Saturday, March 21, 2015

The Bagatti Valsecchi Museum, Milan

A few weeks ago I received an email from a lady called Star, she wrote about the Bagatti Valsecchi museum where she works (btw, she also has a blog over at My Milan, very handy if you're planning on visiting or living in the city). The email described a museum unlike any other I'd seen before, a Renaissance time capsule, which was created by two brothers in the 19th century. It sounded fascinating, and today Star was kind enough to give a couple of us a guided tour around the museum.

What is now the museum was created by Barons (their father was the first in their family to receive the title) Fausto and Giuseppe Bagatti Valsecchi, who lived in Milan from the mid-1800s to the beginning of the 1900s. At the beginning of the 1880s they started on a transformation of their house, to turn it into a home that would have been inhabited by a Renaissance prince.

If it weren't for her wealth of knowledge, I would have missed out on so much. I studied the Renaissance briefly during my third year of university, but the main focus was on the literature of that period. Doing my Erasmus year in Urbino - an important city during the Renaissance, which has preserved a lot of the architecture from that period - has probably given me a better eye for all things Renaissance than the average person, but I'm in no way knowledgable about the period. So many small details would have gone without being seen - such as the white and gold decoration on the ceiling in the entrance.

One of the most impressive pieces in the museum - if only for its size - is The Madonna of Mercy from 1495. It's huge!

Like good Renaissance men, the brothers had a library. There are two beautiful globes there - one of which has been restored recently - of the earth, and the sky. On display in that room is a book containing original prints of the room as it was when the brothers were alive. Oh, and the ceiling is beautiful!

One thing I found quite amusing during the visit was the presence of skulls in different rooms of the house. Little trinkets on display in a box, and there was this in Fausto's room. You can't see it well in the photo, but on the forehead there's a clock - and the entire thing functioned as an alarm clock! Star explained that in the late 1800s people had the same sort of fear that we had at the end of the 1900s, of the new century, and the belief was that it was the end of the world. So the skulls served to remind them of their own mortality - how's an skull-shaped alarm clock to remind you that your time on this earth is limited??

This looks like some kind of fountain, right? Nope, it's a bath and a shower! These guys had running water, and were also one of the first homes in the world to be hooked up with electricity - a curious mix of the modern blending in with the new.

How's this for a fancy bed? Giuseppe was the only one of the two brothers to get married, and this is the room he shared with his wife Carolina Borromeo. In this room there's also two dinky Renaissance children's chairs, and a baby's walker!

The last room we visited was the Gallery of Arms, which as you can see, does what it says on the tin. Apart from one coat of arms, they're all original Renaissance pieces - including some pretty scary pointy stuff!

I would highly recommend a visit to the museum not just for people who have any kind of interest in the Italian Renaissance, but also in Italian culture and history in general. These guys were geniuses, and the work that they did to put together the house is staggering. They collected works of art, used part of a church cupola, created papier-maché ceilings, commissioned tapestries to cover the walls... I couldn't get my head around it. It's a place that leaves you lost for words.

The Bagatti Valsecchi Museum is in the Montenapoleone area of Milan, in Via Gesù 5 (a side-street off Via Montenapoleone itself). It's opened Tuesday - Sunday from 1pm to 5.45pm and is closed on Italian bank holidays.

You can reach the museum with public transport on the M2 yellow line by getting off at Montenapoleone, or with a slightly longer walk from M1 San Babila (red line) where the 54, 60, 61, and 73 buses stop. There's also the number 1 tram that stops in nearby Via Manzoni.

1 comment:

Andy said...

Thanks for the write up. I found it years ago but didn't know the history.

It's one of those gems of Milan that I'm sure most people don't know exist!