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Our History

The history of the house, the museum from 1881 to the present and its founder, Gian Giacomo Poldi Pezzoli. How a historic home became a treasure trove of artworks.
Detail of the Portrait of Gian Giacomo Poldi Pezzoli, Francesco Hayez, 1851

Gian Giacomo Poldi Pezzoli

Gian Giacomo Poldi Pezzoli was born in Milan on July 27th, 1822. In 1818, his father Giuseppe Poldi Pezzoli (1768-1833) had inherited a considerable estate from the Pezzoli family, who had been in charge of tax collecting for the Austrian government. In 1819 Giuseppe married Rosa Trivulzio (1800-1859), the daughter of Marquis Gian Giacomo (1774 -1831), heir of the most famous Milanese private museum. A man of great culture, he was a collector of precious objects and antique books for the family library, known as the Trivulziana Library.
At his father’s death, Gian Giacomo was only eleven and Rosa took charge of his education, while continuing her friendship with artists and literates.

Gian Giacomo’s journeys and models

In 1846, Gian Giacomo turned twenty-four and inherited the family fortune. As a patriot, he supported the 1848 Milanese insurrection and, after the return of the Austrian in Lombardy, was exiled. He took refuge in Lugano and afterwards travelled to France and Florence. His journeys to Switzerland, France and England were important opportunities to learn about the latest trends in international art collecting. In those years, the first Great Exhibition was organized in London, and in Paris the Musée Cluny of decorative arts, with a Gothic setting, opened to the public.
Back in Milan, in 1849 Gian Giacomo started the project of his house-museum.

The first purchases

Between 1846 and 1850, Gian Giacomo began his purchases of antique arms, his first passion, creating an Armoury. In 1850, he started buying paintings of the Lombard, Venetian and Tuscan Renaissance, some of them of extraordinary value. Thanks to Giuseppe Molteni, portraitist, restorer and a close friend of the Poldi Pezzoli family, he was introduced to the most important European art critics. Among them, the German Otto Mündler, the Italian Giovanni Morelli and the English Charles Eastlake, director of the National Gallery in London.
Gian Giacomo started inviting to his house art historians and art coillectors and his paintings were often at the center of the most up-to-date critical debates.

La sala Nera in Museo Poldi Pezzoli, 1872,
Emilio Cavenaghi, The Black Room in the Poldi Pezzoli Museum, 1872, private collection

The apartment: an avant-garde model

In 1846, Gian Giacomo Poldi Pezzoli started the refurbishment of his apartment in the family palace. He entrusted the project to two of the most appreciated and artists-decorators: Luigi Scrosati (1815-1869) and Giuseppe Bertini (1825-1898). On the first floor, the result was a series of rooms, each one inspired by a style of the past. The staircase and the bedroom were in a neo-Baroque style; the Black Room was inspired by “an early Renaissance style”, the Dante Study by a “14th century style”.

At the time, the revival of past styles and techniques (historicism) was highly appreciated. Those rooms became the perfect spaces to host paintings, furniture and applied arts.

The House

The 17th century palace hosting the museum had been bought at the end of the 18th century by Giuseppe Pezzoli, an ancestor of Gian Giacomo. The architect Simone Cantoni (1736-1818) had rearranged it in a Neo-classical style with an English style garden, with statues and fountains.

Between 1851 and 1853, Gian Giacomo Poldi Pezzoli commissioned the architect Giuseppe Balzaretto (1801-1874) to refurbish his apartment.

The Armoury was created in neo-Gothic style, between 1846 and 1851, by the Scala Theatre set designer Filippo Peroni, with stuccoes by Paolo Gazzoli . The effect was definitely theatrical with standards, arms, armours and trophies crowding the room. The Armoury was destroyed by the 1943 bombings.

Sala Armeria

The Bedroom, today called Murano Glass Room, was designed in a  neo-Baroque style by Giuseppe Balzaretto and Giuseppe Ripamonti, between 1850 and 1851. The lacunar ceiling, the frescoed frieze by Luigi Scrosati, the fireplace, the wood panelling were destroyed in the 1943 air raids. The wonderful doors luckily survived.

The Dante Study was Gian Giacomo Poldi Pezzoli’s private study. Designed by Giuseppe Bertini and Luigi Scrosati between 1853 and 1856, it is the only remaining example of the painted decoration of the house. The room was inspired by the Middle Ages and the poet Dante Alighieri, who appears in the frescoes and in the stained-glass windows created by Bertini himself.

In this room, Gian Giacomo Poldi Pezzoli used to keep the most precious pieces of his collections of applied art.

