Where today the Dominican church, the music academy and the town art gallery form an architectural unity, the Dominican square was Bolzano's centre for commerce and the arts between the 14th and 16th centuries, then gradually diminished in imortance.
The Dominican monastery is the only remaining monastic establishment in Bolzano of originally three belonging to this order of preaching friars, also known as Black Friars.
Built together with the church in the early fourteenth century, it remained an important spiritual and cultural centre for the town until it was dissolved by the emperor Joseph II in 1785.
Three chapels with their precious frescoes have been lost completely. The complex was badly damaged as a result of tampering and demolitions during the 19th century and air raids during the Second World War.
The cloister still preserves remains of decorative art from three periods: works from the 14th century are fragmentary, having been damaged during work to build the lategothic style arched ceiling to replace the earlier flat ceiling.
As a result the paintings have been split to accomodate the new ceiling and many bays are no longer decorated, while works from the early 16th century have been badly spoiled due to the techniques employed, "secco" painting on a dry surface, resulting in fading colours.
The frescoes by Friedrich Pacher from 1496, on the other hand, are immediately striking and well preserved. Among the various frescoed lunettes painted by Pacher to excite the curiosity of visitors the one portraying the so-called "Hortus conclusus" is especially striking. It shows a garden enclosed by a wall featuring a complex depiction of Marian symbols and symbolic animals such as the unicorn, the phoenix, the pelican. This type of complex iconography was common in German-speaking countries during the second half of the fifteenth century.
The Annunciation is the subject of the painting, with the unicorn's head nestling in Mary's lap. In medieval times the unicorn was regarded as extremely fierce and could only be tamed by a virgin. Portraying it subdued by the Virgin Mary in the moment when the Archangel Gabriel is announcing the miraculous birth of a son, it underscores the divine mystery of the Immaculate Conception.
Maestro di san Corbiniano (workshop of Friedrich Pacher)
Crucifixion, Sacrificio di Isacco, San Giovanni, Innalzamento del serpente di bronzo, Isaia (around 1496)
Friedrich Pacher and workshop
Caccia mistica all'unicorno, Re Salomone, Simbolo dell'evangelista Luca (around 1496)
Friedrich Pacher and workshop
Visitazione e nascita del Battista, Church Father (?), Prophet (?) (around 1496)
Maestro delle storie di San Vigilio al Virgolo
Madonna in trono col bambino tra i santi Giacomo e Antonio abate, due donatori, Annunciazione (around 1390 - 1395)
Nevertheless the church still preserves important vestiges of 14th century painting, above all the frescoes in St. John's chapel dating from 1329 and painted in the Giotto style; and of the baroque period with the large altarpiece portraying the "Vision of Soriano" by Guercino, a miraculous event which occured in the Dominican monastery at Soriano Calabro (Calabria ) in 1530.