Milan: Art Museums, Antiques Market, Shopping & Restaurants
Editor's Note: Frederick Fieldhouse Biddington refuses to venture abroad without the Bentley. So, Jake Biddington takes over as correspondent for this issue on tourism in Milan.
Lacking the dolce vita languor of Rome, Milan is known as the buttoned-up business capital of prosperous northern Italy. Economists like to point out that the region of Lombardi, Piemonte and Friuli-Venezia--if separated from the logy south--would have the highest per capita wealth in Europe. Traveling there on business, I was surprised by how pleasurable a spot Milan can be.
Sunday in Milano
You've got to love a European city where Sunday is not a throw-away day. On the last Sunday of each month, Milanese locals emerge midday and throng to the outdoor antique market along the Navigli Ticinese--the canal area near the Porta Genova train station. Bronze d'oré hardware, Venetian goblets, micro-mosaic inlay cigarette cases, carved ivory walking sticks as well as paintings that may (or may not) be period are offered at hundreds of vendors. Prices are fair, but not bargains. The Milanese understand with pinpoint accuracy the value of beautiful things. The area surrounding the canals is home to funky shops, vintage clothing stores and music clubs with jazz & blues. If you tire of pushing through the crowds, the osterias and pizzerias across from the stalls offer plenty of venues for grabbing a bite, warming your feet and catching some calcio (soccer) on the big screen.
Sandro Botticelli "Madonna del Padiglione"Many shops are open on Sunday especially in the commercial area surrounding the huge duomo--a cathedral that makes up in scale what it lacks in beauty. Early Sunday evening finds everyone out strolling the piazza or drinking a pudding-thick ciocollato in the 19th century galleria and watching others stroll by. The street theater is engaging: an attractive crowd dressed with notable elegance-the antithesis of paunches, Nikes and sweats. Fashion is Big Business in Milano, and the Milanese are walking billboards for the superb clothing.
Ambrosiana Pinacoteca, Milan
In this delightful city, even a Sunday night biz strategy meal has its charms. Autumn is the season for fungi porcini (porcini mushrooms with a significantly more earthy taste than those grown in the US) and tartufi bianci (white truffles redolent of the musty forest floor). Both make delectable toppings for wide, buttery tagliolini. And it's hardly a secret that the veal and lamb in Italy are first rate as well. Those restaurants open on Sundays keep rolling late into the evening. At midnight, as we were finishing our limoncello(a traditional after-dinner drink of lemonade-laced grappa), a soccer team and its entourage arrived for dinner.
Midday Museum Break
During the week, business takes a long (12:30-3:00) lunchtime break and client entertaining is focused on dinnertime. This hiatus offers ample time for a warm prosciutto & mozzarella panino (order crudo otherwise you get regular ham) and café macchiato (espresso shot topped with a splash of milk) and still have the opportunity to hit a museum.
Ambrosiana Pinacoteca If a tight schedule allows only one museum, the Ambrosiana would be my choice. Federico Borromeo, who built the palazzo and began filling it with his picture collection and library, was interested in seminal process pieces relating to the history of art and printing. As early as 1607, Borromeo set about acquiring recasts of ancient Roman & Greek sculpture, printing hardware & books in the first cursive style (circa 1500) and, most impressively, Raphael's life-size preparatory drawing for the "School of Athens" fresco in the Vatican. The palazzo itself is a testimony to Borromeo's taste and style. The rooms are well-proportioned many with patterned tile floors whose imaginative designs owe much to the influence of Islamic art brought to northern Italy via the enterprising Venetian merchants. Individual artworks at the Ambrosiana are top-of-the line: The beautiful Botticelli tondo, recently cleaned, glows softly as though the painting were lighted from within. The Ambrosiana is instructive in showing what can be done when plenty of money dovetails with an understanding of historical context and a willingness to share knowledge.
Tintoretto "Miracolo di San Marco"
Pinacoteca Brera, Milan
The Pinacoteca Brera, the prinicipal Milano museum, like the Ambrosiana is easy to reach and stays open through lunch. Having determined that Milan was to be his southern capital, Napoleon also decided it needed a great picture gallery. So, he simply stole the best works of art from all the surrounding area and put them on view in the Brera. Thus impeccably edited, the collection is a curator's dream. Its huge main galleries lined with enormous paintings are dazzling. The vast Bellini painting "Mark Preaching in Alexandria" (never mind the Muslim anachronism), the diagonally-composed Tintoretto and Veronese's "Supper in the House of Simon" are show stoppers. Another much smaller room houses Raphael's "Bethrothal of the Virgin" and a major Piero della Francesca (beloved of fine-draughtsmen everywhere). Unlike the museums in Florence or Rome which are always besieged with students, those in Milan are uncrowded, and they perform efficiently as a "Masterpieces of Italian Painting" survey course.
Fashion as Art
In contemporary Milan, fashion holds the creative spotlight. Milan has more upmarket retailing--by far--than any other European or American city. If price is no object, amazing apparel--and women--can be found on the Via Spiga. But, the women in my office had assigned me the action step of checking-out a clothing discounter for them. So, I trekked eastward to the "neighbs" to seek out a store in a downstairs courtyard called "Salvagente". This discounter carries designer names: e.g. Prada, Fendi, Dolce Gabbana at very discounted prices (but still $250-$700) for most items. It also stocked some men's clothing, for those intrepid shoppers determined to brave the crowd. Having fulfilled my moral obligation, I fled with a couple of 10-EURO ($8.80) heavily woven silk ties that would have cost me $90 each in New York.
Since The Event, social life in Manhattan has been an Arthur Schnitzler novel; so I lacked the desire to apply myself to the Milanese club scene. Some spots I passed along the gypsy-fortuneteller-lined Via Fiori Chiari rather resembled noisy frat parties. Word has it, however, that some of the clubs in the area near Stazione Garibaldi--such as "Shocking" and "Hollywood"--are worth the effort. Un'altra volta.
More Art & Antiques Destinations with Jake Biddington:
Piazzo Pio XI, tel: 02806921(Like most museums, closed Mondays.)
Pinacoteca di Brera
Via Brera 28, tel: 02722631 (Closed Mondays.)
Il Coriandolo--traditional restaurant, good business destination with upmarket wine list.
Via dell' Orso 1 (near La Scala Opera House).
Milch--cool restaurant, cool crowd.
Via Petrella 19 (near the Stazione Centrale)--tel: 0229405870
Il Rigolo--quality neighborhood restaurant, older crowd. Good wine list.
Largo Treves (near via Moscova) tel: 0286463220
Il 3 Fratelli--low key, good neighborhood restaurant.
Via Nicolao (near the popular Bar Magenta on via Carducci)
Wine Bar: Arcadia--simpatico wine bar where you can also purchase bottles.
Via Ponte Vetero13 (in the Brera district) tel: 02876796
Discount Clothing: Il Salvagente--high-end fashion apparel for women and men.
Via Fratelli Bronzetti 16 (near Stazione Porta Vittoria) tel: 76110328
Easy Day Trips:
Bergamo--fortified 2-tier university town. 1 hour north by train from Stazione Centrale.
Vigevano--glorious central piazza designed by Bramante with an assist from Leonardo.
40 minutes west by train from Stazione Genova.
View stone sculpture by contemporary Italian artist Serena Tallarigo.
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ABOUT THIS FEATURE
Here at BIDDINGTON'S, our work is also our play. When we're not exhibiting and discussing art & antiques online, we're learning about wonderful objects in shops, at great shows and in museums all over the world. In this article, Jake Biddington takes over for F.F. Biddington to offer suggestions and descriptions of this art tourism destination.
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