Bo Palace is the historical seat of the University of Padua since 1493. It is still the seat of the Rectorate and the School of Law. It is also home to the oldest Anatomical Theater in the world.
The University of Padua was founded by an exodus of teachers and students from the Bologna office in 1222. When the University settled in the current headquarters of the Bo, a long time had passed since its foundation and, by now, all its structures had profoundly changed from the initial ones. It was now made famous by the value of its pupils and its teachers, it could also materially be considered one of the major European universities, and the most frequented by foreign students among the universities of the Italian peninsula. Like many other complexes that have had a long historical life, that of the Bo also presents itself with a somewhat complex genesis and with events that, over the centuries, have contributed to changing its physiognomy. Therefore a historical analysis of the various components of the Palace, starting from the defined sixteenth-century nucleus, then going on to the imposing additions,
Between the current via Cesare Battisti (formerly via delle Beccarie) and via VIII February (formerly via S. Martino), in the area which today corresponds to the oldest and most monumental part of the Bo there were three houses, owned by the noble Papafava family, one of these was called the Ca ‘Bianca (domus alba a turri), in a document of 1493 reference is made to a domus alba. Therefore it is believed that these three buildings constitute the oldest nucleus of the Palace, which therefore can be traced back to 1493. This nucleus of buildings was then passed under the ownership of a butcher when he, having supplied some food during the siege of the city, had received them as a gift in 1405 from Francesco I da Carrara, lord of Padua.
The butcher had opened an inn (Hospitium Bovis) which had a bucranium as its sign, still a symbol of the University of Padua today. The name “Bo”, born derives from the name of the inn which is part of its oldest nucleus, and still today, embletically, the symbol of the university therefore remains the bucranium. Not only was the building complex called “Bo”, but also the nearby district.
The University purchased the hospitium bovis in 1493, however before it became accessible, a few more years had to pass, in fact, only in 1501 will its solemn inauguration take place. However, these early adaptation works (1493-1501) were only the first step in a radical transformation that took place a few decades later. The University was no longer to be the temporary and tumultuous seat of a precarious and subject to constant student population, but an institution no less necessary than the others that governed daily life. In 1522 the Venetian Senate (Padua was under the rule of the Serenissima Republic)) decreed that also the artist university (it should be remembered that in medieval universities these were divided into universitas iuristarum, jurists; and universitas artistarum, among which the main science was medicine), therefore, they began impressive works renovation and expansion of the Palace.
The body around which the Palace develops is the famous Ancient Courtyard, a double-order loggia of columns that extends over two floors: on that occasion it takes on the shape we know today. On the very simple structure of the double loggia the classrooms in which lessons were taught opened (and still partially open), the plan is that of a monastic cloister: implying an ancient connection between universities, places of culture, and convents, places of study and meditation too. This radical architectural intervention is attributed (although there are no sources that explicitly testify to it) to the architect Andrea Moroni, who in those years was very active in the city (in fact he will design and build the “Palazzo Comunale “, still in use today). The Ancient Courtyard is entirely adorned with numerous coats of arms, placed there until the end of the seventeenth century to represent the families of the students and those who occupied academic positions within the Universitas Patavina. In 2013 restoration work is completed in the most picturesque part of the Palace, the famous “Ancient Courtyard”; the work involved the conservation of the factory and the restoration of all the decorative ornaments with the removal of recent irrelevant interventions. The structural consolidation of the masonry lesions, the reinforcement of the damaged vaults and the complete overhaul of the roofs with the remaking of the load-bearing structures in a poor state of maintenance were created. The restoration of all the stone elements, of the historical plaster decorated with walls, of the important collection of heraldic coats of arms, shrines and celebratory busts was carried out. Finally, the intervention saw the cleaning of the courtyard flooring and the trachyte colonnade, which over the centuries had lost the original color.
The statue of Elena Lucrezia Cornaro, graduated in 1678 at the University of Padua, and above all the first woman in the world to obtain a degree (in philosophy). The statue is the work of Bernardo Tabacco, an eighteenth-century Bassanese sculptor, part of a grandiose monument that the father of Cornaro (Venetian nobleman of ancient lineage) had built in the Basilica of Sant’Antonio between 1684 and 1869, transferred to the Palace in 1773, as the plaque on the base of the statue itself says.
Regarding the name of the building, for centuries it has been identified as Studio or Scuole del Bo or simply as Bo. The term Palazzo Bo was recently coined although it has no bearing on the history and history of the building.
