Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Feel like being nosey in a homey environment? I've just the thing for you: the Circuit of Historic House Museums

You’ve come to/live in Milan, and already have visited everything in my previous post, well, OK, lots of things in my previous posts.

So, now what?

I’ve just the thing!

The Circuit of Historic Houses in Milan will give you a chance to enjoy three out of the four still hidden gems of Milan, as well as one of its best known museums, so let’s go.

Let’s start at the Bagatti Valsecchi Museum, where you can buy the Circuit of Historic House Museums card. The card is valid for a year for all four museums, and it costs less than buying the individual entry tickets. For general information in English about the card and...More...

...the circuit, go here.


The best place to start is with the Bagatti Valsecchi Museum, and not just because I work there, so I’m partial--I admit it!--but also, objectively speaking, because it’s a time capsule back into a late 19th century aristocratic Milanese home filled with the original collections of Italian Renaissance art and decorative arts, all placed just where the collectors originally wanted the things to be seen. This way, you’ll get a good idea of what traditional Milan was like at the end of the 19th century before you rush to see anything modern … believe me (and this is the art historian in me speaking), you’ll understand "modern" better (and maybe even like it more), if you understand "traditional," first.

Cross the threshold and let the thoughts of Fausto and Giuseppe Bagatti Valsecchi accompany you, as you enjoy 15th and 16th century paintings, sculptures and furniture, and imagine the brothers sitting like lordly Renaissance princes in front of crackling fireplaces decorated with early 16th century frescoes. Laugh with the brothers at their sense of humor and, why not?, be a little envious of their good luck to find a Giovanni Bellini, a Giampietrino (one of Leonardo da Vinci’s favorite pupils), a few Zenales, works by other respected artists and a much revered portrait from the workshop of Gentile Bellini, as well as gorgeous majolica, glass, arms, armor, a couple of Rodari sculptures and a beautiful Madonna in Donatello’s "schiacciato" style.

Wander at your own pace. The use of the very good (if I do say so, myself...I helped to write them) audioguides is free of charge with entrance ticket purchase; they are available in English, French and Japanese, as well as Italian. Information cards in English, French, German, Spanish, Japanese, and soon Chinese and Russian are in each room. Guided visits in many be reserved in various languages. The sumptuous rooms of the museum also are available after closing hours for special events.

The Bagatti Valsecchi Museum, together with the other historic house museums, is a great museum to visit, even for people who don’t usually like to go to museums.


Because, since it’s a house, it’s homey, and you can go through it looking for your favorite kind of object, be it majolica, arms & armor, glass, glass, scientific instruments, musical instruments, clocks and whatnots, besides the paintings and sculptures...or...you can just be nosy, and peek around to see how the people lived.

If you, or someone you know, lives in Milan, don’t forget to sign up to the Bagatti Valsecchi Museum newsletter, available in English, on the web site. It will keep you informed of the museum’s temporary exhibits, concerts, conferences and kids activities.

Remember to buy the Circuit of Historic House Museums of Milan card, here, because it’s cheaper in the end, and lasts a year!

One more thing: the restaurant on the ground floor of the Bagatti Valsecchi mansion (NOT the same management as the Bagatti Valsecchi Museum) is a completely separate entity, so I don’t have any official information for you about it, but I often see people, there, so you might give it a try.

Via Gesù 5 (a few minutes walk from the Duomo, La Scala and San Babila)
MM1-San Babila, MM3-Montenapoleone, Tram 1-Montenapoleone
Handicap access available upon request
Tel. +39-02.7600.6132 (HINT: when making calls within the same city in Italy, it still is necessary to add the city code, in this case, 02)

Next house on the circuit to visit is:


A 10-15 minute walk from the Bagatti Valsecchi Museum is the Necchi-Campiglio villa, yes, a countryside style villa in the heart of Milan. Why next on the visit? Because (1) it’s your next step closer to the present in time, and (2) it’s a step toward social change in Italy: from the Bagatti Valsecchi aristocratic mansion to the villa of wealthy, but upper middle-class industrialists. The villa was built in the 1930s and 1940s by one of Italy’s most famous modern architects, Portaluppi (though some of the interior was "updated"--much to my personal chagrin--in the 1950s). Portaluppi’s sun room is my absolute favorite room in the whole house, well, that and the small (by today’s rich standards), but stupendous master bathroom. Set in its own walled garden, the house built for the heirs of the Necchi sewing machine heirs, Gigina and Nedda, and Gigina’s husband, is restful, and has a separately operated caffè.

