It’s your first trip to Milan! What to see and do in Milan in 48 (fun and food packed) hours…
Why Milan, now? It’s not Rome. It’s not Florence. It’s not Venice. Then again, no other cities in the world are Rome, Florence and Venice, so why expect Milan to be like them in order to be interesting? It’s like saying you don’t like bananas because they aren’t apples. Take Milan for what it is, and enjoy discovering the antiquity and modernity, the beauty and the eyesores, the sophistication and the parochialism, the commerce and culture, the history and the histrionics, the strikes and the efficient dedication, the chilly European rain and the hot brilliant blue Mediterranean skies that live side by side. Plus…there’s Leonardo da Vinci’s “Last Supper,” Caravaggio’s “Fruit Basket,” Raphael’s life-sized drawing for “The School of Athens,” and so much more. I love the city, and hope to share this love with you.
Why Milan, then? When shivering with the humid cold, or panting for the humid heat, I used to ask myself that selfsame question. Why, oh why, did the early 4th century B.C. Celts who founded the city stop HERE?! Looking at maps gives us our first clue. Milan is in the middle of a large fertile plain near the convergence of a few rivers—antique highways—and between northern Europe and the Italian peninsula. The position was perfect.
Two more heads-up before bounding into your two fun-packed days. For more depth, pay attention to street names; they often indicate the long-gone ancient functions that once existed in that area (ex., via Spadari, “Spear-maker Street”). Furthermore, to not miss any special events or temporary exhibits, be sure to check at the government tourist office (once called APT, now IAT in Lombardy, at least) located in Piazza Cairoli on the left hand corner (facing the castle with the Garibaldi monument at your back). Finally, watch out because most museums are closed on Mondays, and I’m presuming that you are an art and museum person, like I am.
So, without further ado, here are your fun-filled 48 hours in Milan. Enjoy! Hey, before we get started, is this your first trip to Italy? Anywhere you plan to go in this country, you should find out first about stairs, escalators and elevators. Many places don’t have the last two, but have lots of the first. It might be a big problem for the elderly, or certainly for the handicapped (beware, there are few “scivoli” – ramps – at the curbs, too). Even in subways, restaurants, hotels, apartment buildings and condos it’s common (stupid, but common) to have at least a few stairs up or down to a kind of mezzanine where, if there is one, one can take the elevator.
Start at 9 A.M. sharp in centrally located Corso Magenta at the Archaeological Museum, snuggled into bits of the ancient Roman circus and an old monastery, San Maurizio Maggiore. The model of ancient Roman Milan, ancient Milanese Celtic, Roman and Lombard artifacts and the remnants of the Roman Republican walls in the basement and the well-preserved imperial Roman walls and tower in the back court of the museum will help you appreciate that Milan isn’t as new a city as it may seem on the surface (the 19th century—the period from which so much of Milan’s downtown dates—seems like yesterday to the Italians). In fact, Milan was the de facto capital of the ancient Roman empire from the second half of the 3rdcentury A.D. until the threats of barbarian invasions sent cold breezes of fear up the emperor Honorius’ toga…in 402 A.D. he moved the capital to Ravenna on the Adriatic coast, where fast ships could skeedadle him out of barbarian reach. (I know this is all about Milan, but if you haven’t been to Ravenna, I’d put that high on the list for the next trip.) The square tower, originally part of the carceres(jail) of the ancient Roman circus was turned into a bell tower in the subsequent Carolingian period by Ansperto (he also added the atrium onto Sant’Ambrogio, put that on the list for your second trip to Milan). If the polygonal imperial tower is open, don’t miss going inside to see the 14th century frescoes added by the wealthy and powerful Christian nuns.
What are my favorite pieces in the museum? The mosaics, the little frescoed altar with an image of the goddess of Fortune (may she bring you good luck, but don’t touch!), and the exquisite silver ceremonial plate dedicated to Cybele during the last gasps of paganism in the first dawn of officially recognized Christianity. Oh, and the reputed portrait of the emperor Massimiano who brought the capital to Milan, and the gorgeous torso of Hercules.
Spend about two hours in the museum.
Next on the list is the little known, but incredible gem, the adjacent monastery’s church dedicated to San Maurizio. Since the church shares a wall with the ex-monastery where the museum is, if the door is open, you can go straight into the cloistered part of the church directly from the museum by passing through the door near to the museum’s glass doors facing Corso Magenta. If not, head out to Corso Magenta, turn right, and immediately into the public part of the church.
Benedictine nuns from the most important and wealthy families in important and wealthy Milan moved into the abandoned circus structures, perhaps as far back as the end of the Lombard period (end of the 8th century A.D.). The current church and its frescoes date from the early 16th century (in the late 19th century the façade was finished, and the monastery property was split by the introduction of via Luini that runs along the side of the church). The interior of the church was carpeted with frescoes by the famous Lombard artists Luini and assistants, Foppa, Zenale, Bergognone, Boltraffio, Piazza and—on the inside of the façade—Caravaggio’s maestro, Simone Peterzano. From 1522 to 1524, on the public wall separating the cloistered part of the church from the area open to the public, Bernardino Luini painted the gorgeous donor fresco portraits of Alessandro Bentivoglio (son of Giovanni the de facto lord of Bologna and his Sforza bride, Ginevra, daughter of Alessandro, Francesco Sforza’s younger brother) and his cousin and wife Ippolita Sforza (daughter of an illegitimate child of Galeazzo Maria Sforza, Francesco Sforza’s son and the brother of the then reigning duke, Ludovico). In 1521, Alessandro and Ippolita made a large donation to the monastery where their daughter Alessandra had entered, taking the name “Bianca” (probably not coincidentally, Bianca became abbess of the powerful monastery the following year). The oil painting of the Epiphany by Antonio Campi in the center of the wall covers the area that used to be open between the cloistered and public parts of the church. That old spoil sport, San Carlo Borromeo, ordered it closed in the second half of the 16th century, and the painting was put over the plug. The cloistered area, with some delightful and gorgeous frescoes, can be reached through the door on the left hand side of this separating wall.
My favorite frescoes in the church have to be those in the right hand aisle Besozzi chapel depicting St. Catherine of Alexandria, whose attribute is the spiked wheel on which she was tortured. The fresco is LOVELY, but the story is INTRIGUING. Legend has it that the beautiful blonde figure of the saint was modeled on that of Bianca Maria, Countess of Challant, who convinced her lover to kill her abusive husband. Her tenacity in refusing to repent of having had the brute killed, coupled with her youth and beauty, excited great compassion for her, despite which she was decapitated—the capital punishment meted out to nobles—in the piazza in front of the nearby Sforza castle in 1526, just a few years before these frescoes were painted.
Spend about an hour in the church.
Getting hungry? Me, too. Go out of the church by the main door onto Corso Magenta, turn right and walk for about 10 mintues down Corso Magenta and then Via Meraviglia until you get to Piazza Cordusio.
Milan is a city that loves to renew itself, to be up-to-date. Periods of prosperity shine in the city’s swathes of rebuilding and renovation. Once again, a name comes to our rescue. The barbaric Longobards that invaded and took control of Milan in 569 – they reigned for just over 200 years, and lent their name to today’s region of Lombardy – preferred nearby Pavia as the city for their capital. When in Milan, their ducal court was in the area of today’s Piazza Cordusio—Cor’ Dusio—a stone’s throw from the ancient Celtic center (today’s Piazza Duomo) and the ancient Roman center (today’s Piazza San Sepolcro). Today’s piazza was renewed to include the principal financial institutions and erstwhile post office in the hopeful years just after the Unification of Italy, that is, when Italy finally managed to pull free from the Austrian empire towards the end of the 19th century. (Need the post office, today? It’s a quick shot down VIA Cordusion to Piazza Edison. However, stamps can be purchased at tobacconist shops.)