Coats of arms
One of the characteristic aspects of the Palace, which immediately strikes the visitor is the incredible number of coats of arms, painted and in relief that decorate not only the atrium and the loggias, but also many rooms and other rooms starting with the Aula Magna (see below). The number of blazons, considered both those painted and those in relief reach the number of about 3,000. Just the degeneration of this custom led the Veneto governmentin 1688 to prohibit the placement of new coats of arms, given that to give space to the new ones (of huge dimensions) it was necessary to destroy the ancients, with the loss of the testimonies that were linked to them. A careful and accurate reordering of all the coats of arms was carried out between 1930 and 1940 by Antonio Brillo.
The coats of arms were initially painted, the universitas artistarum commissioned Francesco Falzapato first and then Dario Varotari (in 1581) to paint the coats of arms of the Rectors and Councilors. In 1590 it was established that the coats of arms had to be built in stone, although the custom of painting them remained.
The mention of the coats of arms is not only relevant from the artistic point of view, but leads to a reflection on a fundamental university component: the students. In fact, in this regard we have news that starting from very distant times all students who wanted to attend the University of Padua, excluding monks (if they were not bishops, abbots or priors) had to enroll in the register of freshmen (administered by the bidellus) and at the same time had to swear to obey the Rectors (students who were sons or brothers of Kings were exempt from the oath). The students were divided by nations, the number of which varied over the ages, each nation electing its own Councilor. The coats of arms, therefore, represent not only the Rectors and the Councilors but also the students from the various nations, and, obviously, also the professores (who in medieval times, like the Rectors, were chosen by the Students).
A famous inn dedicated to the “Bo”, the bove, existed in the center of Padua as early as the fourteenth century, long before the building became the main seat of the University. It was called Hospitium Bovis, perhaps because it was near a cattle trading area. The Palace, whose oldest parts date back to the thirteenth century, was donated in 1405 by Francesco da Carrara to a meat merchant, and then passed into use at the University, which became its definitive owner in 1539.
In the second half of the sixteenth century the Bo was enlarged and transformed; the main body of the Palace, with the Ancient Courtyard with double order of columns, takes the form we know today. The radical intervention is attributed to Andrea Moroni, an architect very active in the city. The courtyard is adorned with numerous coats of arms, placed there until the end of the seventeenth century to represent the families of the students and those who occupied academic positions.
Among the most important rooms of Palazzo Bo we must remember the Anatomical Theater and the Aula Magna, already mentioned in 1399 as part of the Hospitium Bovis and then assigned to jurists (but in Galileo, due to the large influx of students at lessons, it was allowed to use it for teaching). In the mid-nineteenth century it was decided to reserve the classroom for ceremonies: hence the decoration of the ceiling and then the final arrangement by the architect and designer Gio Ponti, who in 1942 delivered a heavily renovated space.
Next to the Aula Magna is the Sala dei Quaranta, with as many modern portraits of famous students of the University who lived in Padua between the thirteenth and nineteenth centuries. In the room is kept the Chair of Galileo, a chair from which, according to tradition, the scientist gave lessons.
Starting from 1932, through the demolition of the last surrounding buildings, the new wing of the Palace was built, which is articulated around the “New Courtyard” also called “Cortile Littorio”. These imposing works of extension and renovation of the Palace were carried out under the Rectorate of Carlo Anti and carried out by Gio Ponti and numerous twentieth – century artists who contributed with sculptures and frescoes to decorate the new wing where the academic apartments and the Rectorate are located. The then rector Carlo Anti, also thanks to the substantial government funding, gave a boost to the University, placing five scientific institutes (two institutes of the Faculty of Medicine and three of Engineering) in as many separate locations and building the Student House in Via Marzolo, which was inaugurated in 1934. These interventions have given the complex its current face, they constitute a demonstration, despite some painful demolitions, of functional recovery of a historical complex. A central problem for Carlo Anti, a man with a great historical-artistic sensitivity, was that this age-old architecture was preserved with the dignity and respect it had, but that at the same time it was not a museum, but something much more alive., albeit with its load of finds and history. He was a professor of archeology, and perhaps for this very reason he was aware of the mortification that a museum can easily generate. By arranging the Bo he showed his respect for history, while trying to illuminate it and make it functional to university life.
Carlo Anti, rector between 1932 and 1943, called to redesign the University some important personalities of art and culture. The architect Ettore Fagiuoli completes the last intervention of rearrangement of the Palace, creating among other things the New Courtyard. Gio Ponti is the architect of furnishings, frescoes and ornaments that offer the Bo, at the end of the Second World War, an innovative image.
