Museum of Ancient Art, Sforza Castle

The Museum of Ancient Art is an art museum in the Castello Sforzesco of Milan, in Lombardy in northern Italy. It has a large collection of sculptures from the late antiquity, Mediaeval and Renaissance periods. The various rooms of the museum house an armory, a tapestry room, some funerary monuments, the Rondanini Pietà and two mediaeval portals.

The Museum of Ancient Art in Milan is home to one of the most important collections of sculptures and objects of late-ancient, medieval and Renaissance art in northern Italy. Over 2000 pieces exhibited in rooms decorated with frescoes of the Sforza and Spanish ages, including the Ducal Chapel, the museum houses works and masterpieces linked in particular to the history of the city and of Lombardy, as well as works of art acquired over time from the municipality of Milan.

The rooms of the museum host the armory, containing various armor and a section of bladed weapons and from fire from the late Middle Ages to the eighteenth century, various funerary monuments of various ages, including the famous funerary monument to Gaston de Foix, the hall of tapestries and the Milan banner (with the effigy of Sant’Ambrogio embroidered).

Of particular relevance is the Sala delle Asse whose vault frescoed entirely by Leonardo Da Vinci and his collaborators shows a dense series of flowering and intertwined branches whose summit is the Sforza heraldic crest.

The Green Room (“green room”) displays 15th and 16th century sculptures, the collection of arms of Sforza Castle and the Portal of the Medici Bank, at gate removed from Via Bossi. The collection of arms, displays sculptures, armor, swords and firearms in chronological sequence from the Middle Ages to the 18th century.

The Sala dell’Asse designed and frescoed by Leonardo da Vinci at the request of Lodovico il Moro, represents the Sforza period of Milan.

Exhibition Halls

The visit to the Museums of the Castle opens with the passage through a portal called Pusterla Urbica, recomposed here with the pieces that formed the arch side of the countryside of the ancient Pusterla dei Fabbri, demolished during the 1900s.

The room or hall of the Chancery
In the first room of the Museum there are numerous paleochristian testimonies coming from various churches in Milan that today no longer exist. Among the remains found in the room you can admire the two bases of the column of the fourth century, part of Nova Basilica; the fragments of the fresco on the Tomb of Magnifredo, from the IX – X century; the 4th century floor mosaic; the sarcophagus engraved with Christian symbols, another sarcophagus from which come the fragments depicting philosophy and music. In addition to the classical-Roman artistic testimonies there are also the Longobard ones, barbarian populations of the Middle Agescharacterized by the decorativism abundantly expressed by a series of marble slabs like the fragment adorned with the hand of God and two animal faces; the fragment of a plate from the 8th century; the bath of the twelfth century with its neat decoration with leaflets and interlacing of strips in the ribs.

In the same room there are also some remains of the Byzantine tradition such as the head of the Empress Theodora, dating back to around the 6th century. Finally, there are also a series of epigraphs, all dating back to the 7th century, such as the epigraph of Aldone, the epigraph of Domenico, and much more.

Room II and III – Romanesque art in Lombardy and Campionese sculpture
The rooms are dedicated to Romanesque and Gothic Lombard sculpture. Inside you can find works dating from the 10th to the 14th century, preceded by a rare example of high medieval figurative sculpture: the Telamon from the 6th – 7th century. The diffusion of the Lombard Romanesque reached its peak with the Campionese workers, sculptors and architects coming from the Campione area. In this group the few outstanding artistic figures are Ugo da Campione, Matteo da Campione, and Bonino da Campione, of whom one of the best works can be admired in this room: the equestrian monument to Bernabò Visconti. Another important work is the sepulchral monument of Regina della Scala alongside her husband Bernabò Visconti. Of unknown artist are the front of a sarcophagus with Madonna and Child, warrior and Saints, to be admired for the richness of details; the relief with San Paolo, San Lorenzo and Santo Stefano and, finally, the front of a sarcophagus with the Madonna, the Child, some Saints and a Nun.

