This museum of Renaissance and neo-Renaissance decorated apartments in a palace is one of my favorite sights in Milan. It is big enough to include many treasures but yet small enough to have an intimate feel. Because the exhibition focuses on the Renaissance and neo-Renaissance, I didn’t feel overwhelmed as I often do when displays include many styles from numerous eras.
The history of the museum is enthralling. In the second half of the 19th century, Fausto and Giuseppe Bagatti Valsecchi furnished their palace located from via Gesu to via Santo Spirito in Milan with works of Renaissance and Neo-Renaissance art – tapestries, paintings, sculpture and weapons, for example. The furniture hails from Italy, Britain, Japan, France, Germany and Spain. Even though the apartments were transformed into a museum during 1974, the public wasn’t able to view them until 1994.
Giuseppe lived in his apartment with his wife. His five children lived on another floor with their nanny. Fausto had his own apartment on the same floor as Giuseppe. While they managed various charities and traveled, they also had some intriguing hobbies. Fausto enjoyed riding in hot-air balloons and Giuseppe was one of the first to ride a velocipede. They used their Renaissance-furnished apartments for daily activities rather than treating the spaces as a museum. Even though it was decorated to look like the Renaissance, the brothers had installed modern amenities, including hot and cold water and electricity. In fact, this palace made a name for itself as one of the first private homes in the world to install electricity.
I especially liked the coffered ceilings and Latin inscriptions throughout the flats. Throughout the palace I saw the distinguished family crests of lily and eagle. The Neo-Renaissance frames used to display Renaissance art were appealing, fusing the old with the new or newer.
Many spaces captured my attention, including the Fresco Room, where15th century frescoes make a fascinating appearance. The Bevilacqua Room showed off the Madonna and Child by the artist after which the space is named. I took a good look at this innovative work from the 15th century. It was made of glass stones, silver thread, velvet and gold. A coffered ceiling and gold-and-red silk wall coverings added to the elegance of the space.
I have always loved libraries, and this library was no exception. On the 16th century terrestrial globe in the library, North America is labeled as “Unknown Territory.”
The largest room was the Grand Salon with a coffered ceiling adorned with pine cone images. Family crests made an appearance as did Latin inscriptions. The frieze featured a theme from Greek mythology and included 16th century frescoes. The red-and-gold décor gave the room a special sense of grandeur. The six stained glass windows were exquisite.
The living room of Giuseppe and Carolina included 16th century decorated paneling, red furniture with velvet upholstery and a piano. The Red Room, which served as the couple’s bedroom, showed off a coffered ceiling and 15th and 16th century paintings as well as a canopied bed with red covering. A door in this room leads to the children’s floor, so the children never had to walk through the Renaissance-decorated apartments.
The Dining Room was elegant, too. The wall coverings showed the story of Persian king Cyrus. The majolica plates showed scenes from Alexander the Great’s life.
The bed in Fausto’s Bedroom was adorned with head and foot boards sporting 16th century reliefs. The decorated Neo-Renaissance coffered ceiling was another highlight. A 15th century altarpiece also enthralled. I noticed a clock and a lamp shaped like skulls, too.
I noticed the 16th century ceiling decorated with the two family crests and a Latin inscription in Giuseppe’s Bedroom, called “the Green Room.” The headboard showed off a Pieta scene.
The armory was a long and narrow room with helmets, armor, swords and shields. While I am not especially interested in weaponry, it was impressive.
I liked the Bagatti Valsecchi Room where visitors can open drawers and see photos of the two brothers and some of their personal belongings. One photo that captivated me showed the palace after a section was bombed during the second world war. On another photograph, I saw Giuseppe on a velocipede.
After my visit, I decide that this was my favorite museum in Milan because there was so much to appreciate and yet the flats had an intimacy that larger museums lack. The apartments brought the Renaissance to life with its artifacts. The photos of the two brothers made the apartments feel even more intimate. I was given the chance of having a glimpse of their lives, of getting to know them. That the flat was used for daily life and hadn’t been a museum when the brothers were alive made it all the more appealing. The painted coffered ceilings, the elegant beds with canopies and the 15th and 16th century paintings and frescoes throughout made great impressions on me.
I finally left, knowing someday I would be back because this was a museum I could go back to again and again, greatly enriching my life with each visit.
Tracy A. Burns is a writer, proofreader and editor in Prague.