Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Venetian nostalgia in mid-19th century Milan: the Grand Hotel et de Milan at via Manzoni n. 29

Picture this...centuries and centuries of yearning to be reunited after the fall of the ancient Roman empire under a single flag...More......

...(no lesser light than Dante moaned about this, too)...to be so close and yet so far...big hunks of Italy now under the new Savoy monarchy, and yet...and yet...and yet Rome is still under the pope's triple crown and Venice, once a proud republic, is still clutched in the claws of the Hapsburg eagle.

A light goes on over the architect's, Andrea Pizzala's, head, and, voilà!, this new luxury hotel (1864-65) is in the Venetian style...well...

...some of the spirally decorations are, anyway.

For historic photos of the interior, go to the hotel's web site (no commercial endorsement intended), choose English, and click on the "history" button...beware, music starts blaring the moment the site opens...it scared me!...forewarned is forearmed.

Here, the great opera composer Verdi (my favorite!), whose works were popularly associated with the eventually successful Italian uprising against the Hapsburg empire, lived out his last few years. It is said that the surrounding streets were piled with straw during his last days heavily weighed down with the stroke that finally killed him to keep from disturbing him with the noise of the traffic. He died in 1901, and was deeply mourned by everyone, as this film clip of his funeral cortege attests.

Buried first in the city's monumental cemetery, his body was laid to rest, as he had ordered, in a crypt built for this purpose in Casa Verdi (in English, yeah!), the Old Musician's Home that he sponsored in Milan and which still houses, as he wanted them called, "guests." The structure was designed and built by the then renowned architect Camillo Boito (and also the brother of Arrigo Boito, who did the libretti for Verdi) in 1899, the sculpture in the piazza was put up after the composer's death by Enrico Butti in 1913. The crypt mosaic decoration was by Ludovico Pogliaghi, also responsible for the central bronze door of the Duomo so, though little known today, at the time was not a Johnny-come-lately.

Times being what they are, the structure on via Buonarroti, n. 29, has some rooms available for rent to serious music students willing to live with the guests, and to share their passion for music.

Official Verdi web site in English (yeah!)


(As usual...all my pics and all for your personal, non-commercial enjoyment.)

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

One of Milan's "Must See" sites: the Poldi Pezzoli Museum, via Manzoni, 12

A few more steps down via Manzoni on our saunter, and we come to n. 12 and the Poldi Pezzoli palazzo. Once his family home, it now houses one of the world's most important museums....More......

Built in the 17th century and reconstructed in the Neo-Classical style by Simone Cantoni(b. 1736-d. 1818), it was modified at the behest of Gian Giacomo Poldi Pezzoli (b. 1822-d. 1879) for his art collections in 1850-53 by Giuseppe Balzaretto (b. 1801-d. 1874), also responsible for the restyling of the public gardens on the other side of the medieval city gate just down the road. The museum opened in 1881 shortly after Poldi Pezzoli's death.

Gian Giacomo had a busy life. He participated in the anti-Austrian uprisings that led to the Cinque Giornate, whose success was betrayed by a Savoy at the nearby via Manzoni 6. Forced into exile for a year, he turned his attention and wealth to art collecting.

A bachelor, he surprised everyone in his will (the nearest cousins the most, I suspect) by donating it all to the private museum bearing his name. The incredible masterpieces he had gathered are continually augmented, as he expressly stated in his will. This, and the fact that the structure was extremely heavily bombed in WWII means that the collection is now a very different one, and the museum, itself, has changed completely. From the house museum it once was, it was rebuilt by the famous architect Luigi Caccia Dominioni in 1974 as a normal museum: except for a rare exception, the rooms no longer resembling the private house it once was. The museum was again retouched in 1993-1994, and the arms collection display completely turned on its head--scenographically, but museologically ineffectively in my opinion (that will earn me brownie points for sure...)--by the famous sculptor, Arnaldo Pomodoro. (Why ineffective you ask? Because it's dark, hard to see, and places too much emphasis on the whiz-bang of the sculptor's display than it does on the marvelous Renaissance pieces that seem to be there to serve the exhibit, and not visa versa, as it should be.)

