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November 08, 2011

Gallerie d'Italia: a new museum in Milan

In these years of financial crisis and very limited resources with some museums shutting down, others scaling down their operations and postponing development projects, you might wonder how it is possible that a brand new museum opens in Milan. There is a very simple answer: it's private. Behind Gallerie d'Italia, this is the name of the museum (literally Galleries of Italy), there is Intesa Sanpaolo, one of the biggest Italian bank, and Fondazione Cariplo, a bank foundation funding projects in the cultural and social realms.

The artworks, around 135 works from the Fondazione Cariplo collection and other 62 belonging to the Intesa Sanpaolo corporate collection, are hosted in the somptousus rooms of Palace Anguissola Antona Traversi and Bertani. Both historic palaces, dating back to the end of 1700, are located in Piazza Scala - yes, this is where La Scala Opera House is - and belong to Intesa Sanpaolo.

The Galleries opend just a couple of days ago, on 3rd November 2011. Entry is free until Spring 2012.

I went to visit on a Saturday afternoon to view for myself this "gift" to the city of Milan. The artworks on display cover the 19th century Italian art with a focus on Lombard paintings (Lombardy is the name of the county to which Milan belongs). The visit starts with some of Canova's plaster casts. Clearly these are just preparatory studies for the final works in marble but you can still admire the absolute beauty and harmony of the compositions.


Another room is devoted entirely to Francesco Hayez, the leading artist of Romaticism in mid-19th-century Milan, renowned for his grand historical paintings, political allegories and exceptionally fine portraits. The great majority of works on display might not be by internationally renowned artists, however, what I found really fascinating is that they offer a glimpse on how the city used to be. There are fine views of the Duomo and the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele and a room devoted to paintings showing the Navigli, Milan's waterways. They reminded me a bit of Venice. It is a real pity these canals were covered at the beginning of the 20th cent and nowadays there are just three Navigli left.

Then there are colourful views of the Alps both in spring and covered in show and paintings showing the lakes of Lombardy.

Four paintings by Boccioni hangs in the last room, marking the end of 19th century style in paintings and opening up to Futurism, an artistic and social movement which Boccioni embraced. Futurism focused on movement, energy and technology, ideas conveyed by using a very specific style of brush strokes as you can see in the picture below.


Finally a couple of curiosities about the museum. First there was classic music in the background in all the rooms! It created a very nice atmosphere, perfect for a museum visit. Though I'm not sure if this is going to have a positive effect all the time. When I visited, the museum was very quiet with a handful of visitors around but what happens when the museum gets a bit more crowded? Imagine crowds of visitors talking and sharing their impressions with fellow visitors on top of the background music...

The other very interesting innovation was that an art expert was available in all the museum sections. It wasn't for a special tour or anything like that but just a standard service for all visitors.

Taking all into account I was very pleased with the visiting experience: well done to the museum :)

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