Pinacoteca Ambrosiana ★★

The Pinacoteca and Bilblioteca Ambrosiana, Pinacoteca Ambrosiana, Milan, Italy (Photo by George M. Groutas)
The Pinacoteca and Bilblioteca Ambrosiana

A formerly private painting gallery and library with Raphael's cartoon for School of Athens and Da Vinci's Codex Atlanticus

This small but worthy collection focuses on treasures from the 15th through the 17th centuries: An Adoration by Titian, Botticelli's Madonna and Angels, Caravaggio's Basket of Fruit (his only still life), sketches by Dürer, small studies for larger paintings by Rubens (significant, since the finished paintings were often completed by the assistants in his vast workshop, but these studies are definitely from the brush of Rubens himself), and other stunning works by Tiepolo, Pinturricchio, Piert Brueghel the Young and Elder, Francesco Hayez, Antonio Canova (a self-portait bust!), and more hang in a series of intimate rooms.

Notable (or infamous) among the paintings is Portrait of a Musician, attributed to Leonardo but, according to many scholars, of dubious provenance; if it is indeed a Leonardo, the haunting painting is the only portrait of his to hang in an Italian museum.

There's also Raphael's cartoon for School of Athens. This was the preparatory drawing for Raphael's most famous fresco in the Vatican Palace, an anachronistic pantheon of the great Greek philosophers whose visages bear the portraits of Renaissance artists (Leonardo da Vinci is the bearded Plato in the center, the architect Bramante is balding Euclid bending over to explain some geometry, etc.).

Raphael's true strength was as a draughtsman—his painterly skills were largely cadged from teacher Perugino and elder contemporaries Leonardo and Michelangelo—and he often worked out fresco and tapestry scenes in minute detail first as a sketch.

Unfortunately, no one's thought to put a picture of the finished fresco nearby for comparison. If they had, you would see that, missing from this drawing is the famous brooding figure of Michelangelo sprawled on the steps in the final fresco. That's because it was not part of the original plans, but rather was added later—supposedly after Raphael had a peek at the Sistine Chapel, being painted down the hall.

Apparently, Raphael had not thought much of Michelangelo until then, dismissing him as a mere sculptor who sometimes dabbled in paints. After his sneak peek at the unfinished Sistine, however, Raphael was so impressed he hurried back to his own work and painted Michelangelo into his pantheon of great artists—placing him directly at center stage.

The Biblioteca (library)

The adjoining Biblioteca Ambrosiana was founded by San Carlo Borromeo (of some 35,000 volumes and over 750,000 prints), another Borromeo, Cardinal Frederico, founded this painting gallery in 1603 after a formative time spent in Rome's artistic circles.

It was (and is) a place in which to study a theological issues via academic tomes and works of art, a truly Renaissance mix of religion, intellectualism, and aesthetics.

The stacks are open to scholars only except for special exhibitions, houses a wealth of Renaissance literaria, including the letters of Lucrezia Borgia and a strand of her hair.

You can visit the reading room, which shocases a rich collection of medieval manuscripts and Leonardo da Vinci's Codice Atlantico, 1,750 drawings and jottings the master did between 1478 and 1519.

