Sunday, August 11, 2013

Museum of Ancient Art--the title misleads, the collection delights

Today's turn? The "Museum of Ancient Art"...More......

So, thanks to Eni's "Arte aperta" sponsorship of Milan's civic museums' entrance fees, we've seen the Archaeological Museum, and we've touched on the Acquarium, the Novecento Museum, and the Egyptian, Celtic and historic musical instruments collections in the Sforza Castle (the goldsmith, ceramics and ivory collections were closed that day for lack of funding for personnel, but if they are open when you go, they are worth a look).

I thought I had done a review of the Risorgimento Museum, already, but can't find it--have lots of pictures, just have to find them!--ditto for GAM-Gallerina of Modern Art (i.e., 19th century prior to wasn't the best title choice), the Museum of Milan in Palazzo Morando (also revisited the other day) and the Natural History Museum, so those reviews hopefully will be coming, soon. Today, it's the turn of the equally misleadingly entitled "Ancient Art" Museum in the Sforza Castle, which concentrates principally on the arts of Milan from its beginnings up to the eve of the modern period.

Just about where the front gate of the castle is, that's where the ancient Roman walls passed, and the gate dedicated to Jove was.

The medieval military fort was built a bit farther out, aligned with the slightly larger circle of walls built to repulse Frederick Redbeard of Hohenstaufen, the Holy Roman Emperor as intent on the submission of the Milanese as they were to retain a bigger say in their daily affairs. The gate was just about where this one is, today. (The tower was added during a turbulent period in the late 15th century, after the dukes of Milan had moved their official residence from the palace next to the Duomo to the military fort, turning a part of it into a princely palace...some of whose goodies we'll be seeing, soon!)

Don't miss looking down into what was the moat--part of Milan's canal system--where you can see the stone cannon balls fired--probably by the French at the end of the 15th century--and the castle's cats. Go through this gate, and after passing through, turn immediately to the right.

The entrance hall, revamped a few years ago, has the gift shop, too. Toilets down below--prosaic, but helpful, info. If the handicapped elevator is working, it's here, too. The stairs head up to the goldsmith, musical instruments and ceramics collections. The Arch of the Ironworkers--one of the real arches from Milan's medieval walls--is the marker between our banal everyday world and the sublime of the "Ancient Art" museum.

Heaven starts with a few lovely ancient Roman bits and pieces (that man is blithely walking on an ancient Roman-Milanese mosaic!), and races too quickly through Milan's Longobard phase (why didn't I take any photos this time?...if I find one in my stock, I'll insert it, later) and...

...its Byzantine's the sculpted head reputedly portraying Theodora, Justinian's Empress. It's a good shot, too, of the exhibit layout by the famous architectural studio BBPR for the most part still lovely and effective, today (except for the set-up for Michelangelo's Rondanini Pietà, a child of its times, setting the work apart as the fruit of a genius, precluding instructive comparisons with almost contemporary sculpture in French Milan that still breathes a Gothic air; the Pietà's display is slated for change).

A couple of rooms dedicated to medieval sculpture from Romanesque to the late medieval periods delights with sculptures, such as this 12th century dragon, and...

...the imposing equestrian tomb monument for that ol' rascal Bernabò Visconti, originally intended for under the crossing in his palace grounds church, San Giovanni in Conca (official web page available only in Italian), in today's Piazza Missori area (in that period, the government of Milan was shared between Bernabò and his brother, who lived in the other half of town), and the more Renaissance-inspired monument on columns for his wife Beatrice Regina of Verona's ruling La Scala family (we've mentioned her in previous messages)...the sarcophagus you see on the right, intended for the crypt of the same church, directly aligned with her husband's monument. The ceiling is lovely, but dates to the 16th century, the first decades of the (very long) Spanish occupation.

The ceiling in the next space, the Ascension of Christ, dates, instead, to the 15th century, and seems to indicate the space where the castle's first chapel was.

This couple of rooms also offers the fascinating possibility to see the mid 14th century sculptures by Giovanni di Balduccio once on Milan's medieval gates (only two of which survive, today),...

...the fragments and the giant print showing the façade of Santa Maria di Brera, mentioned in my post about the Pinacoteca di Brera, and...

...the spectacle of an almost complete Gothic tomb (the effigy--or reclining portrait sculpture--is missing). Just think, Italian Catholic churches were filled with these medieval beauties until that party-pooper St. Charles Borromeo appeared on the scene in the mid-16th century...he was important in the Catholic Reformation, and had as many taken down as he could manage because he thought them distracting. O.K., they were. They focused attention on the wealth and importance of the defunct, but they also were testimonies to hope.

A small room divides two larger ones, and too often is overlooked. The 14th century sculpture of Christ on the Cross (there are others upstairs) is relatively rare due to the delicate nature of the wooden material. If you look closely, Christ looks like he's taken to shaving his head...but the sculpture probably had a real hair wig.