Once in Piazza Cordusio, turn right, cross the piazza and take via Orefici a few steps to the covered passage on the left, take it, and you’ll find yourself in the historic piazza of the original city hall, officially called the Palazzo della Ragione, but lovingly known as the “Broletto,” that is, “the little garden,” not because there was a garden here, but because, until the early 13th century when the aristocratic and rising bourgeois men took power out of the hands of the archbishop, he had administered the city from the little garden of his palace (the palace is still visible, though much renovated, next to the Duomo). The brick structure for city administrative spaces above and commercial stalls in the open colonnades below was built in 1233 by the reigning prefect (elected for short periods from a nearby city to avoid corruption) Oldrado da Tresseno whose equestrian portrait by an Antelami sculptor is still visible in the center of the structure on this side. It is accompanied by a bone-chilling inscription that was supposed to demonstrate his piety and firm hand: ‘I burned heretics at the stake, as was my duty.’
The upper structure, white with oval windows, was added in 1771-1773 during the Hapsburg Austrian domination to enlarge the offices. (Not sufficient, a few years later the function was moved to another building in nearby via Broletto, which took its name from the traditional term for Milan’s city hall.)
Just under the stern gaze of Oldrado is the 16th century well head called the “pietra dei falliti” (‘the stone of those who fail’) because people who went bankrupt were made to flap their naked butts on the stone as a public humiliation for the great harm that they caused to the entire community. The columns and top were added to the well in 1767. The well was originally on the other side of the Broletto near the opening of via St. Margherita until 1877. It must have been put into storage, because it was remounted where it is, today, only in 1921.
In front of the dry well and the Broletto are two other buildings worth noting. The black and white Loggia degli Osii was built in 1316 by order of Matteo Visconti, (unofficial, but powerful) Lord of Milan, for the Osii family of bankers (he knew on which side his bread was buttered; the building was greatly renovated in 1904). Just beyond it, the richly carved Palazzo delle Scuole palatine (the building for the royal schools) was constructed by the architect Carlo Buzzi in 1644-45 on the site of the portico of Azzone Visconti (1337; another unofficial, but powerful, Lord of Milan). On the façade of the building over what remains of the medieval arch is a 17th century relief sculpture by Giovanni Pietro Lasagna depicting the ancient Roman writer, Ausonio, who had words of praise for the city of Milan. The building was modified in the 19th century a few times.
Crossing under the brick arch of the house of the Panigarola family—the archivists of the city hall—takes you to the other side of the Broletto. Don’t miss one of Milan’s most important symbols placed in the arch of one of the Broletto’s middle piers: the woolly sow. Legend has it that the Celts, a mixed band of barbarians that centuries earlier had come from the Russian steppes, through the Scandinavian countries, and down through France, stopped here to found Milan because of a goddess-inspired vision of a sow with wool down the middle of her back, hence the ancient name of Mediolanum (medio-lanum; some trace the city’s name to other sources, but this one’s much more fun). Here the sow was seen, so here the Celts stopped. The ancient Roman white marble fragment was found at some unknown date, and built into the medieval city hall. (On the short end of the Broletto towards the castle, there is another ancient Roman fragment, an inscription, inserted into the building.)
In front of this side of the Broletto is the Palazzo dei Giureconsulti, that is, a principal seat of the lawyers and aristocrats of Milan, a building with a complicated history that stretches back to the della Torre family in pre-Visconti rule days. Their tower was gobbled up in the structure dating to the 16th (architects Seregni and Alessi) and 17th (architect Carlo Buzzi) centuries and reworked in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The dedicatory sculpture tells a historic tale. Originally dedicated to the Hapsburg Philip II of Spain, then in control of Milan and its vast territories, the sculpture was broken down during the temporary Napoleonic ‘liberation’ of Milan in 1799, and was replaced with a sculpture of St. Ambrose—Milan’s patron saint—by Luigi Scorzini in 1833, after the return of the Austrian Hapsburgs.
Spend about a half an hour looking around the piazza and buildings.
Ready to eat? Me, too! After all, it should be about 12:30. Go through the arches under the Palazzo dei Giureconsulti, and turn left in the second street, via Protaso, which quickly becomes via Clerici, where you stop at n. 1, at the Ristorante Victoria. It’s adorable, very 19thcentury Italian, the food is good and typical, and the prices are normal, are reasonable, despite the nearness to La Scala (don’t worry, La Scala is on our list of things to do!). (Why am I telling you about this restaurant? Now the place is going to be crowded, and I’ll never get another spot! This is a good place to mention that I take no kick-backs of any kind for anything that I mention.)
Via Clerici, 1
LUNCH HOURS: Monday – Friday, 12:30 – 2:30 P.M.
DINNER HOURS: Monday – Saturday, 7:30 P.M. – midnight
Tel. +39-02.869.0792 (reservations are preferred, but if you’re just one or two, and arrive right on the dot when they open at 12:30, they might be able to seat you)
Check out Trip Advisor for up-to-date information: www.tripadvisor.it
Happy tummy? It should be about 2 P.M. Time to get moving! Next on the itinerary is the Duomo, Milan’s Late Gothic cathedral raised on one of Milan’s most historic sites.
Walk back down via Clerici and Protaso, retrace your steps under the arch of the Palazzo Giuresconsulti, and turn left. It’s just a few steps to the Duomo piazza. Originally the center of the Celtic town, then an important part of the Roman town (there perhaps was a temple to Minerva there), the site hosted two Early Christian churches dedicated to the Virgin Mary, four surrounding churches dedicated to her guardians the four archangels, and two baptisteries. Partially destroyed during the raids of the Hohenstaufen Holy Roman Emperor Frederick the Redbeard in 1162, other vicissitudes brought down the structures over the centuries in favor of the current Duomo, begun in 1386 in the area of the apse (the rounded back of the church) and, much later, the surrounding piazza and structures.
It took a few centuries to get the church up to its present size (at 11,700 square meters on the inside, it is the third biggest Christian church in the world), and the façade was finished in Gothic style only after Napoleon had himself crowned King of Italy here at the beginning of the 19thcentury, and slapped Milan’s hands for being so tardy. Just over the central window you’ll see a figure that looks vaguely familiar: it is said that the early 19th century sculpture dedicated to the New Faith (i.e., the Christian church, as opposed to the Jewish faith) by Camillo Pacetti inspired the design of the Statue of Liberty. Many of the precious originals of the nearly 2300 exterior sculptures have been moved into the Duomo’s museum for preservation.
Double check your clothes, you’re about to enter the church. For both men and women, nothing short, no bare arms and chests, be respectful. Take a sweater, too. It might be hot outside, but it probably will be cool, inside. Get your bags and backpacks open and ready to be inspected on the way in.
Enter by the door on the left hand side of the façade (the central bronze doors dating to the end of the 19th century were created by then famous Ludovico Pogliaghi, while the last of the bronze doors was finished in the 1960s), turn right, and stop when you are aligned with the central aisle so you can see as much of the church as possible in one glance.
Today, there’s no time to see the ruined foundations of San Giovanni alle Fonti, one of the area’s early Christian baptisteries (entrance just behind you under the internal part of the façade), but, trust me, there are just a bunch of slabs and holes and blocks that require a lot of imagination, especially if you’re not an art historian. One curiosity, though. It was there that St. Ambrose baptized St. Augustine, another renowned Father of the Catholic church.
How many aisles can you count? Five. That’s one sign that the original basilica of St. Peter’s in Rome was a spiritual model for the Duomo of Milan.
One of the first things that might strike your attention after the great height of the ceiling (about 58 meters, under the tribune it’s about 68 meters) are the very unusual capitals on the tall columns. A circle of niches with sculptures, perhaps the motif was inspired by bishops’ crosiers.
The next thing you might notice are the beautiful stained glass windows. Those in the right hand aisle principally date from the 15th to the 16thcenturies; those in the apse from the 15th, 16thand 19th centuries. In the left hand aisle there are some from the 20th century. All are original, but are not in their original places (when Milan was bombed during WWII, the windows were taken down rapidly for their safety, and no record was kept of their positions, so they were reassembled as best as possible, after the war). Finally, the gorgeous marble flooring will certainly catch your eye. Designed and begin by the architect Pellegrino Tibaldi in 1585 (the year after the death of that old party pooper, San Carlo Borromeo, who helped implement the religious rigor developed by and for the Catholic church in the Council of Trent after the Protestant Reformation), it was 2/3 done in 1820, and finished with some variations in 1914-1940. The black marble came from Varenna, the rosy white from Candoglia (the marble caves whose production was dedicated by the Visconti lords of Milan to the Duomo), while the original red—now substituted almost completely with the more common red stone from Verona—was from d’Arzo.
