Museums of Milan, works of art and curiosities
Instead of stubbornly attempting to use surrealism for purposes of subversion, it is necessary to try to make of surrealism something as solid, complete and classic as the works of museums. – Salvador Dalì
Almost half a million people visit Milan’s museums every year. A huge crowd that is divided among the 60 city museums, both public and private, able to meet any cultural curiosity.
For the good of Milan and tourists alike, the city’s museums have been modernized and made more accessible over the past decade. Milan is one of Europe’s capitals of culture, definitely able to enhance its own cultural heritage.
Following, we are going to describe some of the most important museums of Milan, underlining especially some interesting facts that can be a stimulus to visit them. However, the city also offers many other museums, art galleries and houses-museum that deserve the attention of more accurate tourists. But you will find them in another page.
Pinacoteca di Brera, paintings and ghosts
The Brera Art Gallery is definitely one of the most important museums in Milan, but also in Europe. It hosts more than 400 works of art by major artists who have smeared canvas from the XIV to the XX century.
Among the masterpieces you should not miss: the “Discovery of the Body of St. Mark” by Tintoretto, the Renaissance “Marriage of the Virgin” by Raphael, with this strange perspective so new at the time, “Emmaus’ Supper” by Caravaggio, much different from the one displayed at London’s National Gallery, several works by Piero della Francesca, the beautiful “Kiss” by Francesco Hayez and modern works by Umberto Boccioni.
Curiosity: The Pinacoteca di Brera has witnessed one of the most famous ghostly apparitions of Milan. A few years ago, on the night of St. John, the security cameras captured a female figure, naked and dazzling, who was escaping from the “Nymph of the woods”, a painting of the 15th century. A subsequent examination of the work led to the frightening discovery of the existence of a previous subject under the painting (dating back to the 12th century instead). In the middle of a meadow full of flowers was placed a disc-shaped object surrounded by humanoids with four arms. After that, the painting was withdrawn and never exposed again.
Museum of Natural History, dioramas and nights at the museum
The Civic Museum of Natural History, one of the leading natural history museums in Europe, is home to permanent exhibitions of Mineralogy, Paleontology, Anthropology, and Zoology.
It’s one of the most visited museums by children because it holds a collection of spectacular dioramas and reconstructions of the environments where both domestic and exotic plants and animals live. The Museum also offers educational activities and workshops, and conducts research studies on several fields of natural history, which thing is an added value with regards to the museum’s important role in education and training.
Curiosity: the Museum of Natural History is very popular with Milanese children, as it has been one of the first museums to propose the “Night at the Museum” initiative. Groups of kids are hosted in the Museum for an entire night, to discover the wonders of prehistory and nature, such as the Amazon Rainforest diorama and the anaconda one, or the massive skeletons of the Tyrannosaurus and the Besanosaurus, in the light of a flashlight and then sleeping in their sleeping-bags. A lovely metropolitan adventure.
Pac, the Kunsthalle of Milan
The Pac, Pavilion of Contemporary Art, likes to define itself as a Kunsthalle, a space for temporary exhibitions. And so it is indeed: Pac is a facility aimed at hosting exhibitions of contemporary art and visual experiments, which help to keep the world of art constantly on a high.
The program is coordinated by the Assessor of Culture of the city of Milan, who works along with guest curators and private partners, both national and international. However, Pac is not only about these peculiar reviews: to promote the understanding of exhibition contexts, interdisciplinary learning activities are organized, with musical and theatrical events, as well as readings and conferences.
Curiosity: Milan’s PAC, built in the mid 1900’s by architect Ignazio Gardella, has some special innovative features that distinguish it from standard museums. The walls between the rooms of the museum are movable: this prerogative allows penetration within the environments which are still able to assure privacy and exhibition rigor when required. The unequal levels on which the Pac facility is arranged make the outside park visible from every room, thus creating continuity between art and nature. Even the study of light, in a judicious mix of natural and artificial elements, is another revolutionary thought aimed at the maximization of the artistic works on display.
Castello Sforzesco, museums to suit all tastes
Within Milan’s Castello Sforzesco, protected by strong walls, there are several museums. Something to suit all tastes: from ancient Milanese and Lombard art to the art gallery with over 200 Italian paintings from the 13th to the 18th centuries. Among the several museums housed within Castello Sforzesco, stand out: the Museum of Furniture, with items from 15th century to the 19th century, the Egyptian Collection with unique pieces like the mummy and the sarcophagus of Peftjauauyaset and the statue of Pharaoh Amenemhat III, and the Museum of Prehistory with objects coming from Northern Italy which date back to 5000 BC.
Young visitors appreciate in particular the collections of Applied Arts from the Middle Ages to the 20th century with furniture, tapestries, masterpieces of jewelry, sculptures, scientific instruments, but especially the wonderful Museum of Musical Instruments, one of the most prestigious in Europe with over 500 pieces on display.
