Pinacoteca di Brera ★★★

St. Mark Preaching in Alexandria (1504–07) by Gentile and Giovanni Bellini in Room 8, Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan, Italy (Photo by SunOfErat)
St. Mark Preaching in Alexandria (1504–07) by Gentile and Giovanni Bellini in Room 8

Milan's Brera is one of the top painting galleries in Northern Italy, with works by Raphael, Caravaggio, Tintoretto, Mantegna, Bellini, and Piero della Francesca

Northern Italy's greatest painting gallery is unique among Italy's major art galleries in that it isn't founded on the riches of the church or collection of some noble family but rather the looting tendencies and democratic ideals of Napoléon, whose policies suppressed churches and monasteries across the region and carted their riches off to public galleries and academies such as the Brera (well, the best stuff went straight north to fill the Louvre, but plenty was left over for local edification). Fittingly, a bronze likeness of the emperor greets you upon entering the courtyard

Over the ensuing two centuries, the collections expanded to include some of the best of renaissance-era painting from Northern Italy's plains, fantastic representatives of the Venetian school, and several of the giant of Central Italy, including masterpieces by Mantegna, Giovanni Bellini, Piero della Francesca, Raphael, Caravaggio, and Tintoretto.

Just as a sampling of what you'll encounter in these 40 or so rooms, three of Italy's greatest masterpieces hang here: Andrea Mantegna's amazingly foreshortened Dead Christ, Raphael's Betrothal of the Virgin, and Piero della Francesca's Madonna with Saints (the Montefeltro Altarpiece). It is an indication of this museum's ability to overwhelm visitors that the last two absolute masterpieces hang near each other in a single room dedicated to works by Tuscan and Umbrian painters.

Just to prove Milan is different and forward looking, the first hallway starts not with the medieval but with the 20th century, mostly Futurists like Gino Severini and De Chirico.

Umberto Boccioni brightens the wall with a fiery mass of red and blue and yellow called La Città che Sale (1910), a blur of motion that appears to focus on two horses racing to collide over some wavy people while construction workers scurry about the girders and scaffolding of an enormous building rising in the background. An appropriate piece for busy-bee industrial Milan. Morandi remains infinitely calm with his carefully molded still-lifes, blank bottles and bowls in shades of beige, brown, and white.

After the 20C tease, the gallery quickly asserts its heritage with a few rooms of late medeival paintings.

From there you enter several galleries of sumptuous Venetian works, including Jacopo Tintoretto's Finding of the Body of St. Mark, in which the dead saint eerily confronts appropriately startled grave robbers who come upon his corpse. Caravaggio (Supper at Emmaus is his masterpiece here) is surrounded by works of his followers, and just beyond is a room devoted to works by foreigners; among them Rembrandt's Portrait of a Young Woman.

Near the Byzantine altarpiece decriped below under "Tips," hangs Rimini artist Giovanni Baronzio's mid-14C (therefore, Giotto-influenced) Story of Santa Colomba, who professes her faith in front of Emperor Aurelius and is eventually beheaded, but not before pulling off one of those wonderfully quirky and logicless miracles that, to me, make a saint worth knowing. While in prison, the guards send a neerdowell to rape her, but she whips up a miraculous bear that pounces on the man and chases him off. Baronzio must never have actually seen a bear, though, as this one looks a bit like a cross between a tuskless boar and a rather large dog.

Ambrogio Lorenzetti left us a baby Jesus swaddled in stock prison clothing (1320). 

Giovanni da Milano wasn't even from Milan (he hailed from Lake Como), and lived and worked in Florence, but that doesn't stop Milan from playing up the name and being proud of him anyway—and rightly so. Christ Sitting on his Throne (1365) may seem a yawner of a subject, but this one's a bit more ominous than most: a pair of wild-eyed lions peer out from behind the Lord on either side, and the book he's holding is open to lines from Apocalypse referrring to Christ's leading role as the Ultimate Judge and the terrible power he will wield. Check out the soft, slightly blurred, glowing colors of the clothing and the masterfully rendered flesh tones, not to mention the remarkably realistic hands.

The gnawed-at altarpiece-in-miniature nearby was actually a reliquary case; those little scoop depressions in the top of each painted arch once held bits of saints (though whether of the saints depicted, I cannot say).

Compare the majesty and elegance of the figures in Andrea di Bartolo's 1415 Incoronation of the Virgin with Nicoló di Pietro's grotesque version populated by extras from the "Planet of the Apes" cast, and with Gentile da Fabriano's gentle, finely crafted take on the subject in the next room (wow; Gentile rarely worked this big).

