The air in this place is thick, saturated, as if the dust of time stands in the sky. The sun comes through in a haze of soft light; the buildings assume an ornate and translucent quality. And all day we walk around as if in a daze, the sky colored in such a vague enchanting way. The reality? Milan(o) has almost no pollution regulation. The miraculous, movie-quality effects that filter down and through the ancient city are, in truth, the thick particles of car exhaust, suburb factory smoke, and the visible bustle and hum of a city at large. It puts the quaint smog of Los Angeles to shame.
The magical qualities of this fashionista cultural hub continue in all ways. The language lilts like doves skirting in low lying trees—Italians being arguably the loudest and most friendly of all Europeans. The food wafts from corner to corner and as our feet walk towards the inevitably gorgeous Piazza della Scala, we must pause in the pure beauty of this Northern Italian city.
The charm continues as we head to our destination, the Pinacoteca di Brera. Now, this is not exactly an “off-the-map” destination—something we regularly attempt to provide here at Eclectic Perspective. However, the sheer beauty of this centuries old convent turned museum prompted us to go ahead and write about it anyway.
The entrance can be seen through a small arched opening from the winding cobblestone street. It is unobtrusive and demure; a small sign points us into a large open square, the Palazzo Brera. A large statue stands tall and bold in the middle, surrounded by two identical floors of arches and columns. Delicate comes to mind as I stand and turn in a full circle, my feet brushing the ground of thousands before me.
We head up the marble staircase, our hands tracing thick forest green veins in the stone, and follow signs to the museum itself.
The Pinacoteca di Brera holds a number of Early Renaissance works as well as key pieces from the High Renaissance. Hayez, Raphael, Bellini, Rubens, Rembrandt, and Carvaggio—just to name a few. We walk the spacious, marble halls that used to be a monastery and admire the paintings—of which there are rooms upon rooms. Their form, their texture, the way in which a certain shade of darkness moves some cold place in our hearts.
Now, I am not an art-history person. Dates and names leave my mind quickly and what I am always left with is how a painting made me feel. With that said, there are some serious highlights from this incredible place. Due to a ban on cameras within the museum, we could not take actual pictures of these pieces. Very sad, I know.
- The first: Supper at Emmaus, by Michelangelo Carvaggio. A different piece than the one in London (of the same name), this masterpiece crawls off the stark white walls of the Pinacoteca. Carvaggio is arguably my favorite painter of the Renaissance—so dark and alluring, his paintings usually stay with me the longest. A common style of his is to forgo a background and instead have the scene fade into complete black. This highlights his characters in an ultra-dramatic radiance—they seem to be the center of the world.
- Next up: The Lamentation of Christ, by Andrea Mantegna. Mantegna depicts a dying Christ over which two women cry. Two aspects of this painting strike me—the perspective and the feeling. Perspectively, I find the way Christ’s body drapes over the table to be both unique and slightly uncomfortable. There is something about this painting that should show him in repose, but instead he looks stiff and pained. This ties in with the “feeling,” where I, at that moment, felt an immense amount of loss. I feel this piece humanizes Christ in a way that others do not—a strange thought to have after looking at rooms and rooms, churches and altars, all dedicated to this one man.
- Lastly: Sermon of St. Mark in Alexandria, by Giovanni Bellini. The Pinacoteca had a number of absolutely monstrous paintings. This was one of them. In it Bellini depicts St. Mark preaching in Alexandria. What I love about this piece is the backdrop, that of an obscenely large, detailed palace. It shows the importance of the event through its magnificent scale; the speech that St. Mark delivers then becomes heightened, as monumental as the palace itself. I also really love the crowd of white, head-dressed men kneeling. To look at these up close—no glass on this piece, you could stand inches away—was wonderful. The amount of detail and labored foreignness of this piece makes it unique.
There is so much to see. The museum goes from one large chamber to the next, highlighting the beginning of the Renaissance right into the most brilliant part of that magical period in Western history. It is both inspiring and calming—there were hardly any tourists in Fall, there were plenty of bathrooms and comfy couches. Oh, and try not to get overwhelmed. There is a ton of art, including a modern exhibit and an elaborate gift shop. Not to mention that you are about five walking minutes from the Duomo. But make sure to save some energy for The Kiss, by Francesco Hayez—it is right at the end!
The Pinocoteca di Brera is a must for Milan and made for an easy, enlightening (get it?) day.