April 26th, 2015 – Milan – Italy
This morning we left our hotel and spent the morning in Milan. Our first stop was the Milan Cathedral (first 5 pictures) which is the 5th largest church in the world and the largest in Italy (St. Peter’s Basilica is larger but is in Vatican). The cathedral is dedicated to St. Mary of the Nativity and is the seat of the Archbishop of Milan. It took nearly six centuries to completed the cathedral. History lesson: The first cathedral was dedicated to St. Thecla and was completed by 355. The cathedral was damaged by fire in 1075 and rebuilding of the Duomo began in 1386. The start of the construction coincided with the ascension to power in Milan of Gian Galeazzo Visconti, and was meant as a reward to the noble and working classes, who had suffered under his tyrannical Visconti predecessor Barnabo. Visconti had ambitions to follow the newest trends in European architecture. In 1389, a French chief engineer, Nicolas de Bonaventure, was appointed, adding to the church its Gothic, a French style not typical for Italy. He decided that the brick structure should be panelled with marble. Galeazzo gave the Fabbrica del Duomo exclusive use of the marble from the Canoglia quarry and exempted it from taxes. Work proceeded quickly, and at the death of Gian Galeazzo in 1402, almost half the cathedral was complete. Construction, however, stalled almost totally until 1480, for lack of money and ideas.
In 1500 to 1510, the octagonal cupola was completed, and decorated in the interior with four series of 15 statues each, portraying saints, prophets, sibyls and other characters of the Bible. During the subsequent Spanish domination, the new church proved usable, even though the interior remained largely unfinished, and some bays of the nave and the transepts were still missing. After the accession of Carlo Borromeo to the archbishop’s throne, he appointed Pellegrino Pellegrini in 1571 as chief engineer. Borromeo and Pellegrini strove for a new, Renaissance appearance for the cathedral, that would emphasise its Roman/Italian nature, and subdue the Gothic style, which was now seen as foreign. As the façade still was largely incomplete, Pellegrini designed a “Roman” style one, with columns, obelisks and a large tympanum. This design was never carried out, but the interior decoration continued.
In 1649, the new chief architect Carlo Buzzi introduced a striking revolution: the façade was to revert to original Gothic style, including the already finished details within big Gothic pilasters and two giant belfries. In 1762 one of the main features of the cathedral, the Madonnina’s spire, was erected at the dizzying height of 108.5 m. Given Milan’s notoriously damp and foggy climate, the Milanese consider it a fair-weather day when the Madonnina is visible from a distance, as it is so often covered by mist. On May 20, 1805, Napoleon Bonaparte, about to be crowned King of Italy, ordered the façade to be finished by Pellicani. The façade was finished in seven years, As a form of thanksgiving, a statue of Napoleon was placed at the top of one of the spires. Napoleon was crowned King of Italy at the Duomo. There was still a lot of work to be done inside and the cathedral was finally completed in 1964.
The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II (7th picture) is one of the world’s oldest shopping malls. Housed within a four-story double arcade the Galleria is named after the first king of the Kingdom of Italy. It was built between 1865 and 1877. On the ground of the central octagonal, there are four mosaics portraying the Coat of Arms of the three Capitals of the Kingdom of Italy (Turin, Florence and Rome) plus Milan’s. Tradition says that if a person spins around three times with a heel on the testicles of the bull from the Turin Coat of Arms this will bring good luck. Of course, Leslie had to try that out (6th picture),
The last stop was Pinacoteca di Brera (“Brera Art Gallery“) which is the main public gallery for paintings in Milan. It contains one of the foremost collections of Italian paintings. The 8th picture shows a statue of Napoleon. Not him you say? We said the same thing. Actually it is a representation of Napoleon if he had the perfect body. Napoleon did not like this statue and it was in storage until his death and put on display afterwards. We had a very knowledgeable guide and saw some very beautiful paintings. The ones pictured below are The Marriage of the Virgin by Raphael (1504); The Kiss by Hayez (1859); Madonna and Child Blessing by Bellini (1510); and Supper at Emmaus by Caravaggio (1606).