 
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Photo gallery
  • The Pinacoteca and Bilblioteca Ambrosiana, Pinacoteca Ambrosiana, Italy (Photo by George M. Groutas)
  • The Madonna of the Pavilion (1490) by Botticelli, Pinacoteca Ambrosiana, Italy (Photo courtesy of the Ambrosiana)
  • The Madonna and Child with a Worshipper (c. 1500–10) by Pinturicchio, Pinacoteca Ambrosiana, Italy (Photo courtesy of the Ambrosiana)
  • Atlantic Codex (Codex Atlanticus), f. 858 recto (c. 1478–80) by Leonardo da Vinci; Mechanical wing activated by a winch; below on the right: detail of the winch, Pinacoteca Ambrosiana, Italy (Photo courtesy of the Ambrosiana)
  • Mary Magdalene (1540) by Titian, Pinacoteca Ambrosiana, Italy (Photo courtesy of the Ambrosiana)
  • Cartoon for The School of Athens (1509) by Raphael, Pinacoteca Ambrosiana, Italy (Photo courtesy of the Ambrosiana)
  • The finished fresco of The School of Athens (1511) by Raphael—which is in the Vatican in Rome, but I include it here so you can compare the preparatory cartoon (previous picture) to the end product (note the addition of Michelangelo brooding on the steps), Pinacoteca Ambrosiana, Italy (Photo Public Domain)
  • Basket of Fruit (1597–1600) by Caravaggio, Pinacoteca Ambrosiana, Italy (Photo courtesy of the Ambrosiana)
  • The Biblioteca Abbrosiana, Pinacoteca Ambrosiana, Italy (Photo by George M. Groutas)
  • Atlantic Codex (Codex Atlanticus), f. 5 recto (c. 1480–82) by Leonardo da Vinci; In the centre a bellows activated hydraulic pump; on the right: a man drawing an armillary sphere using a perspectograph, Pinacoteca Ambrosiana, Italy (Photo courtesy of the Ambrosiana)
  • The Placing of Christ in the Sepulchre (1570–73) by Titian, Pinacoteca Ambrosiana, Italy (Photo courtesy of the Ambrosiana)
  • Atlantic Codex (Codex Atlanticus), f. 26 verso (c. 1480–82) by Leonardo da Vinci; On the left: water lifting machine; on the right: machine to pump water from a well inside a building, Pinacoteca Ambrosiana, Italy (Photo courtesy of the Ambrosiana)
  • Portrait of a Musician (1485) probably by Leonardo da Vinci, Pinacoteca Ambrosiana, Italy (Photo courtesy of the Ambrosiana)
  • Atlantic Codex (Codex Atlanticus), f. 149 recto (c. 1485–92) by Leonardo da Vinci; On the upper sheet: various types of weapons. On the lower sheet: drawing of a giant crossbow, Pinacoteca Ambrosiana, Italy (Photo courtesy of the Ambrosiana)
  • Self Portrait (c. 1812) by Antonio Canova, Pinacoteca Ambrosiana, Italy (Photo courtesy of the Ambrosiana)
  • Portrait of Giuseppina Negroni Prati Morosini (1853) by Francesco Hayez, Pinacoteca Ambrosiana, Italy (Photo courtesy of the Ambrosiana)
  • The Presentation of Christ in the Temple (1574) by Giandomenico Tiepolo, Pinacoteca Ambrosiana, Italy (Photo courtesy of the Ambrosiana)
  • Adoration of the Magi (1557–60) by Titian, Pinacoteca Ambrosiana, Italy (Photo courtesy of the Ambrosiana)
  • The exterior, Pinacoteca Ambrosiana, Italy (Photo by damian entwistle)
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Tips

Free or reduced admission with a sightseeing card

Get into Pinacoteca Ambrosiana for free (and skip the line at the ticket booth) with:

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How long does the Ambrosiana take?

I would spend at least 45–60 minutes in the painting gallery, and give myself about 10–15 minutes to see the Leonardo codex in the library (they have other cool old books on display as well—in all, about an hour to 75 munutes.

Try to visit Tuesday to Friday

Since the painting gallery is closed Mondays, the library is closed weekends, and they keep different hours, if you want to see both, you have to come between 10am and 4:30pm on a Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday.

The library is closed in August

The reading room of the Biblioteca (but not the painting gallery) closes in summer. The dates are variable, but it's usually the last week of July though Auguest.

Useful Italian phrases

Useful Italian for sightseeing

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
Where is?... Dov'é doh-VAY
...the museum il museo eel moo-ZAY-yo
...the church la chiesa lah key-YAY-zah
...the cathedral il duomo [or] la cattedrale eel DUO-mo [or] lah cah-the-DRAH-leh
     
When is it open? Quando é aperto? KWAN-doh ay ah-PAIR-toh
When does it close? Quando si chiude? KWAN-doh see key-YOU-day
Closed day giorno di riposo JOR-no dee ree-PO-zo
Weekdays (Mon-Sat) feriali fair-ee-YA-lee
Sunday & holidays festivi fe-STEE-vee
     
ticket biglietto beel-YET-toh
two adults due adulti DOO-way ah-DOOL-tee
one child un bambino oon bahm-BEE-no
one student uno studente OO-noh stu-DENT-ay
one senior un pensionato oon pen-see-yo-NAH-toh

