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Serpent Column, Sant'Ambrogio, Milan, Italy
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Italy: Milan
March 2014

Piazza del Duomo, Milan

 

The iconic Gothic cathedral, some great works of art, a terrific castle and a couple of fabulous early Christian and Romanesque churches.

Piazza del Duomo, Milan
Piazza del Duomo at Carnival time.
Piazza del Duomo, Milan

 

By train from Basel in March 2014 for a weekend in Milan. Rather a last minute trip so no chance to see Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper.

We arrived late morning on the Saturday and headed straight for lunch near our hotel (not the best meal we've had in Italy at Scorpion Bar and Restaurant - very average food and overpriced) then on the the beautiful cathedral on Piazza del Duomo. We discovered that it was carnival time so the city was packed!

Duomo, Milan
Bronze cathedral door.
Duomo, Milan
Piazza del Duomo, Milan
Carnival
Piazza del Duomo, Milan
Piazza del Duomo

The Duomo took almost 500 years to complete, the finishing touches being made in 1813. Nevertheless, the west facade is a very fine Gothic extravaganza.

Duomo, Milan
Duomo, Milan
Bronze cathedral door.

 

The bronze doors are also worth a look - not the impressive main doors with the life of the Virgin Mary but rather some side doors with an array of military exploits in bronze relief.

Though beautiful on the outside, the interior is rather gloomy. The sixteenth century statue of the flayed San Bartolomeo, his skin thrown nonchalantly over his shoulder, is a study in anatomy at a time when it was frowned upon by the Catholic church.

Duomo, Milan
Duomo, Milan
Duomo, Milan
Duomo, Milan
The linear brass strip sun dial in the Duomo.

Duomo, Milan
Duomo, Milan
On the roof of the cathedral.
Duomo, Milan
Duomo, Milan

 

 

An eighteenth century sundial is embedded into the lovely marble floor. A beam of light falls on the sun dial through a hole in the ceiling but it is no longer accurate due to the change in the tilt of the earth's axis.

And there is some very fine stained glass.

Duomo, Milan
Part of the linear brass strip sun dial in the Duomo, with signs of the Zodiac.
Duomo, Milan
Duomo, Milan
Duomo, Milan
Duomo, Milan

Duomo, Milan
Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
Duomo, Milan
San Bartolomeo

 

We went up the tower in a lift and out onto the roof of the Duomo. Here you see the intricate stone pinnacles and tracery of the Gothic decoration up close, a very impressive sight. From the piazza you get an overall impression but it is really worth getting up to the roof to appreciate the sheer scale and intricacy of the work.

Duomo, Milan
Duomo, Milan

The Piazza del Duomo also has the high arched entrance to the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, a huge cruciform shopping arcade on four levels dating from the nineteenth century. We're not keen shoppers but did stroll through the impressive space and even had a very good pizza, though poor cream-encrusted desserts, in Ristorante Galleria before catching our train home on the Monday.

Duomo, Milan
Entrance to Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II on Piazza del Duomo.
Duomo, Milan
Duomo, Milan
Ristorante Galleria
Duomo, Milan
Piazza della Scala, Milan
Piazza della Scala
La Scala is on the left.

 

Through the north arm of the Galleria brings you to Piazza della Scala where the world famous La Scala opera house stands. In the centre is a statue of Leonardo da Vinci.

Piazza della Scala, Milan
Statue of Leonardo da Vinci in the centre of Piazza della Scala with statues of four of his pupils on the base.

 

Piazza della Scala, Milan
Panels between the statues of Leonardo's pupils depict the fields at which he excelled, here as an artist.

Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan
Pinacoteca di Brera

 

The Pinacoteca di Brera is Milan's finest art gallery, north of Piazza della Scala. We visited mainly to see the lovely Piero della Francesca, the one I always call The Egg, but which is actually titled La Pala Montefeltro - The Montefeltro Altarpiece. Piero was one of the earliest masters of perspective painting and this work is a demonstration of his skill at its finest.

Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan
Pinacoteca di Brera
Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan
Souvenirs from Milan.
The Castello Sforzesco gallery guide at top; and three works of art in the Pinacoteca Brera: on the left a detail from Il Baccio (The Kiss) by Francesco Hayez, a mid-19th century artist from Milan; on the right La Pala Montefeltro (The Montefeltro Altarpiece) by Piero della Francesca; and below Predica di san Marco ad Alessandria d'Egitto (Saint Mark preaching in Alexandria, Egypt) by Gentile and Giovanni Bellini - a massive canvas at 347 x 770 cm.

