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  • Charles B. McClendon

Updated in this version

updated bibliography, 20 January 2016

Italian former Benedictine abbey near the mouth of the Po River and 45 km north of Ravenna in the province of Emilia Romagna. Although first documented in ad 874, a monastic settlement probably existed there at least two centuries earlier. Pomposa rose to prominence in the 10th and 11th centuries through the support of the Holy Roman emperors. Over the course of the 14th century, a notable series of wall paintings in three different buildings were sponsored despite the monastery’s waning fortunes. In 1663 the monastic community was suppressed by papal decree. The site was secularized in 1802 and became property of the Italian state after 1870.

The proportions of the wooden-roofed basilican church, along with the polygonal outline of its main apse, reflect influence from nearby Ravenna and Classe and suggest a date in the 8th or 9th century. An elaborate pavement of mosaic and cut stone (opus sectile) in the nave, inscribed with the date 1026, exhibits similarities to examples in Venice and Aquileia. A narthex and freestanding bell-tower were also added, the latter bearing an inscription dated 1063, and their exteriors richly decorated with stone relief sculpture, brick inlay, and colourful ceramic bowls. The two-storeyed abbot’s palace, much restored, was built around the same time, its façade distinguished by superimposed rows of open arcades. Other conventual buildings were rebuilt in the early 14th century and decorated with frescoes. In the chapter house, a Crucifixion and standing saints within illusionistic arches display the influence of Giotto, while in the refectory scenes of the Last Supper, Christ Enthroned with Saints, and an episode from the life of Pomposa’s Abbot Guido (d 1046) have been assigned to a Rimini master and variously dated between 1318 and 1337. In 1351, according to another inscription, Vitale da Bologna painted a Christ in Majesty and scenes from the Life of St Eustace in the main apse of the church. Soon after, other regional artists covered the interior west wall with the Last Judgement and the areas above the nave arcades with scenes from the Old and New Testaments, as well as the Book of Revelation.


  • M. Salmi: L’Abbazia di Pomposa (Milan, 1966)
  • H. Stern: ‘Le pavement de la basilique de Pomposa (Italie)’, Cah. Archéol., vol.18 (1968), pp. 157–69
  • L. Caselli: L’Abbazia di Pomposa: Guida storica e artistica (Treviso, 1996)
  • S. Hauer: Erneuerung im Bild: Die Benediktinerabtei Pomposa und ihre Wandmalereien des 14. Jahrhunderts (Wiesbaden, 1998)
  • A. Samaritani and C. Di Francisco, eds: Pomposa: Storia, arte, architettura (Ferrara, 1999)
  • M. Simoni: Pomposa tra immagine e simbolo: lettura e suggestioni a margine del ciclo trecentesco (Ferrara, 2011)