Bagatti Valsecchi Museum, Milan, Italy

The Bagatti Valsecchi Museum is a historic house museum in the Montenapoleone district of downtown Milan, northern Italy.

The Bagatti Valsecchi Museum’s permanent collections principally contain Italian Renaissance decorative arts (such as maiolica, furniture, tapestry, metalwork, leather, glassware and precious table-top coffers made of ivory, or “stucco and pastiglia”), some sculptures (including a Madonna and Child lunette by a follower of Donatello), and many paintings. European Renaissance weapons, armor, clocks and a few textiles and scientific and musical instruments complete the collection assembled by the Barons Bagatti Valsecchi, and displayed in their home, as per their wishes.

Fausto and Giuseppe Bagatti Valsecchi, of Varedo, together conceived the project of building a house in which to live inspired by the noble palaces of the 16th and 16th centuries of Lombardy and to furnish it with Renaissance art objects. For this purpose, the Milanese family palace (the current seat of the Museum) was expanded at the end of the nineteenth century.

The uniqueness of the Bagatti Valsecchi brothers’ project was to create an absolutely harmonious whole (in German, a “Gesamtwerk”), in which the building, the fixed decorations and the precious art objects collected with passion contributed equally to the fidelity of the Renaissance setting still essential to the collections (including, for example, works by Giovanni Bellini, Gentile Bellini, Giampietrino and Lorenzo di Niccolò).

The nineteenth-century culture that is reflected in the house of Fausto and Giuseppe Bagatti Valsecchi was committed to seeking inspiration for its artistic manifestations in the past. The two brothers, however, departing from the beaten track, did not combine ideas drawn from different eras. Rather than towards eclecticism, they directed their preferences to suggestions and objects of the Renaissance, in line with the cultural program launched by the young Savoy monarchy after the Unification of Italy.

The Bagatti Valsecchi Museum, open to the public since 1994, is one of the most important and best-preserved house-museums in Europe. To hold it is a private foundation, promoted by the heirs Bagatti Valsecchi in 1974 to show the public collections of Renaissance art and neo-Renaissance and Renaissance decorative items collected during the last decades of the nineteenth century by the brothers Fausto and Giuseppe to enrich their own home. It is open from Tuesday to Sunday from 1pm to 5.45pm.

For each room in the Museum, visitors are greeted with detailed mobile forms written in Italian, English, French, German, Spanish and Japanese, and map cards for children to allow them to follow a historical-artistic path by learning by playing. It is possible to book tours accompanied by qualified guides for children in Italian and for adults in Italian, English, French, German and Spanish.

The Bagatti Valsecchi Museum is managed by the Bagatti Valsecchi Foundation – ONLUS, a private law body of which Pier Fausto Bagatti Valsecchi is president and which also sees Vittorio Sgarbi among the members of the Board of Directors, representing the Lombardy Region.

From a shared dream to the Bagatti Valsecchi Foundation
The Bagatti Valsecchi Museum is a museum house, the result of an extraordinary collector’s story from the late nineteenth century, whose protagonists are two brothers: the barons Fausto and Giuseppe Bagatti Valsecchi.

Beginning in the 1880s, the two brothers dedicated themselves to the renovation of the family home located in the heart of Milan: a building between Via Gesù and Via Santo Spirito, today at the center of the fashion quadrilateral. At the same time, the two brothers began collecting fourteenth and sixteenth-century applied art and artefacts with the intention of setting them up in their home so as to create a home inspired by 16th-century Lombard homes. Keep it going

An incredibly current project, also due to the desire of brothers to concentrate in their home everything that could be futuristic in the world of the time – heating, running water and electric light – and make it meet with the utmost refinement.

After the death of Fausto and Giuseppe, the Bagatti Valsecchi house continued to be inhabited by the heirs until 1974, the year in which the Bagatti Valsecchi Foundation was established, to which the heritage of works of art collected by the two brothers was donated. Twenty years later, in 1994, the Bagatti Valsecchi Museum opened to the public, one of the best preserved museum houses in Europe and one of the first great expressions of Milanese design.

Fausto and Giuseppe, the strange couple
Fausto and Giuseppe committed themselves personally in the restyling of the Palazzo inspired by the Renaissance: graduates in law, never used their educational qualifications for professional purposes, but devoted time and resources to the renovation of the family home, its decoration and collection of works of art intended for it.

The predilection for that era was moreover in line with the cultural program launched by the Savoy monarchy after the unification of Italy; it was precisely in the Renaissance that the moment to look for the construction of a new national art was identified, an indispensable ingredient for the consolidation of that common identity that is still too weak.

United and close-knit, the two actually had very different personalities: brilliant and worldly Fausto, more reserved and more inclined to the domestic calm Giuseppe. It was precisely to the latter that it would have been necessary to give continuity to the family thanks to the five children born from his marriage to Carolina Borromeo, celebrated in 1882.

If so many energies were turned to the preparation of the dwelling between via Gesù and via Santo Spirito, for the rest their existence passed between the activities and the usual duties to gentlemen of their rank and their time. To the administration of their assets, they joined the commitment to numerous charitable institutions, participation in the lively city life, travels in Italy and abroad, the practice of horseback riding and other curious sporting passions, such as ascents in a balloon and the velocipede.

