When I left the busy Milan street and stepped inside the Church of San Maurizio al Monastero Maggiore, I could not believe my eyes. The entire interior was a work of art. The Renaissance church featured 16th century frescoes by Bernardino Luini, his brothers and his son. Divided into two parts, it included a worship area for the public and another for the nuns. (An adjacent 17th century former cloister for Benedictine nuns now houses the museum of archeology.) There are eight chapels in the part of the church for the faithful and ten in the section for the nuns. On pilasters between the chapels in the Hall of Nuns, scenes from the life of Christ are portrayed.
I saw a vaulted nave and vaulted chapels in addition to the Hall of Nuns on the other side of the partition. On the dividing wall in the Hall of Nuns, I gazed at Bernardino Luini’s creations from the 1530s – the figures of Saint Catherine and Saint Agatha as well as scenes from the Marriage at Cana and the Carrying of the Cross of Christ. I also saw his frescoes showing the life of Saint Maurizio. The Martyrdom of Saint Maurice and the Theban Legion, probably by Bernardino Luini, shows Maurice fervently praying as an execution is about to behead him. A decapitated body is seen nearby.
In one chapel, Bernardino Luini rendered the martyrdom of Saint Catherine of Alexandria. In the central panel, blood oozes from Jesus’ collapsing body. The masterful Luini renders the moment of the miracle when Catherine is about to be tortured, but is saved by God.
The main altar of the public area with the painting of the Adoration of the Magi by Antonio Campi took my breath away, too. The high altar dates from the second half of the 16th century. The rear end of a horse plays a prominent role in the foreground of the painting. I had never seen the backside of a horse dominating a canvas in 16th century art.
I especially liked the Chapel of the Flood by the Luini brothers. I gazed at the beasts making their way onto Noah’s Ark. A rainbow flitters across the sky. Yet the landscape is decrepit, in ruins.
Saints are rendered on lunettes of the chapels. For example, on two lunettes flanking the altarpiece, Saint Stephen, Saint Benedict and Saint John the Baptist make appearances.
The Eucharist Chapel boasts illusionist features as putti appear to open a canopy. The depiction deceptively looks three-dimensional.
I saw The Last Supper rendered above a door. It reminded me of the church not far away, where I had seen Leonardo’s Last Supper. I will never forget those masterful gestures and facial expressions of the protagonists as each gesture and expression told a story.
I noticed the organ with many 16th century features. It was a rarity as it had 12 pedals. The cornices of the case were richly decorated with fantasy-like figures, musical instruments and still lifes. Another depiction on the case included Saint Maurice holding a model of the church.
There were so many stories told on these masterful artworks that it was impossible to absorb them all during one visit. The church was one of the most beautiful I had ever seen. It was bewitching, enthralling. I vowed to come back because this church was one that beckoned the viewer to return, to experience its stunning beauty time and time again.
Tracy A. Burns is a writer, proofreader and editor in Prague.
Milan Duomo, one of the highlights of my year of travels
This past year was punctuated by trips to riveting sights in the Czech Republic and Italy. As usual, I went castlehopping on day trips during the spring, summer and fall. My jaunts took me to Sychrov, Mělník, Konopiště and Maleč, to name a few. I visited the former flat of a legendary 19th century historian called The Father of the Nation and his son-in-law, a politician nicknamed The Leader of the Nation. I also visited their chateau out of Prague. I toured the exhibition at the Strž Villa, where Karel Čapek and his wife Olga Scheinpflugová spent three years and three months in the 1930s.
Exterior of Milan Cathedral
I also enjoyed a week in what is probably my favorite Italian city, Milan, where I saw the most amazing art galleries and stunning architecture. From the Duomo to the Church of Saint Maurizio to the Poldi Pezzoli Gallery to the Ambrosiana to The Last Supper, I was overwhelmed by the incredible artistic creations the city had to offer.
The Last Supper, displayed in Milan
While I did not visit many temporary art exhibitions this past year, the ones I did go to left very positive and powerful impressions. I was lucky to be able to buy tickets for the Titian and Sorella exhibitions in Milan, both so comprehensive and exhilarating. I loved the way Titian masterfully created the material of his models’ clothing; it looked so real. You can almost feel the material just by looking at it. I loved Sorella’s beach scenes and landscapes. I had visited his former home, now a museum, in Madrid, so I was familiar with his work.
