Milan is certainly a powerhouse in fashion, economics and furniture – but an art destination?
art from The Last Supper and the Cathedral, Milan’s list of artistic blockbusters seems weak compared to those in Rome or Florence, but dive a little deeper and you will discover a city that played an important role in the life of one of the world’s greatest geniuses: Leonardo Da Vinci.
You have to experience Leonardo da Vincis Milan!
From 1482 until the French invasion of 1499, Leonardo worked for the tyrannical regent Ludovico (later Duke of Milan). You can see how important this phase of Leonardo’s life was with a tour of some of the gems associated with his time in Milan.
Leonardo da Vincis Milan
The Last Supper, Santa Maria delle Grazie
Do not make the mistake of arriving in Milan and expecting to come in and see the painting of The Last Supper.
You have to book weeks in advance for a 15-minute group visit. It’s worth it though.
Years of careful restoration have awakened the essential drama in Leonardo’s version of the disciples’ response to Christ’s announcement that one of them will betray him.
Take a break from the crowds at Santa Maria delle Grazie and take time to anticipate Leonardo’s magnificent ceiling with mulberry trees in the far corner of the main building at Sforza Castle.
There are several museums in the castle, but the most fascinating for fans of Leonardo are the picture galleries, which house many paintings from the end of the 15th century from the city. (And the mulberry trees, of course).
Established in the late 16th century, this library and image gallery contains Leonardo’s Codex Atlanticus notebooks, a collection of approximately 1,200 pages that provide the most comprehensive insight into his unique mind. It covers his working life from 26 years in 1478 until his death in 1519.
That the exhibition is shared with the Bramante Sacristry in Santa Maria delle Grazie, and covers everything from notes on how to see an eclipse to a list of India’s rivers. The library’s fantastic art collection also includes Leonardo’s only known portrait painting of a man: The Musician.
Admission is € 15 (or € 20 if you also want to visit the Codex Atlanticus exhibition at the Bramante Sacristry of Santa Maria delle Grazie). Here is a guided tour of both the Ambrosiana Gallery and Da Vinci’s Codex Atlanticus.
Poldi Pezzoli Museum
For a museum that contains such an amazing collection of furniture and paintings, Poldi Pezzoli Museum is remarkably free of visitors.
Mainly from the High Renaissance, the collections include works by Botticelli, Pollaiolo, Mantegna, Giovanni Bellini and Piero della Francesca as well as some paintings by Andrea Solario who worked with Leonardo. You will also see the wonderful mysterious marriage with St. Catherine by Bernadino Luini and a virgin and child by Giovanni Boltraffio, both of whom worked with and were probably coached by Leonardo.
Brera’s image gallery
The most important photo gallery in Milan, Pinacoteca di Brera is as good as the Accademia in Venice and the Uffizi in Florence, but the crowds are far smaller.
It’s hard to pick a highlight, but among the prominent ones are some wonderful 15th-century Venetian paintings that Leonardo must have seen, including Madonnas of Bellini and Mantegna.
Leonardo’s horse in the San Siro
When is a Leonardo sculpture not a Leonardo sculpture? When made in the 20th century based extensive research into sketches and notes made by the Renaissance giant.
The massive bronze horse of the San Siro is a full-size cast based on the commission Leonardo received in 1482 from the Duke of Milan as a monument to the Duke’s father.
The largest equestrian monument in the world, it’s free to see in the peaceful surroundings of Milan’s Racecourse. There are public transport options to get here.
You do not have to go into any church or museum to see one of Leonardo’s greatest contributions to Milan.
The innovative lock system designed by Leonardo for the city’s network of canals enabled Milan to develop into one of Italy’s largest inland ports despite the lack of a main river. The canals became so integrated into the city that some areas almost looked Venetian.
Follow in the footsteps of da Vinci
Explore the whole of Leonardo da Vinci’s Milan with this three hour art tour following in Da Vinci’s footsteps. See the famous depiction of the Last Supper, check out the Atlantic Codex at Pinacoteca Ambrosiana, and admire the Il Musico painting.