Pedro Berruguete's Pietà and Gerolamo da Trevie il Veccrio's Pietà flank the doorway, setting you up to walk through it and behold directly in front of you Mantegna's Dead Christ. This masterpiece displays not only Mantegna's skill at modeling and keen eye for texture and tone, but also his utter mastery of perspective and how he used it to create the illusion of depth. In this case, we look at Jesus laid out on a slab from his feet end, the entire body foreshortened to squeeze into a relatively narrow strip of canvas. Like many great geniuses in the arts, Mantegna actually warped reality and used his tools (in this case, perspective and foreshortening) in an odd way to create his image. Most art teachers would tell you that the rules of perspective would call for the bits at the "near end" (in this case the feet) to be large and those at the far end (that is to say, the head) to be small to achieve the proper effect, but Mantegna turned it around. At first glance, the works seems wonderfully wrought and perfectly foreshortened. But after staring a few moments, you realize the head is grotesquely large and the feet tiny. Mantegna has given us perfect foreshortening by turning perspective on its end.

Given Napoléon's fondness for the Venetian schools, it is only just that the final rooms are again filled with works from that city, including Canaletto's View of the Grand Canal.

They also have several works by the Macchiaioli school (Italian Impressionists) and by Francsco Hayez, including fan-favorite The Kiss (1859). 

Photo gallery
  • St. Mark Preaching in Alexandria (1504–07) by Gentile and Giovanni Bellini in Room 8, Pinacoteca di Brera, Italy (Photo by SunOfErat)
  • The Dead Christ and Three Mourners (1470–74) by Andrea Mantegna, Pinacoteca di Brera, Italy (Photo Public Domain)
  • Spozalizio (The Engagement of the Virgin Mary, or Marriage of the Virgin) (1504) by Raphael, Pinacoteca di Brera, Italy (Photo Public Domain)
  • Supper at Emmaus (c. 1606) by Caravaggio, Pinacoteca di Brera, Italy (Photo Public Domain)
  • Madonna and Child Blessing (The Brera Madonna) (1510) by Giovanni Bellini, Pinacoteca di Brera, Italy (Photo Public Domain)
  • Finding of the Body of St Mark (c. 1562) by Tintoretto, Pinacoteca di Brera, Italy (Photo Public Domain)
  • Portrait of Andrea Doria as Neptune (1550–55) by Angelo Bronzino, Pinacoteca di Brera, Italy (Photo Public Domain)
  • St. Mark Preaching in Alexandria (1504–07) by Gentile and Giovanni Bellini, Pinacoteca di Brera, Italy (Photo Public Domain)
  • Pietá (1465) by Giovanni Bellini, Pinacoteca di Brera, Italy (Photo Public Domain)
  • Madonna del Roseto (early 16C) by Bernardino Luini, Pinacoteca di Brera, Italy (Photo Public Domain)
  • Adoration of the Magi (1516–18) by Antonio da Correggio, Pinacoteca di Brera, Italy (Photo Public Domain)
  • The Coronation of the Virgin (c. 1400) by Gentile da Fabriano, Pinacoteca di Brera, Italy (Photo Public Domain)
  • Madonna with the Child (the Madonna Greca or Greek Madonna) (1460–64) by Giovanni Bellini, Pinacoteca di Brera, Italy (Photo Public Domain)
  • Scenes from the Life of St Colomba: St Colomba Saved by a Bear (c. 1340) by Giovanni Baronzio, Pinacoteca di Brera, Italy (Photo Public Domain)
  • Christ in throne adored by angels (c. 1371) by Giovanni da Milano, Pinacoteca di Brera, Italy (Photo Public Domain)
  • The Flagellation of Christ (c. 1480) by Luca Signorelli, Pinacoteca di Brera, Italy (Photo Public Domain)
  • San Luca Altarpiece (1453–54) by Andrea Mantegna, Pinacoteca di Brera, Italy (Photo Public Domain)
  • San Verano tra due angeli e sei storie della sua vita (1275) by a Pisan painter, Pinacoteca di Brera, Italy (Photo Public Domain)
  • Francesco I Sforza, Duke of Milan (1401-1466), and his wife Bianca Maria Visconti (1425-1468), (15C) by Bonifacio Bembo. Francesco insisted that he should be painted with the hat he was wearing as condottiere, Pinacoteca di Brera, Italy (Photo Public Domain)
  • Portrait of Count Antonio Porcia (1535) by Titian, Pinacoteca di Brera, Italy (Photo Public Domain)
  • Disputation of St. Stephen (1514) by Vittore Carpaccio, Pinacoteca di Brera, Italy (Photo Public Domain)
  • The Presentation of the Virgin Mary in the Temple of Jerusalem (1504–08) by Vittore Carpaccio, Pinacoteca di Brera, Italy (Photo Public Domain)
  • Portrait of a Young Woman (1632) by Rembrandt, Pinacoteca di Brera, Italy (Photo Public Domain)
  • The Kiss (1859) by Francesco Hayez, Pinacoteca di Brera, Italy (Photo Public Domain)
  • The Odalisque (1839) by Francesco Hayez, Pinacoteca di Brera, Italy (Photo Public Domain)
  • The Pergola (1860) by Silvestro Lega, Pinacoteca di Brera, Italy (Photo Public Domain)
  • Spring Pasture (1896) by Giovanni Segantini, Pinacoteca di Brera, Italy (Photo Public Domain)
  • The City Rises (1910) by Umberto Boccioni, Pinacoteca di Brera, Italy (Photo Public Domain)
  • Self-Portrait (1908) by Umberto Boccioni, Pinacoteca di Brera, Italy (Photo Public Domain)
  • Le printemps de l’ingénieur (1914) by Giorgio De Chirico, Pinacoteca di Brera, Italy (Photo Public Domain)
  • Female Figure (1956) by Alberto Giacometti, Pinacoteca di Brera, Italy (Photo Public Domain)
  • Head of a Young Lady (1915) by Amedeo Modigliani, Pinacoteca di Brera, Italy (Photo Public Domain)
  • Still Life (1920) by Giorgio Morandi, Pinacoteca di Brera, Italy (Photo Public Domain)
  • Still Life (1919) by Giorgio Morandi, Pinacoteca di Brera, Italy (Photo Public Domain)
  • Flowers (1916) by Giorgio Morandi, Pinacoteca di Brera, Italy (Photo Public Domain)
  • Self-Portrait (1924) by Giorgio Morandi, Pinacoteca di Brera, Italy (Photo Public Domain)
  • Head of a Bull (1942) by Pablo Picasso, Pinacoteca di Brera, Italy (Photo Public Domain)
  • Le coup de foudre (The Lightning Bolt) (1928) by Gino Severini, Pinacoteca di Brera, Italy (Photo Public Domain)
  • Le Nord-Sud (1912) by Gino Severini, Pinacoteca di Brera, Italy (Photo Public Domain)
  • Nature morte avec mandoline (Still Life with Mandolin) (1920) by Gino Severini, Pinacoteca di Brera, Italy (Photo Public Domain)
  • Miracle (Horse and Horseman) (1959–60) by Marino Marini, Pinacoteca di Brera, Italy (Photo Public Domain)
  • The courtyard, Pinacoteca di Brera, Italy (Photo by François Philipp)
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Tips