Curiosity: If you happen to visit the museums of Castello Sforzesco, don’t miss out on a guided tour of the strada coperta della Ghirlanda (Garland covered road,) which is held every Saturday afternoon. You will have the opportunity to walk along the tunnels that allowed soldiers, also on horseback, to reach external defensive positions and which also served, when necessary, as escape routes. The Garland covered road passes underneath the Sempione Park and is steeped in legends that the guides will tell visitors in detail. You can book a tour by calling 02/6596937.
Museum of Science and Technology, from Leonardo to Toti
At least once every 5 years, Milanese people of all ages get back and visit the impressive exhibition at the Leonardo da Vinci National Museum of Science and Technology of Milan. Especially because, in the last 15 years, the Museum has become a location for temporary exhibitions, but also an important cultural and educational center with workshops and initiatives aimed at bringing children and young people closer to science.
The museum boasts a permanent collection of over 15,000 scientific and technical objects, a library with 40,000 volumes and magazines on the history of science and industry from the 19th century to present. An incredible section, also regarded internationally, is dedicated to Leonardo da Vinci’s inventions: more than 130 reconstructions realized on original designs by a team of scientists and modelers. A visit of the submarine Toti is a must.
Curiosity: the Astronomy section features a couple of really interesting items. The first one is a piece of moon rock collected on the last Apollo mission landed in the Taurus-Littrow valley and donated by former U.S. President Nixon. The second one is the Foucault pendulum, an instrument used by the French physicist Jean Bernard Léon Foucault in the mid-19th century to demonstrate the Earth’s rotation.
Museum of 900, a trip through the 19th century
The newcomer in the museum scene of Milan, opened in 2010, is Museo del Novecento, hosted in the Arengario Palace overlooking Piazza del Duomo, with over 400 works of Italian art of the 19th century.
The Museum ranges from Futurism to Spatialism, up to Arte Povera (literally poor art), with works by Boccioni, Carrà, De Chirico, Sironi, Morandi, Fontana and many others. The last room opened in October 2012 is dedicated to Bruno Munari. Among the masterpieces displayed, the magnificent Fourth Estate by Pelizza da Volpedo definitely stands out.
Curiosity: the vertical Tower of the Arengario Palace within which the Museum is housed, runs in a spiral ramp from the subway level to the museum itself, and then up to a restaurant on the upper floor. The latter, as “Man does not live by culture alone,” is run by chef Giacomo Bulleri, owner of the famous Da Giacomo restaurant in Milan. From the windows of the restaurant you can enjoy a striking view over the historical centre of Milan.
Trienniale: showcase of the best of Italian design
Palazzo della Triennale, overlooking the Sempione Park, is a design museum. The Triennale Design Museum is designed to offer visitors the opportunity to experience the best of Italian design through a continuous renewal of its spaces and themes.
La Triennale is a cultural institution which organizes exhibitions, conferences and events in collaboration with architects, designers and stylists who work on major issues such as environment, society, new lifestyles and the concepts of living and visual expression. La Triennale is an actual lab where great cultural projects take shape and performing arts come to life. The design museum also hosts the Teatro dell’Arte (Art Theatre,) a stage designed to talk about art and design.
Curiosity: it is definitely worth mentioning some peculiar structures within the Triennale. These are: the Bridge, the Agora and the Design Café. The Bridge is a of 14 meters suspended bridge made of bamboo, glass and steel. The Agora, entirely made of Cedar wood from Lebanon, is a space dedicated to debates, events and performances: the lighting is provided by 32 monitors. The Design Café is a artistic venue for relaxation, where you can find dozens of chairs from different eras, but also several benches arranged in islands with objects and presentations of past exhibitions held at the Triennale.
Poldi Pezzoli Musem, an open window on art
The Poldi Pezzoli Museum owes its existence to the collector Gian Giacomo Poldi Pezzoli. The museum is one of the largest house-museums in Europe, a collection of Italian Renaissance paintings and works of decorative arts. Most of the works displayed date from the 14th to the 18th century, and include paintings by Botticelli, Mantegna, Piero della Francesca and Tiepolo.
In addition to paintings, Gian Giacomo collected gold items, porcelains, weapons, tapestries, and archaeological objects, now partly exposed in the museum. Thanks to many donations during the 1900s, the Poldi Pezzoli has been further enriched, including mechanical watches, lace and embroidery, designs of the 19th century, and netsuke (small ivory sculptures). Today, the Poldi Pezzoli Museum is an open window on art, from the Renaissance to the present.
Curiosity: The watch collection of the Poldi Pezzoli Museum, though recent, is one of the most valuable in Italy. In 1973, Bruno Falck donated to the museum more than 120 mechanical watches from the 14th to the 19th century, while in 1978 the collection has been enriched with 200 sundials belonged to architect Piero Portaluppi.