The Pinacoteca di Brera

May 22, 2014 / Art & Archaeology
Milan, Lombardia

Here’s another note on Milan, the beautiful city that is the setting of our recently published gastronomic murder mystery, The Revenge of the Milanese Butcher! (Take a look, and if you’ve already bought a copy, please be sure to leave a review, thanks!) These notes are all related to the book in one way or another. We hope you enjoy them!

In a pan-European history version of “what’s mine is mine, what’s yours is mine,” the history behind this art museum includes politics, foreign domination and expropriation… expropriation, and some more expropriation.

Even the original building of the Brera Gallery was built over confiscated property. Pope Pius V abolished the order of the Umiliati, confiscated their property and handed the monastery over to the Jesuits in 1571. Then, after the Jesuits had built the current baroque building with its inner cortile and arched logge, they too were disbanded in 1773 (later reinstated), and the property reverted to the State.

View of Brera Gallery courtyard from loggia, Milan

Already a cultural centre created by the Jesuits, in 1776 it became the Accademia di Belle Arti (Fine Arts Academy), which still exists to this day.

However, when Napoleon arrived on the scene in 1803, he gave orders to his Fine Arts commissioner to begin appropriating thousands of Italian works of art. While most pieces were sent to Paris, Milan became the capital of Napoleon’s Kingdom of Italy in 1805, so many of the paintings gathered up throughout Italy were left behind to fill the Brera, then considered on par with the Louvre. The new “collection” and museum was inaugurated on Napoleon’s birthday on August 15th, 1809.

All quiet since then? Hardly… even centuries later the expropriated pieces are still a touchy subject. Many of the cities of Italy expected their treasures to be returned to them after the end of French and Austrian domination. (For example, the Venetians were none too happy when they didn’t get back their “St. Mark Preaching at Alexandria” by Gentile and Giovanni Bellini).


Still, without the Brera, perhaps not all of the masterpieces it contains would have remained in Italy. Raffaello, Bramante, Piero della Francesca, Guercino, Tintoretto, Carracci, Mantegna, Caravaggio, Bramantino, Bellini, to name a few. The Brera was the beginning of the concept of a public gallery for all to visit and enjoy the country’s incredible works of art.

That said, it is most definitely not an example of how to go about creating such an art collection, yet lucky we are that it exists.

Remember… the Pinacoteca di Brera and other unique places, history and secrets about Milan in our gastronomic murder mystery The Revenge of the Milanese Butcher, ItalianNotebook Press, available on Amazon.

The Lamentation

Brera Gallery Courtyard with statue of Napoleon


by GB Bernardini

Editor, Italian Notebook

12 Responses to “The Pinacoteca di Brera”

  1. Bob Blesse

    Enjoyed the book and look forward to visiting the Pinacoteca di Brera one day—interesting story and beautiful paintings, thanks GB!

  2. Mairin O'Mahony

    How about identifying the paintings? I for one would appreciate it! Grazie!

  3. Jeanne Tikkanen

    I would like to read Revenge in book form. Is there any chance it will be published?

  4. Joan Schmelzle

    Definitely a place I want to revisit when I hope to be in Milan in 2015. I am also fondof the Poldi Pezzoli. I am familiar with some of the paintings and someof the subjects though can’t guess most artists. I do wonder if the artist of “Of the Supper at Emmaus” is Caravaggio. When I am in galleries or museums in Italy, I know just about enough Italian to figure out the subject/title of most exhibits.

  5. Anstell Ricossa

    Oh, how I wish I had known about this when we visited Milan ! Will put it on my “bucket list”.
    I too agree with Mairin – wish the gorgeous painting were identified – all so beautiful………. believe I spotted a Caravaggio and Mantegna !

  6. Stefano

    I too would appreciate identification of the paintings. Being a relatively recent subscriber to the Italian Notebook I have notice there seems to be no attempt to
    identify or caption not only artworks but architecture, locales, etc. Some of it is obvious from the text of a particular post, but captions would be very much appreciated.

  7. CeciliaBelenardo

    I really enjoyed this article,would like to visit this Museum I Milan.

  8. I adored every moment my husband and I spent in the Brera a few years ago. We even found a parking space nearby! I wish it were possible for us to return and spend another day in that wonderful museum, just soaking up the beauty of it all! Grazie mille for posting this article.
    Ciao! Arden

  9. Thank you, GB, for all your articles! The Brera is a real gem, a discovery around every corner, since I had no preparation beforehand. Just amazing!

  10. Gloria

    Thank you for this article. I know little about Milan but now realize I must spend some time there. The Brera Gallery is a beautiful treasure. To identify the paintings, I selected each image one by one, then selected ‘get info’ to obtain the artist’s name.


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