Contemporary art in Palazzo Bo is present with paintings and sculptures by some of the major Italian artists of the twentieth century. The statue of Palinuro (1947) is dedicated to Arturo Martini, dedicated to a partisan commander and tribute to the Resistance. The rooms of the Bo have frescoes and mosaics by painters such as Filippo De Pisis, Achille Funi, Ferruccio Ferrazzi, Gino Severini. In 1995, on a wall of the New Courtyard, Jannis Kounellis created the sculpture Resistance and Liberation, which recalls the struggle against fascism and the liberation of Italy.
The artistic heritage of the Bo is open to the public, who can get to know it through guided tours (attention: it is not possible to visit Palazzo Bo independently).
Rectorate Gallery and New Courtyard
The visit to the academic apartment begins from the Rectorate Gallery. The fresco decoration (as in the image) with the representations of the cities at the time under Venetian rule, or culturally linked to the University of Padua, was carried out by Piero Fornasetti (in the period between 1942-1943) under the supervision of Gio Ponti. In 1956 Fulvio Pendini completed the decoration of the environment by adding, on the central pillars, the images of the students of Padua who became saints or blessed or who rose to the highest points of ecclesiastical career. In fact, it is enough to remember that among the students, besides numerous cardinals and bishops, three were also popes: Benedict XI, Eugene IV andSixtus IV (who not surprisingly granted with a bull to use the corpses for anatomy lessons, which led to the building, always inside Palazzo Bo, of the Anatomical Theater).
The Gallery serves as a link between the new and ancient part of the Bo. The Gallery is accessed through a monumental staircase located in the atrium of the main entrance of the Palace. Access is possible from via VIII Febbraio, through a monumental bronze door, made in 1922 with the bronze of the cannons captured during the First World War and with the name of the students who fell in that conflict, in fact, you are just entering an atrium called the “atrium of the heroes”, from here you enter the staircase that leads to the Rectorate. At the foot of the staircase we find a statue of Arturo Martini depicting Palinuro, in memory of Primo Visentin, head of the partisan brigade Martiri del Grappa, to remember his heroic death. The staircase was decorated and frescoed by Gio Ponti and Fulvio Pendini, the staircase is called “La Scala del Sapere”. This is because there are represented the birth of humanity and knowledge and the development of the sciences through which the student climbs under the guidance of the teacher until, having become old, he murmurs the sixteenth-century motto “I still learn”. The shapes have the characteristic “twentieth century” shape of Gio Ponti.
The New Courtyard, the work of the Veronese architect Ettore Fagiuoli, is built in Osera stone and plays a functional role, solving the problem of connection between the various structures that determined the Bo complex in more recent times. The hanging structure that delimits the New Courtyard (perfectly visible in the photograph above) and which encloses the “Hall of the Academic College”, frames a large travertine high relief by Attilio Selva, made in 1939, which enhances the voluntaristic spirit of Paduan goliardia (reference to the riots of 1848) and which reflects the apologetic characteristics of fascist nationalism. Given these architectural features, it is easy to understand why the courtyard is also called “Cortile Littorio”. The courtyard overlooks the Students ‘Hall and the Students’ Hall, a meeting place for students, both rooms are entirely frescoed. In the part at the bottom of the courtyard, the high relief of the Minerva-Vittoria, by Paolo Boldrin (1942), towers and, on the southern side, the first monumental door of the University that overlooked the current Via Cesare Battisti was recomposed.
Aula Magna and surrounding environments
Here initially the Scuola Grande dei Legisti had its headquarters, which was later downgraded to a drawing room. The current Aula Magna was born from the transformation of the latter carried out in 1854-1856 and it is also the result of the intervention carried out in 1942 by Gio Ponti, which mainly concerned the south wall, the one where the University’s motto is read “UNIVERSA UNIVERSIS PATAVINA LIBERTAS”, the seats for the academic body on the sides and the rearrangement of the numerous coats of arms that dot the Classroom. During the nineteenth century restorations the ceiling was raised by about five meters, frescoed for the occasion by Carlini in 1854 which greatly altered the measurements of the Hall, emphasizing in it certain scenographic aspects, despite the various alterations to this day, the Aula Magna presents an aspect capable of expressing the ancient meaning and the original grandeur. The sixteenth-century simplicity of its structures, its amplitude, the austerity endorsed by the height of the ceiling convey a strong feeling of solemnity, appropriate to the functions of the place.
