Leonardo da Vinci's Masterpieces, Milan

Leonardo da Vinci's Masterpieces (Self Guided), Milan

Leonardo da Vinci, one of the greatest Renaissance artists and polymaths in history, left an indelible mark on Milan through several of his masterpieces created in this city over the nearly 20 years that he spent here.

One of the notable places where you can explore the maestro's work is the Ambrosian Library (Biblioteca Ambrosiana), which houses a vast collection of his drawings and manuscripts, offering insights into his inventive mind.

Another significant location tied to da Vinci is the Sforzesco Castle (Castello Sforzesco). This grand medieval fortress showcases the artist's ceiling fresco.

The Atellani House (Casa Atellani) is yet another place in Milan associated with da Vinci. Although not his paintings, this historic residence features the vineyard that Leonardo cherished and remained emotionally attached to long after he had left the city. It also offers a glimpse into the Milanese Renaissance lifestyle.

One of the most iconic masterpieces by da Vinci in Milan is located in the convent Church of Holy Mary of Grace (Chiesa di Santa Maria delle Grazie). "The Last Supper" fresco, a profound portrayal of the final meal of Jesus and his disciples, is an enduring symbol of his artistic brilliance. This fragile artwork, despite centuries of exposure and thanks to restoration efforts, remains a permanent draw for art enthusiasts.

To delve deeper into Leonardo's scientific and technological contributions, a visit to the Museum of Science and Technology (Museo della Scienza e della Tecnologia Leonardo da Vinci) is highly recommended. The museum houses a vast array of da Vinci's inventions and scientific endeavors, shedding light on his pioneering spirit and innovative thinking.

Given the abundance of da Vinci's contributions found in Milan, anyone drawn to artistry, engineering marvels, or technological innovations, will surely find a lot to explore. Take this self-guided walk for an opportunity to immerse yourself in the world of Leonardo da Vinci and gain a deeper appreciation for his enduring legacy.
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Leonardo da Vinci's Masterpieces Map

Guide Name: Leonardo da Vinci's Masterpieces
Guide Location: Italy » Milan (See other walking tours in Milan)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 5
Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.5 Km or 1.6 Miles
Author: alexei
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Biblioteca Ambrosiana (Ambrosian Library & Art Gallery)
  • Castello Sforzesco (Sforzesco Castle)
  • Casa Atellani (Atellani House)
  • Chiesa di Santa Maria delle Grazie (Church of Holy Mary of Grace); "The Last Supper" fresco
  • Museo della Scienza e della Tecnologia Leonardo da Vinci (Museum of Science and Technology)
Biblioteca Ambrosiana (Ambrosian Library & Art Gallery)

1) Biblioteca Ambrosiana (Ambrosian Library & Art Gallery) (must see)

In the bustling city of Milan, amidst its grandeur and energy, lies a place of quiet contemplation, the Ambrosiana Library and Art Gallery. Its origins date back to 1603 when local Cardinal Federico Borromeo, who had just returned from Rome's artistic circles, founded this sanctuary of knowledge and beauty. With over 36,000 manuscripts and more than 750,000 prints, the library is a true treasure trove of intellectual inquiry and spiritual reflection. Named after the patron saint of Milan, Ambrose, it is a testament to the intersection of religion, intellectualism, and aesthetics that defined the Renaissance period.

One of the main attractions here is the Codex Atlanticus, a collection of twelve volumes of drawings and manuscripts created by Leonardo da Vinci between 1478 and 1519. Containing the artist's drawings, sketches and fables, it is undoubtedly the largest collection of Leonardo's writings on practically every area of human knowledge: mechanics, mathematics, astronomy, botany, geography, physics, chemistry, architecture and philosophy.

Part of the library is the famous Pinacoteca Ambrosiana, the art gallery, featuring da Vinci's "Portrait of a Musician", Caravaggio's "Basket of Fruit", as well as Raffaello's life-size, pencil and carbon sketch of the "The School of Athens", a full-color final version of which is displayed in the Vatican.