Let’s go on a quick walk around the church (if there’s a religious service, you won’t be able to move around much). There’s so much to see, but I promise we’ll note just a few things.
Turn again to your right, go to the first bay of the right hand aisle, and stop in front of the Crucifixion over the sarcophagus of the cross’s patron, the fascinating Archbishop Ariberto da Intimiano (d. 1045). This cross is a copy; the Romanesque original, first in the church of St. Dionigi that was torn down in the late 18th century, is now in the Duomo’s museum tucked into the archbishop’s palace across the way…which we’re not going to have time to visit, as fascinating as it is…see it the next time you come to Milan. Continuing down the aisle you might notice that it seems rather plain for a Catholic church, and you’d be right. St. Carlo Borromeo’s work, again. He forced out the elaborate burials and the lavish altars sponsored by publicity- and salvation-seeking aristocrats. Too distracting from the sermons.
In the second bay is the sarcophagus of the mighty man who began the Visconti lords’ family fortune, Archbishop Ottone Visconti (d. 1295), the work of a 14th century sculptor from the Campione area of the Italian lakes. In the 4th bay is the sarcophagus of Marco Carelli who in 1391 donated an enormous sum to the Duomo. The sarcophagus was designed by Filippino degli Organi in 1406, and the sculptures were done by the important master, Jacopino da Tradate, whose name we’ll be seeing again, soon. Skipping to the last three bays, there are wall altars designed by the omnipresent Pellegrino Tibaldi, but the last one encloses a 1393 marble altarpiece dedicated to the Virgin, so it’s nearly as old as the Duomo, itself.
You now are at the transept, the perpendicular structure that gives the church its cross-like shape. Turn to the right, and head to the wall monument with the large bronze sculpture of a man…Gian Giacomo Medici (d. 1555), by Leone Leoni (Emperor Charles V’s favorite sculptor, so it was an important commission). Besides being a famous general, Medici—not related to the famous Florentine de’ Medici—was related to Pius V Medici, then reigning pope, and to San Carlo Borromeo, so, although not buried in the church, his monument was given prominent position. Cross to the other side of the transept, and stop in front of the anatomical sculpture of a man who seems to have had his skin removed: San Bartolomeo scorticato (skinned) by Marco d’Agrate (1562).
Turn left, and head to the presbytery and seating area for the monks, that is, the large structure designed by Tibaldi and raised over the crypt in the apse of the church. The entrance to the Treasury and the Scurolo (the burial place of San Carlo Borromeo), is here; they both have interesting things to see, but resist the temptation, today, you’ll have to do it the next time you come to Milan. Turn right to face the semi-circular aisle, called an ambulatory, that goes around the apse of the church (this kind of structure and crypts date to the Carolingian period to provide areas for pilgrims to see relics without interrupting the duties of the monks and priests). Sometimes it’s possible to walk the entire ambulatory, sometimes it’s blocked off. Whether you can walk it, or not, after the door to the sacristy, in the 2nd bay of the ambulatory you can see up high on the wall the seated sculpture by Jacopino da Tradate of Martin V, the pope who brought peace to the Catholic church in the early 15th century after a long period of internal dissension, and who blessed the principal altar made from the Early Christian pieces of the altar of the preceding church. On the other side of the presbytery is the large bronze 13th or 14th century candlestick donated in 1562 by the archpriest Trivulzio, hence its name the Trivulzio Candlestick.
Let’s note just two more things (of so many!) before we leave the Duomo. The first altar when beginning to walk down the left hand aisle toward the façade was designed, as many were, by Pellegrini, but the altar painting of St. Ambrose imposing a period of penitence on the Emperor Theodosio is by the famous Federico Barocci (1603; we’ll see this theme again in the church of St. Ambrogio…after all…it was a reminder to mere political rulers that the church had the final say…at least according to the church…). Continuing towards the exit, in the bay closest to the façade you’ll come to the meridian installed in 1786 by the imperial astronomers of Brera.
Take about an hour to visit the Duomo (you’ll have to skip going to the top of the Duomo, put that on the list for your second trip, too). When you exit from the door in the façade, turn right, and head to the large open arch of the nearby Galleria Vittorio Emanuele.
DUOMO HOURS: 7 A.M. to 6:40 P.M.
DUOMO ENTRANCE FEE: none (but remember to be generous, you’re visiting the church as if it were a museum, and it has electricity and housekeeping bills just like everyone; find the “mantenimento della chiesa” (church maintenance) or the “restauro della chiesa” (church restoration) donation boxes. There are fees for entering the Duomo museum, the Duomo treasury, the baptistery of San Giovanni, and for going to the terrace.)
PHOTOGRAPHIC FEE: E. 2.00
SITE IN ENGLISH: www.duomomilano.it
GALLERIA VITTORIO EMANUELE II
A rag-tag assembly of old buildings was torn down in 1865 to open the piazza in front of the Duomo, and the sculpture by Ercole Rosa of Vittorio Emanuele II was commissioned in 1878 (but positioned in 1896). Both were part of Giuseppe Mengoni’s plans for the Galleria in the first years of Milan’s independence, and so dedicated to Vittorio Emanuele II, Italy’s first king of the modern epoch. Mengoni died in 1877 from a fall—some say suicide out of desperation for criticism of his project for the gallery and piazza—from the gallery’s heights shortly before it was finished. The monumental arch giving onto the Duomo’s piazza was finished in 1878. The lunettes under the large glass dome were originally frescoed with images of the four continents (replaced with sturdier mosaics in 1911-12). The bombing of WWII heavily damaged the Galleria whose reliefs and marble pavements were recreated in the years after the war following the original designs. The gallery’s longest arm is almost 200 meters / yards in length, while the iron and glass cupola (an early “noble” use of materials originally considered industrial) is 39 meters in diameter (not so much smaller than the Pantheon), and 47 meters / yards from the floor. Of the original bars and stores remains only the Camparino bar immediately to the left of the main arch on the Piazza del Duomo (the mosaics by Eugenio Quarti date to 1921): home of the invention of the Campari liquor. Once you’re under the glass dome, if you can’t resist, spin on one heel over the…ahhh…private parts of the mosaic of the bull, symbol of Milan’s longstanding rival city, Turin, and the Spanish Borgias. Whichever it was to portray, its torment delights tourists because it is supposed to bring good luck.
Along the upper walls of the gallery you’ll see a shallow ledge…when the gallery was still lit by oil lamps, a little train ran along the ledge lighting the lamps with a little lit “tail,” hence its nickname, “el rattin” (the rat). Electricity was brought to Milan—perhaps the second city in the world, only after Manhattan—by Edison. Rumors posit the little train’s nostalgic return.
Take about 15 minutes to walk through the gallery, and emerge in the Piazza della Scala, opened up in 1858 thanks to the destruction of the bohemian neighborhood, the Rebecchino. Straight ahead of you is the Banca Commerciale Italiana whose large fancy structure designed by Luca Beltrami was supposed to help to restore confidence after a bank crash in 1889-1893. On your left is the famous La Scala theater, where we’re going now.
LA SCALA THEATER
We have a 1776 fire in the royal palace on the other side of the Duomo to thank for the La Scalatheater. The fire destroyed the palace’s theater (in these years just after Mozart’s stay in Milan), and so the function was moved first to the Teatro Lirico on today’s via Larga, and then to this new structure built privately by Milanese nobles with imperial permission on the site where once the confines of Republican Rome ran, and where rose the dilapidated 14th century monastery and church dedicated to St. Maria della Scala by Beatrice della Scala of Verona, wife of an unofficial, but powerful Visconti lord, Bernabò (keep them in mind, we’ll meet them, again, in the Sforza Castle). The new theater kept the name of the monastery whose place it took; it was built by the favorite imperial architect in Milan, Piermarini, who chose in turn one of his favorite sculptors, Giuseppe Franchi, to do the pedimental sculpture of Apollo in his chariot. The two side structures and the front porch were added by the architect Sanquirico in 1830, who also imposed the yellow ochre color of Viennese taste (remember, the Austrians were still in control of Milan and its territories at that time, though the music of Verdi and La Scala played a significant role in the mid-19th century rebellion). Heavily damaged in WWII, the building was repaired rapidly as a symbol of Italy’s rebirth, but the rapid laying of a cement floor over detritus had deadened the sound.
