The Pinacoteca Ambrosiana, a public art gallery, was established in 1618 alongside the Biblioteca Ambrosiana, the library. Federico Borromeo, the archbishop of Milan, founded the picture gallery for the students of the Academy of Painting and Sculpture so that they might visit and be inspired.
From the outside it’s a simple building, but inside is an unexpected treasure trove of artwork, from a mosaic-decorated staircase, to a transplanted church’s stain glass windows to Raphael’s giant cartone (cartoon) of the ‘School of Athens’ affresco in the Vatican. Among the Caravaggio and Botticelli originals are paintings copied by the academy’s art students, in order to learn from the masters, such as Leonardo’s Last Supper.
Then there is the hidden surprise of the Pinacoteca’s amazing courtyard – a series of arches and statues.
Finally one enters the library with its collection of over 800 antique manuscripts on display from floor to ceiling. This is the home of Leonardo’s technical-drawings, doodles and notes that make up the
Codex Atlanticus. It’s not hard to imagine the novice artists who roamed the rooms in search of a muse.