This striking historical baroque building was designed in 1572 by Martino Bassi for the Society of Jesus and continued by Francesco Maria Richino, but it actually has much older origins. Its history began in the 12th century when, near a grassy glade, a monastery was erected for the Humiliati order. In 1229 they built the church of Santa Maria di Brera, which was completed in 1347.The now lost but famous façade of the palace was designed by Giovanni di Balduccio and its remains are kept in the Sforza Castle. When Bishop Carlo Borromeo suppressed the order, the monastery was handed to the Jesuits. When this order too was disbanded in 1773, the Maria Theresa government decided to allow state scientific schools to put it to use.Starting from the brick façade on the street, passing through the beautiful portal by Piermarini, it is possible to reach the baroque courtyard which is bordered by two floors of serlian windows and displays the bronze statue of Napoleon by Canova at its centre.From holding a simple collection of plaster casts, prints and paintings used as models for Academy students, the Art Gallery was enlarged to hold the treasures seized by Napoleon from churches and convents in northern Italy. Unlike other important Italian museums, the gallery was not born from private, but political and public collecting. Later the Gallery was opened to the public and today houses masterpieces from Italian and foreign art, from Middle Age to Contemporary Art, with important Renaissance masterpieces. It’s definitely worthwhile stopping to see the wonderful library halls, in particular the hall of Maria Theresa, the reading hall or the catalogue hall. The national institution boasts a rich antique and eighteenth-century estate that arrived here by full right, thanks to government directives at the time, as well as, naturally, its contemporary collections and the newspaper library.
Today it is possible to admire fragments of Gothic frescoes, with vaults ascribed to painter Giusto de Menabuoi. They are part of the 14th century Church of Santa Maria that was transformed at the beginning of the 19th century to adapt to new requirements. Head inside the Academy classrooms on street level and, amongst the throngs of students, continue until you reach the scenography classrooms of the Dipartimento di Progettazione e Arti Applicate dell’Accademia (Planning and Applied Arts Department of the Academy).