The Certosa lion 'roars again'

The restoration of the “Monument to the Martyrs of Independence” has just been completed: it features a grand lion, sculpted by the Bolognese Carlo Monari (1831-1918) and it is spectacularly located at the end of the Sala delle Tombe (the Graves Room) at the Certosa cemetery.

The demanding restoration, managed by the Museo civico del Risorgimento, with the financial aid of the Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio in Bologna, allowed Bologna to regain its one and only ‘collective’ Risorgimento monument, as the other groups -located in the town streets and squares - are dedicated to individual events or heroes of that national heroic period.

The Monument is a plaster cast and it portrays a roaring and wounded lion defending the national flag. It was specifically made with the aim of «perpetuating the memory of the innumerable Bologna citizens who died during the fights and the political battles for their country, that since the beginning of the century [19th, editor’s note] till today, have tormented our resurrected nation».

The actual cast was preceded by a preliminary work, made of clay, which had been put on display since 5th April 1868, placed at the entrance hall of the Archiginnasio ground floor.

Thanks to this work, its young author was acknowledged as to have «marvellously found the most vivid plastic expression of the noble concept of the public honours bestowed upon those who had gloriously given their lives for their Italian homeland».

The Prince Umberto himself, who on 29th April visited the town and its ancient library, had the chance to see the sculpture and to meet its sculptor in person, to whom «he addressed very kind words of encouragement and praise».

Therefore, a Commission was established, right away, which promoted a public fund raising to allow the author to create, starting from the first preliminary work, a proper monument, thus granting «that majestic figure the warm and stark shades of the fawn-coloured bronze, that stand out on the base of dull grey granite».

In fact, despite the fund raising and some form of verbal commitment on the part of the Municipality, the result was, a long time later, a final plaster cast model that in 1883 was located at the Certosa cemetery; it is the monument that we still admire today.

Such location, at the cemetery and not in the city of the living, was the core of a heated debate, and the decision had been taken for an odd reason: the lion, the symbol of Bologna, could not properly represent the town by showing itself painfully wounded by the enemy weapons, now that these had been finally defeated and banished.

Then, when the decision was taken to build a large monument at the Montagnola on the occasion of 50th anniversary of the famous battle of 8th August (1848) - which was the most important and glorious episode of the Risorgimento in Bologna - Monari’s work was chosen, initially, to be the model.

The Art Commission that had been entrusted with the analysis of the project though, considered that «the Lion, the way it is portrayed, with a wound on its side and the flag lowered down, means a defeat; while on August 8th 1848, the people obtained a splendid victory».

In 1898 Monari presented a new model, but this project too «was not appreciated in general terms», and also the City Council rejected it.

When, in 1901, the competition was finally advertised, to submit a new model, the one «fit to be accepted» turned out to be young Pasquale Rizzoli’s: the model then became the grand “Monumento al Popolano”, today still located on the Montagnola flight of stairs. In the end, it was decided that Monari’s work would commemorate the martyrs of the local Risorgimento.

The restoration of the “Monument to the Martyrs of Independence”, executed by the firm ETRA, also included the semi dome of the exedra hosting the lion and it featured the strengthening of the structure and the ornamental decoration; the cleaning of the monument from thick layers of dirt, thus allowing for the recovery of traces of the original tones, now visible again; and finally, fragments that had come detached were placed back and lost ones reconstructed.

The intervention is the actual conclusion of the restorations of the Bologna monuments devoted to the national unity, on the occasion of 150th anniversary of the Unification of Italy.

For further information on Carlo Monari click here.

The complete information sheet on the restoration of the monument click here.