As for the group of votive statues from Porta Ticinese, the statue of St. Peter the Martyr would be attributable to Giovanni di Balduccio, a figure of great importance in the Lombardy of the time: in fact he was responsible for the diffusion of Gothic art in Milan. Divided into three groups, the votive statues depict religious figures such as the Madonna and Child, Sant’Ambrogio, San Lorenzo and Papa Celestino V, coming not only from Porta Ticinese, but also from Porta Orientale and Porta Comasina. In the third room we also find a beautiful Almond, originally a window decoration, showing on one side the image of Christ the Redeemer and on the other the Assumption. This fragment still bears traces of polychromy, an influence of Gothic sculpture. On the floor there are two tombstones, one by Bianca di Savoia and the other, coming from the Church of San Francesco al Prato in Parma, bearing the effigy of Antonello Arcimboldi.

Room IV – Tuscan influences in Lombard sculpture
The frescoed coat of arms of the Spanish king Philip II and his wife Maria Tudor (1555), one of the rare testimonies of the Spanish presence at the Castle, overlooks the hall that illustrates the encounter and the mutual influences between the Tuscan and Lombard sculpture during the XIV century.

Room IV of the Museum houses some of the most significant works by Giovanni di Balduccio, a famous Tuscan sculptor of the fourteenth century. Among the works in this room, the Mausoleum of Franchino Rusca stands out for its size and importance. It was built after 1339, the year of Rusca ‘s death, which should have appeared in the work placed above the slab below the two angels. The work is a valuable testimony of Gothic art, very well preserved, which recalls the contemporary Tuscan funeral monuments in style and setting.

In the room there is also a fragmentary Annunciation, originally frescoed on the triumphal arch of the Church of San Giovanni in Conca, from which the fourteenth-century frescoes exhibited in rooms 2 and 3 also come. Documented in this room, it is also the façade of the lost Church of Santa Maria in Brera, again by the Italian sculptor Giovanni di Balduccio, of which only a few architectural and decorative fragments remain. On them it is still possible to read the inscription attesting the date (1347) and the sculptor’s signature. The Tuscan master worked immediately after his arrival in Milan, to a work ordered to him by the Visconti: some Fragments found in 1943 attest, near the Church of Santa Tecla, which are located in this section of the Museum. The Madonna and Child comes from the sepulcher of Azzone Visconti, to whom Balduccio owed his fortune in Milan. The sepulcher was commissioned by Luchino and Giovanni Visconti to be placed in the court of the Church of San Gottardo in Corte. In the hall, moreover, there are two Pietas: the Pietà by Castelseprio, which is attributable to a Campionese master and who seems to be representative of a new pathos, a perfect synthesis between the Lombard tradition and the new Gothic influences characterized by sinuous and naturalistic rhythms and the other Pietà, coming from the facade of Santa Maria di Brera, in the which perhaps is most noticeable a renewal of forms and decorative patterns.

Room V or chapel
The volume of this room was recovered by Luca Beltrami during the restoration of the late nineteenth century and brings together interesting sacred works of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries under a small frescoed vault with putti attributed to Callisto Piazza. The most important work in the room is the wooden Crucifix, dating from the end of the 14th and the beginning of the 15th centuries and produced in northern Italy, characteristic for the face pulled into a painful grimace. On the walls there are lunettes frescoed with noble coats of arms of the Alvarez, Figueroa and Pimentel families, to which governors of the city and lords of the city belonged. On the right wall, towards the window, one can see the capital for twin columns, in marble, dating from the end of the thirteenth century: it represents heads of opposed goat and a half-hooded human figure.

Belonging to an English school of the fourteenth century is the bas-relief placed on the wall to the left, depicting the kiss of Judas (1888), in alabaster, a fourteenth-century work of the English school and a gift from Luca Beltrami and from the demolished chapel of the Rocchetta di Porta Romana. At the center of the room, in the surface of the floor, is inserted the tombstone of Giovanni Lanfranchi, Podestà of Milan in 1322. In the entrance corridor to the room is placed the slab depicting a graduated poet, a gift from Count Gian Giacomo Poldi Pezzoli. It bears, in a polylobed frame, the profile portrait of a young man crowned with laurel. In the niche on the back wall of the room there is a Madonna with child, in polychrome terracotta, with Angels and Saints, a 15th century artisan work.

Inserted in the window overlooking the Corte Ducale, there are five small windows of Swiss and German origin. The elements that compose them are not pertinent to each other, but probably were later combined: coats of arms of the XVIII century, the Judgment of Solomon, the Resurrection and the Madonna with child between San Giovanni Battista and San Martino.

