Following in a cardinal’s footsteps: Gallery visit to Ambrosiana Museum in Milan, Italy

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We recently visited Milan, Italy for the weekend and of course as Milan has a long history (starting from 400 BC with Celtic tribes, through to Romans conquering in 222 BC, to being dominated by the Spanish, Austrians and the French at various times), there is lots of art and architecture to see. 

First cab off the rank was the famous Pinacoteca Brera – badly bombed in WW2 and supposedly rebuilt according to the most modern techniques of museology- but to be honest we both found it a bit of a disappointment even though it contains some very famous paintings. Mantegna’s *Lamentation of Christ’ (1480), The Marriage of the Virgin’ (1504) by Raphael and Caravaggio’s ‘Supper at Emmaus’ (1606) and lots of others.

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Basically it’s large and cold and not particularly light. Many of the rooms are filled with gargantuan paintings full of baroque twistings and dark, tormented figures. And after the first 50 or so it gets a bit much.

Until we arrived at the small area containing the modern collection which had better lighting and some very enjoyable paintings by Boccioni, Braque and Morandi. I just loved Boccioni’s preliminary painting ‘La Citta Sala’ (1910) one of his first futurist paintings. So bold in colour and free in form. And then later the unique vision of  Piero Della Francesca (top of post) whose painting features the famous ostrich egg- a general symbol of creation- hanging from the ceiling. A striking painting commissioned by Federico Da Montafeltro (who’s kneeling in the pic) for the birth of his son.

But the gallery you really must see is the Pinacoteca Ambrosiana which along with the Biblioteca Ambrosiana was created by Roman Catholic Cardinal Federico Borromeo (1564–1631) to contain his collections of paintings and amazing books and manuscripts such as Leonardo’s Codex Atlanticus. It has a personal touch unlike the Brera. And in contrast it is beautifully lit. The paintings are displayed like jewels and some of them were. The Botticelli was just so beautiful. The colour luminous, still perfect after 500 years.

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There were Titians, Leonardo’s beautiful ‘ Portrait of a Musician’,and many other superb paintings from the 15th to 17th centuries. A small collection of Lombard sculpture which had a freshness and simplicity of emotion nicely contrasted with the paintings. What really moved me aside from the Botticelli was the Dutch painters of the 17th century. A still life by Jan Breughel, the colour luminous and rich. The detail remarkable and alive with a variety of flowers (close up below) . And the Paul Brill section in Room 7. You only mostly hear about Paul Brill in relation to Poussin. It’s not really fair. I actually like him better than Poussin probably as they are kind of fantastical landscapes more in harmony with our own apocalyptic times.

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There are so many fascinating works in this gallery and it’s so beautiful to just walk around. it’s a must see if you go to Milan.

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Pinacoteca di Brera

Via Brera, 28 Milan, Italy Telephone +39 02 722631

Hours: Tues – Sun 8.30 – 7.15 Closed Mondays Cost: 6/3 euros

Pinacoteca Ambrosiana

Piazzo Pio Xl, 2

Tel: +39 02 80692248

Hours: Tues – Sun 9am – 7pm Closed Mondays

Short video of Caravaggio’s Paintings.

‘Art is not a thing; it is a way.’

Elbert Hubbard

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