Before entering the Aula Magna you pass through an anteroom called “The Sala dei Quaranta”. The room takes its name from the images of forty famous students of the University, painted on the walls. These are forty emblematic re-enactments, not real portraits, painted in tempera by Giacomo da Forno in 1942. Their value is therefore only symbolic, and not iconographic, the memory of these illustrious men is an integral part of the history of the University, and not surprisingly, they placed in the same room that houses the Chair of Galileo. Among these forty students include for example: William Harvey, Nicolò da Cusa (Cusanus), Georg Wirsüng, Michel de l’Hôspital,Niccolò Copernico and numerous others. The room is dominated by the presence of the Chair of Galileo, dominated by a portrait of him, in fact the scientist will be a professor of the University from 1592 to 1610. Recently the chair, composed of wooden planks, has been meticulously restored and the analysis of the wood has confirmed its antiquity and originality.
From the southern part of the Aula Magna there is another room, a large room called “The Basilica”, which takes its name from its spatial division punctuated by the columns. Previously in this room was the eighteenth-century physics laboratory. Previously there should have been the University Library, according to the design of Girolamo Frigimelica, of which two portals remain which today serve as a link between the School of Law and the Basilica. The hall was entirely frescoed between 1940-1942, the deeds of university youth from 1848 onwards are depicted. The numerous columns are painted in Pompeian red, which is the color of the University of Padua, and underlines the connection of the room, called the Basilica, with a Roman type basilica. The furnishings of the hall are the work of the architect Gio Ponti, like the rest of the academic rooms of the Palazzo. From the Basilica you then have access to the Rectorate Gallery and the Hall of the Academic Senate.
Inside the Bo, during the various adaptation works, there was concern that all the Faculties retain at least one of their representative rooms inside the Palace, where some solemn celebrations could be held, such as graduation ceremonies, which to date, only for some schools (ex faculty), they take place in these rooms. The Faculties represented are: Law, Medicine, Letters and Sciences.
Worthy of particular attention is the Hall of the Faculty of Medicine, this room is accessed from the upper loggia of the Ancient Courtyard. The room has a medieval ceiling, on the walls there are numerous paintings by illustrious doctors and anatomists starting from the very famous anatomist Gian Battista Morgagni, former professor at the University of Padua. The fresco covering the entire southern wall of the room by Achille Funi, which represents studies of human anatomy, dates back to the arrangement that took place in the forties of the last century.. Also inside the room there is a display case which houses the skulls of seven professors who left their bodies available for scientific research. The room is also furnished with two imposing horseshoe-shaped wooden tables. From a small door located inside the room, surmounted by the inscription ” MORS UBI GAUDET SUCCURRERE VITAE ” and by some paintings, including that of Gerolamo Fabrici d’Acquapendente, you enter the Anatomical Theater.
The ancient courtyard and the coats of arms
Started in 1546, it is the work of Andrea Moroni, the greatest architect who worked in Padua around the middle of the 16th century. It is one of the most beautiful buildings of the Renaissance, surrounded by a double loggia with two orders, with Doric columns in the lower order and Ionic columns in the upper one. The walls and vaults of the portico are entirely decorated with the coats of arms of the rectors and councilors of the two universitates, artist and jurist, dating back to the years from 1592 to 1688, the year in which the Republic of Venice was forced to prohibit placing “other memories al Bo ”, both to curb exhibitionism and because the need to make room for new series did not aggravate the destruction of the oldest. The Aula Magna is also adorned with original coats of arms.
From the 16th to the 18th century it housed the “Great School of Legists” and lessons were held there: Galileo Galilei also taught it, to which the classroom is now dedicated. In the first half of the 19th century it served as a drawing room. To be destined for the Aula Magna it was restored (1854-56) and decorated with frescoes on the ceiling, with the allegory “Wisdom and other disciplines” at the center, by the painter Giulio Carlini. The back wall, where the members of the Academic Senate sit during the most important ceremonies (inauguration of the academic year, conferment of honorary degrees, etc.;) is the work of Gio Ponti (1942). It reads the ancient motto of the University: “Universa Universis Patavina Libertas”.
Sala Dei Quaranta
The room takes its name from the 40 portraits placed on the walls: they are illustrious foreigners, students in Padua but from all European countries. Performed in tempera by Giangiacomo dal Forno (1942), although without pretensions of iconographic fidelity.
