Museums of Decorative Art, Sforza Castle

Museums of Decorative Art, born in the nineteenth century as a repository of objects with a didactic function and as places that would ensure craftsmen and artists would have access to models for their training, today are aimed at a wider audience, which is undifferentiated both in terms of geographical origin or cultural level. Because of the particular position occupied by Milan, the Museo delle Arti Decorative (Museum of Decorative Arts) is a privileged centre for the interdisciplinary study of the decorative arts in Italy.

The Institute’s mission, in accordance with the original purpose and its present characteristics, is to place the art object at the centre of its exhibition system and its cultural programmes, in an interdisciplinary form (both as a single masterpiece and as element within a coherently organized context), a witness to the history of Italian and European taste.

The presence in one place of both the works of art and their iconographic sources in print (in the Raccolta delle Stampe “Achille Bertarelli and in the Gabinetto dei Disegni) makes it possible to document, in scientific studies and exhibitions, the culture of decorative projects in the West over the course of the centuries.

In the nineteenth century, after the Unification of Italy, the Italian Industrial Association promotes the opening of a Museum of Industrial Art in Milan in order to bring together and preserve the valuable artifacts of the past to stimulate a refined and good craft production. taste. The establishment of the Museum is preceded by a historical exhibition of industrial art, which was inaugurated in 1874 in the Public Gardens Hall of Porta Venezia. On that occasion, works lent by the main collectors of the time are exhibited. In 1877 the building where the exhibition was held was given to the Municipality of Milan, together with the assets of the Association, which also includes a specialist library.

The year after the Municipal Artistic Museum was born. Characteristic of this new museum is the great variety of collected genres, exhibited for classes of materials. After the restoration of the castle by Luca Beltrami, the collection is moved to this location and placed in the rooms on the first floor of the Ducal courtyard. The inauguration takes place on 10 May 1900.

From the post-war period to today
The collection is expanded thanks to private donations and purchases in the first half of the century, so much so that in the post-war period the reorganization of the rooms, entrusted to the BBPR studio, involves the movement of the decorative arts in the rooms on the second floor of the Rocchetta, except for the furniture and sculptures wooden, which remain in the first four rooms of the Ducal courtyard. The works are exhibited for homogeneous groups of technical typology: fabrics, dresses, ceramics, majolica, porcelains, goldsmiths, ivory, bronzes, leather, glass, artistic irons.

With the redevelopment of the museum curated by Francesca Tasso and Andrea Perin in 2017, the exhibition itinerary was reorganized, inserting the works of art in a structure anchored to the historical culture, capable on one hand of giving back to each object its value and of the another to highlight the masterpieces, thanks also to a new didactic apparatus.

Located in some rooms of the Corte Ducale and on the first and second floors of the Rocchetta, the Museum of Decorative Arts is one of the most important collections of this type existing in Italy. In fact, it documents the evolution of taste and styles in the sumptuary, decorative and applied arts from the early Christian era to the 1950s, reaching the 21st century with regard to artistic glasses. Along the way, masterpieces and exceptional artifacts follow one another for quality, precious documents from the work of glassmakers, ceramists, carvers, luthiers, silversmiths, goldsmiths, gunsmiths, tapestries and weavers active in Europe from the Middle Ages.

The collection includes tapestries, weapons, ivories, bronzes, ceramics, leather, wrought iron, majolica, jewelery, watches, porcelain, enamels, fabrics, scientific instruments, glass. The weapons and some tapestries are exhibited in the first rooms of the Ducal Court; the second floor of the so-called Rocchetta is instead entirely dedicated to the applied arts.

Ivories and tapestries
Among the most significant nucleuses for the preciousness of the works we recall the sections of the late antique and medieval ivories (among the most important in the world), that of the goldsmiths, with some very significant specimens including the very rare Eucharistic knife, and that of the bronzes.
The group of the twelve Tapestries of the Months, made to a design by Bramantino by 1509, is exhibited in the Sala della Balla with a new layout that allows a homogeneous and continuous reading.

