The Diocesan Museum of Milan (or Diocesan Museum Carlo Maria Martini) is an art museum in Milan housing a permanent collection of sacred artworks, especially from Milan and Lombardy. Originally conceived by Ildefonso Schuster in 1931 as a vehicle to protect and promote the art collection of the Archdiocese of Milan, the museum was eventually established in the former headquarters of the Dominican Order in the back of the Basilica of Sant’Eustorgio with the support of Pope Paul VI.
The Diocesan Museum of Milan was born in 2001 on the initiative of the Archdiocese of Milan with the aim of protecting, enhancing and making known the artistic treasures of the diocese in the context of the spiritual context that inspired them. In 2001 Carlo Maria Martini inaugurated the current venue located in Porta Ticinese. From the following year it is the scene of the initiative A masterpiece for Milan.
The Diocesan Museum is located in the setting of the cloisters of Sant”Eustorgio, integral part of one of the most antique monumental complexes of Milan, built from the joined units of the basilica and the Dominican convent, a thriving centre in the course of the centuries in an important area for the history of Milanese Christianity.
The permanent collection is constituted of over seven hundred works of art that span the period going from the 4th to the 21st century. Within the Archbishop”s Painting Gallery are the collections from the Milanese archbishops (part of the Monti, Visconti, Riccardi collection and the complete collection of Erba Odescalchi). In addition to the paintings coming from the churches of the Diocese, the Museum houses an important group of works of liturgical furnishing. Completing the collection is the section dedicated to Gold Leaf panel paintings (works primarily from the sphere of Tuscany of the 14th and 15th centuries, collected by Prof. Alberto Crespi and donated to the Museum), and sculptures and paintings coming from the collection of Caterina Marcenaro. Lastly, around a first nucleus of sculpted works by Lucio Fontana, there are many works from the 20th and 21st centuries, which declare a growing interest that the Museum has for contemporary works of art.
Initially wanted by Blessed Ildefonso Schuster, Cardinal and Archbishop of Milan, he found his first stone in the letter “For sacred art and for a diocesan museum” of 1931.
Since 1994, the Sant’Ambrogio Foundation has been entrusted with the constitution and management of the Museum: the President of the Foundation, Mons Luigi Crivelli, together with the first Director, Paolo Biscottini, will open the Museum with the idea that one of the main purposes of the new institution was the enhancement of the huge artistic heritage of the Ambrosian Diocese, considered as much in its specific artistic historical value, as as testimony to an uninterrupted history of faith and Christian beauty. The museum design project was entrusted in 1996 to the studio of the architect Antonio Piva.
The Diocesan Museum of Milan, inaugurated by Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, archbishop of Milan (1979 – 2002), on December 7, 2001, is located in the Cloisters of Sant’Eustorgio, part of the ancient Dominican convent, returned to the city after a long period of restoration due to the bombing of the Second World War. Interpreter passionate by the will of the Archbishop Monsignor Luigi Crivelli (1933-2007), first unforgettable president of the Sant’Ambrogio Foundation, museum management body.
The Cloisters of Sant’Eustorgio arise in one of the most significant places from the point of view of the history of the Ambrosian church. Right next to it, in fact, according to tradition, San Barnaba would have christened the first Milanese Christians giving rise to the local church.
As a whole, the first Milanese Dominican convent and the two cloisters, which house the Museum of the Basilica of Sant’Eustorgio and the Diocesan Museum Carlo Maria Martini, are already starting from the thirteenth century, are therefore what remains of that ancient convent. The first, annexed to the left side of the already existing basilica, was built at the end of the third decade of the thirteenth century. It is not known exactly when the second cloister dates back, perhaps built thanks to the interest of Filippo Maria Visconti in 1413.
In 1526 following the clashes between Spanish and French troops, much of the convent was destroyed and only a few decades later its reconstruction began.
The first cloister today has an arcade with columns, probably the result of 17th century renovations. The second, perhaps designed by architects such as Carlo Buzzi or Francesco Maria Richini, is porticoed on three sides and has elegant paired granite columns.
At the end of the eighteenth century, the Dominicans were removed and the convent was used by the Napoleonic army and then by the Austrian military which caused extensive damage. During the nineteenth century restoration works are documented, mainly aimed at the church while the cloisters were used as barracks until 1911, the year of the acquisition of the complex by the Municipality of Milan. The aerial bombing of 15 August 1943 left the complex in precarious conditions: the first cloister, less damaged, passed to the parish, while the second side had been completely destroyed and the first floor of the other three sides had been uncovered.
In 1960 an agreement was established, between the Municipality, the Diocese and the parish, for the rearrangement of the monumental complex but the works began only in the 1980s.
Since 2016 Chiostri di Sant’Eustorgio are a museum complex that offers the city a unique cultural proposal, with a unique ticket office and integrated cultural program.
