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.
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.