Room VI or Sala della Cancelleria – Historical memories of medieval Milan
The Sala della Cancelleria contains sculptures representing the civil life of Milan in the period of the late Middle Ages. On the left wall there is a slab with the symbols of the evangelists (first half of the 12th century), coming from the Church of Santa Maria Beltrade, demolished in 1926 during the works to renovate the square of the same name, along via Torino. The composition is very simple, based on the specular representations of the ox, which represents St. Luke, and of the angel, St. Matthew; on the left we find the eagle representing San Giovanni, and the lion on the right, San Marco.

Of great importance are the figurative friezes present on the Porta Romana (medieval, Milan) (the most important entrance to the city demolished in 1793), mounted on two wall structures that reproduce, in smaller dimensions, their original arrangement on the medieval gate. The reliefs on the left wall of the hall commemorate the solemn return of the Milanese to the city after the destruction by Federico Barbarossa. On these are the signatures of the Anselmo and Gerardo stonemasons. The reliefs on the right recall the expulsion of the Arians by Sant’Ambrogio. The relief placed on the wall concerning the immodest female figure has a functionapotropaica and comes from the external front of Porta Vittoria. Another important relief is the one that represents the procession of the devout image of the Idea, also coming from the Church of Santa Maria Beltrade. Placed on the left wall is a votive tabernacle with Sant’Ambrogio, depicted seated in the act of blessing with the miter and the pastoral, attributes of his episcopal office. On the right wall there is a slab with the Torriani coat of arms (XIII century), from Chiaravalle, depicting a tower crowned with Ghibelline battlements with a robust portal and two rows of windows. Inside the hall there are four busts of saints within almonds.

Room VII or Sala del Gonfalone – Sculpture between the 16th and 18th centuries and the tapestries
The hall, once a representative area of the Municipality of Milan, is now mainly dedicated to tapestries and is dominated by the presence of the sixteenth-century Gonfalone della Città di Milano, the tapestry in the center of the room. In 1565 the task was assigned to the execution of the work by the mannerist painters Giuseppe Arcimboldi and Giuseppe Meda, who supplied the drawing, then executed by embroiderers Scipione Delfinone and Camillo Pusterla, made with embroidery and tempera with precious inserts. From a compositional point of view, the Gonfalone reproduces a triumphal arch under which Sant’Ambrogio is located, depicted with the stirrup and the pastoral, at whose feet two soldiers are lying. The round arch presents four episodes on the two sides of the Saint’s life. Within an oval frame, at the top of the arch, the Faith is depicted as a female figure sitting next to the tables of the Law, bearing the chalice and the cross. In the spandrels are represented the Saints Gervasio and Protasio, the martyrs found by Ambrogio and buried with him under the altar of the Ambrosian basilica. Behind Ambrogio, under a starry sky, there is a building, a clear reference to the Church.

Along the walls hang the five episodes of the stories of Elia and Eliseo, made in Brussels between 1550 and 1560. The subjects depicted are: Elijah raising the widow Sarepta’s son, The sacrifice of the Baal prophets, Elijah predicting to Ahab the divine punishment, Elisha collecting the cloak of Elijah kidnapped in a cloak and Elisha refusing Naaman’s gifts. On the entrance wall of the Hall there are two Brussels XVIII century tapestries, made by Gillam Van Cortenberg, depicting two episodes from the story of Noah: The appearance of the Lord to Noah and the boarding of the animals on the ark.

The visit to the hall is completed with the examination of the sculptures, divided into three exhibition cores, of different dating. In these portraits we can identify Vespasian, young Marcus Aurelius, Lucius Verus and Giordano. At the end of the wall that divides the Sala del Gonfalone from the Sala delle Asse, it is possible to admire an all-round statue from the second half of the sixteenth century, depicting Adam caught naked and leaning on a log. The work recognizes the hand of the Florentine Stoldo Lorenzi, a mannerist-trained sculptor, especially close to Giambologna’s ways, in the slender elegance of the figures and in the search for the naturalness of the poses. The ceiling of the hall is decorated with twigs with flowers and fruits and crowned in the center by the coat of arms of the royals of Spain.

