The portrait collection of the University Library of Bologna has its origins in the legacy made by Cardinal Filippo M. Monti in 1754, when he was asked by Pope Benedict XIV to leave his library and his paintings to the Library of the Institute of Sciences. His collection comprised 403 portraits of men of letters, scientists, poets and clerics etc, most executed by unknown painters.
To this rich collection came to be added, in the ensuing years, many other portraits, given by families and individuals, partly in the spirit of emulation and also for the prestige attached to benefactors of the Institute. A sumptuous collection thus materialized, with the paintings hung in various parts of Palazzo Poggi, from which many came into the possession of various public institutions: indeed many of the most prestigious canvases can now be seen in the Bologna Art Gallery (Pinacoteca) or that in Brera.
In 1975, when the Minisero dei Beni culturali, to whose jurisdiction the Library was to become subject, was founded, the portrait collection was divided amongst the chambers of the Library and those of the Rectorate. Today 398 pictures remain in the Library, all painted between 1500 and 1800, and although many are fine works the majority are the work of anonymous artists. Despite the questionable quality of many of the portraits, the collection has matured into a body of great historical and iconographic importance due to its size and the variety it contains.
Among the paintings of note are:
- the portrait of Francesco Pannolini, founder of a University College in the sixteenth century, and attributed to Ludovico Carracci,
- the portrait of Ulisse Aldrovandi
, attributed to Agostino Carracci;
- the portrait of Marco Antonio Sbaraglia, painted on a copper base and signed by Donato Creti ;
- the portrait of mons. Francesco Zambeccari
, the work of one of the Gandolfi’s, possibly Ubaldo;
- the portrait of Card. Giovanni Gozzadini, by Pier Leone Ghezzi;
- the self-portrait of Lucia Casalini Torelli
, Bolognese artist of the eighteenth century.
The full inventory of the Picture Gallery, which still includes the complete collection of portraits, boasts approximately 700 items.