They portray among others: Antonio Augustin, Spanish ambassador of popes and of Philip II; Michel de L’Hospital, French collaborator of Caterina de ’Medici and Chancellor of France; Thomas Linacre, English physician of Henry VIII and teacher in Oxford; William Harvey, English famous for his studies on blood circulation and founder of the English medical school; Olof Rudbek the Elder, Swedish professor of botany, anatomy and medicine at the University of Uppsala, promoter of a botanical garden on the Paduan model; Thomas Bartholin, Danish among the founders of the Danish medical school; Nicola da Cusa, illustrious German philosopher of the 15th century and cardinal; Werner Rolfinck, German promoter of anatomy and chemistry studies in Germany; Peter Vasiljevic Postnikov, Russian sent to Padua by Peter I the Great to study medicine; Stefan Báthory, Hungarian who became Poland in 1576; Giovanni Capodistria, Greek, appointed dictator of the Greek government in 1828; Emanuele Sciascian, Armenian, doctor of the imperial court of Constantinople and promoter of the first institute of medicine in Turkey.
The Cathedral Of Galileo
The Sala dei Quaranta houses the chair which, according to tradition, was set up by the students so that Galileo could teach in the “great room of the legists” (present Aula Magna), as the other classrooms were not enough to contain the crowd that came to his lessons. In the Aula Magna the chair was kept until the mid-1800s. Galileo taught in the Padua Studio for eighteen years (1592-1610) which he remembered as the most beautiful of his life: much admired by students and protected by the Venetian government, he began the modern scientific method in Padua.
It was built in 1594 by the famous professor of anatomy Gerolamo Fabrici d’Acquapendente according to the suggestions – it is said – of Fra Paolo Sarpi. The first stable theater in the world – previously, to assist with the autopsies, demountable structures were built – it is the oldest that is still preserved. It is a wooden structure in the shape of an inverted cone, with an elliptical plan, with six concentric orders of steps that rise around the anatomical table. The balustrades are in carved walnut. Originally the windows were blind (they were only opened in 1844) and the anatomy lesson was held in the light of the torches. Used for teaching until 1872, the Theater underwent changes in the years 1842-44 and was restored in 1991-92. A small permanent exhibition is set up in the room adjacent to the theater – once the “kitchen” of the theater, that is, the place where the bodies to be sectioned were prepared -.
One of the most beautiful and among the oldest academic rooms in the building is the classroom which today hosts the discussions of the thesis of medical students and other faculties. It is the ancient classroom where theoretical anatomy lessons were held, but its origins are more remote, in fact the perfectly preserved wooden coffered ceiling, and the typically medieval frieze that decorates the walls, remind that the room was an integral part of one of the three noble houses of the Da Carrara family, which constituted the fourteenth-century nucleus on which the Locanda del Bo was built.
The First Woman Graduated In The World
At the base of one of the two large stairways that lead to the upper porch of the Ancient Courtyard is the statue of Elena Lucrezia Cornaro Piscopia, the first woman graduated in the world, who in 1678 obtained a degree in philosophy from the University of Padua.
University of Padua
The University of Padua is an Italian university located in the city of Padua, Italy. The University of Padua was founded in 1222 as a school of law. Padua is the second-oldest university in Italy and the world’s fifth-oldest surviving university. In 2010 the university had approximately 65,000 students, in 2016 was ranked “best university” among Italian institutions of higher education with more than 40,000 students, and in 2018 best Italian university according to ARWU ranking.
The university is conventionally said to have been founded in 1222 (which corresponds to the first time when the University is cited in a historical document as pre-existing, therefore it is quite certainly older) when a large group of students and professors left the University of Bologna in search of more academic freedom (‘Libertas scholastica’). The first subjects to be taught were law and theology. The curriculum expanded rapidly, and by 1399 the institution had divided in two: a Universitas Iuristarum for civil law and Canon law, and a Universitas Artistarum which taught astronomy, dialectic, philosophy, grammar, medicine, and rhetoric. There was also a Universitas Theologorum, established in 1373 by Urban V.
The university is constantly ranked among the best Italian universities. In 2016 was ranked “best university” among Italian institutions of higher education with more than 40,000 students, and in 2018 best Italian university according to ARWU ranking.
The University of Padua is also recognized in international rankings. In the 2019 CWUR ranking it is ranked 160th worldwide (2nd in Italy only after the University of Rome – La Sapienza). In the 2019 US News World Ranking the University of Padua is ranked 122th (tied with the University of Bologna as the best Italian) and 48th in Europe.