Showing posts with label Castello Sforzesco. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Castello Sforzesco. Show all posts

3 January 2024

Beatrice d’Este – Duchess of Milan

The brief life of a politically astute noblewoman from Ferrara

Beatrice D'Este, portrayed in a painting by the 19th century Italian artist Francesco Podesti
Beatrice D'Este, portrayed in a painting by the
19th century Italian artist Francesco Podesti
Beatrice d’Este, who became Duchess of Bari and Milan after her marriage to Ludovico Sforza and was an important player in Italian politics during the late 15th century, died on this day in 1497 in Milan.

The Duchess was said to have shown great courage during the Milanese resistance against the French in what was later judged to be the first of the Italian Wars. At the time of the French advance on Milan, with her husband ill, Beatrice made the right decisions on his behalf and helped prevent the Duke of Orleans from conquering her adopted city.

Sadly, she died when she was just 21, after giving birth to a stillborn baby.

Beatrice was born in the Castello Estense in Ferrara in 1475, but spent her early years growing up in her mother’s home city of Naples. When she was 15, her family sent her to marry the 38-year-old Ludovico Sforza, nicknamed Il Moro - The Moor - because of his dark complexion, who was acting as regent of Milan on behalf of his nephew, Gian Galeazzo Sforza.

Ludovico and Beatrice’s wedding celebrations were directed by Leonardo da Vinci, who worked at the Castello Sforzesco in Milan for 17 years, designing elaborate festivals for the Sforza family as well as painting and sculpting.

Ludovico became Duke of Milan after Gian Galeazzo died in 1494, seemingly of natural causes. However, it was rumoured at the time he had been poisoned by his uncle.

Ludovico Sforza, to whom Beatrice was betrothed at 15
Ludovico Sforza, to whom
Beatrice was betrothed at 15
Beatrice found herself at the centre of court life in Milan, where she was much admired for her beauty, charm, and diplomatic skills.

As well as associating with Da Vinci and the architect, Donato Bramante, she spent time with poets such as Baldassare Castiglione and Niccolò da Correggio. Her husband seemed to have been genuinely fond of her, despite having a string of mistresses, and once described her as ‘happy by nature and very pleasing.’

Beatrice was trusted to represent her husband as an ambassador to Venice and she also attended a peace conference, along with many powerful political figures of the day, including Charles VIII, King of France.

She gave birth to two sons, Massimiliano, who was born in 1493, and Francesco, who was born in 1495. They each, in turn, went on to become the Duke of Milan.

Beatrice was on course to make Milan one of the greatest Renaissance capitals of Europe when her life ended abruptly.

Pregnant for the third time, she seemed to be in good health when she was seen out in her carriage on January 2, 1497.

Ludovico Sforza mourns his wife's death by her tomb in the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie
Ludovico Sforza mourns his wife's death by her
tomb in the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie
She waved to the crowds on her way to the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan, where Da Vinci was in the process of painting his famous masterpiece, The Last Supper, known in Italian as Il Cenacolo, on the wall of the refectory.

After saying her prayers in the church, Beatrice returned to the Castello Sforzesco, where she was said to have taken part in dancing during the evening. Afterwards, she started to suffer stomach pains and she gave birth to a stillborn son. She never recovered from the birth and died half an hour after midnight, on January 3.

Later that day, her heartbroken husband wrote about the sad news to his brother-in-law, Francesco II Gonzaga, who was married to Beatrice’s sister, Isabella. He asked for no visits of condolence, saying he wanted to be left alone to grieve. He remained locked in his apartment for two weeks and when he reappeared, he had shaved his head and was dressed in black, wearing an old, torn cloak.

The beautiful Beatrice has been immortalised in sculptures and paintings and has gone down in history as ‘a virago who showed the courage of a man’, during a time when Milan was at war.  

The Castello Sforzesco in Milan, almost 600 years old, is one of the largest castles in Europe
The Castello Sforzesco in Milan, almost 600 years
old, is one of the largest castles in Europe
Travel tip:

One of the main sights in Milan is the impressive Sforza castle, Castello Sforzesco, built by Francesco Sforza, Duke of Milan, in 1450. After Ludovico Sforza became Duke in 1494, he commissioned Leonardo da Vinci to fresco several of the rooms. The castle was built on the site of the Castello di Porta Giovia, which had been the main residence in the city of the Visconti family, from which Francesco Sforza was descended. The Viscontis ruled Milan for 170 years. Renovated and enlarged a number of times in subsequent centuries, it became one of the largest citadels in Europe and now houses several museums and art collections.  The Cairo metro station is opposite the main entrance to Castello Sforzesco, which is about a 20 minute walk from Milan’s Duomo.