Walk a few paces along the adjoining Poldi Pezzoli building (n. 14) towards the medieval gate, and you'll pass a break between this block of buildings and the next. Through the tempting and horrifically expensive restaurant "Don Lissander" (for Don "Alexander Manzoni," who also lived nearby) you'll be able to glimpse what used to be Poldi Pezzoli's back yard, a lovely 'small' park which he inherited from his Trivulzio mother, and which still belongs to the ennobled Trivulzio family and their family palazzo on the perpendicular via Bigli.

The garden isn't open to the public, but you can get a better and nosy glimpse of it if you go to the back of the commercial gallery at n. 16. It's quite unusual (for us hoi polloi, anyway) to have single family gardens in Milan...a smaller one--not too big, not too small, but juuuuuuust right (I'm not greedy)--on via Amedei that I yearned for for years also turns out to belong to their family...is this Fate?


Tuesday, August 14, 2012

A little bit weird and certainly wonderful: Bramantino in Milan

Bartolomeo Suardi, AKA Bramantino because a follower of Bramante during his time in Milan, was a Milanese painter and architect whose work sits astride those tumultous years in Milan from the end of the 15th to the beginning of the 16th centuries....More......

No slouch, himself, he was court painter to the Sforza. After contact with the Roman Renaissance his style took a monumental jump from something that makes me a little queasy (that Madonna in the Pinacoteca Ambrosiana is really weird-looking, like an alien from outer space) to the monumental with a twist and grand pathos.

He designed the Trivulzio tomb tacked onto the front of one of Milan's churches founded centuries and centuries before by none other than S. Ambrose, himself, S. Nazaro. (my picture)

An exhibit at the Sforza Castle dedicated to his work will be open until at least the 25th of September

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

On a budget in Milan?

Oh, this is going to be a hard one. Milan certainly isn't a city where one expects to do things on a shoe string....More......

Do your "Let's Go" (or whatever your guide book of choice) homework before you come for hotel / pensione and eating hints (though for the latter, hunt out the "Brek" cafeteria
wherever you are in Italy...it's acceptable food, but watch out...piling your tray can chalk up quite a bill).

What about cultural stuff?

There are sometimes free concerts around town (see my recent post on summertime music in Milan).

A walk along what's left of Milan's canals (Navigli) is fun and sometimes is enlivened by open air flea and art markets. (For info about boat trips on the canals, see my "watery" post on August 1st.)

Museums have discounts for special categories of people...another good reason to belong to FAI-Fondo Ambiente Italiano (in English, yeah!)...the yearly fee is cheap, about E. 40, and the card entitles you to discounts, even at participating museums.

Want more info? Try the new pages on the Province of Milan's web site for low cost options in the area. The pages are in English...yeah!


(My photo: a happy pair of mallards on the Naviglio Grande within this last year.)

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Summertime in watery Milan

What? Watery Milan?

Yup, rivers and canals (Navigli) heading toward and away from it, their beds now buried as they go through the city. The dock (darsena), once bustling with people and goods, now sadly stalled as the war wages for a parking lot under it. Lights shimmering. Water grass streaming. Hidden snippets of streams. Ducks and their little families plopping around ignoring the noise.

I wish Milan were even water-ier....More......

I wish that the canals that once circled and criss-crossed the city would be re-opened and cleaned and used to their full advantage for moving people quietly and as pollution-free as possible, and for their full tourist potential.

For now, we'll have to content ourselves with newly re-organized boat trips on the Naviglio Grande (fun! fun! fun! I've done it!): Navigli Lombardi(pages in English, yeah!). There's even a dinner tour available on Thursdays. (Hey...how much more romantic can you get?!)

How about taking a tour of what's left of the canals in town, including the lock built by Leonardo da Vinci? Go here.

Want to go biking, instead? You can bike all the way from Milan to the Adda river (pant! pant!) along the Martesana, Milan's Renaissance canal. This web site is in Italian, but the time tables and the map should be helpful, anyway.


(My photos: Christmas time at the Naviglio Grande a few years ago, a trip down the Naviglio Grande last year and the "tombon" [lock] of Leonardo da Vinci)
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