Poldi Pezzoli Museum in Milan

Italy-9, day 3, part 1: Museo Poldi Pezzoli

As I said before, the art galleries of more or less ancient art in Milan are not one, not two or even three, so the choice was not an easy one. We checked the list of masterpieces we wanted to see, schedules and even prices and we realized that, all other things being equal, we wanted to visit a small but very worthy Museo Poldi Pezzoli (Museo Poldi Pezzoli, site, wiki). And I’m absolutely sure we did not make a mistake (though now looking back I understand that we were unlucky in some things). Actually we were unlucky with two things: first of all the first floor and two halls of the second were closed for remodeling of the exhibition – however, in fact we were deprived only of a gun collection, ceiling mosaic “Triumph of Dante”, Murano glass and several not very interesting paintings (of which the “Self Portrait” by Sophonisba Angvissola is the only one worth seeing). Secondly, children: the museum is located in a former palazzo whose rooms can hardly even be called halls, and when four groups of children occupy them simultaneously. However, the children sat quietly, did some writing, drawing and generally behaved decently – it’s just that where they were sitting, it was impossible to enter because of the banal lack of space. As I said, the collection in the museum is quite decent, but with its own peculiarities. One of these features is the size of paintings: in my opinion, none of them is more than one meter in length, i.e. from small, “cabinet” format, to tiny. The second, no less important peculiarity concerns the hanging: it is certainly not chaotic, but it can be upsetting, especially when, having looked at the masterpieces of the High Renaissance, you go to the boredom of the later period and already think that it would be nice to go without deepening into the maze of tiny halls – but no, here starts the Renaissance again, and in the reverse chronology (the further away, the earlier). Lombard artists hang in their wing, separated from their contemporaries by “foreign painting,” etc. This doesn’t disturb the view at all, although it introduces a slight element of surprise. But let’s move on to the collections. I don’t know about you, but I’ve long been fascinated by the “ceiling portraits” published by arabena – paintings on boards covering the ceiling beams and/or the space between them. At one time we too were lucky enough to see a number of such paintings, but not portraits, and now it’s come to portraits as well.

This is what it looked like “assembled” (here, though, it’s not the beam that’s long gone, but the corner – i.e. the set of portraits works “skirting”) that’s covered.

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I have no deep conviction that these portraits were really portraits, that is, paintings drawn from life. However, it doesn’t matter whether they are from nature or not, whether there is a resemblance or not, whether they are relatives or generally the same girl: ceiling portraits are a very special genre, and in Poldi Pezzoli it is well represented.

Of course, finding so many relatives that their portraits cover all the beams is not easy. Family coats of arms come to the rescue, or even just ornaments. (If anything, the lion has a paw, not what some might think.)

Before moving on to other paintings, I’d like to show another masterpiece of sculpture: The Betrothal of the Virgin Mary by Giovanni Angelo del Maino (his work can be found in Pavia, Como and all over Lombardy).

The glass is (again!) monstrously glaring at all angles, but you can still see most of it.

Sorry, I can’t stop, I’ll show you a lot of details.

Now let’s talk about the painting after all. And right off the bat, a piece that in connection with the Hermitage’s recent accusations of “incorrect attribution” looks quite relevant. They write it straight out, bastards: no Leonardo, but an anonymous “follower. Well, although their version of the original is not called, but with the attribution is also not defined: unknown, they say, perhaps Bernardino dei Conti. “And these people forbid me to pick my nose!”

Rare German work: “St. Judas Thaddeus forced to worship idols” by Mayr von Landshut, uncle of Holbein Sr. It would seem that it was the beginning of the 16th century, even in Germany Dürer and Cranach were already doing a lot of work, and here we have something provincial, with obvious references to the well-known Italian manner of small detail groups, perspective distortions, and other things. What were these people thinking? How did they write? As they say, in mysterious ways art goes.

By the way, here is Cranach, one of Luther’s famous portraits. Perhaps even the most famous. But the fact that in the original it is double, and the other half depicts the great reformer’s wife, Katharina Bora, is often forgotten.

Cosimo Tura. It’s immediately clear why I don’t like him. And the sky is absolutely Magritte.

Bellini. Probably doesn’t look good compared to what’s in Brera. But why compare it to Brera?

Botticelli. Still in the airy, transparent, “golden” manner of his teacher Filippo Lippi.

And a completely different Botticelli, whom we were told at art school as an example of how ideology can break a man. To be honest, since then I cannot hear the name Savonarola without trembling, and I never walk past that place in Florence.

The museum’s calling card, Pietro di Pollaiolo. I can’t understand how such a primitive, unskilled artist could manage such a soft, delicate portrait.

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The second one that struck me was Antonello da Messina. He has several similar paintings, but this one stands out for its unusual sharpness yet smoothly painted fabric (Messina either has it or not at all, the middle is missing).

Instantly recognizable from Perugino’s molds .

. and the completely unrecognizable Cima da Conegliano: frankly, he and his statuary faces had already become so boring that I thought I would recognize him in the middle of the night. But no: such a rarity, and even on a mythological subject, “The Marriage of Bacchus and Ariadne. However, the explanation is simple: it is one of the panels of the painted cassone chest, for which Chima, perhaps, did not try very hard. (Two other panels are in Philadelphia, another in a private collection in France – that’s how people are interested in the unconventional Chima.)

