A Guide to Milan’s Pinacoteca di Brera

If you only go to one museum in Milan, make it the Pinacoteca di Brera. Even if you don’t think you care much for museums or artwork, this small gallery located in central Milan doesn’t demand much time. In just one hour, you can take a comprehensive tour of European art dating from the 13th century to modern day.

In this guide to Milan’s Pinacoteca di Brera, I’ll share a brief history of the museum, what makes it special, and the Pinacoteca di Brera’s must-see masterpieces. Of course, I’ve also included all the need-to-know details about visiting the Pinacoteca di Brera including how to get there, ticket prices, operating hours, and much more.

About Milan’s Pinacoteca di Brera

Milan’s Pinacoteca di Brera opened to the public in 1882. The name of this museum literally translates to “Art Gallery of Brera” in English. The gallery fills the entire first floor (that’s the second floor to any Americans here) of Palazzo Brera.

Palazzo Brera is a 17th-century Renaissance-style building that also houses the Brera Library, the Astronomic Observatory, the Lombard Institute for Science and Art, and the Academy of Fine Arts. Behind the Palazzo, you’ll find a botanical garden.

In many ways, the Palazzo Brera is the center of Milan’s popular Brera neighborhood. This small neighborhood tucked behind the famed Duomo Cathedral is known for its art, design, and fashion houses.

The Pinacoteca di Brera collection includes sculptures, paintings, and even church alters and chapels. The collection started in the early 19th century when Milan was under Napoleonic rule, in part to preserve religious artwork that Napoleon had seized. However, the collection isn’t limited to Italian or religious art. You’ll find works from other European masters like Van Dyck, Rubens, and Rembrandt.

7 Must See Masterpieces at Pinacoteca di Brera

Despite its small size, the Pinacoteca di Brera houses a disproportionate number of European masterpieces. While you should never limit your art appreciation to just a museum’s most popular pieces, if you’re in a hurry, here are a handful of Pinacoteca di Brera’s most important pieces to seeking out.

1. “The Marriage of the Virgin” by Raphael

“The Marriage of the Virgin” was commissioned by the Albizzini family for their chapel in the Church of San Francesco al Prato in Città di Castello, Italy. 

The painting depicts the marriage ceremony of Mary and Joseph, a significant event in Christian tradition. In the composition, Mary and Joseph stand at the center, surrounded by witnesses and attendants. The scene is set in a classical architectural setting, with figures arranged in a harmonious and balanced manner.

2. “The Dead Christ and Three Mourners” by Andrea Mantegra

The exact purpose of the painting is not entirely clear, but it is believed to have been created as part of Mantegna’s personal artistic expression rather than being commissioned for a specific patron or location.

The painting depicts the body of Christ lying on a stone slab, surrounded by three grieving figures. The figures are likely Mary, the mother of Jesus, Mary Magdalene, and Saint John the Evangelist, although interpretations may vary. 

Mantegna’s skillful use of foreshortening and perspective creates a dramatic and emotionally charged scene, emphasizing the sorrow and grief of the mourners. The painting is renowned for its realism and emotional intensity, reflecting Mantegna’s innovative approach to composition and subject matter.

3. “St. Mark Preaching in a Square of Alexandria in Egypt” by Gentile and Giovanni Bellini

St. Mark Preaching in a Square of Alexandria in Egypt” is a collaborative painting by the Italian Renaissance artists Gentile and Giovanni Bellini. The painting was commissioned by the Scuola Grande di San Marco, a confraternity in Venice, Italy, dedicated to Saint Mark.

It depicts the scene of Saint Mark, the patron saint of Venice, preaching in a square in Alexandria, Egypt. St. Mark is shown standing on a raised platform, surrounded by a diverse group of people listening attentively to his words. 

The architecture and setting reflect the artists’ interpretation of ancient Egyptian and Venetian elements, creating a rich and exotic atmosphere. The painting celebrates the missionary work of St. Mark and serves as a symbol of Venetian pride and identity.