The museum complex is made up of the Basilica of Sant’Eustorgio, the Museum of the Basilica of Sant’Eustorgio and the Diocesan Museum Carlo Maria Martin i.
The permanent collection of the Diocesan Museum Carlo Maria Martini is made up of almost a thousand works, ranging from the second to the twenty-first century, which have come as bequests, deposits or donations, which constitute a living testimony to the rich Ambrosian artistic production, as well as offering an interesting panorama of the taste of collectors not only archiepiscopal, but also private.
In continuous and dynamic enrichment, the collections are currently set up along the three restored bodies of the second cloister of Sant’Eustorgio.
The diocesan museum conserves works from the diocesan territory, from the Archiepiscopal Gallery and from private donations. These are organized into twelve exhibition sections:
Works from the Diocese
Archconfraternity of the Blessed Sacrament
Gold funds “A. Crespi”
Erba Odescalchi Collection
Sculptures by Lucio Fontana
Works of different origin
In the entrance hallway are exposed:
three Flemish tapestries with Stories of Constantine (second half of the 17th century), woven by Geraert van der Strecken.
The tour itinerary opens with a nucleus of works related to the history of the Basilica of Sant’Ambrogio or the life of Sant’Ambrogio, bishop of Milan (374 – 397), including:
Sant’Ambrogio litter (4th century), that is the catafalque where, according to tradition, the saint’s remains were laid during the funeral;
the fragments of the wooden shutters of the main portal of the first Basilica of Sant’Ambrogio, dating back to the IV – VI century;
the clipeus with the blessing bust of Sant’Ambrogio (10th century), in polychrome stucco, from a Lombard workshop;
Wooden stalls (15th century), from the Sant’Ambrogio choir;
The silver chapel of San Nazaro, a 4th century reliquary which according to tradition was used by Ambrogio on his return from a trip to Rome, to contain the relics with which he consecrated the Basilica Apostolorum (now San Nazaro in Brolo), where it was found by Carlo Borromeo in 1578. The display case has the dimensions of a cube of about 20 cm each side, with embossed scenes embossed on all four sides and on the lid in worked silver foil. They are represented: Christ announces the new doctrine to the Apostles, Judgment of Solomon, Judgment of Joseph, Three Jews in the furnace saved by an angel, Madonna and Child enthroned among angelic hosts. The style of the figures is classic, comparable to the Greek bas-reliefs, and shows a portrait of a young emperor, identified with Honorius, son of Theodosius.
Madonna nursing the Child, (first quarter of the 16th century), detached fresco, by Bernardino Luini
Pie donne (first quarter of the 16th century), detached fresco, by an anonymous Lombard painter;
Jesus Christ carrying the cross (first quarter of the 16th century), detached fresco, attributed to Andrea Solario.
Works from the Diocese
Works from the diocesan territory are exhibited here and include some significant evidence, both pictorial and sculptural, for the history of Lombard art from the 14th to the 19th century.
All the works in this section come from several parishes of the Archdiocese of Milan created by great artists. Of considerable interest:
Procession of the Magi (late XIV – first half of the XV century), torn fresco, by Michelino da Besozzo and workshop;
Crucifixion (late 14th – early 15th century), tempera on wood, by Anovelo da Imbonate;
Saint Francis of Assisi receives the stigmata (second half of the XV – beginning of the XVI century), tempera on panel, by Bergognone (Ambrogio da Fossano);
Triptych of the Assumption (second half of the XV – beginning of the XVI century), oil on panel, by Marco d’Oggiono;
St. John the Baptist took off (16th century), oil on board, by Bernardino Campi, from the Montevecchia Sanctuary;
The sacrilegious theft (1731), oil on canvas, by Alessandro Magnasco;
Jesus Christ crucified with Mary Magdalene (1827), oil on canvas, by Francesco Hayez.
Confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament
In the hall of the Arciconfraternita del Santissimo Sacramento the paintings dedicated to the miracles operated by the Eucharist and made between the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries by Filippo Abbiati, Carlo Preda and Legnanino are presented, to be exhibited along the naves of the Cathedral, during the festival of Corpus Domini.
The section displays the liturgical furnishings (reliquaries, monstrances, chalices, candlesticks, etc.), coming from the diocesan territory, often true masterpieces designed for liturgical functions. These constitute the historical and cultural documentation of the Lombard artistic origin from the 6th to the 20th century. Of considerable importance:
The covered missal, attributable to Delfinoni, probably on a design by the painter Aurelio Luini, from the Sanctuary of Santa Maria at San Celso (Milan);
the three Capselle (11th century), in stucco, from Civate;
the lustral trousseau, consisting of an amphora and a basin (around 1570), in embossed, chiseled and gilded silver, made by the Nuremberg silversmith, Wenzel Jamnitzer;
two chalices (late 18th – early 19th century), in embossed, melted and gilded silver, by Agostino Arbuschi;
Clip from Cope (1865) and cup (1866), silver gilt, of Giovanni Beauty.
