Art collecting. A family passion

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.


In 1846, Gian Giacomo turned twenty-four and inherited the family fortune. As a patriot, he supported the 1848 Milanese insurrection and, after the restoration of Austrian power 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. Indeed, 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.


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 enjoyed opening his home to art scholars and collectors, and his paintings were often at the center of the most up-to-date critical debates.

Emilio Cavenaghi, La sala Nera del Museo Poldi Pezzoli, 1872, ubicazione ignota


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 artists-decorators: Luigi Scrosati (1815-1869) and Giuseppe Bertini (1825-1898). On the first floor, there 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. The rooms became the perfect spaces to host paintings, furniture and applied arts.

Ritratto di Gian Giacomo Poldi Pezzoli
In 1879, Gian Giacomo Poldi Pezzoli suddenly died, fifty-seven years old and heirless. Already in 1861 he had written in his will that he wanted his apartment and all the artworks in it to become an Artistic Foundation “…for public use and benefit in perpetuity in accordance with the rules of the Brera Gallery”. The administration and the direction of such foundation were entrusted to his friend and collaborator Giuseppe Bertini. The museum opened to the public on the 25th of April, 1881, during the Milanese National Exhibition. Within a few days, it attracted thousands of visitors.