The original Neo-Classical gray and white colors and the good acoustics of the structure were reborn during the fairly recent restoration campaign from 2002 to 2004, first under the direction of Studio Gregotti Associati and then of the architect Mario Botta, who pushed back the modern structures (the oval stories over the left side of the building and the large square over the stage to accommodate better scene changing machinery), so they’d be less visually disruptive from street level.
The decoration of the horseshoe-shaped interior has undergone changes, too. In the 1830s, the grand central chandelier was added, a blue color was imposed on all boxes (originally, the nobles sponsoring the theater’s construction were allowed to furnish and color their boxes as desired), and the original ceiling was repainted with figurative scenes by the famous Francesco Hayez that were replaced by the current fictive coffered ceiling in 1875 (I suspect because the scenes were favorable to the Austrians, who had just been kicked out a few years earlier). The ground floor, originally without fixed seating (because reserved for dancing or for the milling about of servants, necessary to aid the cooking, dining, drinking and gambling that once took place during the musical evenings) was partially occupied with permanent seating in 1891. In 1907, the orchestra pit was created (before, it had just been set off by a balustrade). The current red and gold theme was imposed on all when the once private boxes were handed over to the managing foundation in 1930. The only box retaining the older decoration is the so-called ‘box of mirrors’ on the viewer’s upper right, when facing the stage. During the recent restoration campaign, the rest of the interior was restored to its 19th century state, maintaining the red and gold colors imposed in1930. The acoustics were restored by the catalan Higini Arau. The new stage machinery was designed by Franco Malgrande. The conservatively approached aesthetic conservation was executed under the care of Elisabetta Fabbri. For the grand reopening of the theater, the musical director Riccardo Muti chose the same piece that had been played for the theater’s first ever opening night, Salieri’s “Europa riconosciuta.”
The theater has a museum, and the collection will send classical music fans into ecstatic vibrations, but access to it also allows access to a couple of boxes to see the inside of the theater, if there aren’t any practice sessions going on, so let’s head in, now. Labels identify everything that music fans will want to see…portraits of famous singers and composers, mementos once belonging to them, and costumes and drawings of sets for the most famous historic productions. In the small lobby at the top of the small internal staircase the original sketch by Franchi for the theater’s pediment can be seen. Signs or a museum guard will point you in the right direction for the open boxes. Just before the museum exit, there is a nice gift shop for postcards and totes (the gift shop available directly from the piazza has only music).
LA SCALA THEATER MUSEUM (entrance under the portico to the left of the central porch)
HOURS: 9 A.M. to 12:30 P.M. (last entrance, 12 noon) and 1:30 P.M. to 5:30 P.M. (last entrance at 5 P.M.)
FEE: E. 6
HANDICAPPED ACCESS: there is an elevator only for people with motility difficulties, but call or write to make sure that it is wheelchair accessible, if that’s what you need.
WEB SITE OF THE LA SCALA THEATER MUSEUM: www.teatroallascala.org/museum
LA SCALA THEATER, the theater’s musical calendar is available here, look in advance, and see if you can get tickets for the evening, if interested: www.teatroallascala.org
Via Manzoni departs from Piazza della Scala. Originally called via dei Giardini (street of the gardens) because leading to the then new public gardens created by the same Piermarini out of territory confiscated from monasteries by the Austrian Hapsburg emperors, in the 18th and 19th centuries the street became one of the city’s most chic addresses, and remains so, today.
Head down via Manzoni. There are numerous interesting mansions (with identifying signs) on both sides of the street. Almost to the end, one comes to the perpendicular via Montenapoleone, the chic and costly shopping street that follows the traces of the ancient imperial Roman extension of the city’s walls, while via Manzoni is closed by the medieval Porta Nuova (not to be confused with the city’s Neo-Classical gate of the same name).
One of Milan’s two medieval city gates still standing, the Porta Nuova was raised when the walls torn down in 1162 by Frederick the Redbeard were rebuilt in 1171 in defiance of his instructions. The original 1st century A.D. ancient Roman sculptures once included on the inside of the arch are in the archaeological museum; copies have been placed on the arch for conservation reasons. On the outside of the arch, toward the ex-monastic grounds, Azzone Visconti had sculptures of the Madonna, Christ Child and saints installed when he reinforced the walls in 1330-1339 as a publicity- and salvation-seeking move; the originals are still in place.
If you get carried away shopping in via Manzoni and via Montenapoleone, you have deep enough pockets for dinner at one of the more well known and costly restaurants full of atmosphere at this end of the street. Take your pick (you’ll probably have to spiffy up your outfit with some of the clothes you just bought):
–There are three restaurants/bars in the Grand Hotel et de Milan at the corner of Via Manzoni and Via Manzoni. Open this web page, and scroll down for the text in English [Verdi died in this hotel, his room has been preserved]: www.grandhoteletdemilan.it/news/restaurant-and-bar
–Don Lissander, via Manzoni 12/A is a lovely semi-open area next to a beautiful private park (if the weather is warm, you may need mosquito repellant). See www.ristorantedonlisander.it
–I almost forgot the modern Armani restaurant, also on the corner of via Manzoni and via Montenapoleone, opposite the small piazza from the Grand Hotel. See http://milan.armanihotels.com
Not interested in these? Head back up the other side of via Manzoni, back to Piazza della Scala…for more sightseeing and dinner!
Back in the La Scala piazza, we can see in its center the sculpture of Leonardo da Vinci and four disciples created by Pietro Magni in 1872. The sculpture is known humorously in the Milanese dialect as the ‘quart and four pints’ for its composition.
In the same years when Beltrami redid the piazza, he also created the façade for the building, the Palazzo Marino, directly in front of La Scala. Beltrami’s façade was based on Alessi’s original façade on the other side of the large 16th century, begun (and never finished) for Tommaso Marini, a banker who came to Milan from Genova, and who bankrupted himself and his family creating the mansion. The structure had a variegated history until it was taken over by city hall in 1860, and was turned into prestigious city government offices.
If it’s not quite dinner time yet, I suggest that you head around to the other side of Palazzo Marini, to see San Fedele, one of the most famous prototypes of Gesuit churches of Counter-Reformation architecture. Begun by the omnipresent Pellegrini in 1569—just one year after Vignola began Il Gesù in Rome—the church concentrates the worshippers’ attention on the sermon by eliminating side aisles, and creating a strong single hall-like space. The construction of the church was continued by Martino Bassi. Francesco Maria Ricchini erected the dome in 1684. In 1723, the apse was lengthened, and in 1835 the façade finally was finished following Pellegrini’s designs. The bas-relief in the tympanum of the Assunta (the Virgin Mary raised to heaven) is by Gaetano Matteo Monti. Inside, paintings by Campi and Peterzano instruct worshippers alongside more modern works, such as the ceramic sculpture of the Savior by Lucio Fontana (1956) in a chapel on the right and his stations of the cross in the crypt (1956-57). In the little chapel of the presbytery is the 13th century fresco (retouched in the 15th century) traditionally credited to a Della Torre patron: a Madonna and Child coming from the original La Scala church.
RISTORANTE PAPA’ FRANCESCO
Despite its central and convenient location under the shadow of the short end of Palazzo Marino and right around the corner from the Duomo, the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele and La Scala, the restaurant Papà Francesco has authentic cooking and reasonable, normal prices. I’ve eaten here a few times, and have not been disappointed. Bubbly Papa’ Francesco is a real person with a local TV cooking show. Have I tired you out? Raise a glass and a fork to me, and then get to bed, because we’ve got another full day, tomorrow!
