I will divide in two parts the collection of impressions and pictures from our recent vacation in Italy. It started with a four days prelude or intermezzo in Milan, followed by one full week in Sicily. This first part is about the Milanese stay, our first time in the North-Italian city.
over the Alps
The flight itinerary took us to Amsterdam first, and then over the Alps to Milan, where we arrived in the early afternoon.
Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
After checking in at the hotel we walked towards the center of the city. Soon we were to discover that two couples would rather use cabs in Milan, as the fee was always around 10 Euros, not exceeding by much the price of four metro or tram tickets. As we often do when we are for the first time in a previously unknown city we took the city circuit bus, which has two loops and for 20 Euros one can use it for 48 hours as much as he can. It was a good introduction for understanding our ways into the city, although most of the principal objectives are located in the center, on a surface that must not exceed 10 square kilometers. We first saw the famous glass-covered arcade Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II which was originally designed in 1861 and built 1865 and 1877, which connects two of the most famous landmarks of Milan – The Duomo and the Scala Opera Theater.
Duomo at Night
We took the first pictures at night of the quite spectacular Duomo, which we were to visit three days later.
Santa Maria delle Grazie (exterior)
The second day was the day of the churches and of Da Vinci. The weather was great, according to a local cab driver autumn was milder than ever, and we encountered very little rain during all our stay in Milan and Sicily until the last day of our vacation. We started the day at the Santa Maria delle Grazie church, whose annex building hosts Da Vinci’s masterpiece ‘The Last Supper’. We were lucky to catch an out-of-season period which allowed us to book tickets for the same afternoon. The painting can be seen only in groups of 25 people, and what was once the dining room of the monastery is now climate-control in order to protect it from exposure, and try to stop or at least slow the pace of its degradation.
What can be said about a work of art that so much has been written about, which was described, analyzed, dramatized and romanced in so many ways? The state of the painting is not good at all but this not something recent, its decay started soon after it was painted because of the technique used by Da Vinci. Recent restorations focused on bringing back the details covered by time, but avoided reconstructing the colors. The strongest impression is made the architectural conception, and you realize it only if you wank back and look at the painting from the opposite wall. Suddenly the two reversed triangles – of earthly and heavenly perspectives appear obvious and they continue naturally the proportions of the room designed by the architect Donato Bramante who took over and completed the construction of the church and of the monastery at the end of the 15th century.
lunette over the entry door at Santa Maria delle Grazie
Back to the church, another smaller work of Da Vinci can be admired in the lunette over the entry door. It represents the Madonna between Lodovico Sforza and his wife.
inside Santa Maria delle Grazie
Entering the church, the combination and contrast of the two styles and periods the church was built becomes visible. The elongated nave with the arches was built by Guiniforte Solari while the large octogonal apse at the end belongs to Bramante’s completion of the work.Gothic and Renaissance styles meet and meld in the same structure built in the period of transition between the two epochs in the European culture.
Tryptic by Nicolo of Cremona (1520)
Among the many beautiful pieces of art in the church I liked the tryptic signed by Nicolo of Cremona representing the Virgin Mary in the center, with St. John Baptist and St. Peter Martyr on the side panels.
Our next stop was at the Sant’Ambrogio church. Dedicated to the patron saint of Milan, the first basilica was built by the saint himself in the 4th century. Much of the structure of the current building dates from the 10th to 12th century, with final improvements belonging again to Bramante in the Renaissance period at the end of the 15th century. Badly damaged during World War II the church was renovated after the war and includes today invaluable treasures of the religious art from the period of early Christianity until the Renaissance.
capitals at Sant'Ambrogio
The atrium dates from the 11th century when it was a place of refuge in the period when the city had no defense walls. The columns end with decorated capitals representing biblical scenes and fantastic animals representing the fight between Good and Evil as imagined by the Middle Age artists.
chapel of San Vittore in Ciel d'Oro
Of the many remarkable points of interest inside the church the chapel of San Vittore in Ciel d’Oro with the gold mosaics in the vault and the realistic representations of Sant Ambrogio is one of a striking beauty and priceless value, dating from the 5th century.
apse mosaic at Sant'Ambrogio
The mosaic in the apse dates from the 4th to the 8th century. It depicts the enthroned Christ in a genre a composition that I will meet a week later in Sicily.
sarcophagus of Stilico
The relief sculptures on the sarcophagus built in the 4th century are also impressive. Stilico was a roman general, but other theories consider the remains inside being these of the emperor Gratian.
The ciborium is a 10th century baldachin laying on four elegant columns protecting a Golden Altar.
the five monks (15th century)
Last I am posting the picture of a group of five enigmatic monks, painted sculpture from the 15th century, composed in traditional Gothic attitudes with techniques and mastership of the Renaissance.
the Roman columns at San Lorenzo
Our next stop was one of the oldest round churches in the Christianity, San Lorenzo alle Colonne, originally built in the 4th century and serving as imperial chapel for some of the first Christian Roman emperors. Unfortunately we arrived there after 12:30 discovering one of the characteristics of the visiting schedules in Milan and Italy in general. When a place is supposed to be closed it will certainly be closed. When it should be open it may be open. So we admired the building from the outside and took pictures of the 16 Corinthian columns that give the name to the place, part of a second or third century Roman temple.
statue of Constantine at San Lorenzo
The statue of Constantine located in front of the church is actually a bronze copy of a Roman statue of the emperor.
