The Ambrosian Art Gallery and Library

La Pinacoteca Ambrosiana

The Pinacoteca Ambrosiana

Alessandro Manzoni, in The Betrothed, depicts Cardinal Federigo Borromeo as a hero in his famous novel. In life, Federigo was a patron of the arts who invested his wealth in an unprecedented cultural enterprise, the Ambrosian Library, one of the world's first public libraries. Cardinal Borromeo assembled a priceless collection of codices and volumes including Fra' Luca Pacioli's “De Divina Proportione” with its splendid geometric illustrations and Leonardo da Vinci's renowned “Codex Atlanticus”, who came to the Ambrosiana just a few years after the death of Federigo. As well as the library the Cardinal also founded the Accademia del Disegno, an art academy, and subsequently the Ambrosian Art Gallery, which were both to provide models the students could study and also be a means of edifying the public through painting and sculpture. The collection contains hundreds of paintings including Caravaggio's “Basket of Fruit”, “The Adoration of the Magi” by Titian, the monumental preparatory cartoon for “The School of Athens” by Raphael and Leonardo da Vinci's “Portrait of a Musician”. This last painting represents a clean break from the Milanese tradition of the time. The subjects prominent bone structure is visible beneath his strong face, no doubt the result of Leonardo's studies of the skull in 1487. As well as applying his studies of anatomy, Leonardo was careful to represent the “motions of the mind”. In the painting the musician is concentrating on a musical score, painted with uncanny realism, his lips are barely parted as though he were preparing to sing: Leonardo is showing an infinitesimal instant in life, a moment of extreme concentration, undefined by the subject's surroundings, which are in abstract darkness.

Did you know that?

As well as housing a vast collection of masterpieces, the Pinacoteca Ambrosiana also contains various strange objects from history including a lock of Lucrezia Borgia's blond hair.