Saturday, July 27, 2013

Plan A and Plan B for a Sunny Sunday afternoon: the Pinacoteca of Brera

Next on the express tour of Milan's museums is the Museum of the Duomo of Milan.

That was Plan A...until...More......

...I got there, and saw the sign saying that the museum is still closed for renovation...until November 2013 (or...?). Let the visitor beware.

Plan B: one of the other museums on the ENI freebie list, or the Pinacoteca of Brera. Couldn't remember any of the first, so headed to the second down via Brera, where I passed this great vintage shop and immediately afterwards a "Profumo" (perfume) shop, where they mix perfumes for you. Must cost a mint. Not to be confused with Olfattorio, which also has lovely quality perfumes, but is right across the street.

Now for Brera. A medieval Milanese word for 'garden' or 'orchard' like those that used to characterize this area in the band of land running between where the ancient Roman (now via Orso-via Cusani) and the medieval (now via Pontaccio, because of a bad bridge, or "ponte") walls used to go.

The story is long (I can make any story long!), so will cut to the chase: previously in the hands of the Umiliati, a group of lay and religious believers founded in the medieval period, but that got itself into deep you-know-what after trying to assassinate the Cardinal Carlo Borromeo, the land was handed by the selfsame cardinal to the new order of Jesuits in 1572, who had the Umiliati's building first enlarged and then radically transformed by a series of the most important architects of the day: Bassi, Ricchini, Quadrio e Rossone. Then the Jesuits got themselves into trouble, their order was suppressed in 1772 (lots of monasteries and churches were being suppressed by the Hapsburgs ostensibly and even possibly really because they were corrupted by wealth...which devolved to the imperial treasure chests...), and the Austrian Hapsburgs, then in charge of Milan, transformed the structure for functions to benefit the general populace: a botanical garden, an astronomy center and--moving there the art school originally at the Pinacoteca Ambrosiana where it had been founded by Carlo's younger cousin, Federico--an art gallery. The most important architect in Milan at the time, Piermarini, was in charge of adapting the structure to its new lay functions, and adding the monumental white portal.

As long as we're on a panoramic history roll, the building at the back of the little piazza to the right of the image once was a church, but was deconsecrated and deconstructed to accomodate more art galleries under Napoleon (another one keen on suppressing religious orders and monasteries and absorbing their great wealth) at the beginning of the 19th century. Fragments of the church and a gigantic blow-up of a then contemporary print of the church's façade is permanently on view in the "Arte Antica" museum of the Sforza Castle.

Passing through the entryway (monuments to artists, architects, writers and scientists abound) the brightness of the courtyard, the regular rhythm of the double-columned arches, the largeness of the space amaze.

In the center, a 1984 copy of the bronze sculpture commissioned in 1807 by Viceroy Eugene Beauharnais (Josephine's son) from Canova of Napoleon as Mars the Peacemaker ("pacifier" means something else in English!). Because of the back-and-forth of French and Austrian and Milanese control of the city in those turbulent times, the original was installed only in 1859, immediately after the Milanese had retaken control--this time permanently--of their city.

Are you, or one of your group, in a wheelchair? Go straight across the courtyard, into the door to the left of the sculpted water spout, turn immediately to your left, and, just a dozen steps down a short hall, go through the door at the end and into that other courtyard at the far end of which you'll see the little signs for handicapped service. You can call (tel. 02 722 63 264 or 02 722 73 229) or fax (02 720 011 40) them ahead of time, but it's not necessary. And there's a plus: the person in the wheelchair and the person accompanying them get in free.

If you can walk up the stairs, just before the fountain, take the large stairs up the left...

...passing the 1838 monument by the famous sculptor Pompeo Marchesi to the writer Beccaria, or... the right, passing the 1838 monument by Gaetano Matteo Monti to the writer Parini.

At the head of the stairs, a 1959-60 rider and horse by Marino Marini.

Turn right, and at the end of this flank of the courtyard is the current entrance to the museum (despite the fact that it is unmarked).

You enter the museum through the bookshop (don't worry, you exit through it, too) with a monument to the early 19th century painter, Appiani. Head to the back, and turn right. You'll go first through a small room with lockers for large backpacks and places for umbrellas. Beyond that, the museum starts...and they now don't allow photos, even without flash (though they did the last time I was there...always ask...always follow the rules...don't contribute to the 'ill-mannered tourist' prejudice).

The rooms run around--sometimes in parallel series--the large courtyard in an order that is roughly chronological and organized by general areas. The first paintings are fresco fragments by the very talented Bramante, just the first in the Brera's large collection with interesting and excellent pieces and many masterpieces, including Mantegna's "Dead Christ," Raphael's "Marriage of the Virgin," and Piero della Francesca's altarpiece with the suspended ostrich egg. Some of the rooms might be closed...funds are too short to have enough guards to keep them all open. There often are chairs in the rooms to ease your tired bones. About halfway there is a glass "cage" for the restoration of works right before the visitors' eyes (great idea!) and an area called "Brera mai vista" (Brera never seen), where they put up works that haven't been displayed, yet.

Heads up...there are two areas that might be easy to miss. Once in the room with the GIGANTIC painting by the Bellini's of St. Mark preaching in Alessandria, you have a choice...turn to the right to continue immediately to Venetian late Renaissance painting, or go through the small door at the back of the room, and see the Jesi collection...modern art that would be better off moved to the new Novecento museum. Don't worry, you can double back, and do both. The other area not to be missed is a small room with the 'leonardeschi' (the artists influenced by Leonardo da Vinci). It's a small room right off of the one dedicated to 17th century Italian painting.

Too many important and interesting paintings to cite any others, you'll have more fun picking out your own favorites and finding souvenirs in the shop at the end.

After you've finished the painting gallery, head downstairs,...

...and wander around. The structure also has the the National Brera Library (open for serious research during normal work day hours) and still has the art school. The halls are full of monuments to past teachers and some of the now unused gesso models. Others still can be glimpsed in the class rooms.

Monti's relief sculpture dedicated to Napoleon and intended for the Arch of Peace in Parco Sempione wasn't to the liking of the returning Hapsburgs, but it was too much of a precious work by an important artist to abandon, so it's in the hall attached to the square covered open space in the courtyard corner in the back and to the right, when entering the courtyard from the street.

All the 18th and 19th century commemorative sculptures are dedicated to white men. I found only one bust dedicated to a woman. Now I'll have to remember to look her up.

Pinacoteca di Brera, via Brera, 28
Hours: 8:30 A.M. to 7:15 P.M., Tuesday to Sunday
Entry: Euro 10

tel. 02 722 63 264 - 229
fax: 02 720 011 40

It's time for Francesco Hayez, one of Milan's most famous 19th century painters, seen here in an 1890 sculpture by the famous sculptor Barzaghi, and me to say thanks for coming along and...



bitercat8 said...

It's always fun to tag along with you in Milan. I Always learn a few new things! You Are a living TCI guide--with great pictures.


Margaret said...

I love that dress! It is so adorable. I haven't seen anything like it in the States.

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