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.
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.
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.
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.
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