Free or reduced admission with a sightseeing card

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

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How long does Pinacoteca di Brera take?

I'd spend at least 2 hours in here.

In which I digress about a Byzantine altarpiece

An unknown Pisan master from the 1270s painted a Byzantine altarpiece showcasing the miracles of one San Verano, a heretofore unknown saint who—if I am interpreting  the explanationless panels surrounding his benificent figure protrait holding a bishop's staff correctly:

  • San Verano tra due angeli e sei storie della sua vita (1275) by a Pisan painterWas baptized in a pink tub by another saint and then whapped on the head by said older saint with a book, apparently on the orders of the angel poking out of the clouds 
  • Helped a boy in a red tunic get to his feet, leaving another kid lying in the street (there has to be more to this one than is obvious)
  • Was about to be beheaded by a large black sword but apparently survives, as he goes on to appear alive and well in the next panel
  • Exorcised some demons from a city (this ain't all that hot a miracle; lots of saints did it throughout history;  even to this day city mayors like to claim this miracle as their own)
  • Pointed at a statue (an idol, presumably) and it crumbles—or maybe he calls into being the tiny blue parachute-like rooflet over the statue to keep whatever is falling from smashing it, its hard to tell as the middle of the panel is a bit ruinous, but I'd have to vote against that one because that canopy thingy, which looks sort of like a blue handkerchief tied down at the corners with air blowing it upwards in the middle, appears in many of the scenes as background, and so must have been standard architecture in the imagination of the artist
  • Finally, when San Verano lay dead, a funeral director angel came along to give orders regarding the burial process via much pointing
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.).