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Trip Report Milan trip report

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Got to visit Milan recently, and here's a report on the attractions I saw over a two-day stretch.

The Museo Poldi Pezzoli is a moderate sized house style museum similar to the Frick in New York and Gardner in Boston. There's a moderate sized but varied collection here, including a room of armor and weaponry, furniture, glassware, watches and clocks, porcelain, and a number of paintings (including a famous female profile portrait by Antonio Pollaiolo and canvases by Botticelli, Canaletto, and Tiepolo). Some of the rooms are sumptuously decorated. Excellent.

The La Scala Museum is a must for music lovers. The climb upstairs to the museum goes past framed posters of past opera performances from the 1920s and thereabouts. You can see inside the theater from the museum, a gorgeously ornate venue. The museum contains a lot of paintings and busts of Italian singers and opera composers, plus a few interesting artifacts such as death masks/casts of Puccini and Verdi and Toscanini, hand casts of Chopin and Toscanini and Verdi, and locks of Mozart's and Puccini's hair. Upstairs is a library of books, scores, and libretti with displays of musical instruments and stage costumes.

Galleria Vittoria Emanuele II is a large 19th century shopping mall open at the ends, gorgeously ornate and filled with exclusive shops. Pleasant for strolling and window shopping.

The Duomo next door is a gigantic church of almost blindingly white stone, covered with statuary and fancy ornament. You can take stairs or an elevator to the roof, where you can get up close and personal with the gargoyles and statues and enjoy a fine view. Inside are lots of statues, paintings, stained glass (not something seen in other Milan churches visited), and a crypt area with a small treasury of items such as crosses and chalices. Breathtaking.

The Chiesa di San Lorenzo Maggiore is the oldest church in the city. It has Roman style columns inside and out -- plus a small chapel (Cappella di Sant'Aquilino) with mosaics and frescoes, a florid tomb, and in its lower level some Roman remains.

Another very old church is the Chiesa di Sant'Ambrogio. Its two outside towers have served as models for several imitators in Italy and elsewhere. Inside is a gold altar, the skeleton of St. Ambrose (visible in the crypt), a fragment of a Tiepolo fresco that was mostly destroyed by WWII bombs, and an extremely old small chapel with a 5th century mosaic in its ceiling.

Closer to the Duomo, the small Chiesa Santa Maria Presso di San Satiro is a curious little place, featuring clam shell motifs on the walls, a pleasant pieta sculpture, and a trompe l'oeil altar that tries to suggest depth but doesn't quite succeed.

The Pinacoteca di Brera is the best museum I saw in Milan. It's a medium-sized collection, mostly of Italian paintings with a few non-Italian items. There are lots of excellent canvases here, including ones by Tintoretto, Mantegna, Raphael, Caravaggio, Veronese, Tiepolo, El Greco, Rembrandt, and Van Dyck, plus a number of paintings by a 19th century Italian artist I hadn't heard of before named Hayez. A must.

The nearby Castello Sforzesco is a huge brick castle with a spacious courtyard. There are some small museums with uneven holdings (old Italian paintings, African art, Milanese Medieval sculpture, armor), but there are a few musts here, including a large and rather abstract ceiling fresco by Leonardo da Vinci, some fresco work and paintings by Bramantino, and an unfinished Pieta sculpture by Michelangelo.

The Pinacoteca Ambrosiana is a mixed bag of items, but scattered among some pedestrian copies of older artwork and "attributed to" items are some choice things such as paintings by Caravaggio and Titian and Botticelli and da Vinci, a cartoon for "School of Athens" by Raphael, and pages from da Vinci's "Codex Atlantico" books. A small but wonderful temporary exhibit unites all four paintings in an "Earth, Air, Fire, Water" series by Brueghel, two of them owned by this museum and two on loan from the Louvre. Uneven, but at its best a good place to visit.

Yes, I was able to see Leonardo's "Last Supper," though I had to do this as part of a rather pricey city tour -- but it was worth it. The walking tour did go past a couple sculptures, one a silly thing depicting a hand with all fingers but an extended middle one removed (by Maurizio Cattelan), the other a delightful Claes Olderburg sculpture of a gigantic needle and thread. But the one real reason to do this tour was to see the "Last Supper" -- and despite its faded appearance, it's a remarkably powerful work that gains meaning the more you look at it. A must, no two ways about it. The church containing this masterwork, the Santa Maria delle Grazie, is worth a pop-in on its own (detailed ceiling decoration, plus a pleasant courtyard).

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