 

The piece was commissioned by Federico da Montefeltro, Duke of Urbino, who appears in armour kneeling on the right of the painting, perhaps on the birth of his son, Guidobaldo.

The egg, suspended above the Madonna with the sleeping Christ Child on her lap, is a symbol of fertility and birth. It is also an heraldic symbol of the Montefeltro family.1

 

Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan
Camerino Triptych
Carlo Crivelli
1482
Pinacoteca di Brera
Stunning triptych using gold and gorgeous colours, from Camerino in the Marche region of Italy.2
Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan
Lamentation of Christ
Andrea Mantegna
c. 1483
Pinacoteca di Brera
An amazing painting, the treatment of the extremely foreshortened body of Christ demonstrates an expert rendering of perspective.3
Castello Sforzesco, Milan
Castello Sforzesco

 

Like many great galleries with huge numbers of outstanding works of art, the Brera provides a "must see" guide to their very best, including Mantegna, Caravaggio (another of my favourites), Bellini, Rafaello, and of course Piero della Francesca. Caravaggio's Supper at Emmaus was out on loan.

Castello Sforzesco, Milan
Castello Sforzesco, Milan
Filarete Tower, Castello Sforzesco.
Castello Sforzesco, Milan
Castello Sforzesco, Milan
Drawbridge, Castello Sforzesco
Castello Sforzesco, Milan

 

Not too far away to the west is the red brick Castello Sforzesco.4 The first castle, built by the ruling Visconti family on this site, was destroyed in 1447 but was rebuilt by the Sforza family. It is now home to a number of museums.

Castello Sforzesco, Milan
Visconti Coat of Arms

The castle underwent a major restoration at the end of the nineteenth century to recreate the towers and battlements as they had been conceived centuries earlier.

We enjoyed visiting the castle just for itself as much as for anything we saw inside. Really excellent information sheets are provided.

Castello Sforzesco, Milan
Warrior and dragon, from the Porta Romana.

There are some lovely primitive Romanesque carvings originally on the twelfth century Porta Romana on the south side of the city. Friezes depict the return of the Milanese to their city from 1167 after it had been destroyed by Barbarossa and his allies in 1160 and all the inhabitants sent into exile.

Castello Sforzesco, Milan
Frieze of soldiers returning to Milan led by Brother Jacob, from the Porta Romana.
Castello Sforzesco, Milan
Rondanini Pietà
Michelangelo

 

Michelangelo worked on the Rondanini Pietà in the last nine years of his life. Still unfinished it is obviously a piece that the sculptor had some difficulty with, changing the position of the arms, legs and heads, elongating the figures. It didn't appeal to me, it has none of the raw power of the unfinished series of Slaves in the Accademia in Florence for instance, but its subject is quite different - mother and child, mortality - and at the end of his life it probably had a great resonance with the sculptor himself.

Castello Sforzesco, Milan
Ducal Courtyard, Castello Sforzesco.
The 15th century Ducal residence.
Castello Sforzesco, Milan
Courtyard of Arms, Castello Sforzesco.
Castello Sforzesco, Milan
One of the remaining Ravelins - fortifications built outside and perpendicular to the wall, across the moat - dating from the earliest times of the Castello Sforzesco.

Ice cream, Milan
Excellent chocolate ice cream at Shockolat.

 

Ice cream, Milan
Santa Maria della Grazie is home to Leonardo's Last Supper, in the convent's refectory - it was a popular subject for dining halls.

 

We had an excellent lunch at Trattoria Torre di Pisa: spaghetti Carbonara, Ravioli, carafe of red, biscotti vin santo and coffee for 52 Euros - very good value.

Basilica di Sant'Ambrogio was founded in the fourth century by Milan's patron saint and his most famous convert, Saint Augustine, heard him preach in the original church which no longer exists.

The Romanesque church which stands there today, however, is lovely.

Basilica di Sant'Ambrogio, Milan
Basilica di Sant'Ambrogio
Basilica di Sant'Ambrogio, Milan
Basilica di Sant'Ambrogio
Basilica di Sant'Ambrogio, Milan
Basilica di Sant'Ambrogio, Milan
Basilica di Sant'Ambrogio, Milan
The Sarcophagus of Stilichone is located beneath the pulpit.
Basilica di Sant'Ambrogio, Milan
Sarcophagus of Stilichone beneath the pulpit.
Basilica di Sant'Ambrogio, Milan
Basilica di Sant'Ambrogio, Milan

 

 

The Sarcophagus of Stilichone is some 1600 years old and is covered with wonderful biblical carving.5

The twelfth century pulpit is also very finely carved with reliefs based on the writings of St Ambrose focussing on sin and redemption.