From the Kooperativa exhibition
In Prague I went to a few exhibitions. I saw a show at the Kooperativa featuring the theme of water in 19th and 20th century Czech landscapes. Artists such as Julius Mařák, Antonín Hudeček, Václav Špála and Josef Čapek were represented there. My favorite was a tranquil, snowy scene, seemingly out of a Bruegel painting. Čapek’s portrayal of two fishermen also captured my attention. Mařák’s forest landscapes were mystical and magical.
From the East Bohemian Gallery in Pardubice
I also went to Pardubice, where I was immersed in the 19th and 20th century Czech landscape painting at the East Bohemian Art Gallery. The works of Jan Zrzavý, Hudeček, Antonín Slavíček, Antonin Chittussi and Špála all captivated me.
By Peter Paul Rubens from the Prague Castle Gallery
I also saw the temporary exhibition of the Prague Castle Gallery’s permanent collection that had been started by Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II. I learned about the history of the collection, which was fascinating, and I saw masterpieces by Peter Paul Rubens, Paolo Veronese and many others.
By Alphonse Mucha
Copy of stained-glass window at St. Vitus’ Cathedral in Prague, created by Alphonse Mucha
I was enamored by the exhibition of Alphonse Mucha’s art in Mucha: The Family Collection at the Wallenstein Riding Stables. While Mucha is best known for his posters featuring Sarah Bernhardt, this exhibition also highlighted his drawings, paintings, sculptures, photos and jewelry. Some works were on display for the first time. I especially loved the reproductions of his stained-glass windows for Saint Vitus’ Cathedral in Prague.
From furnished rooms at Werich Villa
About my day trips: Let’s start in Prague. This year I visited the Werich Villa exhibition for the first time. Located on Prague’s Kampa Island, the villa was the home of actor Jan Werich from 1945 until his death in 1980. I liked the photos from the avant-garde plays of the Liberated Theatre best. The dramatic creations from the 1920s and 1930s were parodies of Dadaistic absurdity inspired by Charlie Chaplin and punctuated by jazz music. I also was captivated by the two rooms made to look as they did when Werich had lived there. Everything from the abstract painting of him and his colleague as actors at the Liberated Theatre to the Ballantine bottle of gin made me feel as if I got a sense of the atmosphere that had prevailed during the decades Werich had lived there.
The legendary Golem in the movie by the same name. Werich starred in the film.
Jan Werich and Jiří Voskovec at the Liberated Theatre
I visited the former flat of the first Czech historian František Palacký on Palacký Street in the city center for the first time in many years. I tried to imagine the bubbling conversations in the 19th century living room as the leaders of the Czech National Revival, who were promoting the Czech language and Czech culture, gathered there with Palacký’s family. I saw the desk where Palacký wrote his History of the Czech Nation as well as intriguing sculptures, paintings and portraits. The guide pointed at a box and told me that Palacký’s brain was inside. I wish the guide would have opened it!
Bust of František Palacký at Maleč Chateau
Bust of F.L. Rieger at Maleč Chateau
His son-in-law František Ladislav Rieger, who organized the first Czech encyclopedia and led a powerful political party, also lived at that address with his family as he had married Palacký’s daughter Marie. I saw the desk where he had labored over the encyclopedia volumes and paintings of his modest birthplace. I also saw the beds in which Palacký and Rieger died.
Piano that was often played by Antonín Dvořák
Funeral of F.L. Rieger
The Main Hall where the leaders of the Czech National Revival often gathered
Then I visited Maleč Chateau outside of Prague, a place where Palacký and Rieger had spent much time. The chateau hosted an exhibition about the two and the time periods in which they lived. There, I saw pictures of visiting Americans from Cleveland and Chicago gathered outside Palacký’s flat in Prague and another showing an American group at the chateau. I liked the portrait of Rieger by František Ženíšek and the piano once played by Antonín Dvořák, a frequent visitor to the chateau. The personalities of the Czech National Revival had once gathered in the main hall, which featured an exquisite chandelier, Renaissance stucco decoration and frescoes depicting landscapes. While looking at the picture of Rieger’s crowded funeral procession, I felt as if I was there among the masses dressed in black, mourning a national figure.
In the spring I took the third tour at Konopiště Chateau, a place I had visited at least eight or nine times. I hadn’t been on the tour of Franz Ferdinand d’Este’s private apartments for many years. I loved the portraits lining one hallway. The historical figures included Dante Alighieri, Titian and Christopher Columbus. In one room there were 1,307 hunting trophies. I enjoyed seeing the family’s photos from their travels in the late 19th and early 20th century.
