Though I love Rome’s fashionable and financially astute sister in the North, I visit Milan visit with the frequency of the fiscal calendar’s quarterly reports. About once a season, day-trip or a few night stay-over. Most of the time, I am as focused as on-floor trader with the things I have to get done. I run in and run out out of taxis, trains and appointments but no matter what I make sure to walk around the Brera.
The original artist neighborhood
Sunny, rainy, cold, hot. It doesn’t matter. The Brera neighbourhood is wonderful. Whenever I am in Milan, I have an unstoppable routine with a destination to Brera on Milan’s vintage trams to Via Monte Napoleone. This is the crossroads of art and fashion, the corner of Great Paintings and Gucci.
Known for its picturesque cobblestone streets, bohemian atmosphere, and fashionable boutiques, Brera is a popular destination for pretty much anyone who wants a glimpse of Milan’s’ unique blend of history, art, fashion and contemporary style. It’s here where you’ll find Bulgari with its amazing garden and Bar Brera, the historic Milanese institution that has been serving patrons since 1903. And it’s where you should grab your afternoon Negroni just after a walk through Pinacoteca Brera.
Thanks to the requisite Art History 101 class and a painting by Andrea Mantegna, the Pinacoteca Brera became a second home that I have to stop by every time I am in Milan or I feel guilty.
Founded in 1809, The Brera was initially created to complement the Brera Academy of Fine Arts, and slowly built up a collection of Lombardi painters and more so that the gallery is a leading cultural institution with an exceptional collection of Italian Renaissance art, including works by renowned artists such as Caravaggio, Raphael, and Bellini. There is a lot to see, so I thought I’d share my highlights.
A high five to Napoleon Bonaparte, whose portrait statues hangout in the Brera’s ground-level courtyard and in the main gallery. Napoleon played a significant role in the development of the Brera district and the Pinacoteca. During his reign in Italy in the early 19th century, he seized numerous art collections from churches and other institutions, and placed them in the Pinacoteca di Brera, amping up the collection. Of course, he added a few exaggerated portrait sculptures.
A gallery shuffling and renovation placed Mantegna’s Il Cristo Morto ~ The Lamentation of Christ, (1480s) at the end of a hallway in Sala VII– a room of its own, a dark cave. Eery and morbid, this was one of the first paintings to truly captivate me. I love the perspective of looking up the feet.
Or as I like to call it The Room of Looking at Monumentally Big Paintings. This room is my second favorite for watching people watching art and then also for me to take a long breath to enjoy painting. Like most of the rooms, there are chairs- the best way to take in Gentile e Giovanni Bellini’s La predica di S. Marco ad Alessandria (Sermon of St. Mark of Alexandria).
The Restoration Lab
Sala XVIII is restoration lab, and another reason why I love the Brera– a glimpse into the technical, painstaking and painterly process of restoration. Each time I visit there is a different restoration. This is perhaps one of the best first person views of how art is conserved and restored.
Caravaggio and Friends
Sala XXIV is a Caravaggio party. Here, BFF’s Luca Giordano, Orazio Gentileschi, Carracciolo and of course, Michelangelo Merisi, the art world’s favorite bad boy known as Caravaggio, all hang out together. There is no elbow room where there is a Caravaggio painting.
The Wall Colors
Sala XXXVII is painted in an unforgettable seafoam blue and if Giuseppe Pellizza da Volpedo’s Fiumana (1897) is hanging, I’m staying. This is a pre-painting to his famous Il Quarto Stato, a painting that I have been obsessed with since 1992 which now hangs in the Museo del Novecento.
Caffe Fernanda, what more can I say? Located adjacent to the ticket office and main entrance, Caffe Fernanda is one of the prettier museum cafes in all of Italy. I’d suggest making your next business meeting here.
Thank you, Principe di Savoia for giving me the opportunity to enjoy a care-free Sunday in Milan, before a few long days of work. The Ambassador Suite has been the perfect haven and hideaway to get back to.