“You brought the sunshine with you from Roma,” beamed the always welcoming Vittoria as I checked in a week ago Monday at the Hotel Star in Milano. And indeed after several days of continuous rain it seemed that the sun had returned to warm the Piazza Duomo and it was a glorious day for strolling through Centro. However my gift was short-lived: the next morning Vittoria suggested that an umbrella and a sweater would be more appropriate than SF15 to the day.
Fortunately even in the rain Milano has much to offer – it means spending a bit of extra time studying the marvellous shop windows in the Galleria, popping into that church that I’ve always meant to have a look at, stopping off to have the senses of taste, smell and sight stimulated at Peck (and maybe even picking up one of their jars of tiny artichokes in olive oil – after having taken out the suitable bank loan to pay for it), seeking the shelter of the 14th century Mercato building to listen to a jazz band and wandering down to the Museo Diocesano in the San Lorenzo area to take a look at an exhibition with the rather intriguing title of Gli occhi di Caravaggio.
Now poor Michelangelo Merisi was largely ignored for a few centuries but has suddenly become all the rage. Just last year we celebrated the 400th anniversary of his rather mysterious death with a “Notte di Caravaggio” here in Roma – a decidedly festive all night celebration of a less than festive event – which had been preceded by the blockbuster exhibition at the Scuderie. And it would appear that his name on a poster draws the crowds in, no matter how tenuous the connection. In this case the exhibition was dedicated to painters and city-states in Northern Italy that may well have influenced the work of a home-town boy whose become a household name down South. Though he was born in Milano most of Caravaggio’s productive years were spent in Roma, Napoli and Sicilia. And the poster and the title may have created the (misleading) impression that we would be seeing some of his more famous works only one was on display – his powerful The Flagellation of Christ. But what was displayed were some very fine pieces by other artists who may well have influenced him: Giorgione, Moretto da Brescia, G.B. Moroni, Tiziano, Vincenzo e Antonio Campi, Simone Peterzano, Tintoretto, Lorenzo Lotto and Giovanni Ambrogio Figino. So though the draw may have been the bad boy of Renaissance art there was some splendid examples of many of the great artists of the period that made the exhibition a must see. That and the Museo Diocesano itself.
Hidden of in a rather dreary section of the city – even drearier on a rain-soaked morning – the entrance to the Museo is not particularly inviting but once inside!!!! The collection chiefly traces the history of Christian art in Milan and the surrounding areas of Lombardy and Veneto but is wide ranging for all that. Many of the works come from parish churches in the region that are no longer used for worship or have given works to the Museo for safe keeping and restoration. The three collections that intrigued me most where the 41 gold backed paintings on wood that make up the Crespi Fondi Oro, the Diocesan Collection of works from parish churches and items from the now defunct Museo Ambrogio.
|Three wood and gilt statutes from the Diocesan Gallery of the Museo Diocesano in Milano.|
One of my pet bugaboos is people who take photos when it is expressly forbidden and I am proud to say I have never taken a “forbidden” picture. If there is any doubt in my mind I always ask. None of the normal signs were posted in the Museo so ask I did in each gallery – and got three different responses. In the Diocesan Gallery the mature lady, head buried in a musical score and singing softly to herself, raised her head and an eyebrow and murmured “One would be okay, but only one!” So one I took of three beautiful statues in wood and gilt that once graced the church of Sant’Agnese in Sommo Lombardo in the Varese district of Lombardy. They are by a craftsman named Rolando Botta who was active in the area during the second half of the 15th century.
|Santa Maria Maddalena|
I find these three statues have a serenity and grace that makes me curious as to the rest of this artist’s work. Unfortunately a search revealed very little concerning him.
The Ambrogio Gallery contains older pieces from early incarnations of the Basilica of Sant’Ambrogio. The Patron Saint of Milano – and I am ashamed to say that the only reason I know that is because it is the opening night of the opera season at La Scala – Ambrogio is credited with building four churches in the city. He is also credited – it would appear erroneously – with the creation of the Ambrosian rite that is celebrated in much of Lombardy. Again it was three carved wood pieces that caught my attention. These walnut choir stall dossals were the work of a team of artists for the Basilica between 1469-1471. Lorenzeo da Origgio, Giacomo da torre and Giacomo del Maino worked in carving, inlay, paint and lacquer to create these three beautiful panels. When I asked the guard if it was okay if I took a photo he shrugged and said, “Take as many as you like.”
I mentioned last week that I was reading Aesop’s Fables on my iPhone and for some reason these carvings reminded me of early wood cuts I’d seen of the old morality messages. Could they have been the inspiration for these three artists?
There was one other piece from the Visconti collection that took my breath away – a massive carved, painted and gilt redoes from Antwerp that filled one wall at the top of a staircase. Unfortunately when I approached the guard this time I was sternly admonished that no photos were allowed anywhere in the Museum. Now I know better than to argue with someone in their own little domain so I held my peace. Though I was sorely tempted once his back was turned I didn’t break my own rule. I was sure there would be a post card or even a pamphlet about such a major piece – sometimes I should stop being so damned Anglo-Saxon and take the bloody photos!
14 giugno – San Eliseo – profeta