Pinacoteca Ambrosiana is one of Milano's most important museums, inextricably linked to three geniuses of Italian art. Leonardo da Vinci, as it houses the most extensive and fascinating collection of Leonardo’s notebooks, the Codex Atlanticus. Caravaggio, author of the Pinacoteca’s most iconic piece, the Basket of fruit. And Raphael, as the original full-scale preparatory cartoon of the celebrated School of Athens fresco, his masterpiece in the Vatican’s Raphael Rooms, is on display here.
The Pinacoteca is located near the Duomo and Via Torino, right over Milano’s ancient Roman centre, at the intersection of the main cardo and decumanus roads. Just behind the Pinacoteca stands the ancient and venerated Church of San Sepolcro, with its fascinating, 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 through evidence of his dealings with great artists, 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 importance of art among the Milanese.
The extensive collection of the museum comprises exceptional masterpieces such as Botticelli’s Madonna of the Pavilion, the Adoration of the Magi by Titian, Brueghel’s Fire and Water. A life-long art collection that has grown exponentially since the death of its founder.
A real must is the Library’s ancient Federiciana reading room, which retains all the original shelving and volumes, including the precious Codex Atlanticus and Leonardo’s intriguing Portrait of a Musician.
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 relic of sorts, and induced an almost fetishist passion in several famous poets and writers passing through Milano, such as Lord Byron and Gabriele D’Annunzio.
Legend has it that on All Souls’ Night every year Lucrezia’s spirit glides through the halls of the Pinacoteca in search of the display case containing her hair, a weapon of seduction and a symbol of vanity. When she finds the lock, she washes and combs it as she did when 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 to find out.