View from Konopiště Chateau
We briefly visited the chapel, perhaps my favorite of all Czech chateaus with its gold stars dotting the blue ceiling, stained glass windows and Renaissance sculptures. Near the end of the tour, I was reminded of that tragic day in June of 1914, when Franz Ferdinand and his wife were assassinated in Sarajevo, an event that triggered the first world war. I saw a bloodied handkerchief, one of the bullets from Gavrilo Princip’s pistol and the death masks of the royal married couple.
Arcades of Mělnik Chateau
At Mělnik Chateau I was once again overcome with amazement when I peered at detailed 17th century maps of European cities in the Big Hall and the small 18th century black-and-white vedutas of European cities in the Small Hall. The artwork at Mělnik was incredible. I saw paintings by Baroque legendary artists Karel Škréta and Petr Brandl and even a painting by Veronese. I yearned to show this chateau to my parents.
Front page of Lidové noviny announcing Karel Čapek’s death
Karel Čapek and his wife Olga Scheinpflugová
I also visited the museum of the legendary and versatile Czech writer Karel Čapek at what once was his villa in Stará huť. At the Strž Villa I saw 3-D diagrams of stage sets from his plays and the desk where he had written many works. The exhibition included photos of his childhood, pictures of his dogs and cat, and the front page of Lidové noviny newspaper with the large, bold headline announcing his death in 1938. Sections of the exhibition were devoted to his wife, a famous actress, and his brother, a prominent painter and writer.
Staircase at Sychrov Chateau
Neo-Gothic facade of Sychrov Chateau
Another chateau I visited for maybe the fourth time was the Neo-Gothic Sychrov in north Bohemia. The Rohan portrait gallery included 242 portraits of French origin, including French kings and queens as well as members of the Rohan family, who owned the chateau for 125 years. It ranks as the biggest collection of French portrait painting in Central Europe. A narrow, spiral, wooden staircase as well as rich wood paneling and leather wallpaper in many rooms also caught my attention.
La Scala Opera House
Finally, this past year I made it to Milan! In this magical city I had so many memorable experiences. I watched some minutes of a rehearsal of Giaconda in the royal box at La Scala Opera House. I finally saw The Last Supper with my own eyes, although we were only allowed to stay in the space for 15 minutes.
Stained-glass window at Milan Cathedral
I gazed at the mostly Gothic exterior of the Duomo at six in the morning, when the square was free of pedestrian traffic. The stained-glass windows inside and the views from the rooftop were other highlights. The artifacts of the Museo del Duomo, including the original stained-glass windows, tapestries and gargoyles, added more context to the tour of the Duomo.
The Basilica of Saint Ambrose
The Basilica di Sant’Ambrogio was one of the most beautiful Romanesque buildings in the world, originating in the fourth century AD and getting its current appearance from a 12th century makeover. The 19th century shopping gallery Galleria Vittorio Emaneuele II with its mosaics on the floor and near the dome was stunning. The bookstore in the shopping gallery was comprehensive and huge, just the way I liked them. I saw impressive vedutas of Milan Cathedral, Alpine scenes and paintings of the Navigli district of Milan as well as sculpture by Antonio Canova in the Gallerie d’Italia.
In the Ambrosiana
The Ambrosiana’s library stunned me. I gazed at the Leonardo da Vinci drawings of inventions in the Codice Atlantico exhibition as well as the library itself, such an overwhelming place. I loved the paintings in the Ambrosiana, too. Leonardo da Vinci’s The Musician, Titian’s Adoration of the Magi, Botticelli’s Madonna del Padiglione, the paintings by Francesco Hayez, Paul Brill’s fantastic landscapes and Jan Bruegel’s fantasy-tinged renditions all impressed me. Caravaggio’s superb depiction of a bowl of fruit was another highlight.
At the Brera Art Gallery
The Brera Art Gallery was another superb cultural venue. I was enthralled with the Italian paintings from the 13th to 20th centuries, including works by Raphael, Andrea Mantegna, Donato Bramante, Titian, Veronese, Caravaggio, Giovanni Bellini and Bernardino Luini. Flemish art also made an appearance. I was overwhelmed by the paintings by Rembrandt, Rubens, Jacob Jordaens and Anton van Dyck. And who could forget the vedutas of Venice by Canaletto and the famous painting The Kiss by Francesco Hayez?
