PLEASE NOTICE: the museum is closed until further notice.
The Pinacoteca Ambrosiana is one of the most important museums in Milano, inextricably linked to three geniuses of Italian art: firstly Leonardo da Vinci as it conserves the most extensive and fascinating collection of Leonardo’s folios, the Codex Atlanticus; secondly Caravaggio, author of the Pinacoteca’s symbolic image Basket of fruit and, lastly, Raphael, as the original full-scale preparatory cartoon of the School of Athens fresco, his masterpiece for the Vatican’s Raphael Rooms, is conserved here.
The Pinacoteca is located near the Duomo and Via Torino directly over Milano’s ancient Roman centre, at the intersection of the main cardo and decuman roads; indeed, to the rear of the Pinacoteca stands the ancient and profoundly sacred Church of San Sepolcro, with its atmospheric recently-restored crypt.
The museum dates back to 1618 when the Archbishop of Milano Federico Borromeo bequeathed his art collection to the institution; each painting can be traced back to a specific stage in his life such as his dealings with the greatest artists in history, his correspondence with other Italian cardinals and his encounters with collectors and art experts. He founded the Pinacoteca to make his collection available to everyone and to raise awareness on the subject of art amongst the populace.
The extensive museum collection comprises exceptionally famous paintings such as the aforementioned Caravaggio’s Basket of Fruit, Botticelli’s Madonna of the Pavilion, the Adoration of the Magi by Titian, Brueghel’s Fire and the Water. A life-long passion which has grown exponentially since the demise of its founder.
Absolutely not-to-be-missed is the Library’s ancient Federiciana reading room which still retains all the original shelving and volumes comprising the precious Codex Atlanticus and the intriguing Portrait of a Musician by Leonardo.
The Ambrosiana conserves an unusual memento inside a precious display case: a long lock of golden hair snipped from Lucrezia Borgia, Duchess of Ferrara. During the nineteenth century it became a sort of relic, almost a fetishist passion which entranced numerous esteemed writers and poets who passed through Milano, such as Lord Byron and Gabriele D’Annunzio.
Legend has it that, on All Souls Night every year, the Duchess’ spirit glides through the Pinacoteca spaces in search of the display case containing her hair, a weapon of seduction and a symbol of vanity. Once found, she washes and combs it as she did when she was still alive, which explains why it is still so beautiful, soft and glossy.
There is another legend related to All Souls Night in Milano... click here if you dare!