One of the leading public galleries in Italy, the Brera differs from those in Florence, Rome, Naples, Turin, Modena, and Parma in that its origins lie not in the collections of the nobility, princes or courts, but in the cultural politics of the state in the Napoleonic era, reflecting the democratic concepts of the French Revolution.
Like the Gallerie dell'Accademia in Venice and the Pinacoteca in Bologna, the Brera was originally founded as an appendage, for didactic ends, to an academy of fine arts. However, the Milanese gallery soon took a different direction and, to meet the political requirements of the capital city of Kingdom of Italy, was transformed into a large modern national museum in which works of all the schools of paintings of the conquered territories could be safely preserved to be studied and compared, and to be seen by the public at large.
At this period, the paintings on display already included the Crucifixion by Bramantino, 'St Helen, St Barbara, St Andrew, St Macarius, Another Saint and a Donor Adoring the Cross' by Tintoretto, the triptych of St Helen and Constantine by Palma Vecchio, the 'Marriage of the Virgin' by Raphael, and the 'Virgin and Child' of 1510 by Giovanni Bellini.
In 1805, when Napoleon was crowned king of Italy, it was decreed that works of art requisitioned in the departments of the kingdom should be brought to the Academy in Milan, where those by the most famous artists would be displayed in the gallery. Additions to the collections in 1850 included the 'Brera Alterpiece' by Piero della Francesca, the 'Pietà' by Giovanni Bellini and a number of paintings acquired from the famous Galleria Sampieri of Bologna. In the same period numerous detached frescoes were brought to the gallery from various churches; today the gallery has what is possibly the largest collection of this kind.
From 1815 onwards, with the restoration of Austrian rule and after the restitution of a number of works to the Papal States, the collection continued to grow, although at a slower rate, thanks to bequests, gifts, purchases and exchanges. Works acquired by the Gallery before the unification of Italy include the 'Adoration of the Magi' by Stefano da Verona, the 'Dead Christ' by Mantegna, the 'Madonna of the Rose Garden' by Luini, and three portraits by Lotto, donated by Vittorio Emanuele II after his entry in Milan with Napoleon III.
In 1882 the Gallery became independent of the Academy of Fine Arts, which, because it was principally concerned with teaching, continued to be owner of a large part of the contemporary paintings, although they were still displayed in the last rooms of the Brera Gallery.
In the period from 1898 to 1903, when Corrado Ricci, an eminent art historian, was director of the gallery, important changes were made and for the first time the paintings were divided into different regional schools, each in chronological order. Acquisitions continued with Bramante's 'Men at Arms', four small panels from predella of Valle Romita by Gentile da Fabriano and 63 paintings donated by the collector and art dealer Casimiro Sipriot.
Since 1926 many purchases and gifts have been made under the auspices of the Associazione Amici di Brera, a cultural organisation which also promotes educational activities, and enabled the Gallery to acquire such outstanding works as Caravaggio's 'Supper at Emmaus', Silvestro Lega's 'Pergola' and Giovanni Segantini's 'Spring Pastures'.
After the Second World War the task of rebuilding was begun under the supervision of Piero Portaluppi, and (in the case of one wing) of Franco Albini. The Gallery was reopened in 1950.
When Franco Russoli became director in 1973, the Gallery had suffered from twenty years of inadequate funding, poor maintenance and lack of space. He brought this situation dramatically to public attention in 1974 by closing the Gallery; the positive outcome was the launching of the 'Grande Brera' project, which aimed to enlarge the Gallery by making use of the 18th-century Palazzo Citterio, together with some rebuilding of the Brera itself.
Under Carlo Bertelli (1977-1984), the Gallery was reopened and new spaces were acquired by incorporating the 18th-century astronomer's apartment to display the gift by Emilio and Maria Jesi of paintings and sculptures by leading Italian artists of the early 20th-century.
Since 1989 a complex new scheme was devised for the rebuilding and rationalisation of the rooms in the Gallery. The plan for the reorganisation was drawn up by Vittorio Gregotti, and has so far been realised in the Napoleonic rooms and in a series of smaller rooms (II-VII), and in room XXI. At the same time, the paintings in the Gallery were rearranged and numerous works, formerly on loan to other institutions, were displayed.
There are also various recently acquired works, including the 'Human Flood' by Pelizza da Volpedo, the 'Crucifixion' by Gentile da Fabriano and 'St John the Baptist' by Donato de' Bardi.
Palazzo di Brera
10,00 / 7,00 EUR
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