Vitale da Bologna, painter

Historians date his birth near to the year 1309. Vitale’s activity at Udine, documented in 1348 and 1349, the last years of Betrand of Saint-Geniès’ patriarchy (1334-1350) in the patriarchate of Aquileia, signs a crucial moment for the echoes it had in the heart of Europe and for the development of the painting school in Friuli at the beginning of the fifteenth century. His previous activity was displayed at Bologna since 1330 (frescoes painted in the cappella Odofredi in St. Francis’ at Bologna). The achieved success and the large number of commitments probably prompted Vitale to set a workshop; the master’s stay at Udine is to be dated to that precise moment (1348-1349), which was then followed by his activity in St. Mary’s basilica of Pomposa in 1351 and, subsequently, by the realization of the polyptych for St. Thomas Beckett’s altar in St. Salvatore’s at Bologna (1353). The last important cycle of frescoes, some fragments of which are left, was also painted at Bologna in the church of St. Maria dei Servi. The painter, who was still alive on 4 June 1359, is given dead in a document of the 31 July 1361. The oldest surviving document about Vitale’s stay at Udine attests his presence, as a witness, in St. Francis’ church in June 1348.
The existence of a small-sized fragment, part of a lost Complaint on laid Christ, on the southern wall of the aula in that church of Udine, which shows Vitalesque stylistic features and was previously referred to a collaborator of the master, has induced to hypothesise the painter’s direct involvement in that same church. What is documentarily known is that Vitale worked in the cathedral of Udine, on the decoration of the major chapel, of the adjacent St. Nicholas’ chapel, which was administered by the Smiths’ brotherhood, and perhaps in St. Anthony’s chapel, too. The artist was awarded the prestigious commitment for the apse decoration of the main church of the city by the patriarch Bertrand himself, who consecrated it in 1336.
The rediscovery of the frescoes painted by Vitale and his organised workshop slowly occurred step by step throughout the twentieth century.

For further information see the entry Vitale da Bologna, pittore written by Paolo Casadio, in Nuovo Liruti, Dizionario biografico dei Friulani, 1, Il Medioevo, edited by C. Scalon, Udine, Forum, 2006, 901-909.

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