The next room has some of the most fun things in the whole museum. As well as gorgeous, of course. Here, the two upper friezes of the Porta Romana gate of the medieval walls celebrating St. Ambrose's throwing the Arians (one of the kinds of Christianity popular until what we know as Catholicism began to win about four to five centuries after Christ's death) out of Milan...just like the Milanese had tossed out...

...Frederick Redbeard Hohenstaufen the Holy Roman Emperor also depicted on the town's gates seated elegantly crossing his legs...over a devil..., and...

...on Porta Tusa (pronounced "TOO-zah," Gate of the Girl) a woman cutting the hair off of her pubis--as prostitutes did--presumably a reference to his wife. "You're a devil, and your wife's a..." If you're going to insult someone, you'd might as well go whole hog.

The next room has tapestries (ho-hum...sorry!) and this gigantic embroidered and appliqued banner designed by Meda (who also drew up the plans for Milan's Darsena, or in-city harbor) with Milan's patron saint, Ambrose; it was carried by lots of men (darn heavy) in processions.

Be sure to peek through the windows at the "bridge," a series of rooms and a covered portico reportedly designed by Bramante for Ludovico il Moro to get a bit of fresh air while in the castle.

The next room will knock your socks off...or it should. It was Ludovico il Moro's throne room, and was decorated with a bower, landscapes and architectural ruins by Leonardo da Vinci (though it's not clear if it had been finished, completely, before the French tossed the Sforza out). The room is being restored.

The next room's frescoed ceiling is gorgeous, too: the Sforza ducal crests.

In this room, we first begin to enter the Florentine-inspired Renaissance in the Milanese dukedom. Here's a putto from Castiglione Olona, about an hour and a half car...on the freeway. The Gothic-inspired tradition will continue alongside the Florentine-inspired Renaissance, and the two will share characteristics in Milan, examples can be found in this room. Go, and see for yourself!

The next room also has a lovely frescoed ceiling (red with a golden flying dove pattern in imitation of a tent) and more precious Milanese Renaissance era sculpture.

From it, you can step into my favorite room in the museum...even if they have ruined it... installing a stand for an admittedly lovely painting of the period. The room was the new (late 15th century) chapel of the princely palace. The frescoes are a wonderful example of this blending of courtly Gothic and Florentine- and Padua-inspired Renaissance. The former are represented by the heavy use of gold gilding,...

...while the latter are easy to see in the classicizing motifs of the Resurrection and Ascension of Christ.

Interested in fashion? Look again at the preceding photo with the standing sculpture of a turns out to be the late 15th century adoring Madonna del coazzione, or "Madonna with the long special pony-tail." The "coazzione" was a very very long (often bound) pony-tail stretching down to the woman's calves.

Even the rich brocade of her gown is rendered.

The subsequent long gallery offers lots of fun for the guys...and gals: arms and armor of the centuries past, as well as Renaissance portals and reliefs coming from buildings in town.

Next comes the room with the enigma of the BBPR display of...

...Michelangelo's Pietà purchased in the 1950s, and put behind a gigantic wooden room divider,...

...separating it from this almost contemporary, yet thoroughly old-fashioned, effigy of the French king's nephew, a brave commander who fell in battle at a young age.

Exiting you pass a precious source of water (especially during a siege!) in the shape of the decoration on a warrior's helmet, or maybe a chess piece...or both!

Exiting, turn left twice, and go up the (long and shallow for horses in the absence of elevators!) steps to see the decorative arts and eventually the painting collections, for which one example each is going to have to suffice.

This sleeping putto is from 17th century Germany. It tops a coffer, or little precious box.

O.K., I said one, but I couldn't resist. Here's a 16th and 17th century automaton that probably scared the heck out of its observers. Nevertheless, each time I see it, the creature's well-modelled and beautiful bust, shoulders and arms remind me of the representations by Sodoma and by Bramante (the latter at the Pinacoteca di Brera) of Christ being whipped at the column.

This detail of d'Oggiono's wedding feast at Cana will show you how artists were LOOKING at their surroundings. The sleeve is bicolor because the fabric is cangeante, changeable in color (a factor depending on the way two colors of threads are woven together).

Leaving by the eastern gate reminds me to point out two things to you: (1) look at the newer, fresher appearance of the brick in the crenellated area...those have been restored, and (2) (paid) guided tours of them are available...probably only in Italian, but check here, and call, just in case.

I do so hate to leave you after having so much fun together, so as my good-bye present here's an extra snap that takes in one of the ruins of the larger complex defensive structures and walls that ranged around the castle and the castle, itself. I hope you've had fun, too, and been stimulated to visit the Sforza Castle and its collections for yourself.



Margaret said...

Lots of impressive things to see. That automaton is really something!

chris said...

beautiful and fascinating works! the automaton, the bald Christ, the long ponytail, the ceilings... so much to see in an amazing building! you're so lucky to have so much history nearby!

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