Among other major acquisitions here are Islamic manuscripts, 11th-century diwan of poets and the oldest copy of the 'Kitab Sibawahaihi', plus a complete set of manuscripts from the Benedictine monastery of Bobbio (1606) and those from Vincenzo Pinelli of Padua, comprising more than 800 pieces, including the famous Ilias Picta (Ambrosian Iliad).

Why You Should Visit:
A chance to immerse yourself in the world of academic tomes and works of art, experience the tranquil ambiance that has enchanted scholars and art lovers for centuries, see art restorers at work on peculiar Renaissance masterpieces -- and in a brilliant building, too.

On a weekday, you can practically have the entire place to yourself. The provided map/guide is quite clear, with all the main highlights identified, but if you're pressed for time, taking a guided tour is advisable.
Castello Sforzesco (Sforzesco Castle)

2) Castello Sforzesco (Sforzesco Castle) (must see)

Castello Sforzesco, one of the largest fortresses in Europe, was originally built in the 14th century to house the Duchy of Milan. Despite its long history of battles, invasions, sacking and destruction, the castle has endured and been restored many times. One of its towers, the Filarete tower, once used to store ammunition, famously exploded in 1521 after being struck by lightning, causing many casualties and significant damage to the fortress.

During the Napoleonic era, the castle was severely damaged and used as quarters for troops, including stables in the frescoed rooms on the ground floor of the Corte Ducale. However, following Italy's Unification in the late 19th century, the castle was reconstructed by architect Luca Beltrami and returned to the city of Milan in 1905. Today, it is a prominent hub of art and culture, boasting seven museums accessible to the public.

The interior of is adorned with exquisitely detailed works of art, notably the intricate ceiling fresco in the magnificent Sala delle Asse, painted by Leonardo da Vinci, who was commissioned by his patrons, the Sforza family. The fresco depicts a pergola in a garden with 16 mulberry trees held together by a golden rope.

Why You Should Visit:
Each room herein is a treasure, not only for the exhibited items, but also for the ceiling frescoes which are wonders in their own right.
Entrance to the castle is free, so if you're on a budget, just walk through and admire the courtyards and architecture. As for the "all museums" fee, it is quite reasonable.

Exploring the entire Castello Sforzesco, complete with its gardens, may take a few days.
Try to go on Tuesday around 2pm to get free entry (entry on the 1st and 3rd Tuesday of every month is free for all public museums).
There's no way to access the battlements or the "inside" (aside from the museums) except by a guided tour, so consider booking one in advance.
Casa Atellani (Atellani House)

3) Casa Atellani (Atellani House)

Behold Casa Atellani, an awe-inspiring 15th-century palace located in the heart of Milan. During the reign of Ludovico Maria Sforza, regent of the Duchy of Milan, he generously granted building permits to his courtiers and collaborators to construct lavish buildings along the road axis of the ancient village of Porta Vercellina. The Atellani family, one of the privileged courtiers, purchased this palace from the Landi counts of Piacenza in 1490, and the Duke donated it to them. The palace was famous for the sumptuous parties thrown by the Atellanis, which attracted the most prominent personalities of the Sforza court, and the tales of their grandeur were documented in several chronicles of that era.

Besides featuring 15th-century frescoes, coats of arms, and paintings, this palace also boasts of neoclassical elements dating back to the 1920s restoration executed by the iconic architect Piero Portaluppi. Regrettably, the palace was severely damaged during the Second World War by air raids; however, its glorious garden, which encompasses the renowned Da Vinci's Vineyard, has endured the ravages of time.

When Leonardo da Vinci was working on The Last Supper mural, he lodged in Casa Atellani. The Duke gifted the property's vineyard, a rectangular plot of 60x175 meters, to the artist in 1498 as a tribute to his prodigious talent. Being from a family of winemakers, Leonardo cherished this vineyard, and even after he left Milan, he remained emotionally attached to it.