The vastly underrated Fra Bartolomeo here.

Filippo Lippi’s amazing early “Pieta” boat.

Tiny (19*13 cm) Crivelli. Without cucumbers (didn’t fit?), but with bones scattered along the crucifix. Also had something in mind.

Well, here we are in the archaic period (can you feel how the museum is organized?). Vitale da Bologna. What an amazing master.

Surprisingly dignified, without the skewed faces, Pietro Lorenzetti. Okay, almost no skewed faces.

Bernardo Duddy is an awful lot like the Giotta medallions-predellas in Bologna. The reverse side, on the other hand, didn’t turn out at all – the glare. That said, it’s even more interesting: the three ends of the cross depict three decapitated saints (in the sense of having their heads cut off) – St. Paul, St. James the Elder, St. John the Baptist.

And his own triptych.

The baby’s diaper is striped, like Santa Croce’s.

And Mary, at the time of the Annunciation, seems to be already pregnant.

Finally, we come to the last part of the exhibition, which, by the way, again, is not described in any guidebook: the collection of jewelry, in particular the Limoges enamels of the 10th to 14th centuries. It’s all tiny and shiny, but what a pleasure to look at.

Yes, it’s also Limoges, and even the time is the same.

The miniatures are, as they should be, tiny, about 4 centimeters high. It’s amazing art.

Here we are done with the Poldi Pezzoli Museum and move smoothly to the subway past.

Poldi Pezzoli Museum

The Museo Poldi Pezzoli has a rich art collection, for which it is often called the Palace of Wonders and the Treasure Chest in the heart of Milan. It was born from the passion of one of the best collectors of the 19th century, Gian Giacomo Poldi Pezzoli, who, at the age of 40, made a will to give his house and all its contents to the Artistic Foundation “for public use and benefit on a permanent basis in accordance with the regulations in force for the Brera Art Gallery. He entrusted the administration and management to his friend, the painter-decorator Giuseppe Bertini.

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History of the Poldi Pezzoli Museum

Gian Giacomo died in 1879, when he was 57 years old. He had no wife or children, his main raison d’être was collecting. Poldi Pozzoli’s posthumous wish was granted – on April 25th 1881 a museum was opened in his house in Milan, which was visited by thousands of people in a few days.

The first director was Giuseppe Bertini (1925-98), then the management passed into the hands of the architect Camillo Boito (1836-1914), director of the Brera Academy. In 1939, during the Second World War, the museum was closed and the works of art were moved to various bomb shelters. In August 1943, in an aerial bombardment, the palace on the Via Madzoni, like many Milanese buildings, was seriously damaged, with the result that the magical atmosphere of the Gian Giacomo Poldi Pezzoli house-museum with its original moldings and wood carvings was lost forever.

After the end of the war, the Italian government decided to finance the reconstruction of the palazzo in order to bring the museum back to life on its historic site. The restored palace reopened its doors to the public on December 3, 1951. In 2017, the museum space on the first floor was expanded with a new Francini wing.

Poldi Pezzoli Palace

The seventeenth-century building was purchased by Giuseppe Pezzoli, an ancestor of Gian Giacomo, at the end of the eighteenth century. The architect Simone Cantoni (1736-1818) designed it in a neoclassical style. At the same time an English garden was laid out, which was decorated with statues and fountains. Between 1850 and 1853. Gian Giacomo entrusted Giuseppe Balzaretto (1801-1874) with the further modification of the palazzo at the same time as the renovation of his private apartments. The rooms were planned to house a series of works of art, so the renovated palace began to look more like a gallery than a house.

Museum rooms

In the Palazzo Poldi Pezzoli you can admire not only the works of art, but also the palazzo itself, its beautiful baroque staircase and its numerous rooms, which recall eras from the Middle Ages to the 18th century, and ending with the rebuilt Armoury.

Poldi Pezzoli, Poldi Pezzoli Museum

Baroque Staircase © PoldiPezzoli

The Salle d’Armi, or Armory, was originally decorated in neo-Gothic style between 1846 and 1851 by Filippo Peroni, the artist-decorator of La Scala. The stucco work was by Paolo Gazzoli and the stained-glass windows by Pompeo Bertini. The theatrical effect prevailed in the hall, enhanced by the banners, weapons, armor, trophies, showcases and mannequins displayed there. All of this was completely destroyed during World War II. The current setting is the work of Arnaldo Pomodoro, who interpreted the theme of the armory, emphasizing its historical identity.

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Poldi Pezzoli, Poldi Pezzoli Museum

The original image of the Armory © museopoldipezzoli.it

Many of the museum’s halls and rooms have thematic designations, depending on the exhibits on display or the characteristic decorations. These include the halls of stucco, lace, Mukran glass, porcelain, clocks, archaeology, etc. The Fresco Hall owes its name to the large ceiling painting by the Lombard artist Carlo Innocenzo Carloni, which was transferred to the Poldi Pezzoli Museum from the Villa Colleoni in Calusco d’Adda during the post-war reconstruction work. The museum has a Portrait Gallery and a Perugino Hall, with separate rooms housing works by fourteenth- and eighteenth-century masters.