Ceramics, majolica, porcelain and glass
In terms of quantity, the collection of graphite, majolica and porcelain ceramics is truly remarkable: in particular, we highlight a group of works created by Gio Ponti in his role as art director of Richard Ginori. The manufactures of Faenza, Deruta, Urbino, Savona and Albisola, Castelli d’Abruzzo are well represented in the majolica hall; Milanese and Lombard majolica find ample space in the central and side windows of the XXX room.
The glass section, following the reorganization of April 2017 and the exhibition of the Bellini-Pezzoli collection, offers the public a selection of works from the seventies of the twentieth century to today of great formal quality, both produced in Italy and in America and in Australia. The breadth and variety of the types present in the museum makes it one of the most complete Italian collections in this area.


Marie at the sepulcher
Otto Imperator
Cassettina of the Saints Cipriano and Giustina
Monstrance of Voghera
The Milan Banner
Bramantino, Tapestry
Gonzaga stand up
Majolica spout
Jesus crucified between the two thieves
Galileo Galilei, Military geometric compass
Gio Ponti and Libero Andreotti, Blue Cista

Other historical collection
Due to the vastness and variety of the collections it is impossible to summarize in a short space all the materials visible in the rooms of the museum. From a collecting point of view, we can only mention some nuclei, such as the one donated by the nobleman Malachia De Cristoforis in 1876, which includes an interesting group of German profane goldsmiths of the Renaissance period, 16th century historiated majolica, made on Raphaelesque models, and a collection of remarkable bronzes.
For majolica, the legacy of Francesco Ponti (1895) is fundamental.

The Trivulzio and Bossi collections
Extraordinary the contribution reached at the Museum from the Trivulzio collection in 1935 with the famous Arazzi dei Mesi, combined with jewelery, ivories, paintings, sculptures and codes and incunabula preserved in the Trivulziana Library. One can not forget the late antique ivories collected and donated by the painter Giuseppe Bossi together with some of the Michelangelesque bronzes and Renaissance historiated majolica.

The expansion of the Collections
In the second post-war period the purchase of the Fortuny and Regazzoni collections of fragments of ancient fabrics (early and late Middle Ages) brought thousands of extremely valuable pieces to the Castello Sforzesco, which for reasons of conservation can only be exposed to rotation and for short periods periods. Added to these nuclei are the significant artistic productions of the twentieth century (glasses, ceramics, jewelery) purchased at the Monza Biennials and the Milan Triennials, accompanied by generous donations from many private citizens. In 1997 the Lombardy Region purchased the large cutlery collection by Gianguido Sambonet, which was deposited at the Museum.

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Granted in a five-year deposit by the owner Sandro Pezzoli, the Bellini-Pezzoli collection also merged into the Collections in 2016, offering a relevant glimpse into the art and design of glass objects made from the 1950s to the 21st century and boasts brands such as Mario Bellini, Gianfranco Frattini and Roberto Sambonet. This collection is exhibited in the Castellana room, in the new layout by Andrea Perin, inaugurated in April 2017.

Applied Arts Collection
The Applied Arts Collection of Milan is located in the Sforza Castle museum complex under the management of the municipality of Milan, Italy. The museum is divided into several sections with particular emphasis on jewelry, ivories, pottery and art glass.

The ceramic collection includes medieval, renaissance and baroque pottery, a maiolica group with pieces from 17th-century Lodi and Milan, and a collection of European chinaware and earthenware.

The collection of artistic glass includes the Cup Gonzagna, made of crystal clear glass and decorated with a pattern of small golden flowers and the Gonzaga coat of arm with a quadripartite black eagle on a white background.

In the Sala Della Balla is the Arazzi Trivulzio, a series of twelve tapestries representing the different months of the years. Their design is based on drawings by Italian painter Bramantino.

the Municipal Artistic Museum was inaugurated on 10 May 1900 at the end of the restoration of the castle.