Basic phrases in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) pro-nun-see-YAY-shun
thank you grazie GRAT-tzee-yay
please per favore pair fa-VOHR-ray
yes si see
no no no
Do you speak English? Parla Inglese? PAR-la een-GLAY-zay
I don't understand Non capisco non ka-PEESK-koh
I'm sorry Mi dispiace mee dees-pee-YAT-chay
How much is it? Quanto costa? KWAN-toh COST-ah
That's too much É troppo ay TROH-po
     
Good day Buon giorno bwohn JOUR-noh
Good evening Buona sera BWOH-nah SAIR-rah
Good night Buona notte BWOH-nah NOTE-tay
Goodbye Arrivederci ah-ree-vah-DAIR-chee
Excuse me (to get attention) Scusi SKOO-zee
Excuse me (to get past someone) Permesso pair-MEH-so
     
Where is? Dov'é doh-VAY
...the bathroom il bagno eel BHAN-yoh
...train station la ferroviaria lah fair-o-vee-YAR-ree-yah
to the right à destra ah DEH-strah
to the left à sinistra ah see-NEEST-trah
straight ahead avanti [or] diritto ah-VAHN-tee [or] dee-REE-toh
information informazione in-for-ma-tzee-OH-nay

Days, months, and other calendar items in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
When is it open? Quando é aperto? KWAN-doh ay ah-PAIR-toh
When does it close? Quando si chiude? KWAN-doh see key-YOU-day
At what time... a che ora a kay O-rah
     
Yesterday ieri ee-YAIR-ee
Today oggi OH-jee
Tomorrow domani doh-MAHN-nee
Day after tomorrow dopo domani DOH-poh doh-MAHN-nee
     
a day un giorno oon je-YOR-no
Monday Lunedí loo-nay-DEE
Tuesday Martedí mar-tay-DEE
Wednesday Mercoledí mair-coh-lay-DEE
Thursday Giovedí jo-vay-DEE
Friday Venerdí ven-nair-DEE
Saturday Sabato SAH-baa-toh
Sunday Domenica doh-MEN-nee-ka
     
Mon-Sat Feriali fair-ee-YAHL-ee
Sun & holidays Festivi feh-STEE-vee
Daily Giornaliere joor-nahl-ee-YAIR-eh
     
a month una mese oon-ah MAY-zay
January gennaio jen-NAI-yo
February febbraio feh-BRI-yo
March marzo MAR-tzoh
April aprile ah-PREEL-ay
May maggio MAH-jee-oh
June giugno JEW-nyoh
July luglio LOO-lyoh
August agosto ah-GO-sto
September settembre set-TEM-bray
October ottobre oh-TOE-bray
November novembre no-VEM-bray
December dicembre de-CHEM-bray

Numbers in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
1 uno OO-no
2 due DOO-way
3 tre tray
4 quattro KWAH-troh
5 cinque CHEEN-kway
6 sei say
7 sette SET-tay
8 otto OH-toh
9 nove NO-vay
10 dieci dee-YAY-chee
11 undici OON-dee-chee
12 dodici DOH-dee-chee
13 tredici TRAY-dee-chee
14 quattordici kwa-TOR-dee-chee
15 quindici KWEEN-dee-chee
16 sedici SAY-dee-chee
17 diciasette dee-chee-ya-SET-tay
18 diciotto dee-CHO-toh
19 diciannove dee-chee-ya-NO-vay
20 venti VENT-tee
21* vent'uno* vent-OO-no
22* venti due* VENT-tee DOO-way
23* venti tre* VENT-tee TRAY
30 trenta TRAYN-tah
40 quaranta kwa-RAHN-tah
50 cinquanta cheen-KWAN-tah
60 sessanta say-SAHN-tah
70 settanta seh-TAHN-tah
80 ottanta oh-TAHN-tah
90 novanta no-VAHN-tah
100 cento CHEN-toh
1,000 mille MEEL-lay
5,000 cinque milla CHEEN-kway MEEL-lah
10,000 dieci milla dee-YAY-chee MEEL-lah


* You can use this formula for all Italian ten-place numbers—so 31 is trent'uno, 32 is trenta due, 33 is trenta tre, etc. Note that—like uno (one), otto (eight) also starts with a vowel—all "-8" numbers are also abbreviated (vent'otto, trent'otto, etc.).