The Golden Room is the most important room of the museum. It contains the masterpieces of painting from the Poldi Pezzoli collection. Conceived in the Renaissance style, it was conceived as the Hall of Honor in the apartments of Gian Giacomo. The room was decorated with frescoes painted by Bertini, a gilded coffered ceiling and walls lined with damask fabrics. All of this was destroyed in the 1943 bombing raids. It is here that the museum’s symbol, Pollaiolo’s Portrait of a Young Lady, is located.

Poldi Pezzoli, Poldi Pezzoli Museum

Golden Room © PoldiPezzoli

The Black Room was originally the living room of Gian Giacomo Poldi Pezzoli’s apartment. Inspired by the Northern Renaissance style inspired by a large Flemish polyptych on the wall, it continued to be called the Black Room despite the destruction of the fine dark wood coverings. Fortunately, the furniture and doors, designed by Giuseppe Bertini, survived the bombing.

Gian Giacomo Poldi Pezzoli’s bedroom, now called the Murano Glass Room, was built in 1846-56 by the neo-Baroque carver Giuseppe Ripamonti. Explosions in 1943 destroyed the lacunar ceiling, a frieze painted with frescoes by Luigi Scrozati, the fireplace, the carved panels, and the four-poster bed. The beautiful carved doors by Giuseppe Ripamonti and some pieces of the interior remain from the original.

Collections of the Poldi Pezzoli Museum

Poldi Pezzoli Museum

Among the more than 300 paintings is an extensive group of Italian Renaissance works, including Tuscan (Botticelli, Piero della Francesca, Pollaiolo), Lombard (Luini, Boltraffio, Solario) and Venetian (Bellini, Mantegna) masterpieces. Also significant is the collection of eighteenth-century Italian paintings (Guardi, Canaletto, Tiepolo, Fra Galgario).

Among the few exhibits of particular interest are: a monumental bronze statue of Jesus made in Venice in the early 16th century, a portrait bust of Alessandro Algardi, and 19th century sculptures by Lorenzo Bartolini, who worked for Rosa Trivulzio, the collector’s mother.

The collection brings together more than 220 Etruscan and Roman exhibits from the funerary inventory, dating from the 4th century B.C. to the 2nd century. Weapons, ceramics, sculpture and jewelry are on display here.

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About 200 antique objects, partly purchased by Gian Giacomo and added by the first directors. At the heart of the collection is Murano glass from the 16th to 17th centuries, with various processing methods and variations of decoration. Among the exhibits are archaeological finds and Bohemian glass.

An extensive and diverse collection includes ancient Persian carpets and tapestries from the Renaissance. It consists of 180 ancient fabrics dating from the 14th to 18th centuries, includes rare Italian velvets and elements of precious 15th-century altar fronts in Lombardy. Later, ancient Coptic fabrics, Lombard and Flemish lace and embroidery from the 18th and 19th centuries were purchased and donated.

Poldi Pezzoli Museum

Altar textiles 1450-61 © wikimedia.org

Armor and weapons

The collection was the passion of the young Gian Giacomo Poldi Pezzoli, who first created the Neo-Gothic Armory. The collection consists of about 1,000 pieces of western and eastern arms and armor, among which the ceremonial armor of the Milanese Renaissance by the skilled master Pompeo della Cesa, the Brescia and German firearms of the 16th century stand out.

Precious treasures from the Poldi Pezzoli collection are on display in the Sala degli Ori. Among the important pieces on display are medieval enamels from Limoges, jewelry from the Lombard Renaissance, jewelry and rings from the 16th century and jewelry from the 19th century by Pio Castellani.

Gian Giacomo Poldi Pezzoli collected Italian furniture – Renaissance chests, cabinets decorated with carvings, inlays and semi-precious stones, Lombard and Venetian mirrors. Of particular interest is the 19th-century furniture designed by Giuseppe Bertini of Milan for the house of a collector.

Ebony table

Ebony table © Sailko wikimedia.org

Nearly 500 pieces of sundials and mechanical clocks constitute the most important collection of antique watchmaking in Italy. Over time, it has been enriched by donations from Bruno Falck, Piero Portaluppi and the former Luigi delle Piana collection. The collection presents an overview of the history of European watchmaking between the 16th and 19th centuries, with Italian and, above all, German, French and Swiss examples, exceptional not only in terms of movements but also in terms of case decoration.

The Poldi Pezzoli Museum’s rich collection of ceramics includes pieces of the highest quality from major Italian manufacturers, in particular Doccia and Capodimonte, and European masters. Among the latest exhibits is an 18th century Meissen porcelain, obtained by the museum thanks to a generous donation from the Zerilli-Marimo collection.

Solar clocks and astronomical instruments

This collection, donated in 1978 by Lia Portaluppi Baglia Conti, was created by Milanese architect Piero Portaluppi (1888-1967) beginning in 1920. More than 200 exhibits date from the 16th to 19th centuries.

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