Among the numerous private collections that came together by donation or acquisition there were:

the collection of German profane goldsmiths from the Renaissance, 16th century majolica, and small bronzes donated by the nobleman Malachia De Cristoforis in 1876
the majolica collection donated by Francesco Ponti (1895).
the famous Trivulzio collection acquired in 1935 with the famous Arazzi dei Mesi, combined with jewelery, ivories, paintings and sculptures
the collection of late antique ivories donated by the painter Giuseppe Bossi
purchase of the Fortuny and Regazzoni collections of Medieval fabrics
the Gianguido Sambonet cutlery collection
In the post-war period the re-arrangement of the rooms still visible, albeit with variations, was entrusted to the BBPR study.

The Sala della Balla
The Sala della Balla is located on the first floor of the Rocchetta del castello. We know that as early as the end of the fifteenth century, a document speaks of a hall in the castle that was used as a hall for the most important events: parties and receptions, dances and games like the “Balla”. Luca Beltrami, at the end of the 19th century, mistakenly identified this room with the one described in the fifteenth century document. Recent more accurate studies identify the party room in the ducal courtyard area, where the Furniture Museum is now located. This room nicknamed the bale was actually used as a deposit for the grains and flour of the whole castle: this also explains the large dimensions.

The installation that is visible today is the one proposed by the BBPR studio at the beginning of the seventies: in the right wing, there is the display of keyboard instruments and part of the Museum of musical instruments. In the left wing, starting from the 1980s, were built Tapestries of the Months woven from cartoons by Bramantino, called Arazzi Trivulzio, from the name of the client. The month of March starts this series of tapestries, illustrating the agricultural activities of the period, ending with the month of February. The tapestries have a fixed pattern: within a frame the figure of the month occupies the central part, surrounded by the coats of arms of Colleoni,Gonzaga and d’Avalos.

Sforzesco Castle
The Sforzesco Castle is a fortification that rises in Milan just outside the historic center of the city.

It was built in the fifteenth century by Francesco Sforza, who had recently become Duke of Milan, on the remains of a previous medieval fortification from the 14th century known as Castello di Porta Giovia (or Zobia). In the same area where the Castle of Porta Giovia stood, in Roman times, stood the homonymous Castrum Portae Jovis, one of the four defensive castles of Roman Milan.

Greatly transformed and modified over the centuries, the Sforzesco Castle was, between the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, one of the main military citadels of Europe; restored in a historicist style by Luca Beltrami between 1890 and 1905, it is now home to cultural institutions and important museums. It is one of the largest castles in Europe and one of the main symbols of Milan and its history.

An integral part of the Museo di Arti Decorative (Museum of Decorative Arts), the Museo dei Mobili e delle Sculture Lignee (Museum of Furniture and Wooden Sculptures), was formed thanks to donations, bequests, and the purchase, in 1908, of the Mora collection. The Mora were a family of cabinet-makers from Bergamo, who for a period of time owned a famous shop in Via Solferino, in Milan. During the 20th century the core of the collection expanded thanks to the legacies of families such as the Durini, the Andreani, the Boschi, but especially thanks to the arrival of furnishings from the Savoy residences, including Palazzo Reale and the Villas in Monza and Milan, which were left to the state and earmarked for the civic collections.

The furniture collection, mounted according to chronological criteria that favoured categorisation by studio BBPR (Banfi, Belgiojoso, Peressutti, Rogers) in the 1960s, was reopened to the public with a new layout in 1981. In this particular arrangement attention was focused on the furniture of the Renaissance (much of which was restored in the 19th century) or in Renaissance style. In 2004 the section was completely rearranged under the direction of Claudio Salsi and following designs by architects Perry King and Santiago Miranda. At this time the chronological boundary was expanded to include contemporary design, so as create a more modern museum for a city such as Milan, known as the capital of design and a region such as Lombardy, which has been at the forefront of furniture production for the past two hundred years.