Frescoes draw the viewer aloft into the domed ceiling of the Bascilica di San Marco in Milan. Photo: Henry Lewis
Italy, we love you!
Your extraordinary wealth of art and architecture dazzles our senses and ignites even our most latent sense of historical curiosity. Your heavenly cuisine provides all the sensual pleasures a lonely traveling soul could possibly desire. You’ve produced some of history’s most distinguished and intellectually gifted artists and scientists, from Leonardo da Vinci to Galileo Galilei, as well as showing us a woman’s view of life in the early 17th century through the work of the fascinating female painter Artemisia Gentileschi.
As residents of Italy’s northern Lombardy region – and its capital Milan – suffer under the local strain of a global pandemic, it seems fitting to present a tribute to some of my favorite places.
Milan, the country’s northern industrial, financial and cultural metropolis, is often quickly dismissed by travelers who rush through on their way to more popular attractions in the northern cities of Florence and Venice, or on to see the ancient sites of Rome and Naples in the south.
I LIKE Milan. It’s a vibrant, interesting city that feels authentic. At the same time, it holds enough treasures – from meticulously detailed Renaissance churches to great works of visual art – to satisfy even the most jaded traveler.
The Milan Cathedral–Spectacular
Every evening light is still visible in this view of the Duomo di Milano (Milan Cathedral) which commands the surrounding Piazzo del Duomo, and is the city’s most popular gathering spot. The Candoglia marble used on the building’s exterior constantly changes color, slowly taking on magical hues as the light changes from dawn to dusk. Photo: Henry Lewis
The Piazzo del Duomo from the rooftop of the Milan Cathedral. Photo: Henry Lewis
The Milan Cathedral offers guided tour that allow visitors to climb to the rooftop and experience all the ornate details up close–just my kind of activity! Photo: Henry Lewis
Construction began on Milan’s Duomo in 1386 and was completed in 1965! From the dizzying heights, the building’s myriad spires topped with ornately carved statuary bear witness to the meticulous work of many generations of highly skilled craftsmen. Photo: Henry Lewis
Ornate spires topped with statuary are a primary feature of the Milan Cathedral and explain why the building took many centuries to complete. Photo: Henry Lewis
The Milan Cathedral’s marble facade is transformed by the setting sun during the early evening ‘magic hour.’ Photo: Henry Lewis
The expansive interior of Milan’s Cathedral is meant to invoke a sense of awe in all who enter. The eyes of visitors are drawn upward toward the heavens where a host of saints decorate the dozens of tall columns that support the enormous weight of the ceiling and roof. Photo: Henry Lewis
A Fascinating Statue
Located to the left of the main altar is the most famous statue of all the Cathedral, the “Saint Bartholomew Flayed” (1562), by Marco d’Agrate. The saint is depicted with his flayed skin thrown over his shoulders like a stole. The human anatomy revealed is both shocking and fascinating in its detail and rendering. Photo: Henry Lewis
The statue of Saint Bartholomew, when viewed from this angle, reveals the flayed skin forming a 3rd leg and foot. While there is a grotesque aspect to the work, it’s amazingly detailed in its execution. Photo: Henry Lewis
The Renaissance Era Church of San Maurizio
The Renaissance Church of San Maurizio, located about halfway between the Milan Cathedral and the Santa Maria Della Grazi church and convent, is a visual delight. Photo: Henry Lewis
Every inch of the interior of the Church of San Maurizio is a masterpiece. Photo: Henry Lewis
The Galleria Vittorio Emmanuel II
The Galleria Vittorio Emmanuel II, named in honor of the first king of the Kingdom of Italy, is one of Milan’s most important shopping centers. It was designed in 1861 and built by architect Giuseppe Mengoni between 1865 and 1877. Photo: Henry Lewis
The central glass dome of the Galleria Vittorio Emmanuel II in central Milan. Photo: Henry Lewis
The Galleria Vittorio Emmanuel II is located beside the Milan Cathedral on Piazzo del Duomo. Photo: Henry Lewis
The Home of Leonardo da Vinci
Leonardo da Vinci lived and worked in Milan from 1482 until 1499. While there, he was commissioned to paint the “Virgin of the Rocks” for the Confraternity of the Immaculate Conception and “The Last Supper” for the monastery of Santa Maria Delle Grazie. Photo: Henry Lewis
Church and Monastery of Santa Maria delle Grazie
Santa Maria delle Grazie in central Milan was once a Dominican convent. It’s most well-known for being the place where Leonardo da Vinci painted “The Last Supper.” When I visited, the main chapel was used for an exhibit of da Vinci’s drawings and journals, often referred to as a codex. This glimpse into the mind of a scientific, artistic and engineering genius was far more interesting than seeing his famous mural. Photo: Henry Lewis
I found Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper” (1498) to be rather unimpressive aesthetically, but it’s history is fascinating. Da Vinci, always the innovator attempted to use new techniques while executing the painting onto an exterior wall of he dining hall within Santa Maria delle Grazie. Over the years, the paint began to peel off the wall due to the outside moisture. Several later artists tried ‘touch-ups’ with less than pleasing effects. The current painting went through a 20-year scientific restoration with great care being taken to preserve Leonardo’s underlying forms without adding colors that may not have been original. The result is a painting that appears to be unfinished, but still reveals the essence of the artist’s original work.
La Scala Opera House
The exterior of Milan’s world-famous La Scala Opera House. Photo: Henry Lewis
Pinacoteca di Brera
Milan’s most important art museum is the Pinacoteca di Brera which contains what is arguably the city’s best collection of masterpieces. One of the museum’s most popular paintings is “The Kiss” painted by Francesco Hayez in 1859. Photo: Henry Lewis. Courtesy of the Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan.
peace and be well~henry