Room VIII or Sala delle Asse – The decoration Leonardo
The pictorial decoration of the room is due to the commission of Ludovico il Moro who opened his court to many of the greatest painters, architects and writers of the time; first of all: Leonardo da Vinci. Leonardo da Vincihe was the architect of the vault decoration and, originally, also of the walls of the Sala delle Asse. The plant weaves that decorate the vault of the room were discovered only at the end of the nineteenth century: in fact, the heavy layer of whitewash that whitened the whole room was revealed from one of the walls, revealing the original decoration with an extraordinary discovery. The recovery of the pictorial decoration, directed by Luca Beltrami, turned out to be an almost unprejudiced intervention for the interpretation of the original Leonardo project and for the excessive pictorial integration of the restorer: the monochrome decorations on a wall were ignored and hidden by a wooden covering of the room, today recognized as part of themuch later than the work of Leonardo, and the commemorative epigraph of the 16th century was added, added during the brief French rule, and replaced with the commemorative writing of the recovery of the painting. In 1954 there were new restoration works. Removing the wooden axes of the Beltrami, the fragments of a first monochrome draft along the walls of the room were recovered and the decoration of the vault was lightened by the heavy pictorial interventions of the twentieth century. The now worn-out decoration of the interwoven vault and the depictions of trunks, roots and rocks on the walls came to light.

Testing himself in the decorations of the Sala delle Asse, Leonardo had to rely on a very precise iconographic program, perhaps suggested or simply inspired by the work’s client. The stratified rocks within which gnarled roots are grafted are the starting point for an organic and unitary composition, which, rising from the ground, radiates forcefully along the trunks of the trees that support the entwined fronds of the vault, describing a grandiose naturalistic poem. If we evaluate the ambitious political and cultural program of Ludovico il Moro and the artistic personality of Leonardo, one cannot be satisfied with interpreting the Sala delle Asse as a simple naturalistic celebration. In addition to the exterior features of the trees represented (mulberry trees with enormous roots, colossal trunk, cruciform leaf and purplish-red fruits), even the symbolic ones seem to suggest a relationship with the Duke of Milan: the Moor or Mulberry was a symbol of wisdom since ancient times. prudence, perhaps an allusion to Ludovico’s politics. The pleasant plant plots that originally had to be supported by sturdy trunks could actually be a celebration of the Duke of Milan, column and support of the Sforzesco State.

Room XI or Sala dei Ducali – Lombard sculpture between Gothic and Renaissance
The Sala dei Ducali takes its name from the decorations depicting the ducal coats of arms. In this room you can admire sculptures dating back to the first half of the fifteenth century. The period is characterized by the opening of the construction site of the Milan Cathedral, which implied a series of solicitations that opened up the Milanese cultural situation to Tuscan, Venetian and transalpine influences. All this is captured in the stupendous series of capitals of the Castiglioni Palace in Castiglione Olona, which prefers shapes marked by a greater plastic yield that is identified in the use of rounded and full volumes. The series of Castiglione fragments are counterpointed, along the opposite wall of the room, by four Angeli reggi torcia, coming from the Ca ‘Granda in Milan, the ancient Hospital of the Poor, today the seat of the University of Studies. These angels date back to 1465, the year in which Francesco Solari was called to head the Fabbrica dell’Ospedale. The typically Lombard taste of sculpture of the second half of the fifteenth century is attested by a slab with Madonna and a Devote, from the two terracottas with the Pietà and the Deposition in the Sepulcherand from the polychrome terracotta depicting a Carthusian prior presented by a Saint to the Virgin. This relief gravitates in the stylistic ambit of Giovanni Antonio Amadeo, high-level artistic personality, to whom the merit is due to having adapted the forms of the Tuscan Renaissance to the most exquisite Lombard tradition.

