The former monastery belonged to Benedictine monks who officiated at the adjoining San Pietro church. The construction of the cloisters began in the early sixteenth century after the decision to transfer an earlier convent located outside the walls to within the city confines.
The monastic complex, which included courtyards and vegetable gardens, was developed around two cloisters: a small one in a late fifteenth-century design and a larger one in Mannerist style.
The smaller cloister was built between 1524 and 1525 by Bartolomeo Spani, a major figure in the arts in early sixteenth-century Reggio Emilia. Spani adopted a typically Renaissance modular layout modelled on Brunelleschi’s work. A recent restoration has partially exposed the frescoed walls that were painted over with a layer of lime whitewash in the 1950s.
The large cloister is completely different in style. It was built about sixty years later by Prospero and Francesco Pacchioni, who chose a Mannerist approach, including ashlar work on the walls and gabled windows on the upper floor, whose niches are adorned with statues of Benedictine saints made in the 1660s by brothers Bernardo and Francesco da Lugano. The design of the cloisters was clearly influenced by the model of Palazzo Te in Mantua, conceived by Giulio Romano.
In 1783 the monastery was suppressed and used as a military warehouse. Later it became the seat of the Court of Justice.
With the restoration of the monarchy, the property became the Educandato delle Fanciulle, a school for girls. The transformation of the building was entrusted to Domenico Marchelli, who unified the façade on Via Emilia in neoclassical style, inserting it into the much larger project of demolishing the porticoes on Via Emilia. The original entrance to the monastic complex via the churchyard was moved to the main thoroughfare, definitively separating the church from the monastery. Immediately after the Unification of Italy, the building was transformed into a military barracks, the arches of the small cloister were filled in, and a series of tenements were built in the area once used as vegetable gardens.
The recent restoration has attempted to recoup the original form. Today the cloisters host exhibitions and cultural events and are home to the Urban Open Workshop, a place for participation and investigation, and social and digital innovation.
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