Da Vinci's Wing
Our next stop was in the National Museum of Science and Technology Leonardo Da Vinci. I have visited many such museums around the world, most of them with my kids (when they were kids). By all criteria, in size and content, the museum in Milan is one of the best – with extensive sections dedicate to the history of flight, to time measurement, to communications, and other fields of science. It is however the section dedicated to the models of the machinery of Da Vinci that captivated us. In the city that maybe best keeps his memory his manuscripts were analyzed and many of the machines he created on sketches with the imagination of a genius were constructed in relative small size models.
Da Vinci's Mud Dredge
The only similar place that recreates the inventions of Da Vinci that I visited is the castle of Clos Luce in Ambroise, in the Loire Valley, the last residence of Da Vinci after he exiled to France in the last years of his life. The models in the park of the French castle are larger size, maybe the size Da Vinci wanted them to be. In Milan they are reduced in scale bu much more numerous.
No, we did not attend a performance at La Scala, this is a dream left for another journey. We just visited the museum which allowed us a glimpse to the famous theater. The building seen from outside is less impressing than expected, but it is the music inside that makes the fame of the place.
McDonalds and Beit Midrash
Back into the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II we took a picture of a combination that for sure was not imagined by the time the gallery was open. At the ground level, in between exclusive shops and restaurants, some older than one century a McDonalds proudly ocuppies one of the four corners of the principal intersection. On the second floor a Jewish school and praying place. Times are ‘achanging, as one of the bards used to sing.
San Sepolcro - The Flagelation of Christ by Agostino De Fonditius (16th century)
Out third day was dedicated to visiting the two most famous art collections of the city – Pinacoteca Ambrosiana and Pinacoteca di Brera. Both are of the kind of museums we could spend a couples of days in each. Italian art from the Medieval and Renaissance periods are the core of the collections. No photos are allowed in any of the two institutions. The library and Pinacoteca Ambrosiana are located close to the Duomo. The art collection was started in 1618 by Cardinal Frederico Boromeo, and some of the works he collected are still among the best and most famous in the museum.
The Portrait of a Musician by Da Vinci is one of the finest works in the collection and the only work of Da Vinci in Milan out of a church. The original manuscripts on which Da Vinci imagined and put on paper his scientific research and technical innovations were exposed in the library.
A ten minutes walk took us on the right side of the Scala on via Verdi which continues with via Brera. Here is located the Pinacoteca di Brera, founded by the end of the 18th century, during the occupation of the city by the Austrians, as the collection of the school of arts of the city.
Mantegna’s Dead Christ is one of the masterpieces hosted by the museum. The temporary exhibition was dedicated to the works of Francesco Hayez, a painter contemporary to the unification of Italy and to the great musicians of the period.
official building from the 30s
On the way back I took a picture of a solid building, built in what looked to me as Stalinist style. It was a savings bank built in Fascist Italy of the 30s. I had the same feeling as when I saw some of the government buildings in Washington, DC – it looks like the totalitarian style of the time had many shared characteristics was it put in practice in the Soviet Union, in the US, or other parts of the world.
Milanese cutlets at Caffe Biffi
In the evening we met with our friends who had chosen to spend the day in Verona and near lake Garda, which we had visited about ten years ago. We ate at one of the famous (and expensive) restaurants in the gallery – Caffe Biffi. One of the treats was Milanese cutlets, which I took a photo of. My personal opinion is that the dish is a remnant of the Austrian period, it’s not much different than the Viennese shnitzel plus a bone.
detail on the doors at the Duomo
We started the fourth and last day with trying to visit the Duomo. We were not too lucky as access of tourists to the church was not allowed until noon. We took our time visiting the Scala museum, and then taking pictures of the magnificent doors of the church, which although they date mostly from the 19th century are marvelous in their rich decoration of Biblical scenes, detailed and expressive, well fit with the Gothic ensemble whose construction started in the late 14th century.
inside the Duomo
When we eventually made it inside it was pretty crowded. We decided to give up climbing on the roofs (and its 3500 statues) and admired the stained-glass windows. The odest date from the 15th century but the majority is again completed in the 19th century.
The Trivulzio Candelabrum dates back to the medieval period and looks suspiciously like a menorah, maybe a little stylized and rounded but close to the representation on the arch of Titus.
Garibaldi's statue in front of Sforzesco's castle
The next and last tourist stop of the day was at the Sforzesco castle. Coming from via Dante we passed the huge statue of Garibaldi, a historical figure who seems to be very much in the hearts of the Italians, especially in an year when the 150th anniversary of the unification of Italy is celebrated.
the Rondanini Pieta
I was a little disappointed by the building, which looks more impressive seen from outside with its fortified walls giving a sensation of solid and brutal power. The museum inside has many remarkable sections and works, but we may have been a little too tired of museums to fully enjoy. Yet the last work of Michelangelo – The Rondanini Pieta – executed when the artist was older than 90 is an amazing unfinished work of art.
the Rondanini Pieta (detail)
Two different versions of the work fight to detach one from the other. Seen closer the Madonna seems to have two heads, the exterior one belonging to the previous version of the work.
Calvary by Maestro di Trognano
A splendid piece of painted wood composition from the Medieval period.
Giovani Bellini's Madona and Child
A Madonna and Child by Bellini in the museum catches the moment when artists of the Renaissance used the religious painting as a pretext for human realistic portraits, in this case combining human feelings with the spirituality of the Mother.
a great Chianti
It was Liliana’s birthday and our last night in Milan, so we went for … shopping in the via Buenos Aires area. We were lucky enough to fall upon Ristorante Pizzeria Sabatini which we later found out it was started in 1946 and is one of the original and most authentic places of its kind in Milan, the food was great and the restaurant is not expensive relative to the Duomo area. We had a bottle of great Chianti with our friends to celebrate the event and seal the four days intermezzo in Milan.