RISTORANTE PAPA’ FRANCESCO
Via Tommaso Marino, 7
HOURS: 12:00-2:30 P.M., and again 7:00 – 10:30 P.M.
WEB SITE in ENGLISH: www.papafrancesco.com
LEONARDO DA VINCI’S “LAST SUPPER”
At 9:30 A.M. sharp, let’s meet in front of the entrance to Leonardo da Vinci’s “Last Supper” on the piazza in front of the adjoining church, Santa Maria delle Grazie across the street from n. 61, the Palazzo delle Stelline, in Corso Magenta. To protect this delicate art work, that started to have conservation problems within a few short years after it was finished, a complex air system has been installed, and visits to the refectory (monks’ dining hall), where it was frescoed in 1495-98 across the room from the contemporary Crucifixion by Montorfano, are limited to 15 minutes.
Take advantage of a few minutes in the waiting area to read up on the fresco, then make me a promise: WHEN YOU WALK INTO THE ROOM RESIST THE TEMPTATION TO LOOK IMMEDIATELY AT THE LEONARDO. Look, instead, to your left at the other painting, perfectly competent, but oh so completely Early Renaissance in style: principal characters on the front plane, all with their heads on one of two levels, a large crowd of figures (the more there were, the more the painter got paid), many of the poses mirror images—or nearly—of the poses of their colleagues on the other side of the painting, everything carefully and luxuriously detailed, and no real sense of a connection between the fictive space of the painting and the real space in which you are standing and breathing. Only now, when you turn to look at the Leonardo, can you see just why his work was so revolutionary, why it—together with the work of Michelangelo and the younger Raphael—catapulted art into the High Renaissance period.
The twelve agitated disciples are arranged in psychologically close knit groups of three around the serene figure of Christ, whose outstretched arms form of his figure a stable and calm pyramid anchoring the center of the painting. The fictive tapestries form strong diagonals connecting the fictive space of the dining room with the real space of the monks’ dining room in which we now stand. Three open windows—subtly alluding to the Holy Trinity—at the back of the painting subtly bathe the Christ figure in a symbolic halo of heavenly light. Soft transitions of muted color without a confusing network of overworked details keeps us focused on the actions, as if really happening before our eyes, rather than on the surface details. Almost twenty years of restoration ended in 1995, and have secured as best as possible what is left of the painting that hasn’t survived well because Leonardo experimented with techniques in order to get results more like he had in mind than traditional—and sturdy—fresco painting was and is able to produce. When your 15 minutes is up, you’ll be channeled through the gift shop back out into the piazza in front of the church. All in all, it might take you a half an hour. Meet you in the piazza!
Lots of features of the church are worth a look, but we’ll glance at only a few. The Dominican church as we know it, today, was founded in 1463 by Count Gaspar Vimercati, a general in the service of Francesco Sforza, and the church continued to be favored by Francesco’s son, Duke Ludovico il Moro, towards the end of the 15th century. Built by the leading architect of the day in Milan, Solari, from 1466, it encompassed the little original chapel on the site. First of all, you’ll notice that the exteriorproportions seem like a squashed triangle, not very tall. These wider proportions are typical of Italian (versus French) church architecture. The church in brick—typically Lombard—has been decorated with classicizing sculptures in roundels attributed to Giovanni Antonio Amedeo. The design of the white marble porch (1488-90) has been attributed to Bramante. The completely deteriorated work by Leonardo in the lunette of the marble porch was substituted in 1729 by a painting by M. Bellotti. Bramante is attributed with the design for another, spectacular, aspect of the church, too: the tribune (the white and red part at the apse, or back, end of the church). Let’s go inside for a quick look.
The church interior has three naves ending once in an apse completed in 1469, but new artistic winds had blown Bramante and Leonardo to the city, and the seeds of a new grander classicizing style began to spout (Bramante would flee Milan under attack by the French, scurry to Rome rich with papal money, and build what is considered the first High Renaissance building, San Pietro in Montorio).
Enjoying the visit so far?
The foundations for today’s large polygonal tribune attributed to Bramante were laid in 1492 by Archbishop Guido Antonio Arcimboldi. Even if it had not been planned as such, by the time of the death of his young and important wife, Beatrice d’Este, Ludovico Sforza had conceived of the tribune as the Sforza family mausoleum. Cristoforo Solari’s double effigy grave monument was placed under the center of the tribune (though it now is at the Certosa of Pavia, where it was moved by that old curmudgeon St. Carlo Borromeo).
On your way down to the light-filled tribune, take the right hand aisle and stop at a couple of the chapels on your way. On the right hand side of the first chapel there is the 16th century tomb of Gian Maria Olgiati, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V’s military engineer responsible for the raising of Milan’s “Spanish Walls” (the outer ring of fortifications, later made more elaborate, of which some portions still exist, for example in Piazza Medaglia d’Oro on the other side of town), while on the left is the late 15th century tomb (retouched in 1725) of a member of the Della Torre family (the big cheeses in Milan until the Visconti family butted in). Over the altar is a 15th century fresco from the original chapel of the Madonna delle Grazie showing the Madonna and the fresco donors. Skipping many lovely things, hop to the fourth chapel, originally furnished and managed by the Confraternity of the Holy Crown of Thorns for whom Titian had done one of his famous paintings stolen for Napoleon, still in the Louvre, and never returned. The original frescoes by Luini remain, but the altar painting of St. Catherine of Siena to replace the Titian is from 1616 by Secchi. The next chapel has exquisite white gesso 16th century low reliefs of celebrating angels. In the last chapel in the right hand aisle is a painting by Marco d’Oggiono, a disciple of Leonardo da Vinci, that is of John the Baptist venerated by the painting’s donor, incorrectly often identified as the entire church’s donor, Gaspare Vimercati.
Enjoy the centralized plan tribune, then cross to its left, and exit the little door into the small delightful courtyard of 1498-99. If you are lucky, across the small courtyard the door will be open to the monks’ meeting room, where their stalls have perspectival wooden inlay, and one of them covers the secret tunnel that led from the church to the Sforza castle, so that Ludovico could come and go without exposing himself to any possible public ill will or bad weather (that tunnel exists only in part, today, because it was interrupted by the construction of the subway). Come back into the church, and go down the left hand aisle towards the exit in the façade.
On the way, you might want to peek through the door (but DON’T go in, unless you are going in to pray) of the first chapel at the corner of the tribune. This little structure was the original chapel dedicated to the Madonna delle Grazie (Madonna of the Blessings Conceded); on the altar you can see a 15th century panel with donors. The next chapel, 6thfrom the façade, has a lovely small painting of the Holy Family with St. Catherine of Alexandria by Paris Bordone. The second chapel from the façade has on the funerary stele (upright slab) of Cardinal Giovanni Abysio Arcimboldi and a funerary niche for Cardinal Branda Castiglioni (d. 1495) with sculptures attributed to Bambaja. To close our visit, the last chapel has frescoes and fragments by Montorfano, the same late 15th century artist who painted the Crucifixion opposite Leonardo’s Last Supper. The central nave frescoes of Dominican saints has been attributed to Buttinone, Zenale and the selfsame Montorfano.
Take no more than about an hour to visit the church, tribune and little courtyard, finishing around 11 A.M., and catching the next tram 16 in the other direction, getting off around 11:30 in Piazza Cordusio, for a quick walk up Via Dante and a visit to the Sforza Castle.