The sculptures exhibited in this section are a deposit of Fondazione Cariplo in Milan. This is the most important part of the art historian’s collection, Caterina Marcenaro, donated in 1976 to the Foundation. They occupy a chronological period from the thirteenth to the seventeenth century and can be traced back to various artistic spheres from Northern Europe, to Liguria, to Central Italy.
Gold Funds A. Crespi
The collection of 41 gold funds, carried out between the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, for most of the Tuscan and Umbrian areas, donated by the collector Alberto Crespi, represents a unique feature in the Milanese museum panorama. This section displays tables by Bernardo Daddi, Gherardo Starnina and Sano di Pietro, including:
Santa Cecilia (second quarter of the 14th century), tempera on wood, by Bernardo Daddi.
This section displays the paintings of Cardinal Cesare Monti, archbishop of Milan (1632 – 1650), including the paintings by Bernardino Lanino, Cerano, Guido Reni and Tintoretto. Among the works stand out:
Salvator Mundi (16th century), oil on panel, by Bernardino Lanino;
The fall of St. Paul (late 16th – early 17th century), oil on canvas, by Giovan Battista Crespi, Cerano;
Jacob struggles with the angel (late 16th – early 17th century), oil on canvas, by Morazzone (Pier Francesco Mazzucchelli);
Jesus Christ and the adulteress (16th century), oil on canvas, by Jacopo Robusti, Tintoretto;
Saint Joseph with the Child (first half of the 17th century), oil on canvas, by Guido Reni.
The section displays the works collected by Cardinal Giuseppe Pozzobonelli, archbishop of Milan (1743 – 1783). They all depict arcadian subjects, landscapes, perspectives with figures, from the Roman, Venetian, Lombard, Tuscan, Neapolitan and Flemish areas, dating from the late 16th to the 17th century.
A lovable collection, immersed in the taste of travelers of the eighteenth-century Grand Tour: the paintings of painters such as Pannini, Marco Ricci, Amorosi, are directly inspired by real places or referring to seascapes or hills.
This section presents the works of the collection of Cardinal Federico Visconti, archbishop of Milan (1681 – 1693), including:
Ancona della Passione (16th century), in carved, painted and gilded wood, from the Antwerp workshop;
San Carlo Borromeo in gloria (late 16th – early 17th century), oil on panel, by Cerano (Giovan Battista Crespi);
Daniel in the lions’ den fed by Habakkuk and Jezebel thrown from the Jezrael palace (late 17th – early 18th century), oil on canvas, by Filippo Abbiati.
Erba Odescalchi Collection
The collection of Cardinal Benedetto Erba Odescalchi, archbishop of Milan (1712 – 1736), includes the 41 portraits of the canonized Milanese archbishops saints (from San Barnaba apostle, to Sant’Ambrogio, to San Carlo Borromeo), made in the mid-18th century.
Collection of 105 drawings (from the 15th to the 20th century) which reached the museum in 2008 following a testamentary bequest from the banker Antonio Sozzani, who had collected these works also thanks to the advice of Giovanni Testori. Among the artists present: Carlo Francesco Nuvolone, Giovanni Antonio de Groot, Marcantonio Bassetti, Elisabetta Sirani, Ventura Passarotti, Ingres, David, Théodore Géricault, Eugène Delacroix, Corot, Vincent van Gogh, Jean Cocteau, Balthus,Toti Scialoja.
The collection consists of about two hundred works (including paintings, drawings and prints) created between the mid-1940s and the early 1990s by the Milanese surrealist artist Ambrogio Magnaghi (1912-2001), who arrived at the Museum in 2007 for his son’s will of the artist, Marco.
Sculptures by Lucio Fontana
On the ground floor, an entire section of the museum is dedicated to sculptural works by Lucio Fontana. Among them stand out, in addition to the preparatory plasters of the fifth door of the Cathedral of Milan and of the Pala della Vergine Assunta, the fourteen stations of the Via Crucis (Via Crucis bianca, 1955), in storage at the Museum by the Lombardy Region.
Works from different backgrounds
In the collections of the Museum, scattered along the exhibition path, there are some works that come from donations or deposits of private collections. These include:
Jesus Christ in the sepulcher, San Francesco d’Assisi and Santa Chiara d’Assisi (XV century), marble bas-reliefs;
Jesus Christ crucified with Mary Magdalene (second half of the 19th century), oil on canvas, by Mosè Bianchi.
Via Crucis (1882), torn frescoes, by Gaetano Previati, from the cemetery of Castano Primo.