Are you planning a trip to Milan and would love to see some incredible artworks? Below is a list of 7 famous paintings you absolutely must see at the Pinacoteca di Brera.
Among Italy’s most relevant museums is certainly the Pinacoteca di Brera, located in the homonym Milan’s art and design district. The gallery is truly an unmissable destination for art enthusiasts and everyone visiting Milan for the first time. The complete trail of Pinacoteca di Brera consists of 40 rooms that can describe the evolution of Italian and European art through the centuries, showcasing masterpieces of Caravaggio, Raphael, and Francesco Hayez, just to name a few.
If that sounds overwhelming to you, or you’re short on time, but would still love to see famous artworks, then this article is for you. Here’s a selection of 7 famous paintings you shouldn’t miss in the Pinacoteca di Brera.
1. The Supper at Emmaus, Caravaggio, 1606
Caravaggio is considered to be the most outstanding Baroque painter. The realistic rendering of his subjects, the exaltation of mundane elements, and the dramatic use of dramatic light make his paintings almost instantly recognizable.
The Supper at Emmaus, displayed in the Pinacoteca, depicts the exact moment Christ, resurrected, appears in a vision to two disciples. His profound, human expressions emerge from the darkness creating a very intense atmosphere. It’s a simple painting, yet it’s incredibly expressive.
A fun fact about this painting: a very similar version, painted in 1601, is showcased at the National Gallery in London.
2. Marriage of the Virgin, Raphael, 1504
Raphael painted his most celebrated masterpiece, The Marriage of the Virgin, in 1504, in full Renaissance bloom. The painting portrays the moment Mary receives the wedding ring from St. Joseph while many suitors behind her wait for some divine sign. The two newlyweds are serene, with a veil of melancholy clouding their gazes.
Despite the attention to their details, the characters in the painting seem somewhat secondary compared to the glorious temple looming over them. The sanctuary is painted with such accuracy, using such a captivating perspective, that it appears almost like a wood model.
On the arched porch, you can read Raphael’s signature.
3. Lamentation over the Dead Christ, Andrea Mantegna, 1483
Andrea Mantegna is well known for his experimental style and mastery of foreshortened perspective. And indeed, the distinctive characteristic of his Dead Christ lies in the unique point of view. Christ is painted lying down, on the verge of death, surrounded by his loved ones, and the viewer is instantly catapulted into the scene. The light powerfully filters in from the right to illuminate the scene and the characters’ suffering.
Beyond Mantegna’s studied detachment certainly lies a tragic sense of history and men’s destiny.
4. The Kiss, Francesco Hayez, 1859
Francesco Hayez is considered the greatest exponent of European Romanticism and is highly celebrated for painting the most passionate and tender kiss in art history. In The Kiss, the stolen intimacy of two exquisite young lovers is portrayed with incredible precision, with the woman’s cerulean silk dress being especially outstanding, almost shimmering.
Yet, despite the tender feelings it evokes, the masterpiece’s hidden message has little to do with love. Painted in 1859 on the eve of Italian Unification, the portrait is primarily an allegory meant to represent the alliance between Italy and France, symbolically recalled by the colors of the two national flags. Political message aside, the scene possesses all the theatricality and emotional transport necessary to overwhelm anyone who observes it.
This painting is currently displayed in the last room of the Pinacoteca di Brera.
5. The Finding of the Body of St. Mark, Tintoretto, 1562
The Finding of the Body of St. Mark is part of a set of three artworks Tintoretto created for the Scuola Grande di San Marco in Venice. The enormous painting depicts a moment that is halfway between history and myth. Some Venetians visit a church in Alexandria, Egypt, to find St. Mark’s body, then steal it to bring it back to Venice. The relic seekers are finding their way out by torchlight when the ghost of St. Mark suddenly appears.
Shadows and lights render a remarkable dynamism, in which the viewer seems to get lost, overwhelmed by the wonder of the image.
6. Umberto Boccioni, Riot at the Gallery, 1910
Boccioni was the leading member of the Futurism movement, the Italian answer to Picasso’s Cubism.
Riot at the Gallery depicts a fight between two women in front of a cafe in Milan, while the audience behind them is absolutely frantic. The brushwork and color are masterfully used to create sunburst flashes and give a sense of psychosis. The Futurists worshipped the madness and chaos of big cities like Milan, where “all things move, all things run, all things are rapidly changing.”
Boccioni’s Riot at the Gallery painting was highly influential at the time. It’s still an early piece in his career when the Neo-Impressionists’ influence is still clearly visible.
7. Modigliani Portraits, 1915
The Pinacoteca di Brera owns numerous Modigliani paintings, including L’Enfant Gras (1915), Women’s Head (1915), and Portrait of Moïse Kisling (1915).
Modigliani produced his best artworks between 1915 and 1918 while painting his bohemian friends with an approach he called “le grand style”. Among them, we can find Moïse Kisling, a Polish painter and intimate friend of the artist and English writer Beatrice Hastings. All his portraits from this period are rendered in a highly geometric and abstract style, with characteristic elongated faces and deep oval eyes.
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