora's photostream in flickr
  • Rights: Reproduced with permission from the photographer, Roko Rumora. Not to be reproduced without securing permission first.
  • Subject (See Also): Giuliana de' Banzi, Saint Hagiography Old Age in Art Widows Women in Religion
  • Geographic Area: Italy
  • Century: 15
  • Date: circa 1470- 1475
  • Related Work: Niccolò dell’Arca, Santa Giuliana de' Banzi, side view. (Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art).
    Niccolò dell’Arca, Santa Giuliana de' Banzi, back view. (Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art).
    Niccolò dell’Arca,Saint Dominic, painted terracotta bust. (Source: Gods, Saints, and Heroes: An Art History Resource).
    Niccolò dell’Arca, The Virgin Mary (detail) from the Lamentation, painted terracota statue (Source: Astrid de Brondeau, Les yeux d'Argus).
    Niccolò dell’Arca, Angel holding a candlestick, from the Arca di San Domenico, marble. (Source: Web Gallery of Art).
  • Current Location: New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2017.689
  • Original Location: Bologna
  • Artistic Type (Category): Digital images; Sculptures; Terracotta
  • Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Clay; Paints;
  • Donor:
  • Height/Width/Length(cm): 45/44/24.5
  • Inscription:
  • Related Resources: Galli, Aldo and Giancarlo Gentilini. Niccolò dell’Arca: Santa Giuliana de' Banzi. omb2 Print, 2016;
    Geddes, Helen. " 'Niccolò Bolognese ancora fu discepolo di Iacopo': The Work of Niccolò dell'Arca and Jacopo della Quercia," Sculpture Journal 17, 1 (2008): 5-18;
    Klebanoff, Randi. “Passion, Compassion and the Sorrows of Women: Niccolò dell’Arca’s Lamentation over the Dead Christ for the Bolognese Confraternity of Santa Maria della Vita.” Confraternities and the Visual Arts in Renaissance Italy: Ritual, Spectacle, Image. Edited by Barbara Wisch and Diane Cole Ahl. Cambridge University Press, 2000;
    Pelliccioni, Bernardo. Vita di Santa Giuliana Banci. 1628. Google Books: open access;
    Shuve, Karl. The Song of Songs and the Fashioning of Identity in Early Latin Christianity. Oxford University Press, 2016. 5.3.4 Exhortatio Virginitatis, pages 167-170;
    Storia della Chiesa di Bologna. Edited by Paolo Prodi and Lorenzo Paolini. Bolis, 1997. Two volumes;
    Walter, Katherine Clark. The Profession of Widowhood: Widows, Pastoral Care and Medieval Models of Holiness. Catholic University of America Press, 2018.