View from below the beautiful glass dome of the Victor Emmanuel II Gallery
Art and culture

Milan’s Old Masters

September 06, 2021

The Renaissance marked a cultural explosion in Europe between the 14th and 17th centuries, Italy was at the epicentre of this rebirth and in Milan we’re lucky to enjoy access to many of the surviving artworks.
Close up shot on a painting from Leonardo Da Vinci, representing the Last Supper of the Christ

‘The Last Supper’ by Leonardo da Vinci

One of history’s most influential works of art, this beautiful fresco can be found in the refectory of the Santa Maria delle Grazie and depicts the dramatic moment when Jesus announces the betrayal of one of his disciples. Completed in 1498, it was commissioned by Milanese duke Ludovico il Moro, and was painted with a technique considered wholly experimental at the time, with pigments applied directly onto the dry plaster wall. The fresco underwent an extensive restoration in 1999 and continues to draw crowds every year.

 

Santa Maria delle Grazie, piazza di Santa Maria delle Grazie, 20123 Milan

‘Rondanini Pietà’ by Michelangelo Buonarroti

A painful meditation on death and the salvation of the soul, this statue is Michelangelo Buonarroti’s last incomplete work, which he began working on in 1552. Housed inside the Sforzeco Castle in the Museum of Rondanini Pietà, the sculpture depicts a youthful Madonna mourning over Christ’s dead body, a theme he explored several times throughout his career. Carved from a single block of marble, it contrasts with his earlier Renaissance style, which was considered more idealised. Take a look from behind and it almost seems as though the figures are merged into one another.

 

Castello Sforzesco, piazza Castello, 20121 Milan

Sculpture by Michelangelo in white marble, representing Mary, standing, supporting the body of the Christ
Painting by Botticelli, entitled "The Madonna of the book" representing Mary and his child the Christ, seated by a window in the corner of a room

‘Madonna of the Book’ by Sandro Botticelli

Housed in the Poldi Pezzoli Museum, ‘Madonna of the Book’ is perhaps Botticelli’s finest and most elegant representation of the Virgin Mary and Child. Dating to around 1480, the small painting shows Mary intent on reading a book, while the infant gazes up to his mother, drawing the viewer into their strong bond. Notice the fruit bowl in the foreground, which is charged with symbolism: the cherries represent the blood of Christ, while the figs are thought to symbolise the Resurrection.

 

Museo Poldi Pezzoli, via Alessandro Manzoni 12, 20121 Milan

‘Lamentation of Christ’ by Andrea Mantegna

A work of great expressive force and emotional impact, the ‘Lamentation of Christ’ draws us into the centre of the drama through extreme foreshortening: Christ’s body, laid out on a marble slab and partly covered in a sheet, seems incredibly close to us. We’re faced with a close-up view of his hands and feet, and the faces of the mourners – the Virgin Mary and Jesus’s disciple, John. Unlike works from the Early Renaissance, this work stands out because Mantegna doesn’t idealise Jesus, but rather presents a realistic portrayal. This poignant depiction is thought to have been commissioned for Mantegna’s personal funerary chapel and can now be admired at the Pinacoteca di Brera.

 

Pinacoteca Brera, via Brera 28, 20121 Milan

Close up shot on a painting, representing the Christ, lying on a bed
Close up shot on a painting from the painter Raphael, representing the marriage ceremony between Mary and Joseph

‘The Marriage of the Virgin’ by Raphael

Dating from 1504 and now housed in the Pinacoteca di Brera, ‘The Marriage of the Virgin’ is an oil painting thought to have been inspired by Renaissance master Perugino’s ‘The Marriage of the Holy Virgin’. The scene depicts Saint Joseph and the Virgin Mary exchanging wedding rings in a vast square overlooked by an imposing temple. Raphael placed great emphasis on mathematical perspective and architecture to achieve this graceful, balanced composition with vibrant colours.

 

Pinacoteca Brera, via Brera 28, 20121 Milan

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