LEONARDO DA VINCI’S “LAST SUPPER” (CENACOLO VINCIANO) AT SANTA MARIA DELLE GRAZIE
Piazza Santa Maria delle Grazie (tram 16, direction Segesta)
HOURS: 9:30 A.M. and onward, by appointment only
CLOSED: Mondays and public holidays
STANDARD ENTRY FEE: about E. 10.00 (cost of obligatory reservation included)
HANDICAPPED ACCESS: the Last Supper and the church…maybe; the courtyard, no
ADVANCE RESERVATIONS ARE OBLIGATORY (reservations open up about two months in advance, and go like hotcakes): www.vivaticket.it
EAT? … if you’re running a little late, and if it’s already noon, and especially if you’re a little homesick for something Anglo-Saxon…get off the 16 at Largo d’Ancona, and walk the short way down via Carducci to Piazza Cadorna, cross the piazza, and go to Sloan Square, at n. 2, for an enormously wide and tasty variety of imported beer and an inventive food menu set in a modern English environment. www.sloansquare.it. O.K., I confess, John Peter Sloan is my boss at the English school, John Peter Sloan-La Scuola, but he doesn’t know I’m plugging his bar, so I’m getting nothing out of this except the satisfaction of sharing a cool tasty beer with you. Remember, I get no kickbacks!
So, it’s about 11:30 A.M., and you’re in Via Dante. Already imagined in 1807 during the Napoleonic area, the web of new straight streets running from the Sforza castle—symbol of ducal power and military might—to the Duomo—symbol of religious power—running past the Broletto—symbol of civic power and “Milanese-ness”—already was planned, but didn’t take formation until the new plan of Beruto in 1884-1885, after the Unification of Italy. The triumph of new buildings dating from the 1880s and 1890s along this street—broad, like the streets in Hausmann’s Paris—is an expression of the confidence of Milanese in these first decades of liberty. On the corner with Piazza Cordusio is the home for the architect Broggi that he built together with the architect Sommaruga. To mention only one more, scurry along to n. 13, the house for the famous ceramic-making family, Richard-Ginori, by Giuseppe Pirovano that won first prize for the street’s most beautiful house.
In the piazza that closes the street, the equestrian sculpture of the Italian revolutionary hero Garibaldi was created by Ettore Ximenes in 1895.
It’s easy to imagine that this prime spot, right in front of the Sforza Castle, was close to where Duke Ludovico il Moro had thought to put Leonardo’s equestrian sculpture dedicated to his father, Francesco Sforza. (Nice artistic touch, nice tip o’ the hat from father to son…even more effective reminder to Milanese and foreigners, alike, where the power in the city lay.)
Cross Piazza del Castello carefully, past the 1930s fountain in front of the castle, through the narrow entry way under the tall (reconstructed) tower designed by the mid-15th Florentine architect, Filarete, through the large courtyard (for soldier drills), across the inner moat (once equipted with a drawbridge), and into the ducal court, near the entrance to the museum…Look around a bit, especially at what’s left of the late 15th century frescoes in the portico at the end of the princely court, but don’t wander far, O.K.?
THE SFORZA CASTLE
The castle began life in 1358-1368 as a Visconti military fortress astride the medieval walls, and always served the city as a double-edged sword: protecting it from exterior threats, but also threatening it with ducal threats from within. This Janus-faced personality explains why, during the brief grab of communal power during the Ambrosian Republic (1447-1450) and after the Italians’ finally successful bid for independence in the mid-19th century, the fate of the despoiled and wrecked castle was in jeopardy. But let’s back up.
The fortress had been enlarged in the 100 years following its creation to have four main segments, and in 1466 Duke Gian Galeazzo Maria, the reigning son of Francesco Sforza, decided to abandon the ducal palace next to the Duomo, and—having refurbished the fortress with frescoes, a fish pond, a shaded filled with frescoes colonnade and a little loggia in a manner fit for a prince—to transfer residence to the fortress-become-castle. Beautiful wall frescoes that we still admire were painted by Foppa, Moretti and Ferrini.
When Gian Galeazzo was assassinated in 1476 (too vain to wear his knife-proof vest…it made him look fat…I’m not kidding…), his widow holed up in the sturdy “Rocchetta” part of the castle, and reinforced it with the square tower rising within. Her brother-in-law, Ludovico, won the day; her young son Gian Galeazzo Maria was put under the regency of Ludovico…and then died in a horsebackriding ‘accident.’ Ludovico became duke, married Beatrice d’Este, fathered two sons by her, and seemed launched on a successful aristocratic reign, but he made a fatal mistake: asking for the military help of the French king to solve some of his squabbles. The French king came with troops, and, in 1499, decided to vindicate his own claims (real or not) to the dukedom by kidnapping Ludovico.
With the help of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, one of Ludovico’s sons, Francesco II, got put back on the throne, but was restive of his patron’s control, and tried to be sneaky. That was that, so when Francesco II died in 1535 without heirs (despite being married to Charles’ niece, Christine of Denmark, depicted in that lovely painting by Holbein), Charles barged in, and it went downhill from there for Milanese independence first under the Spanish Hapsburgs and then under the Austrian branch until the mid 19th century.
Beginning under the Spanish and then under the Austrian Hapsburgs, the defensive walls around the castle sprouted up like so many beams of starlight until the square castle was surrounded by multiple projecting narrow triangular tongues of tall sturdy walls, much more difficult to assault with the then new-fangled iron cannon balls. When Italy finally regained independence in the mid-19th century, many wanted to tear the hated castle down, and most of the star-like structure didn’t survive, but the architect Luca Beltrami helped transform the castle into a symbol of civic pride by restoring it (and the entrance tower of the Florentine Filarete, which had collapsed in 1521 thanks to an explosion of stored gun powder) and turning it into a site for libraries, schools and museums.
Semi-destroyed bits, such as that of the Rivellino (a defensive structure) still survive.
Shortly after WWII, the displays were redone by the Milanese architectural firm BBPR, and, for the most part, are still perfectly valid.
THE “ANCIENT ART” MUSEUM…which isn’t really an ancient art museum
There are lots of collections in the museum’s many spaces, but we’ll have time only for the “Ancient Art” collection that will give you a good overview of Milanese art and life starting briefly in the late antique period (it’s covered more indepth in the archaeological museum), running rapidly through the Longobard period, and slowing down to tease you through medieval and Renaissance Milan up to a surprise at the end, so let’s look at a few of the most important things. Head to the entrance passed just as you entered the ducal court, enter, get your ticket, and get set to go.
You enter the first area of the collections by passing under one of Milan’s medieval gates, the “Ironmonger’s gate”, that has been reconstructed here. A few samples of Milan’s ancient Roman past lead quickly to Milan’s Longobard centuries and ties and struggles with the remnants of the Byzantine empire on the Italian Peninsula: the Exarchy in Ravenna, so vividly recalled by the world-famous 6th century bust of Empress Theodora, wife of Justinian, which was found in via S. Primo.
The second room offers some pretty spectacular pieces: along the right hand wall the sarcophagus by the school of sculptors from the city of Campione for Beatrice della Scala, whom we “met,” yesterday; the wonderful 1363 equestrian funeral monument by the master Bonino da Campione for her irascible and forceful husband, Bernabò Visconti who sits perfectly naturally in his jousting saddle that makes the rider straight and stiff; and frescoes from the church within Bernabo’s palace compound, San Giovanni in Conca (fragments survive in Piazza Missori), under the dome of which he brazenly was buried (his wife was buried in the crypt below him, which is well preserved, and can be visited). On the wall in this room, as in the next one or two, sculptured groups of figures of the Madonna, Christ Child and saints originally from Milan’s gates renovated by Azzone Visconti in the 14th century.
In the third room, the three things I like best, in addition to these gate sculptures, are the beautiful 15th century frescoes with a religious theme, indicating that this probably once was the original chapel of the castle before it was inhabited by Gian Galeazzo, and the two funerary effigy slabs on the floor: Antonello Arcimboldi (1439) on your left and Bianca di Savoia (end of the 14th century) on your right.
Bianca was married to Galeazzo II, the grandson of Matteo I Visconti, himself a nephew of the great Ottone Visconti, of whom we spoke, yesterday. In the end room, note the ceiling frescoes from the period of Spanish domination (Philip II of Spain and Mary Tudor of England, 1555), the fragments on the far wall that came from the now destroyed church of St. Maria of Brera, and, on the far left wall, an almost complete and very elaborate stone monument (only the effigy is missing, as I recall) for Franchino Rusca (d. 1339), to give you an idea of what how richly decorated the interiors of the churches were until St. Carlo Borromeo forbade such vain self-glory. Go through the door next to Rusca’s monument, and through the little chamber with the 14th century Lombard wooden sculpture of Christ on the Cross (the figure would have had a wig), and head into Room 6.
