Milan was at the centre of some of Europe’s most historically significant art movements – from 14th-century Gothic art under the Visconti family, to Futurism at the beginning of the 20th century – and today it is an important player in the international contemporary scene. Following the early lead of the House of Medici, Italy is committed to preserving and proliferating its rich art history, and this is reflected in the diversity of both its old and new art galleries in Milan.
Pinacoteca di Brera
Art Gallery, Architectural Landmark
The Pinacoteca di Brera is a major public museum housed in a palazzo in the Brera district. It originated as a gallery to host the most important works of art from areas conquered by the French armies. Today, it is a celebrated art collection in Italy with a special focus on Venetian and Lombard paintings from artists like Giovanni Bellini and Tintoretto. Many of the works were looted from churches and convents, which explains the predominance of religious themes. Over the centuries, the museum has grown its collection to include a strong modern wing with pieces from Umberto Boccioni, Amedeo Modigliani and Gino Severini. Highlight masterpieces include Raphael’s The Marriage of the Virgin (1504) and Francesco Hayez’s The Kiss (1859). Admission is free every first Sunday of the month.
The picture gallery at Castello Sforzesco (one of the many museums housed within the castle grounds) originated in 1878, and over the centuries has been enriched by major donations. It now comprises over 1,500 paintings that date from the 13th century to the 18th century, including masterpieces by the likes of Bronzino, Tintoretto and Titian. A large section of the space is dedicated to Lombard’s late Gothic paintings, reflective of the patronage of Milan’s Visconti and Sforza dynasties. Collection highlights include Vincenzo Foppa’s Madonna del Libro (1475) and Canaletto’s The Pier Towards Riva degli Schiavoni with the Column of Saint Mark (before 1742). Spread across six halls, just 230 works from the collection are on display at one time, which makes for a very manageable visit.
Just a short walk from the Duomo, this gallery houses a remarkable collection of 20th-century art with a particular emphasis on Italian artists. More than 400 works are displayed chronologically, giving visitors an excellent introduction to modern Italian art history. It begins in 1902 and travels through Futurism, Novecento, Abstraction, Art Informel, leaders of the 1950s and 1960s (including an entire floor dedicated to Lucio Fontana, the sculptor known as the founder of Spatialism), Arte Povera and finishes with Pop Art. The museum also pays tribute to other international avant-garde art movements, so you can also view masterpiece works from Pablo Picasso, Paul Klee and Piet Mondrian.
The architecture of Fondazione Prada distinguishes it above all other modern and contemporary art venues in the city. Designed by the OMA architecture studio led by Rem Koolhaas, the site marries existing industrial distillery buildings with esoteric new spaces, including a tower clad in gold leaf. Visit the permanent collection or temporary exhibitions to see art by leading artists of the 20th and 21st centuries, such as Louise Bourgeois, Dan Flavin and Anish Kapoor. The arts centre also houses a cinema and a kitsch Milanese-American café designed by film director Wes Anderson.
Located in an otherwise unremarkable area in the outskirts of north Milan, Pirelli HangarBicocca is a much-loved not-for-profit venue. The gallery is in a vast, repurposed industrial plant, which provides great scope and flexibility for its presentations. The scale of the building allows for the gallery to specialise in major installation pieces and exhibitions of large-scale work. For example, past works have included Lucio Fontana’s environments or Carsten Höller’s sensory 2016 presentation Doubt, which featured over 20 monumental works. Anselm Kiefer’s The Seven Heavenly Palaces (2004–2015) was commissioned on the occasion of the gallery’s opening in 2004 and is permanently on view. The space also runs an education programme, offering young visitors a creative entry point to the work on view. The sleek on-site restaurant has a shaded patio, which is ideal for lounging if you visit during the summer months. Entry is free.
Designed by architect David Chipperfield, MUDEC is a visually striking cultural museum located in the hip southwesterly neighbourhood Zona Tortona. It stages wider historical and cultural exhibitions on topics such as ancient Egypt or the history of Chinese immigration in Milan, alongside a strong modern and contemporary art programme. Blockbuster art presentations in recent years have included Jean-Michel Basquiat, Wassily Kandinsky and Paul Gauguin. With a large education annex and underground parking, MUDEC caters particularly well to families.
Housed in the former residence of spouses Antonio Boschi (1896–1988) and Marieda Di Stefano (1901–1968), Casa Museo Boschi Di Stefano is the couple’s personal collection of 20th-century Italian art. Avid collectors during their lifetime, they amassed over 2,000 paintings, drawings and sculptures, which they generously donated to the City of Milan in 1974. A selection of 300 works, which traces modern Italian art history from the 1900s until the 1960s, is beautifully hung in true salon style, among period furniture inside the elegant apartment. The building was constructed at the beginning of the 1930s by architect Piero Portaluppi and has been excellently maintained – note the original Art Deco door frames and glass work. At Casa Museo Boschi Di Stefano, you can admire an exquisite Art Deco cabinet next to a rare Mario Sironi painting, or an outlandish 1950s dining table designed by Gino Levi Montalcini beneath a Piero Manzoni Achrome; it is the ultimate aesthete destination.
Opening on Via Ventura in 1987, Massimo De Carlo is a commercial gallery renowned for bringing big international artists to Milan. Now, it has additional spaces in Palazzo Belgioioso in the historical centre of the city, as well as in London and Hong Kong. The Palazzo Belgioioso gallery space was designed by Giuseppe Piermarini (who also designed the La Scala Theatre) in 1787 – the ornate features create a beautiful environment in which to view innovative contemporary artworks by the likes of Maurizio Cattelan, Elmgreen & Dragset, Jim Hodges and Kaari Upson. The original Via Ventura gallery is a more typical white-cube space.
Leading modern and contemporary art dealer Tornabuoni Arte was first established in Florence in 1981, and has since opened gallery spaces in Milan (1995), Forte dei Marmi (2004), Tornabuoni Arte Antica (2006) and the foreign offices of Crans Montana in Switzerland (1993), Paris (2009) and London (2015). The gallery specialises in post-war Italian art and is renowned for its academic and research credentials. Its exhibition programme focuses on presentations of seminal 20th-century Italian artists such as Giacomo Balla, Giorgio de Chirico and Giorgio Morandi, but also features leading international artists from the 20th century to present, including Pablo Atchugarry, Jean Dubuffet and Hans Hartung. Located in an unassuming building on Via Fatebenefratelli, this intimate space is ideal for visiting while you are in the Brera neighborhood.
This gallery continues the legacy Gió Marconi had begun with his father, Giorgio Marconi, at Studio Marconi – a space they ran together between 1965 and 1992 that focused on the most compelling artists of their day. The new gallery is the offspring of Studio Marconi 17, an experimental space for emerging international artists and critics directed by Gió Marconi, and it continues the focus on notable international contemporary artists (for example, Nathalie Djurberg, Allison Katz and Franz Ackermann) while also highlighting work from the former Studio Marconi programme. It holds an important place in Milan’s contemporary art history and is still one of the best places in the city see bold, often challenging, new art.