Some fragments belonging to the Collections of Ancient Art of the Castle exposed in this room can be traced back to the presence of Venetian and Tuscan craftsmen in Lombardy in the fifteenth century. A marble slab sculpted in high relief with the figure of Saint James with a model of Church that may have come from the Cathedral of Milan and a tympanum with the Eternal Father Blessing found in Cremona, document the activity of Venetian sculptors and stone-cutters, while a Relief with the Crucifixion, the fragments of two terracottas, an anconette with Madonna and Child and two panels with busts of Angelsallow us to understand the Tuscan orientation of sculpture around the middle of the fifteenth century. A Jacopino from Tradate we owe the Madonna and Child in which we can see the decorative style of the Lombard master, intent above all in the search for virtuosity calligraphic, as shown by the flourish continuously and without laying the drapery of his robe of Our Lady, on which seems to focus so particular the effort of the sculptor at the expense of a surrender of greater humanity and emotional participation of the characters. Last and singular work which we must mention is the bas-relief with allegorical representation representing an episode from the life of St. Sigismund of Burgundy, coming from theMalatesta Temple of Rimini and executed by Agostino di Duccio. The bas-relief reveals the extreme refinement of this author. The prevalence of the harmonious rhythm of the line with the consequent emptying of each plastic substance gives the representation an airy lightness, supported only by an accentuated taste for the decorative.

Room XII or Ducal Chapel
The Ducal Chapel was built at the behest of the Duke Galeazzo Maria Sforza and then restored and restored to its original size after having changed its intended use several times (it even came to be a stable during the Napoleonic period). In the second half of the fifteenth century the duke, for security reasons, moved his residence from the Ducal Palace next to the Duomo, inside the Castle of Porta Giovia, transforming part of the fortress into a private residence. He finished the job designing the decoration of some rooms for which he had precisely suggested a precise iconographic program. The painter who decorated the chapel was mainly Bonifacio Bembo, late Gothic artist, flanked by other painters considered minor because of the scarce attention of art critics (Stefano de ‘Fedeli and Vismara). What the duke planned for the Chapel was the depiction of the Resurrection of Christ on the central vault: coats of arms, Sforza emblems and the Annunciation in the lunettes below. In the center on a blue background, the figure of God the Father is depicted surrounded by ranks of Cherubs and Archangels, while the Risen Christ is victorious in a golden almond surrounded by angelic hosts.

In front of a precious drape is a Mensola from the end of the 15th century that holds the statue of the Madonna and Child, a sculpture purchased by the Municipality in 1950. The statue dates back to the second half of the fifteenth century and has strong ties to the 14th century Lombard sculpture. It is not possible to determine with certainty the production to a certain artist, even if it is likely that it was made by Jacopino from Tradate, due to the strong signs that recall its cold current. The strong contrast between the late Gothic and the Renaissance is mainly seen in the comparison between the statue of the Madonna and the peduccio below: various details make us think that the authorship of the works can be attributed to two different artists. Also on display in the Chapel are two musician angels attributable, but not certain, to Giovanni Antonio Amadeo. Finally, the Madonna with Coazzone (a long braid of the hairstyle) from the Fabbrica del Duomo in Milan and generally attributed to Pietro Antonio Solari is also exhibited.

Room XIII or Sala delle Colombine – The Lombard sculpture of the second half of the fifteenth century
This hall, now due to house some of the best sculptures of the second half of the fifteenth century, was part of the private ducal apartment and owes its name to the decoration of the vault that represents a dove on a radiant sun drawn on a purple ground and which brings the motto back to bon droit or “rightly”.

In the 15th century, a rebirth of Lombard artistic production took place thanks to the large factories, such as the cathedral, and masters among which we find Giovanni Antonio Amadeo. A wonderful example of this sculpture are the statuettes alluding to the Sacrament of Penance depicting angels with instruments of the Passion, which show a more complete and expressive vision. The three previous sculptures and the tondo with the crib were part of the Ark of the Persian Martyrs which was commissioned to Giovanni Antonio Piatti but was completed by Giovanni Antonio Amadeo. Noteworthy masters are also Cristoforo eAntonio Mantegazza of which there are two figures of kneeling apostles in the room, the crib fragment depicting two shepherds, the two angels and the two fragments in relief with figures of angels, sculptures still of Gothic base. The vast activity of Amedeo also influenced by these artists and his workshop had numerous followings and inspirations, giving rise to numerous works today known as the Maniera dell’Amedeo, including in the room it is possible to observe two Formelle with the Angel and the Annunciation Virgin. Other important works for this period are the Madonna with Child and the high-relief with the Pietà, recently attributed to Gasparo Cairano.