Though it may not look like much to you at first, you’re about to see some of the most important sculptures—historically speaking—in the entire collection. To your right along the walls are two large figural sculptures in relief, once on the city walls that Milan restored in 1171 after they were devastated in 1162 by the Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick the Redbeard Hohenstaufen, who constantly strove to assert his imperial power. The figure of Frederick sitting astride a devilish dragon expressing his character (as perceived by the Milanese) and that of his wife in the position of a prostitute shaving her privates certainly weren’t meant to be complimentary.
On the two pillars in the room are reliefs of the same period that symbolically express the Milanese determination to be independent. On the right, St. Ambrose—a pivotal figure in Early Christian history in Milan (had he not existed, Christianity might have been very VERY different in the entire world)—chasing the Arian heretics out of Milan…as, on the left, after having opposed Frederick, the Milanese re-enter Milan against his commands. Feisty bunch.
To move us quickly along, let’s just notice a couple of things in the next rooms. For starters, you can’t miss the enormous sewn and embroidered banner of Milan featuring St. Ambrose kicking out the Arian heretics (again). Beyond that, the lovely 16th century sculpture of Adam by the sculptor Lorenzi (it was originally on the façade of the church St. Maria dei Miracoli in corso Italia, but the original is now here, and, exposed to the elements, there is now a copy). Beyond Adam you get a good look out of the window at the little bridge attributed to Bramante and built for Ludovico il Moro and Beatrice d’Este to get a bit of fresh air and shade during Milan’s hot summer days. The next room will knock your socks off.
The last room in this line is called the Room of the Planks (Asse) because it originally had planks up against the lower part of the walls, an aspect repeated by BBPR in their mid 20thcentury installation. The room served as Ludovico’s court, where he would meet visiting dignitaries under this fictive bower, luxuriantly prosperous, and intricately done…by Leonardo da Vinci, who was concerned not just with beautiful design (he was responsible not just for art, but also engineering, jewelry and clothes design, and festival planning), but also for the forces of nature, of growth and destruction. This can be seen in the contrast of the parts of the trees that reach into the ground for nourishment, then flower above in the fictive bower. The ceiling and walls are being restored, so the exposition spaces in “Bramante’s ponticello” that contain Lombard sculpture and painting are not available.
The next room’s ceiling is frescoed with Sforza heraldic crests (first those of Gian Galeazzo, substituted by his brother, Ludovico, for his own). To help us see the contrasting expressionistic and classicizing trends that co-existed in these decades, we’ll focus on only one thing in this room, and one in the next.
As you enter this room, turn immediately to the right, and look at the series of capitals that come from the palace built beginning in 1422 by that same Cardinal Branda Castiglioni whose funerary monument we saw in Santa Maria delle Grazie. The forms are very classicizing, that is, they refer to classical ancient Roman and Greek art that was the visual expression of the cardinal’s interest in humanism. The pudgy putto is so natural, so relaxed, and yet an heir of the cardinal’s thought reverberating out of the humanistic centers of Padova and Florence. Hold this thought. Because of the floor plan we have to take a beautiful detour through the ducal chapel, my favorite room in the whole castle, but we’ll be needing to tie these two threads together in the red room.
The only way to go forward from this room is through the gorgeous ducal chapel, and it’s no sacrifice (it’s my favorite room in the castle). Frescoed around 1472 by Sefano de Fedeli and assistants for Gian Galeazzo Sforza, it expresses courtly elegance in the rich expensive blues and the even more expensive, extensive and carefully rendered gilding. At the same time, it nods successfully (for the period) at the growing interest in classical humanism waving throughout Europe from Padova and Florence. The Resurrection of Christ attempts to set the incident in an ancient Roman landscape with ancient Roman soldiers in attendance.
Before we focus on The Resurrection fresco, take a peek at the free-standing 15th century sculpture of the praying Madonna, seen here from the back…her very VERY long braid, called a “coazzone,” was a typical Milanese hair style, so the Madonna is not seen only in clothing contemporary to the first viewers, but also sporting a popular local (and identifying) hairstyle for Milanese girls. The sculpture is attributed to Pierantonio Solari.
Resurrection ceiling fresco, ducal chapel, Sforza Castle (image photoshopped somewhat to remove the tie rods and lighting) (Photo: S.K. Meyer ©)I have a lovely discovery that I’d like to share with you, here, too. For years, when I saw this room, I pooh-poohed to myself what I saw as the artists’ poor foreshortening and composition. The Resurrectiondidn’t look real at all, the figures especially of the soldiers around the sarcophagus were awkwardly composed, and did not seem to exist in a fictive real space, at all. And then one day, the artificial lighting was turned off, and I saw the frescoes with only the natural light coming through the window. The painted shadows drew back, the foreshortening popped into place, and the entire scene had a breathable depth that was almost palpable. Just goes to show you that the artists took lighting into consideration, and that we shouldn’t always insist on having such strong lighting on works that weren’t intended to have it.
Turn right into the next room with the red ceiling painted as if it were a tent is called the room of the Colombines, or doves, because they were the personal symbol, or emblem (as opposed to a heraldic crest) of Bona di Savoia, whom we met just a little while ago. In the foreground are two angels by the late 15th century Milanese sculptor Amadeo who managed in some of his sculptures to blend the more angular tradition seeping down from the north and the new winds of the Renaissance blowing up out of Florence. The sculptures originally were in the Duomo.
On the far wall next to the window there is a large wall relief depicting the two kneeing disciples of Christ. The work is by the Milanese Antonio Mantegazza, and shows the harsh angles, agitated drapery that doesn’t seem to follow the body completely, and awkward poses intended to share the agitated emotion with the viewer. This approach screams with the anguish and extreme emotion of works from the Germanic north, also influential in Milan.
The next room has a lot of arms and armor, fascinating if you’re into it, but the most important thing for most visitors is the large mansion portal that has been re-erected in the first part of the room. It is the marble portal from the de’ Medici Milanese bank branch once in via Bossi and run by the Portinari family. Attributed by the Florentine mid-16th century art historian, Vasari, to the Florentine Michelozzi, old receipts also indicate the involvement of the Florentine Filarete (who gussied up the castle with a decorative entryway tower to make it look less military…remember?). Two more Renaissance portals, and the next door, and we’re almost done.
In this last split-level formal audience room, whose original zig zag decoration gives it its name (Scarlioni), you’ll probably first notice to your right the sarcophagus on columns of Bishop Bagaroto by Andea Fusina (1519). Just beyond that, bathed by light from the window, is the famous 16th century bust of a “Moorish woman” attributed to Cristoforo Lombardo. On the level just below is the funeral effigy and most of the monument for Gaston de Foix, nephew of the French king, Francesco I. Gaston died in the wars between the French and the Milanese for control of Milan and its territories. It was to have been installed in the church of St. Martha, beloved of the French, but it never happened…the French lost the final wars to the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V before it could be completed. By this time (1516-1525), a much more natural, relaxed and classicizing style of art already had spread out of Padova and Florence to the rest of Italy, and had leaked into the rest of Europe. But here, because it’s a knightly funeral portrait in the medieval tradition, there’s nothing relaxed, or natural, though details are realistic. Though he is lying down in death, Gaston’s clothes are depicted falling straight down as if he were standing upright. This style, his clothes and the close attention to detail speak the French of courts, and not the Latin of classicizing culture, or even the Italian of its fully digested forms.
Up to now, the works you have been seeing have almost all been directly related to Milan, or at least to Lombardy, its culture, its history, its lifeblood. Now, are you ready for the surprise that I promised you at the beginning of the visit? Go down the stairs, and around the wooden curtain for a completely different artistic experience, a classicizing naturalistic approach that has been so fully digested that its author can work expressively within the confines of a tall slender block of marble to create an unusual and expressive composition…the Rondanini Pietà by the Florentine Michelangelo for his own funeral monument, purchased by the Sforza Castle, albeit completely foreign to the Lombard nature of the rest of the collection, because it went on sale in 1952.
