BRERA, Brera Palace

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English / USA Language: English / USA

To reach Milan's most important museum you first have to cross a beautiful arcaded courtyard dating back to the seventeenth century that was created when the Brera Palace housed the Jesuit school.

A large bronze statue of Napoleon stands at the courtyard's center, and is a monumental neoclassical work by Antonio Canova. As you probably know, Napoleon was short and chubby, but here he is presented naked with a much more athletic and slender physique, transformed in the image of Mars and looking intently down upon the small image of Victory.

Napoleon's presence in the entrance courtyard is not by fate: it was Napoleon himself who wanted Milan to house a collection of the paintings captured in military campaigns throughout Italy. The museum was inaugurated precisely on Napoleon's birthday, August 15, 1809.

But the palace's history is much older. It was first used as a Gothic monastery (some church remains are still visible in some of the Academy classrooms on the ground floor), but was completely transformed in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Around the courtyard, which is the heart of the building's interior, first the Jesuits and then the "enlightened" government of Empress Maria Teresa of Austria gave rise to numerous cultural institutions, which are still present today. One of these is the magnificent Braidense Library, with a grandiose eighteenth-century hall that I recommend visiting before you proceed to the Art Gallery. Another is the Academy of Fine Arts, still very active today with about 4,000 students from around the world. The Art Gallery can be reached by climbing the large staircase at the end of the courtyard.

FUN FACT: as I mentioned, Brera Palace was first home to the "Humiliated" friars, who were not very loved by the upper hierarchy of the Catholic Church because they sympathized with the Protestants. A very angry friar unsuccessfully tried to shoot Cardinal Borromeo once: the Cardinal responded by kicking them out and replacing them with the Jesuits.



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