Milan Museum Madness!

Wow, what a crazy couple of months! I just recently got home from chilly Europe and was welcomed by an even chillier Chicago (8 degrees right now. Seriously?). It’s times like this when I ask myself why I moved from sunny San Diego.

Kidding- sort of- I love Chicago!

As I am currently unemployed and job searching, I have had a lot of time to reflect on my time abroad and the wonderful memories I made and the incredible places I’ve seen.

One of my favorite trips from Florence was actually Milan, one of Leonardo da Vinci’s artistic bases. And I had no idea what to expect. All I’d really ever heard about Milan was that it is the fashion capital of Italy and that it is very cosmopolitan. That all sounds great but as an art historian I was honestly more interested in seeing the magnificent architecture of the Duomo than shopping.

So you can imagine my delight at discovering the many art museums and galleries in the city- so many that I had to strategically plan my days to fit in as many as possible- and I still ended up missing some.

In the short 3 days I roamed Milan, I was able to fit in 8 art museums. How? I looked up the hours of each museum, noting which were open the earliest and which ones had extended weekend hours at night. Then, I located each museum on a map to see the distance between each one so that I could calculate the most efficient use of my time (also, I walked everywhere instead of taking the Metro to save money). Easy!

Here’s what I did:

Day 1:

Having arrived by bus late Thursday night, I had all day Friday to explore. I got up early to arrive at the Cenacolo– the museum with Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper and any art historian’s dream- about thirty minutes before it opened in order to get a ticket, since I didn’t make a reservation months in advance. Since I was there in November, thirty minutes prior to opening was fine, but if you are trying to see the Last Supper in summer without a reservation, I’d arrive much earlier.

I was able to get a ticket for the afternoon, so I bought it and walked to my next museum: the Pinaoteca di Brera. This gem of a museum had works my many great artists from Medieval to Baroque, including Andrea Mantegna, Tintoretto, Orazio Gentileschi, and Francesco Hayez (his famous work, The Kiss, is located here). 

After a few hours there I ducked into a small restaurant for some butter and sage ravioli that is making my mouth water right now just thinking about it…..

After a quick espresso I went back to the Cenacolo for my reservation. Even though you only get 15 minutes to see the masterpiece, it was SO COOL. Seeing important works like this that I have been learning about forever feeds my soul. Seriously, when I see a masterpiece for the first time, I am reminded of how much art history means to me and how happy I am to have found my calling.

Feeling incredibly inspired and satisfied, I went back to my hostel for their free dinner and treated myself to a glass of red wine. 

Day 2:

I planned Saturday to be a pretty full day. I started off by going to the Castello Sforzesco to see Michelangelo’s last work ever. He was actually working on it up to six days before his death. His Pieta has its own room in the castle, and is displayed and lit beautifully. It is an interesting work that strays from his traditional style of muscular, bulky bodies and instead shows lean figures much like his premature work. It is unfinished, which allows us to see the master’s process- notice the extra arm on the left and traces of Mary’s original face on the side of her head. It’s absolutely magnificent.

There I ran into a guy I had met at my hostel the night before, and we decided to browse the rest of the museum together. It is an unexpectedly large (and full!) museum, yet it only cost 4 euro. The collection is rich in Medieval and Decorative arts, but also has galleries of Egyptian art.

After a quick lunch and coffee break, I headed solo to the Pinacoteca Ambrosiana– where I found original pages from Leonardo da Vinci’s journal. They also house the original cartoon of Raphael’s School of Athens, but it was not on display during my visit, unfortunately. 

Next I went over to Milan’s Palazzo Reale, where there were two exhibitions going on- one about Caravaggio (which I had tried to go to the night before, but the line was too long), and the other about Toulouse-Lautrec. I opted for the Toulouse-Lautrec exhibition, since I was getting pretty tired of seeing art between the Medieval and Baroque periods. I was not disappointed. I had known so little about this artist, despite having several copies of his posters on my walls. He was such a fascinating man; I’m surprised he is not more talked about. I’ve never done an exhibition review before (but that may be in this blog’s future) but if I did this one would get 10/10. No doubt. 

Dazzled by the gritty romance of turn-of-the-century Parisian nightlife, I went to a cafe for a panino and coffee before heading to my fourth museum of the day- the Museo del Novecento, which was open until 10pm that night. Besides having an incredible view of the Duomo (pictured above), this museum was a refreshing collection of modern Italian art. 

Day 3:

I was feeling a little museum-ed out by Sunday, but I was determined to make the most of my trip, and besides, I only had two more museums on my list. 

This first was the Galleria d’Arte Moderna, located across the street from a beautiful park. This museum had a lovely balance of painting and sculpture. It also houses a few works from big-name artists such as Pisarro and Picasso, and even a few prints by Toulouse-Lautrec. Sunday is free day at this museum, so I got to save a little here!

The last museum I visited was the tiny, tucked-away Museo Poldi Pezzoli, which had a portrait by Sofonisba Anguissola and works by Pollaiolo. As this museum was so tiny, I didn’t spend much time here, which turned out fine because the museum fatigue was SO REAL at this point. I gathered my things and headed to the bus station to catch my ride back to Florence.

So that was my whirlwind of a weekend in Milan! I saw a few more museums I’d like to visit in the future, but ran out of time- and energy- on this trip unfortunately. 

Besides the amazing museums, Milan was just a beautiful city in general. The architecture had a style I would characterize as a mixture between Baroque and Belle-Epoque, like a lovely compromise between Rome and Paris. The parks were beautiful and it was very clean. If you have reservations about visiting Milan, forget them and GO! I 100% recommend. 

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