Stanza da letto
The Bedroom
Studiolo Dantesco
The Dante Study
Stanza Nera
The Black Room
Sala Gialla
The Stucco Room

Designed by Luigi Scrosati and Giuseppe Bertini before 1855, the Black Room was conceived to enhance the Flemish style polyptych. The decorations of the room were inspired by a “North Renaissance Style”. The fresco by Luigi Scrosati and the ebony and ivory wall-covering were destroyed in 1943. The doors and the elegant furniture (tables and chairs) designed for this room by Bertini and made by Giuseppe Speluzzi, Luigi Barzaghi and Pietro Zaneletti, between 1855 and 1880, survived.

Today called Stucco Room, the Yellow Room was designed in a Rococò style to host the porcelain collection. The frescoes by Luigi Scrosati and the stuccowork by Antonio Tantardini, created before 1855, were destroyed in 1943.

The shelves, the consoles and the chairs in Rococò style by Giuseppe Speluzzi, dating between 1870 and 1876, survived.

The Antique Staircase was the scenographic entrance to Gian Giacomo Poldi Pezzoli’s apartment. The eight monumental allegorical statues in the niches are by an 18th century Milanese artist . The elegant neo-Baroque fountain was designed by Giuseppe Bertini. The original stucco decoration and the painted glass ceiling by Giuseppe Bertini were destroyed by 1943 bombings.

Scalone Antico
Antique Staircase

The Golden Room was designed in a Renaissance style to display the best works of the collection. Gian Giacomo Poldi Pezzoli died before it was completed, and Giuseppe Bertini continued its decoration after his death. It is called Golden Room because it had a gilded wood ceiling. The walls were partially frescoed by Giuseppe Bertini and partially covered by damasks, all destroyed in 1943.

Salone Dorato
The Golden Room

The Museum

1881 – 1939

Giuseppe Bertini, the first director of the museum, increased the number of artworks in the collection, without changing its characteristics. After his death in 1898, the architect Camillo Boito (1836-1914), director of the Brera Academy, took charge of the direction. He focused on the re-organization of the house-museum according to more innovative museographic criteria, with the aim of making the works of art more accessible. He also promoted a photographic campaign, which is now a precious historical evidence of the museographic taste of the time.
In 1939, during the Second World War, the museum was closed and all the artworks that could be moved were transported to safer places.

The Air Raids

In August 1943, air raids destroyed all the main museums in Milan in one night. The Poldi Pezzoli palace and its decorations were severely damaged. The bombings destroyed the ceilings, the windows collapsed, and with them the stuccowork, the frescoes and the wooden decorations. These elements, which contributed to create the unique atmosphere of the Poldi Pezzoli house-museum, were unfortunately lost forever.

1943 – 1951
The Reconstruction

After the war the reconstruction of the Museum started, with the aim of rebuilding it “where it was and as it was.” Thanks to Fernanda Wittgens and Ferdinando Reggiori, an effort was made to save the parts that had been less damaged, such as the Antique Staircase and the Dante Study. In order to recreate the original home-like atmosphere of the interiors, the decorations lost in the bombing were evoked by new, lighter ones. The museum reopened on December 3rd, 1951.

Bombardamento del Salone Dorato
The Golden Room after the bombings, Archivio Castello Sforzesco
1951 – Today

Thanks to generous donations (over a thousand objects in the last fifty years), the Poldi Pezzoli Museum is now one of the most refined house-museums in Europe. In the unique atmosphere of its refurbished rooms, paintings by Old Masters are on show next to outstanding decorative arts. Some rooms have new settings, such as the Armoury,  the Jewellery Room and the Clock Rooms. New spaces have been added in 2017 to host recent donations. The museum, which its founder intended “for public use and benefit”, continues to fulfil its original aim.

Galleria Franzini
Portrait Gallery, Museo Poldi Pezzoli
poldi pezzolI MUSEUM

Poldi Pezzoli Museum

Museo Poldi Pezzoli in the centre of Milan, close to the Duomo Cathedral and the Scala Theatre, the Poldi Pezzoli Museum welcomes you! Opened in 1881, it was the house of the noble Milanese Gian Giacomo Poldi Pezzoli (1822-1879). Avid art collector, he had gathered here paintings as well as sculptures, carpets, laces, arms and armour, jewellery, clocks, porcelain and glass.

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Workshops and Activities

The Museum has initiated educational activities since 1974 through guided tours, workshops, specific tours and publications designed for all kinds of audiences, from schools of all levels to adults.

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To make your visit even more engaging and rich in discovery, we have created a series of unique itineraries designed to satisfy different passions and interests.

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Reasons to visit the Poldi Pezzoli Museum

because it is a house-museum that in its historical rooms has preserved the charm of a 19th century residence.
to know a great Milanese art collector.
for the wide range of its collections, from Archaeology to the 19th century.
to admire masterpieces by painters as Pollaiuolo, Mantegna, Botticelli, Raffaello, Piero della Francesca, Tiepolo, Canaletto, Hayez
for the amazing collections of sundials and clocks, Murano glass, Meissen porcelain.
to discover a palace overlooking a beautiful hidden garden, and a romantic Orangerie.

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