The house, a FAI-Fondo Ambiente Italiano property, was chosen to house an art collection of the same years, but assembled by a different person. Although not original to the house, it fits in very well.

I have to admit, though, the museum has one serious drawback. You can’t wander at will. You’re obliged to reserve and follow a guided tour of the museum, so you can’t linger and enjoy as you might like. On the other hand, it’s one way to keep you off the furniture!

I’m pretty sure that they have tours in English, but it’s better to check out their web site, and write them an e-mail.

Via Mozart, 14
T +39-02-7634-0121

The next step closer to us in time is the Boschi-Di Stefano Museum.


OK, so, even without the Circuit of Historic Houses of Milan ticket, you could have gotten in for free in this city-owned museum, but the others, no, so go ahead and buy it, it’s still cheaper than buying the three other tickets, separately.

What’s so special about this museum on an upper floor of a nice, but normal condo building? First of all, it takes us one step closer to our own day, stretching from the 1930s up to the 1970s, but it also moves us from upper middle class to the solidly middle class circles. Antonio Boschi was a talented engineer working for the Pirelli company, his wife, Marieda Di Stefano, inherited her family’s interest in art. An artist, herself, she and her husband were passionate about then contemporary art, and so the collection has pieces from their entire married life, all displayed, crammed really, onto the walls of their fairly small condo. Pieces by Milanese artists, or artists working in Milan, were particularly collected, and so that includes the pieces by artists of the world-famous Futurist movement.

It is possible to enjoy the collection on your own, and the website is in English, but if you’re in a group of more than a few people, you’ll need to make reservations ahead of time (that’s normal, though, with pretty much all museums, world-wide).

Via Jan, 15
T +39-02-2024-0568

Finally, we come to the Grand Old Dame, the last museum on the circuit (at least as of the writing of this post): the Poldi Pezzoli Museum.


Once fully a historic house museum, if the truth be told, this (really lovely and rightfully famous) museum really is no longer a historic house museum, in my opinion. Directly bombed during World War II, almost all of the original interiors were destroyed. What remains: the spiral staircase, the small room with the Meissen porcelain and the Algardi sculpture, the Black Room (well, mostly), and (well, mostly) Poldi Pezzoli’s Byzantine-inspired study.

Giuseppe Poldi Pezzoli was the son of two noble families, his mother was a Trivulzio. As a young adult he actively participated in Milan’s first (unsuccessful) bid for political freedom from the Austro-Hungarian empire in 1848...for which he was exiled for a few years to encourage him to cool off. He took advantage of the forced time away from Milan, and travelled throughout Europe, becoming a passionate collector of art, which he installed in his house, as decoration for himself and—though he confided it only to his lawyer—as a museum for after his death (he died unmarried and without children, so just imagine the surprise of his cousins when the will was opened).

Much of the collections was taken out of Milan during WWII, so it was saved, but, except for the above-mentioned rooms, was installed in the refurbished spaces in the typical set-up of a museum, the principal reason why I don’t think it still can be called a historic house museum, as wonderful as the collections are. Furthermore, Poldi Pezzoli had specified in his will that the museum’s collections should continue to grow and change, and so the museum has been able to acquire lovely pieces, or receive them as donations, that never were part of the original collection.

Whether you do the whole circuit of historic houses, or not, and I hope you do, this museum--with some famous masterpieces and many other works by famous and not-so-famous artists--is well worth the visit.

Via Manzoni, 15
T +39-02-794-889 (yes, the number has only 6 digits…it’s an indication of the age of the phone number; some numbers in Italy even have only 4 digits!)
http://www.museopoldipezzoli.it/#!/en/discover/ (I have to say that I REALLY dislike their website; it’s much too modern, doesn’t evoke the nature of their collections, and is so fragmented, I can’t find stuff easily, but they didn’t ask me, when they planned it, did they?!)

There, a lovely day of charming homey visits to some hidden gems and the Grand Old Dame of Milan, all chronologically arranged so that they make more sense. Did you notice that they're all art and architecture patrons and collectors' houses?

I hope you enjoyed yourself, and that you tell family and friends!

(And don’t forget to visit the Bagatti Valsecchi Museum...but you knew I’d say that, didn’t you?!)

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