Milan is certainly a powerhouse of fashion, finance and furniture – but is it an art destination?
Aside from the Last Supper and the Duomo, Milan’s list of artistic blockbusters seems skimpy compared to Rome or Florence. However, if you dive a little deeper, you will discover a city that was playing a significant role in the life of one of the greatest geniuses in world history: Leonardo da Vinci.
You have to experience Leonardo da Vinci’s Milan!
From 1482 until the French invasion of 1499, Leonardo worked for the tyrannical regent Ludovico (later Duke of Milan). You can see how significant this phase of Leonardo’s life was when you tour some of the jewels associated with his time in Milan.
Leonardo da Vinci’s Milan
The last supper, Santa Maria delle Grazie
Don’t make the mistake of arriving in Milan and seeing the Last Supper painting.
You must book weeks in advance for a 15-minute group visit. But it’s worth it.
Years of painstaking restoration have brought back to life the essential drama of Leonardo’s version of the disciples’ reaction to Christ’s announcement that one of them would betray him.
Painting of the Last Supper by Da Vinci
Take a break from the crowds in Santa Maria delle Grazie and take your time for your appreciation Leonardo’s magnificent ceiling made of mulberry trees in the back corner of the main building of Sforza Castle.
There are several museums in the castle, but the most fascinating for fans of Leonardo are the picture galleries, which display many paintings from the city from the late 15th century. (And the mulberry trees, of course).
Founded in the late 16th century, this library and picture gallery houses Leonardo’s Codex Atlanticus notebooks, a collection of around 1,200 pages that offers the most comprehensive glimpses of his unique spirit. It covers his professional life from the age of 26 in 1478 until his death in 1519.
The The exhibition is shared with the Bramante Sacristry in Santa Maria delle Grazieand covers everything from notes on viewing an eclipse to a list of India’s rivers. The library’s amazing art collection also includes Leonardo’s only known portrait of a man: The Musician.
Admission is € 15 (or € 20 if you want to visit the Codex Atlanticus exhibition in the Bramante Sacristry of Santa Maria delle Grazie). Here is a guided tour of the Ambrosiana Gallery and Codex Atlanticus by Da Vinci.
Poldi Pezzoli Museum
For a museum that contains such an excellent collection of furniture and paintings, the Museo Poldi Pezzoli is remarkably free of visitors.
The collections are mainly from the High Renaissance and include works by Botticelli, Pollaiolo, Mantegna, Giovanni Bellini and Piero della Francesca, as well as some paintings by Andrea Solario who worked with Leonardo. You’ll also see the delightful mystical wedding of Saint Catherine by Bernadino Luini and a virgin and child by Giovanni Boltraffio, who both worked with and were likely trained by Leonardo.
Brera’s picture gallery
The main picture gallery in MilanThe Pinacoteca di Brera is as good as the Accademia in Venice and the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, but the crowd is much less.
It’s hard to pick a highlight, but among the standout are some wonderful must-see Venetian paintings from the 15th century, including Madonnas by Bellini and Mantegna.
Leonardo’s horse in San Siro
When is a Leonardo sculpture not quite a Leonardo sculpture? When made in the 20th century, it is based on extensive research into the sketches and notes of the Renaissance giant.
The massive bronze horse at San Siro is a full-size cast based on the commission Leonardo received from the Duke of Milan in 1482 as a memorial to the Duke’s father.
The largest equestrian monument in the world, It’s free to see in the peaceful setting of the Milan Racecourse. There are public transport options to get here.
You don’t have to enter a church or museum to see one of Leonardo’s greatest contributions to Milan.
The innovative lock system Leonardo designed for the city’s canal network enabled Milan to develop into one of the largest inland ports in Italy despite the lack of a main river. The canals became so solid in the city that some areas looked almost Venetian.
Follow in da Vinci’s footsteps
Discover all of Milan from Leonardo da Vinci on this 3-hour art tour that walks in the footsteps of Da Vinci. See the famous depiction of the Last Supper, see the Atlantic Codex in the Pinacoteca Ambrosiana, and admire the Il Musico painting.