Museum of the Risorgimento
Around the corner from the Brera, I stopped in the Museo del Risorgimento, which featured 14 rooms of paintings, prints, sculptures and artifacts depicting Italian historical events from the call for Italian independence to the Italian unification. I learned about Napoleon’s reign in Italy as well as the Austrian monarchy’s control of what would later become a unified and independent Italy. I spent a lot of time staring at the photos of soldiers in the Album of the Thousands, the volunteers in the Expedition of the Thousand. Portraits of the 1,089 soldiers in business card format made up this album. I loved the paintings that brought the turbulent era to life, such as those by Stragliati and Canella.
At the Bagatti Valsecchi Museum
While I loved these museums, my two favorites had been former homes, the Museo Bagatti Valsecchi and Museo Poldi Pezzoli, the first located in an apartment, the second situated in a palace. Two brothers collected Renaissance and Neo-Renaissance art – tapestries, paintings, sculpture and weapons – at the end of the 1800s to decorate the interior of their apartment, which would later become the Museo Bagatti Valsecchi. It is one of the best-preserved house museums in Europe. The furnishings were diverse – Italian, British, German, French, Japanese and Spanish, for instance. It had a more intimate feel than the Poldi Pezzoli, though that was an amazing museum as well.
At the Museum of Poldi Pezzoli
The art collection in the Museo Poldi Pezzoli came into existence during the 19th century, when the Poldi Pezzoli noble family lived there. Artists represented there included Giovanni Bellini, Mantegna, Michelangelo Buonarroti, Hayez, Tiepolo and Canaletto as well as Lucas Cranach the Elder. Many Renaissance and Baroque works punctuate the collection. An armory, a glass collection, ceramics and tapestries also make up the superb objects on display.
The Villa Necchi Campiglio in Milan was another highlight. The villa, now a museum, was built from 1932 to 1935 and included an enchanting garden, the first private pool in Milan and second pool in the city plus tennis courts. The exterior is an example of Italian rationalism with a no-frills attitude of simplicity.
A work by Picasso in the Villa Necchi Campiglio
The interior included Art Deco décor. The Smoking Room featured a large Renaissance fireplace while many paintings and much sculpture from Italian artists in the early 1900s dotted the house museum. Paintings by Pablo Picasso, Giorgio de Chirico and Umberto Boccioni come to mind. Parts of the villa also exuded the atmosphere of the 1800s due to a reconstruction. Some 130 works of art hail from this period – Canaletto and Tiepolo were represented. I also saw intriguing ceramics and Chinese porcelain. The spaces themselves were architecturally evocative.
Main altar at the Church of San Maurizio
The interior of the church of San Maurizio al Monastero Maggiore was a work of art in itself. Divided into two parts, it included a vaulted nave and vaulted chapels plus the Hall of Nuns. The Renaissance church featured 16th century frescoes by Bernardino Luini, his brothers and his son. On the dividing wall in the Hall of Nuns, I gazed at Bernardino Luini’s creations from the 1530s – the figures of Saint Catherine and Saint Agatha as well as scenes from the Marriage at Cana and the Carrying of the Cross of Christ. I also saw his frescoes showing the life of Saint Maurizio. In one chapel Bernardino Luini rendered the martyrdom of Saint Catherine of Alexandria. The main altar with the painting of the Adoration of the Magi by Antonio Campi took my breath away, too.
The Last Supper
At long last I saw The Last Supper in the refectory of the Santa Maria delle Grazie Church. It was a dream come true. The moment following Christ’s assertion that one of those seated at the table would betray him was masterfully portrayed. The facial expressions and body language are works of art in themselves. As Christ utters those immortal words, all the dinner guests look riddled with horror except Judas, who clutches his silver ever so tightly. Even though we were only allowed to be in the room for 15 minutes, I was overcome with amazement at the Renaissance fresco in front of me. It told a complex story so clearly. I was in awe of those gestures and facial expressions.
Gallerie d’Italia in Milan
In the Czech Republic, I had mostly traveled to places I had been before, except for Maleč Chateau, the Strž Villa and the Werich Villa. I saw Milan for the first time, though the trip had been planned and cancelled during two years. I was in awe of the sights I rediscovered and those I experienced for the first time. The visits were eye-opening as I learned new information about Czech and Italian history and culture. The exhibitions of painting, sculpture and more also proved poignant and powerful.
Tracy A. Burns is a proofreader, writer and editor in Prague.