XIV room or hall Green – The sculpture between fifteenth and sixteenth centuries and the Armory
Galeazzo Maria Sforza commissioned the frescoes in the hall in 1469. A portal from the mid- fifteenth century coming from a building in Corso Magenta gives access to the hall. The structure of the portal consists of two lateral pillars that end in capitals that support the architrave, moreover all the sides of the portal are decorated with motifs of classical derivation. The architrave is decorated with seven dancing putti holding a ribbon on their shoulders, to which are tied garlands of fruit and leaves; the monogram of Christ is visible in the lower face. A repertoire of classical taste can be seen in the two terracotta friezes dating from the early 16th century. Prominent element is the Portal ofbuilding of the Medici Bank which adorned the main entrance of the Medici palace. After passing the Portal on the right are the remains of the original marble decoration of the facade of Santa Maria presso San Satiro. These are four rectangular marble slabs depicting two Sibyls, the Creation of Adam and the Creation of Eve, enclosed within central roundels that covered the lower base of the facade. In the hall is the pulpit of the refectory of the Convent of San Pietro in Gessate, dated around the end of the fifteenth century. The pulpit has a structure with pilasters and chandeliers adorned with dolphins and cornucopias. The series of portals, for which this environment is also called the Sala dei Portali, continues with the portal of Palazzo Bentivoglio, the main entrance to the building that was located in Piazza San Giovanni in Conca. This door of clear Mannerist imprint, consists of a round arch framed in a cornice supported by two smooth pillars and bears a plaque in which the coat of arms is now illegible.

The armory also occupies a prominent place in the hall, which characterizes this environment with the presentation of armor, weapons and firearms, according to a historical and educational path. The path is structured in four sectors: the first is dedicated to the weapons of the fifteenth century, the second to those of the sixteenth century, the third to those of the seventeenth century and the last to the arms of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. During the second world war the collection suffered a bombardment and to save it from the fire it was transported to the warehouses. In the post-war period, extensive restoration work on arms was necessary, in view of the new construction (1956).

XV room or hall of Scarlioni – The Lombard classicism of the early decades of the sixteenth century
The Sala degli Scarlioni was the place where the duke received and owes his name to the white and red zigzag decorations.

The theme of the room is the Mannerism in Milan of the early sixteenth century, of which the decorative slab of the Tarchetta aedicule of the Milan Cathedral is an example, the Triptych with the figuration of the Pietà, initially used as a lintel of a portal, then joined to the construction of the altar and finally removed from this to be exhibited in the museum at the end of the nineteenth century. Sculptors of Milanese Mannerism are, for example, Andrea Fusina, who is exhibited in the Sala dell’Arca by Bishop Battista Bagarotto in 1519, commissioned by him when he was still alive, Tommaso Cazzanigaof which the pair of decorative Pilastrini and Agostino Busti, known as il Bambaja, author of the tombstone of the poet Lancino Curzio and of the funeral monument to Gaston de Foix, French leader grandson of King Louis XII, have been re-proposed. The statues of the Faith and of an unidentified Virtue were also attributed to the Bambaja, presumed to be part of the Birago Tomb built in 1522 for Gian Marco Birago and Zenone Birago, buried in the church of San Francesco Grande in Milan. The tour inside this room ends with theBusto della Mora, whose artist is anonymous, dating back to the mid- sixteenth century, a period of great crisis for Lombard sculptors who moved to Rome where they received many commissions from the popes. The Bust of the Mora probably belonged to the Archinto family, great collectors of tombstones and sculptures since the mid- seventeenth century, but many doubts remain about their origin and the circumstances under which the collection was formed. Even the term Mora still gives rise to many misunderstandings, being a term dating back to not before the beginning of our century.

At the exit of the Museum of Ancient Art, in a subterranean courtyard, the fountain created by Luca Beltrami was placed in the last decade of the nineteenth century, originally conceived as an ornament placed at the center of the ducal court. The fountain was created by Beltrami using specially made casts of holy water preserved in the Collegiate of Saints Peter and Stephen in the city of Bellinzona, an original Lombard Renaissance sculpture from Vigevano. The casts were transformed by the architect Beltrami into a fountain, with the addition of a pedestal, a basin and a specially designed cuspid depicting the Visconti snake, now mutilated. During the restoration works carried out after the war it was moved to.