Saturday, December 3, 2016

Highlights of Milan

Welcome to Milano!  Today we met with David from Milan Day Tours for a private tour of the city. We started out at the Duomo di Milano.  David is part of the cool kids club so we were able to skip the line and head straight in to the beautiful cathedral.

So in Italy it is "normale" for things to move at a snail's pace but the time it took for the Milanese to make a decision on the facade of the Duomo has to be a record.  It took 400 years for the Milanese to decide on the facade and that was only after Napoleon gave them 4 years to make a decision!

The central door of the Duomo tells the story of Christianity. During WWII, Milan was severely damaged and the Duomo also suffered from the bombing. Evidence is shown in this panel from the central door.   The heart of Mary was hit by some of the shrapnel.

On two of the panels, you notice the shiny bronze from being rubbed by patrons.  The panel on the left is the last time Mary is able to hold the hand of her son before he is killed.  People that have lost a loved one often rub the hands in memory of the ones they have lost.  The panel on the right is a bit less sentimental.  Students of Milan will rub the legs of Jesus and his abuser as they prepare for exams as a way of saying "professor please stop the abuse"...a bit melodramatic of the students in my opinion to compare their exams to the same level of abuse Jesus suffered.

The marble used to build the church has a life expectancy of approximately 150 years as it is very soft. On a recent renovation, the face on the left was found to be in good condition but the one on the right had to be replaced. 

One of the most famous pieces of art in the Duomo is the sculpture of St. Bartholomew.  He was condemned to one of the cruelest forms of punishment known to man.  He was skinned alive and beheaded...often called Syrian Martyrdom. The statue shows him flayed and holding a bible.  

After the Duomo, we walked through The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II.  Vittorio Emanuele II was the first king of the united Italy.  The Galleria is one of the oldest shopping malls in the world and today is filled with all the top Italian fashion brands.

Inside the Galleria there is the crest for the city of Milano as well as Turin (aka Torino). The crest for Turnin (the first capital of a united Italy) has become quite the tourist attraction as the bull was "gifted" and the earlier performers at La Scala (opera house) would come spin three times on him for good luck.  Today, tourists will spin three times...first for good luck, second for good fortune and third to return to Milano one day.

La Scala unfourtunately was not open for touring today as they were testing the lights which we believe means working on the lights...oh visit.

A nice walk through the artistic Brera district followed.  The Brera Academy is located here where students study fine arts and are surrounded by works of the masters for inspiration.  This section is also near the castle and back in the day is where the "ladies" the soldiers would visit lived.

Brera Academy Courtyard

Sforza Castle dates back to 1450. we were greeted by a musician playing Stand By Me...not exactly music of the medieval period.  

Our final stop of the tour was Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper!  Due to the delicate nature of the painting, you are limited to only 15 minutes and each time slot has a maximum of 30 people.  I'm so glad we had David with us as he provided so much insight into the painting.  Getting tickets to the Last Supper is nearly impossible if you don't go through a tour company as most of the big companies buy up all the tickets as soon as they are available then sell them to the smaller companies like Milan Day Tours.  Or as David called the scheme...legalized black market.  I tried to book tickets for us three months ago and all the days we were in Milan were booked. Fortunately Elisa with Milan Day Tours was able to get us tickets and a great guide in David to boot!

It was clear David had spent a great deal of time studying the painting and had a passion for art as he had such amazing insight into the work.  Through his discussion, you felt like you were in the room when the event took place and could hear the actual conversations happening as Jesus said "one of you will betray me".  From his research, David learned that Leonardo only wanted to paint one moment of the evening of the Last Supper and chose that precise moment.  Honestly I believe if we had seen the painting on our own, I would not have the new appreciation I have for it and may have walked away feeling like I did when I saw the Mona Lisa.

Leonardo was commissioned by the monks to decorate the dining hall of the monastary and one of the monks suggested the Last Supper.  Leonardo choose paint as his medium for the masterpiece.  At the other end of the Refectory is a fresco by a famous Milanese painter, Donato da Montorfano.  The Crucifixion took far less time to complete than the Last Supper in spite of The Crucifixion being a fresco.  Typically frescoes take longer because only small amounts can be completed at a time but because of Leonardo's approach it took him much longer than Donato and it often frustrated the monks.  Leonardo would be absent for days at a time, come in and just look at the picture waiting for just the right light, make a stroke or two and then leave.

After our tour with David, we headed back over to the Duomo area for dinner on the square.  All in all a very fun day!  Tomorrow we head to Lake Como for the day.

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