First, I perused the exterior of the Duomo and walked on the sloping terraces of the roof. Then it was time to see the interior. It certainly did not disappoint. I was aware that the Duomo was the second largest cathedral in Europe and that its size ranked third in the world. To say that construction took a long time was an understatement. Work on the cathedral began in 1386 with the demolition of three buildings and did not finish until 1965.
I noticed that the Duomo featured a Latin cross plan. I knew that the nave was twice as wide as the two side aisles, measuring 45 meters in height. Forty pillars divided five naves. I saw stunning capitals on many pillars. Stunning altars and impressive sarcophagi punctuated the building.
While numerous statues of saints and martyrs dotted the cathedral, the statue which influenced me the most was the one of the flayed Saint Bartholomew, who was depicted holding his skin as a cloak. His ribs and chest, not to mention his whole body, were so anatomically well-defined. The masterful skill of rendering anatomy brought to mind the works of Leonardo da Vinci. I gazed, almost in a trace, at the 1562-made statue by Marco d’Agrate, that which showed unspeakable suffering and yet a sense of perseverance as well. I thought about those suffering horribly, such as the Ukrainians fighting a war or the mothers and children who have fled to the Czech Republic. I was thankful I did not have to suffer as those people did.
What impressed me just as much as the statue of Saint Bartholomew were the mesmerizing stained-glass windows. All the large windows featured stained glass and served as pictorial narrations of scenes from the Old and New Testaments, the life of Virgin Mary and the lives of various saints. The oldest window dated from the 15th century and was in Renaissance style. In the three walls of the apse, the windows were much younger, hailing from the 19th century while there were even more created in the 20th century. Some windows hailing from the 15th century showed scenes about Saint John Damascene and Saint John the Evangelist.
More about the interior: The legendary artist Bramante designed the cupola, which is supported by four pilasters. The baptistery is a 16th century marvel, dominated by an exquisite baptismal font made of porphyry. I also noticed the 18th century sundial. The sun shines on the brass strip exactly at noon. It also displayed the exact time and month.
Several of the sarcophagi were extremely notable. One harkening back to the 15th century and decorated with impressive statues, held the body of Corelli, a merchant who was a patron of the building. In fact, the first spire built in the 18th century was named after him, too.
The transept included three aisles and chapels with splendid altars and artistic creations. The 12th century bronze Trivulzio Candelabrum in Gothic style can be seen here. Its ornamentation was outstanding. The seven-branched Trivulzio Candelabrum was adorned with precious stones. Its height reached five meters. Biblical scenes, allegorical representations of vices and virtues and fantasy-like animals were all represented. One of the Allegory of the Vices appeared as a drunk man.
Gian Giacomo Medici di Marignano, nicknamed the Medeghino, was able to be buried in this cathedral because he had family connections. Appearing pensive and distinguished in his Renaissance likeness, the Medeghino was the brother of Pope Pius IV. His stunning tomb hailed from the 16th century and showed off Roman Renaissance style. Superb allegories of war and peace adorned his tomb.
The presbytery harkened back to the 16th century and included a wooden choir, high altar, two pulpits and two large organs, one of which is the largest in Italy. This organ boasted of five manuals and 225 pedals. Silver statues representing saints and a tabernacle made up the ciborium. Above the choir was a large wooden Crucifix with a shrine containing the Holy Nail, supposedly taken from the Cross of the Crucifixion. I mused how intriguing it must be to witness the annual Rite of the Nivola. That’s when the archbishop takes the Holy Nail out of shrine and places it near the main altar. People can pay their respects to it for the following three days.
I made sure I looked down as well. The Candoglia marble floors ranged in age from the 16th to the 20th century. The pink-and-white slabs along with the black-and-red pieces were so beautiful and precious. I stared at the stunning Gothic portals from the 14th century in the sacristies and thought of the many Gothic churches, modest in comparison, that I had visited. The crypt was closed, but I knew that it contained an altar with relics of saints and martyrs.
It took me several hours to familiarize myself with both the exterior and interior of the Duomo. It was an experience that I would never forget. All those centuries of history fused together to make such a grand work of architecture containing so many artistic creations. I was overwhelmed and needed time to process everything that I had seen. I decided to go to lunch over which I could ponder the symbol of the city. Then I would go to a large bookstore, one of my favorite pastimes, and then proceed to the Museum of the Duomo and the Titian exhibition.
Tracy A. Burns is a writer, proofreader and editor in Prague.