After the death of Fausto and Giuseppe, the Bagatti Valsecchi house continued to be inhabited by their heirs until 1974, when the now seventy-year-old Pasino, one of Giuseppe’s sons, decided to establish the Bagatti Valsecchi Foundation, to which he donated the heritage of the works of art collected by his ancestors.

Giuseppe Bagatti Valsecchi reviewed the typological richness of works of art and artifacts collected together with his brother Fausto, motivating the variety by virtue of the domestic cut of their collecting project to recreate a Renaissance residence. In this context, the same ancient artifacts collected from the passion of the two brothers became everyday objects, used in domestic and everyday life, losing the connotation of historical object.

Preserved in the respect of the nineteenth-century setting, the collections unfold from room to room: in the enveloping rooms of the museum house the antique tables of authors such as Giovanni Bellini, Bernardo Zenale, and Giampietrino find their place next to boxes in tablet, with wooden furnishings, in glass or ceramic artifacts. Beyond its intrinsic value, each work constitutes a piece of the coherent Bagatti Valsecchi project and contributes to defining its spectacular together.

Alongside the four-sixteenth-century artifacts, there are some exceptions to the rule: exemptions perhaps imposed by the limits of the antiquarian market or perhaps, in the case of particularly high-quality artifacts, from the understandable desire not to deprive oneself of works that would have been well figured within the Bagatti Valsecchi house.

With few exceptions, the collection of Bagatti Valsecchi paintings is composed of works on wood from the sixteenth and sixteenth century, mainly referring to the Tuscan, Lombard and, to a lesser extent, Veneto. The sumptuous domestic set-up complements works by great authors – the most famous of which is undoubtedly the Santa Giustina by Giovanni Bellini – to paintings by minor masters, sometimes referable to secluded areas such as the lariana area or the Bergamo valleys. The Neo-Renaissance frames are able to harmonize the works set up in the rooms and transform the doors of dismembered polyptychs – a typology well represented in the collection – into paintings that can be enjoyed by themselves, attenuating the identity of the compartment already inserted in a more articulated work.

Walled reliefs in the courtyards of the Palace or inserted as fixed furnishings inside the dwelling make up the most important nucleus of this collection. Despite the small group of works, problematic artifacts are not lacking both from the attributive point of view and from their chronological definition. The degree of awareness of the two Bagatti Valsecchi brothers with regard to works of which the nineteenth-century realization is still evident, as in the case of the Flagellation of Christ by Alceo Dossena.

The rich collection of furnishings is a fundamental component of the Bagatti Valsecchi collection and living project. Without any foreclosure the two brothers flank reconstitutions with antique fragments or period furniture with four-sixteenth-century furnishings, creating an environment where the overall effect is more important and convincing than the originality of the single piece.

This collection center is composed of liturgical objects and domestic artefacts: crosses, reliquaries, eucharistic vases are placed side by side with enamelled caskets or ancient cutlery, covering a period of time ranging from the Three to the Seventeenth century. The intent of the collection, which is not intended to be complete either from a chronological or typological point of view, is entirely functional to the decoration of the rooms, in which the various artefacts are expertly arranged.

The core of the Bagatti Valsecchi ceramics is mainly made up of sixteenth and seventeenth-century artefacts, although later works are not lacking. Many production centers are represented in a sort of mapping of the main Italian manufacturers: among others, Venice, Pavia, Ferrara, Faenza, Pisa, Montelupo, Urbino, Casteldurante, Pesaro, Deruta, as well as Rome, Gerace, Trapani, Burgio. Numerous pottery came from kits of ancient pharmacies dismembered during the nineteenth century. Compared to the Italian character of the collection, a group of lustres dating from the sixth to the seventeenth century, referable to Valencia and Manises, is an exception.

The collection of ivories by the Bagatti Valsecchi brothers, while collecting heterogeneous objects in chronology, origin and function, includes a compact nucleus of artefacts referable to the Embriachi, a workshop that dominated the production of bone and ivory objects in Italy between the 14th and 15th centuries. Fausto and Giuseppe’s intent was above all to create an antiquarian collection that was also an instrument for the reconstruction of the environment.

Scientific instruments
Inside the Bagatti Valsecchi residence, the collection of scientific instruments is set up in the Library, an environment for study and reading. In this room, measuring instruments, armillary spheres, an ivory microscope are displayed on the central table, while the superb pair of sixteenth-century globes stands out on their pedestals in style.

Weapons and armor
This rich collecting nucleus is entirely set up in the Galleria delle Armi, an environment of great impact, where the artifacts are arranged on ancient caissons while the arms in the auction and the swords make a fine show of themselves in the racks along the walls. Style and original artifacts stand side by side in the name of a spectacular ensemble effect.

In line with the domestic cut of the Bagatti Valsecchi stand, the glass collection is set up in the windows of the Dining Room; the artifacts are arranged alongside ceramic plates and risers creating a dense score, where works from different eras are freely combined with decorative efficacy. The two brothers’ predilections are oriented towards the Murano production, represented by glasses that are arranged along a wide chronological arc, from the four to the nineteenth century.