The sculpture is set on an ancient Roman fragment that has nothing to do with Michelangelo’s sculpture. By the time you read this, the disposition of this sculpture may have been changed. It’s the only thing that is controversial about the installations designed by BBPR. Which to choose: (a) showing the two funeral monuments side-by-side to facilitate comparison, or (b) keeping the two traditions separate as physically as they were conceptually (also to keep from confusing the unsuspecting visitor, who otherwise might think that the work has been in Milan for centuries)? The latter option was chosen, and soon is to be even more exaggerated: the sculpture is moving to a room of its own when the refurbishment is finished…probably with a lingering whiff of the methodologically out-dated concept of “genius,” but that’s getting into technical art history talk.
Enjoy the Pietà (in my photo, it lo0ks like the sculpted and the live are all looking down at the label), compare it to the Gaston de Foix, then exit past the little dragon fountain, and up into the ducal court under the loggia. I’ll be waiting for you. It should be about 1:30 or 2 P.M.
“ANCIENT ART” MUSEUM AND THE SFORZA CASTLE
Piazza Castello / Piazza Cairoli (MM1 Piazza Cairoli/Castello; tram 1, and anything that passes through the nearby Piazza Cadorna, or Piazza Cordusio)
CASTLE HOURS (no entry fee): in winter, 7 A.M. to 6 P.M.; in summer, 7 A.M. to 7 P.M.
ANCIENT ART MUSEUM HOURS: Tuesday to Sunday, 9 A.M. to 5:30 P.M. (last entry, 5 P.M.)
MUSEUM CLOSURE: Mondays and public holidays
STANDARD MUSEUM ENTRY FEE: E.5.00
EXTERIOR HANDICAPPED ACCESS: partial
INTERIOR MUSEUM ACCESS: very limited
OFFICIAL CASTLE SITE (in English): www.milanocastello.it
Head back across Piazza Cairoli and down via Dante. Stop to catch a bite, then keep going straight until you end up, again, in via Orefici. Turn right onto via Cantù in front of the passageway for the Broletto…we’re on our way to your next artistic experience, the Pinacoteca Ambrosiana.
It’s now about 3 or 3:30 P.M., and we’re going to the world famous Pinacoteca Ambrosiana entered, today, at the end of via Cantù (the original entrance until the early 19thcentury was on the other side of the building on today’s Piazza San Sepolcro). Federico Borromeo, a younger cousin of St. Carlo Borromeo, was interested in learning and the arts, and how they could be used to inculcate the new approach to religiosity that the Catholic church proposed in the Council of Trent after the Protestant Reformation. To simplify for us, we could say that he hit on the “three Ds”: devotion, didactics and documentation, that is, using art to encourage devotion through teaching the precepts and ipso facto documenting the veracity of the claims. In this way, it is not so much the quality of the art piece that counts (if it’s present, it’s obviously a plus), but its usefulness in fulfilling these three needs. Federico, made cardinal in 1587 and archbishop of Milan in 1595, developed his ideas in these years, and then used his family’s immense fortunes to act upon them, creating a library, a printing house, a school for classical and oriental languages, an art gallery open to all that he first seeded with his own collection and continued to enlarge, and an art school (eventually made public by the Austrian Hapsburgs and moved to Brera) in order to form talents capable of expressing these needs. Today’s Pinacoteca Ambrosiana is the direct heir of his devoted efforts.
The first phase of the building was begun under Lelio Buzzi in 1603 with the collaboration of none other than the famous Francesco Maria Ricchini and renovations by Fabio Mangone. Federico’s own personal art tastes ranged from Raphael (he acquired the famous sketch for the School of Athens in 1626), the followers of Leonardo, then-contemporary painters (including Caravaggio, of whom he had and greatly loved the “Fruit Basket”), and then-contemporary Flemish painters. In the years following his death in 1631, famous works continued to be acquired. Some of them were stolen for Napoleon, and only a few of these—including Leonardo’s “Codice Atlantico”—were returned. In 1811. The adjacent Oratory of the Angel was incorporated into the Pinacoteca; its chapel frescoed by Bernardino Luini in 1521 for the confraternity of the Holy Crown of Thorns is worth a visit.
There are so many wonderful things to see in this museum that it is impossible to note but a few: first and foremost, Raphael’s life-sized sketch for the School of Athens that he frescoed for Julius II in the Vatican palace and Caravaggio’s Cestino (basket of fruit), then other marvels include Bambaja’s sculptures originally destined for the never completed burial monument of Gaston de Foix (we met him, earlier), a musician by Leonardo da Vinci, a (to me, mediocre) Titian, two paintings by Bramantino that show his widely divergent pre-Leonardo and his post-Leonardo styles, Madonnas by Ghirlandaio and Botticelli, the portrait of Paolo Morigia by Fede Galizia (it’s quite unusual to find a female painter of this period identified and valued), Lombard works of various epochs including de Predis’ 15th century beautiful female bust portrait and the lovely little 19th century miniatures by Pietro Bagatti Valsecchi, gilded table pieces from the Napoleonic period, and…a lock of Lucrezia Borgia’s blonde hair.
As an added plus, you might get lucky, and find open the recently restored paving of the ancient Roman forum, over which the library, gallery and adjoining ancient church, were built.
Take about 2 hours to see the museum (most of the important Renaissance stuff is on the floor just at the top of the stairs; you’ll just have to come back to see the rest…unless you run like the wind). At the end of your visit, it should be about 6 P.M., and closing time.
Piazza Pio XI, 2 (any of the many that pass near the Duomo or Piazza Cordusio)
HOURS: Tuesday to Sunday, 10 A.M. to 6 P.M. (including the Monday after Easter), last entry at 5:15 P.M.
CLOSED: Mondays, January 1, Easter, December 25
STANDARD ENTRY FEE: E. 15.00 (plus any reservation fees)
PINACOTECA (in Italian): www.ambrosiana.eu
Want a yummy Italian gelato snack? There are two very good ice cream places just a stone’s throw away: Venchi in via Santa Margherita (on the other side of the Broletto, remember?) and just a little farther down, Grom. That might tide you over until dinner.
Head down nearby Corso Vittorio Emanuele on the Duomo’s northern flank to do a bit of shopping. Keep your eyes open for the ancient Roman sculpture once in Milan’s forum, and now attached to the wall under the portico near n. 13.
Keep going, and you’ll pass the opening to Piazza Liberty, where you’ll spot at the far end of the piazza a building whose central part is in the 19thcentury “Liberty” style (Milan’s version of Art Nouveau, a mixture of the French and Viennese traditions; the name comes from the English store, “Liberty,” from which the style was first imported into Milan in the 19th century).
Under the porticoes after via S. Radegonda you’ll come to Rinascente, Italy’s first department store (it used to have reasonable prices, but has gone VERY upscale in the last ten years, enter at your own risk). Founded in the 19thcentury by the Bocconi family (yes, the same family that founded the Milan’s prestigious business university), it was given its current name meaning “the one being reborn” by the poet Gabriele D’Annunzio when the store had to make a come-back after a fire in 1923. The current structure by Molteni, Pagani and Reggiori dates to 1950. There also is a café with a view of the Duomo at its top, should you prefer to snack, there.
You’ve now shopped ‘til you drop. Hungry? Me, too! If you’re planning on treating me (and you’re already gussied up), we can go to another one of Milan’s beautiful and traditional (and costly) restaurants, Boeucc, nearby in Piazza Belgioioso, 2 (in Italian: www.boeucc.it) (hey, you can’t help but notice the large Neo-Classical palazzo Belgioioso, 1772-1781, designed by Piermarini, and perpendicular to it the adorable little purposefully “Milanese-y” house the writer Manzoni—famous, among other things, for The Betrothed (I Promessi Sposi)—had built for himself in 1874 by Boni). Pockets not that deep? Head back to Papà Francesco’s or to the Victoria Café.
There, my friends, I hope you’ve enjoyed experiencing just a snippet of the rich layers of culture, history and yummy food that Milan has to offer.
You’ve just scratched the surface, so come back, soon!