Ambrosian Picture Gallery

Piazza Pio XI, 2. (Open Map)


The museum boasts the greatest and stunning collection of sheets of paper belonging to Leonardo, the Codex Atlanticus. These sheets are on show in themed exhibitions that follow one another every three months in the Gallery and in the Sacrestia del Bramante (via Caradosso, 1, in the complex of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Corso Magenta).For the occasion are now open to the public the Leonardi Hall, with the wonderful fresco "Incoronazione di spine" by Luini and the new exhibition of the Ritratto di Musico (Portrait of a musician) by Leonardo, the Federiciana Hall, original seat of the Ambrosiana Library, and the Peristilio, a 17th century building where are exhibited other Leonardo’s works, like the knots and the portrait of Leonardo drawn by one of his disciples. It is possible also to see the copy of the Last Supper by Vespino.Before moving into the splendour of the Pinacoteca Ambrosiana, it is well worth looking at the history of its founder, Cardinal Federico Borromeo.
Every painting can be linked to a stage in the Cardinal’s life. He was an important patron of the arts, and was in contact with the greatest artists of the day. The exhibits therefore illustrate his correspondence with other Italian cardinals, and with collectors and art experts such as Zuccari and Francesco Maria del Monte.The Gallery’s collection is the result not just of the Cardinal’s activity, but also of all the people in his coterie.
The story began in 1618, when the Cardinal decided to add his large and prestigious collection of paintings to the Ambrosiana Library, founded in 1603 and inaugurated in 1609. The reason for this decision lay in his ambition to make his collection available to all, and to increase the general public’s awareness to the world of art.The central nucleus of the Pinacoteca Ambrosiana, one of the most original and systematically-arranged art collections in Milan, is based on sacred art. The collection ranges from the Middle Ages to the mid 16th century.The museum sequence includes famous paintings such as Caravaggio’s “Basket of Fruit”, and Titian’s “Adoration of the Magi.” Visitors can examine the differences in style of drawings by Raphael and Michelangelo, and admire works by Leonardo’s school and 16th century portraiture.
The art collection, developed throughout its founder’s life, grew even more after his death.
The Cardinal commissioned several works from his trusted artist, copies of great masterpieces of the Renaissance, in particular those by Leonardo Da Vinci, with the aim of leaving a visible heritage for future generations. On the copy of this masterpiece the Cardinal wanted the inscription: "The original images of the Last Supper, at least those that remain, are fading and this copy was made so that these images are somehow preserved and that Leonardo’s masterpiece will not be permanently lost."

Another copy made by Vespino that is present in the Pinacoteca is The Virgin of the Rocks probably executed after the Last Supper; the original is in London and once adorned the chapel of the Immaculate Conception at the convent of S. Francesco Grande, close to the Basilica of Sant'Ambrogio.Federico Borromeo began collecting in Rome, and continued more intensively in Milan, where he dedicated his attention to the painting of his day in the city. His personal acquaintance with artists of the Accademia di Pittura dell’Ambrosiana, Mancone, Biffi and Crespi, played an important part in nurturing the collection.
The artistic assets of the Pinacoteca today amount to more than 1,600 works.
Also kept here is a long lock of golden hair from Lucrezia Borgia, Duchess of Ferrara. It is conserved in a precious glass, bronze and malachite reliquary; during the nineteenth century it became a sort of relic, a fetish that appealed to many writers and poets who were passing through Milan.Legend has it that on All Souls night her spirit glides along the corridors and rooms of the Pinacoteca in search of the casket containing the lock of hair, weapon of seduction and a symbol of vanity. Once found, she washes and combs it as she did during her lifetime and for this reason it is still beautiful, soft and shiny.