Travel
Sforza Italia

Bonhams Magazine

Issue 43, Summer 2015

Page 50

Travel
Sforza Italia

Bonhams Magazine

Issue 43, Summer 2015

Page 50

Travel
Sforza Italia

Bonhams Magazine

Issue 43, Summer 2015

Page 50

Travel
Sforza Italia

Bonhams Magazine

Issue 43, Summer 2015

Page 50

Milan will be buzzing this summer as Expo 15 and new openings jostle for attention with Renaissance treasures, says Anthony Majanlahti

Leonardo da Vinci may be the Florentine master, but he is the man of the moment in Milan. It's here that he spent his most productive years, at the court of Duke Ludovico Sforza, 'il Moro' or the Moor (for his dark complexion). Leonardo's impact is visible all over the city, even more so this year with an important exhibition of his work at the Palazzo Reale until 19 July.

At the magnificent Brera Gallery, Milan's principal state art museum, his influence on contemporary Milanese artists is clearly visible. The collection was formed by Napoleon at the beginning of the 19th century by the simple expedient of stripping many northern Italian churches of their masterpieces, and served as a teaching tool in the Brera art academy that the emperor created in Milan, capital of his short-lived Kingdom of Italy.

Leonardo's pupil and contemporary, Bernardino Luini, covered the walls of the church of San Maurizio al Monastero Maggiore with Leonardesque works, causing some to call San Maurizio
"the Sistine Chapel of Milan". Unlike the Sistine Chapel, there
are no queues.

The queue is long, however, for Leonardo's famous Last Supper in the former refectory of another monastery, Santa Maria delle Grazie. Booking is essential by phone or online at least a month in advance to secure a place among the 25 people a time who can see it for 15 minutes. But this 'ghost of a fresco' (only about 30 per cent of the original survives) is worth the trouble. A recent restoration has revived Leonardo's colors and forms, and to see it brings you into electrifying contact with the Renaissance's greatest genius. Milan has undeservedly been off the map for art lovers, but even without Leonardo's impact, it deserves a good, long look.

The Ambrosiana gallery contains (as well as Leonardo's 12 volumes of drawings and writings, the Codex Atlanticus), Raphael's cartoon for the School of Athens, a delicate Basket of Fruit by Caravaggio, and much more. For lovers of 20th Italian art, the new Museo del Novecento boasts masterpieces by Boccioni, De Chirico, and Lucio Fontana.

Remarkably for a city at the cutting edge of fashion and design, Milan has lacked a dedicated contemporary art gallery until now. But art lovers whose taste is bang on trend will lap up the Fondazione Prada, a new cultural complex housed in a former distillery, which opened in May. Remodeled and extended by Dutch architect Rem Koolhas, its ten buildings are the new home for the art collection set up by fashion designers Miuccia Prada and her husband Patrizio Bertelli, and will also host a rolling program of exhibitions. The Milan Expo also opened in May. This six-month long government-backed exhibition is intended to kick start the foundering Italian economy in the city that is synonymous with innovation.

Milan's famous dynamism is not confined to the 21st century. The traces of its medieval and Renaissance glory are to be found everywhere. There is no better place to begin than at the Duomo, where the colossal Gothic cathedral, with its distinctive pinnacles, rises like a man-made mountain. Inside, its stained-glass windows, some dating from the 15th century, allow a kaleidoscope of light to play over the nave's forest of vast stone columns. Even better is a visit to the roof of the cathedral, which rewards the adventurous with a close-up view of the Duomo's famous guglie or pinnacles, each carved with a different saint, and also a spectacular view over the city. Tickets to the new Cathedral Museum, in an adjacent building, include admission to San Giovanni alle Fonti, the late-antique cathedral baptistery underneath the Duomo's front steps. Here there are fragments of frescoes and mosaics as well as the full-immersion font in which Saint Ambrose, patron of the city, baptized Saint Augustine in 387 AD.

A short walk takes you to the Castello Sforzesco, the Sforza Castle, built by the dynasty whose rule saw Milan rise to its height of artistic glory. The city declined under Spanish rule in the 16th century, but was revived in the late 19th as a 'citadel of museums' housing the civic collections. Michelangelo's haunting last sculpture, the Rondanini Pietà, is now beautifully situated in a 17th-century former barracks hospital, the Ospedale Spagnolo, contained within the castle walls. The rest of the castle contains all sorts of fascinating treasures, including a clockwork devil that once formed part of an eccentric collector's wunderkammer.

The other undisputed star of the Castello is the Sala delle Asse, once painted by Leonardo himself, which has been undergoing a long restoration. Leonardo painted a series of trees all around the walls of the room, which rise up with their branches interweaving to form an almost architectural canopy of green, interwoven with gold ribbon tied in complex knots. The trees are mori or mulberry, which, apart from referring to the duke's nickname, also allude to his introduction of silk production into his Lombard duchy: the trees were the preferred habitat of the silkworm. Recent discoveries show that Leonardo intended to paint the walls as well as the ceiling with fragments of landscapes, roots and branches which are visible as they come to light from under 16 separate layers of later plaster.

Anthony Majanlahti is a historian and author of The Families Who Made Rome.

Where to stay

Whether you are there for Fashion Week, La Scala, or to hang out at Wes Anderson's new bar at the Fondazione Prada, Milan has a number of grand hotels to choose from. Top of the pile for glamor is the Bulgari which has an enviable location within walking distance of all the key sights, including the Pinacoteca di Brera art gallery and Santa Maria delle Grazie, home to Leonardo da Vinci's The Last Supper. The Carlton Hotel Baglioni (below) oozes character, passion and refinement, and the back door leads directly onto the Via Della Spiga, which together with Montenapoleone, form the main arteries of the Milanese fashion district. Finally, for character, the Four Seasons (bottom) is housed in a 15th-century convent, complete with cloistered courtyard.
Matthew Wilcox

Where to eat

The Milanese food scene has exploded in the past year, to coincide with Expo 2015, the theme of which is 'Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life'. Identità Golose, the Italian chefs' congress, has arranged a calendar of dinners by Italy's leading chefs.

Milan is a business city, so there are fewer trattorias than in Rome, Venice or Florence. But here, cooking is far more creative because the Milanese are more curious about food beyond their borders, so there is a far greater variety of international restaurants – Japanese, Chinese, Indian, African, even Latin American – than anywhere else in Italy.

Traditional Milanese food tends to be heavier than in the rest of the country as there is a strong emphasis on butter rather than olive oil. There are a handful of places that cost around €50 per person and which are renowned for their busy atmosphere and the use of first-rate ingredients. The best are Al Fresco, Erba Brusca, Al Mercato and Rebelot.

As for the rest, Ratanà is renowned for its traditional Milanese cuisine, Taglio for its meat and Alice for its fish. Iyo is the best of the Japanese restaurants. The newly opened Tokuyoshi has been gaining a lot of publicity because the chef was formerly sous chef at Massimo Bottura's Osteria Francescana, the most celebrated restaurant in Italy.

Milan is also home to Joia, the oldest Michelin-starred vegetarian restaurant in Europe. At the very pinnacle of haute cuisine, there is Cracco, with two Michelin stars and an exciting avant-garde approach to traditional cooking.
Bruce Palling

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