4. “Supper at Emmaus” by Caravaggio

“Supper at Emmaus” is a famous painting by the Italian Baroque artist Caravaggio. It was likely commissioned by Ciriaco Mattei, a wealthy Roman nobleman and patron of the arts.

The painting depicts the moment when the resurrected Jesus reveals himself to two of his disciples in the town of Emmaus, as recounted in the Gospel of Luke (Luke 24:13-35). 

In the painting, Jesus, unrecognized by the disciples at first, is shown breaking bread with them at a table. The dramatic use of light and shadow, characteristic of Caravaggio’s style, emphasizes the emotional intensity of the moment and draws the viewer’s attention to the figures and their expressions. The painting is celebrated for its realism, emotional depth, and innovative use of chiaroscuro.

5. “The Kiss” by Francesco Hayez

“The Kiss” is one of Hayez’s masterpieces. The painting was created as an expression of the artist’s romantic ideals and aesthetic sensibilities.

“The Kiss” depicts a passionate embrace between a man and a woman against a backdrop of ruins. The couple is portrayed in a tender and intimate moment, their faces illuminated by soft light. The painting exudes a sense of longing, desire, and romanticism, capturing the essence of love and affection. 

Hayez’s skillful use of color, composition, and brushwork contributes to the emotional impact of the scene, making it one of the most iconic images of Romanticism in Italian art.

6. “Pieta” by Giovanni Bellini

In this painting, Mary and John The Evangelist mourn Jesus, whose upright body they support. The dark colors used in this image add to the solemn aura of the painting. 

There is little information about if it was commissioned, or who owned it.  

7. “Christ at the Column” by Bramantino (1490-1500)

The painting depicts the biblical scene of Christ being scourged at the pillar, a moment of intense suffering during the Passion of Christ. 

In the composition, Christ is shown bound to a column while being whipped by Roman soldiers. The scene is depicted with a sense of realism and emotional intensity, reflecting the artist’s skill in portraying human emotion and the dramatic events of the biblical narrative. 

Bramantino’s use of light and shadow enhances the dramatic effect of the scene, drawing the viewer’s attention to the central figure of Christ and his suffering.

Why visit the Pinacoteca di Brera

  • In 37 galleries, the Pinacoteca di Brera houses more than 400 pieces of art from the 13th – 20th centuries.
  • The gallery is located in Palazzo Brera, a true Milan landmark in the heart of the Brera district. The Renaissance-style building itself is worth seeing. Don’t miss the statue of Napoleon styled as the Roman god Mars in the central courtyard!
  • Conveniently located just a short walk from popular Milan sites like the Duomo and Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, it’s easy to incorporate a visit to the gallery into any Milan itinerary.
  • Although the art gallery is now independent of the Academy of Fine Arts, art education is still at the core of the Pinacoteca di Brera. With their informative plaques with facts and creative ways to look at each piece, you’d be hard-pressed not to walk away from the Pinacoteca di Brera without a greater appreciation of art, even if you only stay for a few minutes.   

What to expect from the Pinacoteca di Brera

Expect an intimate art-viewing experience at Pinacoteca di Brera. Although you’re surrounded by some of the most important pieces of art in the world, Pinacoteca di Brera seems to prioritize visitors building a relationship with the collection rather than just being impressed by it. To do this, the gallery goes above and beyond in creating ways to connect with artwork.

Plentiful benches (some portable) encourage visitors to explore and soak in pieces of art they feel particularly drawn to. You’ll find many visitors – often armed with pen and sketchbook – taking advantage of the gallery’s ample seating space. The gallery also offers drawing kits for younger visitors.

You don’t have to be an art historian to enjoy the Pinacoteca di Brera’s collection. That’s in large part thanks to the gallery’s detailed exhibit panels which are printed in both Italian and English.

These panels share much more than just each piece’s title and artist. Instead, they draw you into each piece of art with stories and interesting facts about its creation.

