This dissertation is the first comprehensive study in nearly sixty years of Vitale degli Equi (c. 1309‑59), alias Vitale da Bologna, one of the most innovative and geographically wide‑ranging painters at work in northern Italy in the middle decades of the fourteenth century. Vitale’s work has long been admired for its distinctive drama and flair, irrepressible vigour and movement, and sheer bravura of expressive force. Yet the artist himself remains stubbornly on the periphery of the Trecento ‘canon’. He is excluded from survey studies, greatly under‑represented in monographs, and only sporadically drawn into more general discussions on matters of iconography, style or aesthetics in fourteenth‑century art. The de-centring movement in Trecento art history may have gained considerable traction in recent decades, but it is seemingly yet to touch convincingly on Bologna.
This thesis aims to recontextualise Vitale’s achievement, looking closely at the artist’s solutions to the common spatial, narrative and formal problems of Trecento painting. I analyse the bold spatial ambiguities and brisk elisions of setting that are so prominent a feature of his compositions, and explore the embedded metapictorial ideas they seem to gesture towards. I highlight Vitale’s approach to the human body as kinetic subject, and consider the relationship of its formal logic to phenomenologies of viewing. Finally, I examine the interchange between northern and central Italian models in Vitale’s work, and the artist’s role in the development of an authentic Bolognese style. By tracing these themes through the full breadth of Vitale’s oeuvre, I aim to establish not only the painter’s credentials as one of the most original and ambitious voices of his generation, but indeed Vitale’s capabilities as a sophisticated pictorial strategist by the standards of any era.