During the Expo 2015, the University of Milan collaborated with the Casa Atellani administration to replant Leonardo's vineyard. The replanting was based on the DNA analysis of the remains of the Malvasia di Candia Aromatica vines, a white grape variety that was popular during the Renaissance period, discovered during excavations. This was done in an attempt to recreate the wine that Leonardo may have tasted himself.

A visit to the vineyard is undoubtedly a must-do activity while in Da Vinci's Milan. However, one needs to book in advance to witness the glory of this living history.
Chiesa di Santa Maria delle Grazie (Church of Holy Mary of Grace); "The Last Supper" fresco

4) Chiesa di Santa Maria delle Grazie (Church of Holy Mary of Grace); "The Last Supper" fresco (must see)

Santa Maria delle Grazie (the Church of Holy Mary of Grace) is a world-famous church and Dominican convent in Milan, included in the UNESCO World Heritage sites list. The Duke of Milan, Francesco I Sforza, ordered the building of Santa Maria delle Grazie in the 15th century. The design of its apse has been attributed to Donato Bramante, who at that time was in the service of the Duchy. While adhering to the overall Gothic style of the convent, he added some Romanesque touches as well.

The church is primarily famous for the mural of The Last Supper (Il Cenacolo Vinciano) found in the refectory of the convent. Created by Leonardo da Vinci for his patron Duke Ludovico Sforza and the Duchess, this 15th-century wall painting was made on a dry wall rather than on wet plaster, and, thus, is not truly a fresco. A fresco cannot be altered as the artist works; therefore, Leonardo decided to paint on the stone wall and then cover it with a sealing layer. The work began to deteriorate a few years after he had finished it. Two early copies of "The Last Supper", thought to be the work of Leonardo's assistant, still exist.

During World War II, on the night of 15 August 1943, an allied aerial bombardment hit the church and the convent. Much of the refectory was destroyed, but some walls survived, including the one holding "The Last Supper", which had been sand-bagged for protection. The preservation works continuously done ever since, and hopefully in the future, are believed to maintain this painting intact for many centuries to come.

Why You Should Visit:
Viewing "The Last Supper" in its own setting will make you feel more appreciative of the single point linear perspective and the 3D effect so cleverly used by Da Vinci.

To view "The Last Supper", make sure to book your tickets well in advance on the official website, as they are usually sold out within at least two weeks prior to the sought date.
Museo della Scienza e della Tecnologia Leonardo da Vinci (Museum of Science and Technology)

5) Museo della Scienza e della Tecnologia Leonardo da Vinci (Museum of Science and Technology) (must see)

Dedicated to the Italian painter and scientist Leonardo da Vinci, this is actually the largest science and technology museum in Italy. Opened on 5 February 1953, the museum is housed in the ancient monastery of San Vittore al Corpo, showcasing 7 main departments, namely: Materials, Transport, Energy, Communication Leonardo da Vinci – Art & Science, New Frontiers, and Science for Young People.

The Transport section is divided into four parts: Air, Rail, Water, and Submarine Enrico Toti-S-506. However, the Leonardo da Vinci – Art & Science area is one of the most popular ones, consisting of four parts: Jewelry, Leonardo da Vinci, Horology, and Musical Instruments.

While the Jewelry collection showcases objects made of gems and precious metals, including gold and ivory, the Leonardo da Vinci part exhibits machines that were reproduced from Da Vinci's drawings, such as a hydraulic saw, a spinning machine, a flying machine, and the so-called Leonardo's Tank. The displayed models are the result of the reinterpretation of a group of experts who have translated and completed the drawings.

The Horology collection shows the evolution of watchmaking by displaying several pendulums, ancient clocks, personal watches, and tower mechanisms. The Musical Instruments section displays instruments from the 17th to 20th centuries, and a reconstruction of a lutemaker's workshop from the 17th century is also exhibited.

Why You Should Visit:
A fantastic destination for science enthusiasts, engineering minds, and fact-followers of any age.

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