The Sforza Castle in Milan was built for Galeazzo II Visconti in the second half of the 14th century. It was destroyed in the 15th century, but Francesco Sforza rebuilt it. Then the Sforza family used it as a residence. The end of the 1400s was a time of splendor. During the 15th century, Leonardo da Vinci and Bramante created frescoes in the castle. The castle became one of the largest in Europe in the 16th century.
Later, the castle was changed into a citadel. The ducal apartments were used as barracks and stables under Spanish, Austrian, French and again Austrian rule. An armory was for a time also on the premises. At the end of the 1800s, the castle became the property of the city of Milan. When Italy was unified, the castle was in a very dilapidated state, but the complex to be reconstructed and made into a museum. The castle took on the appearance it had when it had been under Sforza control. Though the central tower is not original, it is made to look like it had when built in 1521.
During World War II, the complex suffered much damage but was reconstructed. Now the castle includes museums and cultural institutes.
The collection of the Museum of Ancient Art and Arms features sculpture from the fifth to the 16th century, some from Lombardy and others from Tuscany. Some rooms are decorated with stunning frescoes. An armory containing European weapons from the end of the 14th to the 19th century and an impressive room of tapestries also make up the exhibition. Sixteenth century Flemish tapestries intrigued me. Saint Ambrose dominates another tapestry. Two medieval portals and tombstones are also on display.
Visitors walk through the ducal apartments decorated by Galeazzo Maria Sforza. I was especially impressed with the ducal chapel. Leonardo da Vinci designed and frescoed the Sala delle Asse (Room of Wooden Boards), which was being restored when I was there. I read that the walls and vaulted ceiling of this room are painted with trompe l‘oeil. The vault shows off branches leaves and berries that give the illusion that the space is outside instead of in a castle. In other rooms the Spanish domination is highlighted with sculpture and the remarkable funerary monument of Gaston de Foix, created from 1517 to 1522.
Tracy A. Burns is a writer, proofreader and editor in Prague.