Basilica di Sant'Ambrogio, Milan
Serpent Column
The serpent is a tenth century Byzantine bronze.
Basilica di Sant'Ambrogio, Milan
Carvings on the pulpit.

Basilica di Sant'Ambrogio, Milan

Basilica di Sant'Ambrogio, Milan

 

Basilica di Sant'Ambrogio, Milan
Basilica di Sant'Ambrogio, Milan
Basilica di Sant'Ambrogio, Milan
Basilica di Sant'Ambrogio
Postern Sant'Ambrogio, Milan
Postern of Saint Ambrose
Postern Sant'Ambrogio, Milan
One of the Roman stelae embedded in the wall of Porta Nuova.

 

Nearby is the restored Pusteria di Sant'Ambrogio, one of the medieval posterns - a postern is a lesser gate to a city. Above the gate are small statues of Saint Ambrose and saints Gervase and Protase. These latter saints were martyred Roman soldiers whose bodies lie with that of St Ambrose in the crypt of the church.

Porta Nuova, Milan
Porta Nuova

A couple of the restored medieval gates - Porta Nuova and Porta Ticinese - can also be seen. During restoration some ancient Roman stelae were inserted into the walls of Porta Nuova north east of the centre.

South of the centre fourteen Roman Corinthian columns stand next to Porta Ticinese and the Basilica of San Lorenzo.

Roman columns, Milan
Roman columns, taken from a pre second century unidentified Roman building.6
MilanThe tower and arches of medieval Porta Ticinese near the Roman columns.

Not much of Roman times remains in Milan, though it was at one time the seat of the Western Roman Empire and it was from here that the Emperor Constantine issued the Edict of Milan in 313AD, granting Christians for the first time the right to worship in the Empire.

It is said that Leonardo da Vinci considered the Basilica di San Lorenzo to be the most beautiful in Milan.It was built during Roman times in the fourth century, but has been rebuilt and renovated several times since then.

Basilica di San Lorenzo, Milan
Entrance tickets for the chapel.
Basilica di San Lorenzo, Milan
Atrium entrance to the Sant'Aquilino chapel.
Basilica di San Lorenzo, Milan
Basilica di San Lorenzo, Milan
Apse in the Cappella di Sant'Aquilino with the second fifth century mosaic.
Basilica di San Lorenzo, Milan
Basilica di San Lorenzo

Inside the church the Cappella di Sant'Aquilino is famous for its fifth century mosaics. Entrance was 2 euros but that's well worth it, especially as the ticket has a lot of information on the reverse.

The fifth century chapel was originally a small church in its own right, dedicated to St. Genesio. It is entered through an atrium with the remains of frescoes and a fragment of beautiful blue mosaic.

Basilica di San Lorenzo, Milan
Early Christian mosaic in the atrium entrance to the Sant'Aquilino chapel representing the patriarchs of the twelve tribes of Israel.
Basilica di San Lorenzo, Milan
Cappella di Sant'Aquilino
Basilica di San Lorenzo, Milan
12th century fresco.
Basilica di San Lorenzo, Milan
Christ and the Apostles
Fifth century mosaic.
Cappella di Sant'Aquilino
Basilica di San Lorenzo, Milan
Cappella di Sant'Aquilino

 

There are two mosaics in the chapel, Christ with the Apostles is in excellent condition but the other is very badly damaged, the complete central section gone leaving only a scene with shepherds and sheep.

Basilica di San Lorenzo, Milan
Foundations of Capella di Sant'Aquilino

 

From the chapel there are stairs leading down to the original foundations of the church, the blocks of stone scavenged from the nearby Roman amphitheatre.6

 

 

 

References

  1. Madonna and Child with Saints, Angels and Federico da Montefeltro (San Bernardino Altarpiece), Pinacoteca do Brera
  2. Camerino Triptych, Pinacoteca di Brera
  3. Lamentation of Christ, Andrea Mantegna, Pinacoteca di Brera
  4. Castello Sforzesco, Milan
  5. Sacred Destinations: Sant'Ambrogio, Milan
  6. Yes Milano: Basilica di San Lorenzo Maggiore