Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Via Manzoni: n. 6 (Palazzo Brentano then Greppi)

How fun, it's time to share another view from via Manzoni with you!

Today's special guest is Palazzo Brentano then Greppi at n. 6 on the eastern side of the street...More......

Constructed in 1829 for the Brentano family (and later acquired by the Greppi), this mansion was the scene of dramatic episodes during the years leading up to Italy's (finally) successful attempts at independence.

During what the Italians (and particularly the Milanese) still call "The Five Days of Milan," those plucky Milanese citizens tossed out the official imperial Austrian troops in March of 1848 (for more info, see: http://mymilanitaly.blogspot.com/2011/03/five-days-of-milan-cinque-giornate-di.html).

Imagine the bustling around, the jockeying for position and the prideful joy at having succeeded in freeing oneself from the empire (was it such a good idea, after all? no use askin', history ain't written with IFs). Lots of informal committees turning into more and more official (new) governmental bodies. Issues getting settled, new ones being raised. Be patient, everyone, only a few months have passed.

Then Carlo Alberto of Savoy, the duke from Piedmont to whom the Milanese had turned for military help on the battle fields scattered around, appeared in early August of that same year on the balcony of this very building. Happy grateful faces turned up to him.

Faces rapidly blank with disbelief, then literally bonkers with rage. The battles around Milan hadn't been going as well as he had hoped. Fearing worse loss (perhaps even of his own reign), he cut his losses--meaning the Milanese--signed an armistice, announced it, then literally ran for his life. Thanks only to a small handful of loyals, he barely managed to escape being torn to pieces (really) by the whiskers of his chinny chin chin (a painting by Bossoli, now in the fascinating Museo del Risorgimento in Milan, room VI, shows the scene), and the Austrians--madder than wet bees--marched firmly back into town and into control...for another ten years.

The very simple and sober Eclectic façade has a series of roundels with busts of luminaries. The only female figure--seen here on the far right--is Maria Gaetana Agnesi, born in Milan on the 16th of May, 1718, the eldest of TWENTY-ONE children of Pietro Agnesi--of a bourgeois family become rich in the cloth industry and with social-ladder-climbing stars in their eyes--and Anna Brivio, the first of his three wives.

Busy man. Busy house, in via Pantano, 1.

Very VERY intelligent and much-admired little girl home schooled (even in physics) by the best university professors (some of them ecclesiastics) of the day: spoke, read and wrote Latin fluently by the age of 9 (NINE?!), Greek by the age of 11 (I think I hate her), eventually Hebrew, German (yes, I definitely hate her) and French, too (though not Spanish...hah!...she was born just in time to miss living under the Spanish Hapsburgs).

And Italian. (Don't say, "duh!"...What we know as "Italian" was the language of the 14th century Florentines Dante and Boccaccio in an Italy in which local dialects were so diversified as to be often unintelligible one to the other. The Florentine dialect was picked up by the young Venetian boy Pietro Bembo, who fell in love with it, and, in 1525, publised "A work of prose in which one reasons over everyday language," which codified it as THE form of a cultured common language to be adopted, minus the funny accent...though, lazy as folks are, this did take only a few centuries--and television--to come about). I'll bet Agnesi also spoke Milanese.

She even published (now I'm really sure I hate her) much praised books (of an encyclopedic nature, no biggie, it's the period of the Enlightenment, after all) on philosophy and mathematics, translated into French and English, and widely in use, as well as on theology. Blow-your-socks-off amazing for a woman of that period.

Bless her heart. She wanted to be a nun.

Family social ambitions precluded that...if the little performing monkey wasn't at home, who'd come to visit Pietro, and add gloss to the family tree?

She was allowed to remain unmarried, but was kept at home, where she continued to study and keep up valued correspondence with important MEN of her day.

After her father's death in 1752, finally freeeeeeeeee!, she didn't go into a convent, after all, but devoted herself to helping the miserably poor around her (unfortunately, there was plenty for her to do). She even took them into her own home, and spent every little bit of her big inheritance helping them. Now, those High Society Milanese, who had flocked to see her perform, turned up their noses at her when she went begging for money for the poor.

In 1772, Agnesi was nominated director of the women's ward of the Pio Albergo Trivulzio, a hospice for the sick and elderly founded only a year before by Prince Antonio T. Trivulzio (the institution still exists and--paired with another--still bears his name to remember his generosity). Attempts by Pietro Verri, an important man of the day, to get her assigned an annual imperial stipend because of her scholarly and good works failed.

Having already given up the richly decorated family home for less expensive dwellings so she could continue her good works, she was nominated General Director (!) of the entire (!) Pio Albergo Trivulzio in 1783, which entitled her to a luxurious suite...that she refused. She lived in normal spaces of the institution, worked extra to pay for her room and board, did stints caring for the ill, and gave to the poor what little money she managed to save.

She died quite elderly after a brief illness in her little suite at the Trivulzio on the 9th of January in turbulent (Napoleonic) 1799--only a few decades before the Brentani-Greppi mansion was first built--and was buried, as she wished, in the Porta Romana area in a common grave with fifteen other women, who had given their lives serving others. The city of Milan has honored her with a plaque and a portrait in the "Famedio" (Milan's "Hall of Fame" at the Monumental Cemetery).

Get your gender meter out, and hunt for girls in the schools of the days of her youth, and you won't find any; if you're a woman, and you're reading this, Thank the Cosmos you were born where and when you were.

So, who occupies the mansion, now?

Since 1935, when it was restructured on the inside according to a plan by the architect Giuseppe De Finetti (1892-1951), first by the Banca Nazionale then by the adjacent Banca Commerciale Italiana.

I took these snaps on the 2nd of August, 2011, around 3:30-4 P.M.


P.S., as usual the principal art and architectural information was taken from "Milano" by the Touring Club Italiano. The (unverified) info on M.G. Agnesi comes from this text prepared by the high school professor Ambrogio Cazzaniga: http://www.liceoagnesi.it/contenuti/content/view/9/2110/.

P.P.S., I was so sure that I already had written about the Gallerie d'Italia collections housed in the Palazzo Brentani (via Manzoni, 6) and Palazzo Anguissola (via Manzoni, 10), that when a friend mentioned it, I wrote back telling her 'thanks, but I did it already'...then it began to gnaw at me...had I really? Incredulous, I checked and checked and checked...zilch. (I'll keep hunting...it would be such a pity to lose such pearls of wisdom....)

So, with apologies to the very nice friend, here's the link to the web site (in English!) of this interesting collection belonging to the Fondazione Cariplo and the Banca Intesa San Paolo. For the moment, only the 19th century collections are open. In 2012, they are planning on opening the 20th century section overlooking Piazza della Scala. I'll keep you posted.

1 comment:

Star said...

The 296th recurrence of her birthday was celebrated with a lovely animated logo by Google.

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