It’s worth watching for special icons that encourage visitors to engage with their senses of touch, smell, or sound when looking at a particular piece. For example, on the plaque for Francesco Hayez’s The Kiss, the museum mounted an example of the fabric depicted in the woman’s dress in Hayez’s painting. It really heightens your connection to a piece when you can identify tactually with it.

You can also download free maps and audio guides on your phone to further enhance your visit to Pinacoteca di Brera.

What makes Pinacoteca di Brera special

Small enough not to be overwhelming, Pinacoteca di Brera is the perfect place to get a taste of art in Milan. It’s also very easy to locate since it’s within easy walking distance of other popular Milan sites like the Duomo and Sfozesco Castle.

The gallery doesn’t bring much attention to itself. If you just pop your head in the courtyard when passing by to take a photo of the opulent Napoleon as Mars the Peacemaker sculpture, you might miss the staircase leading up to the gallery entrance on the first floor of Palazzo Brera. But if you did that, you’d seriously be missing out.

Aside from its remarkable collection, this museum does an excellent job of drawing visitors into the artwork through free downloadable resources like audio guides and excellent informational plaques. As a bonus, in one gallery they have a restoration workshop set up so you observe art being actively restored.

Visiting Milan’s Pinacoteca di Brera

How to get there:

The Pinacoteca di Brera is conveniently located in central Milan, about a 15-minute walk northwest of the Duomo.

Address: Pinacoteca di Brera, Via Brera, 28, 20121 Milano

The closest metro stops: Cairoli, Lanza, and Montenapoleone

Bus routes: 61 (stop Monte di Pieta or via Pontaccio) and 57 (stop Forobuonaparte)

Tram routes: Cusani (routes 1-2-12-14) and Lanza (route 4)

Tickets:

15 euros for the Breracard which allows entrance to the gallery for up to 3 months.

Pinacoteca di Brera offers various discounted admission rates. On the first Sunday of the month, admission is free with a reservation. 

The website urges visitors to make reservations online ahead of time, but we had no issues with a walk-up admission during our late November Milan trip. If you don’t want to miss out, I’d recommend reserving ahead of time. Just make sure you arrive during the 15-minute admission window you booked.

Hours:

Tuesdays: 9 a.m. – 6:30 p.m. The last admission is at 5 p.m.

Wednesdays – Sundays: 8:30 a.m. – 7:15 p.m. The last admission is at 6 p.m.

Closed Mondays

Facilities on site:

In addition to the 37 galleries, the Pinacoteca di Brera also includes a coatroom, bookstore, restrooms, and Caffe Fernanda.

The Pinacoteca counts with a lift to access the gallery. The museum also offers two mobility scooters.

Amount of time:

One hour is the perfect amount of time to spend in Pinacoteca di Brera’s galleries, especially if you are planning to stick to the must-see artworks listed in this post.

Conclusion: Why You Should Visit Milan’s Pinacoteca di Brera

If you’re an art student or simply a fan of late medieval and Renaissance Italian art, you don’t want to miss Milan’s Pinacoteca di Brera. This is the perfect museum to visit in Milan if you’ve already visited Rome’s Vatican Museums and Florence’s Uffizi Gallery.

This thoughtfully laid-out art gallery takes you on a journey through European art history as told by some of Italy’s most prominent artists like Raphael and Caravaggio.

Best of all, unlike Milan’s most famous piece (Da Vinci’s The Last Supper), you can spend as much time as you like in front of each piece. In fact, the museum’s interpretative information and resources encourage visitors to dive deeper into the story and importance of each piece.

This bite-sized gallery is a peaceful diversion from Milan’s bustling streets and crowded piazzas. As you create your Milan itinerary, be sure to budget about an hour for the Pinacoteca di Brera.

Written by Ada of Beyond the Yellow Brick Road: A Travel Blog

Ada is the Minnesota-based travel writer behind Beyond the Yellow Brick Road: A Travel Blog.  Follow along on her adventures on Instagram and Facebook. She’s lived in three countries and visited all 50 states. In addition to traveling the world, she runs a Boundary Waters outfitters and helps people plan canoe trips and outdoor adventures in the northeastern Minnesota wilderness.

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