Leonardo da Vinci's The Last Supper, which he painted on the wall of the refectory
Leonardo da Vinci's The Last Supper, which he
painted on the wall of the refectory
Travel tip:

Santa Maria delle Grazie, a church and Dominican convent in Milan, is home to Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece, The Last Supper - Il Cenacolo, which is on the wall of the refectory where the monks used to eat their meals. Entrance to the refectory is now limited to 25 people at a time for a maximum stay of 15 minutes and it is necessary to book a visit in advance.  In addition to Il Cenacolo, the church also has a chapel decorated with the frescoes Stories of Life and The Passion of Christ, by Gaudenzio Ferrari and other works by Ferrari, Titian and Bramantino. Titian’s painting, The Coronation of Thorns, once hung in the same chapel as the Ferrari frescoes but is now in the Louvre, in Paris.

Also on this day:

106BC: The birth of Roman politician and philosopher Cicero

1698: The birth of opera librettist Pietro Metastasio

1785: The death of composer Baldassare Galuppi

1877: The birth of textile entrepreneur and publisher Giovanni Treccani

1920: The birth of singer-songwriter Renato Carosone

1929: The birth of film director Sergio Leone

1952: The birth of politician Gianfranco Fini


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24 January 2020

Galeazzo Maria Sforza - Duke of Milan

Effective leader with dark side



Piero Pollaiuolo's portrait of Galeazzo, which is kept by Uffizi in Florence
Piero Pollaiuolo's portrait of Galeazzo,
which is kept by Uffizi in Florence
Galeazzo Maria Sforza, who became the second member of the Sforza family to take the title Duke of Milan, was born on this day in 1444 in Fermo, in what is now the Marche region.

Sforza was an effective ruler but is often remembered as a tyrant with a cruel streak.  He ruled Milan for just 10 years before he was assassinated in 1476.

In that time, Galeazzo did much to boost the economy of Milan and the wider area of Lombardia. He introduced measures to promote and protect the work of Lombard craftsmen and boosted agriculture by the introduction of jasmine farming and rice cultivation. Farsightedly, he realised that a healthy population was a more productive one and expanded the health institutions started by his father, Francesco Sforza.  He minted a new silver coin, the Testone, which carried an image of his profile on the reverse.

He saw to it that work on Milan’s cathedral, which had started almost 100 years earlier, continued to progress, and took over the construction of a major hospital that his father had wanted to see built.

Galeazzo was also a major patron of music, attracting composers and musicians not just in Italy but from northern Europe, especially the Franco-Flemish areas of present day Belgium and Holland. Alexander Agricola, Johannes Martini, Loyset Compère, and Gaspar van Weerbeke all had their standing boosted by their association with the Sforza court, where they composed masses, motets and secular music.

The Testone coin, bearing the image of Galeazzo Maria Sforza on the reverse
The Testone coin, bearing the image
of Galeazzo Maria Sforza on the reverse
He was also a patron of the arts, although this was mainly connected with the extravagant decoration and embellishment of the vast Castello Sforzesco. The castle had been built by his father, Francesco, but he and Galeazzo’s mother, Bianca Maria Visconti, chose to live in the more modest Corte d’Arengo rather than be seen to flaunt their wealth.

Such considerations were dismissed by Galeazzo, who decided the castle was a suitable home for him and his family and hired two Florentine architects of particular note, Bartolomeo Gadio and Benedetto Ferrini, to oversee the restructuring of the Ducal Court, Rocchetta courtyard and his own private accommodation.

He commissioned the Ducal Chapel, built in 1471, and engaged artists of considerable reputation such as Bonifacio Bembo, Giacomino Vismara and Stefano de Fedeli.  The chapel’s extraordinary decoration, with much use of pure gold, makes it one of the masterpieces of Sforza art.

A skilled soldier, Galeazzo was called back from a military expedition in France at the time of his father’s death and hundreds of Milanese turned out to acclaim him as the new Duke when he returned to the city. It was not long before his ruthless streak emerged, however. At first ruling jointly with his mother, he soon took steps to relegate her to a much less influential position and it was not long before she moved to Cremona, where she had considerable support.  It is said that she was in contact with Ferdinand I of Naples, an enemy of Galeazzo, and after she became ill and died in 1468 there were suspicions that Galeazzo had ordered his agents to poison her.

Part of the sumptuously decorated ceiling of the Ducal Chapel
Part of the sumptuously decorated
ceiling of the Ducal Chapel
If that were true, it would have been consistent with the stories of cruelty that have been associated with Galeazzo, who is said to have taken delight in condemning those who offended him to agonizing deaths and subjecting his enemies to torture.  A womaniser, he allegedly raped the wives and daughters of Milanese noblemen, confident that they would be too fearful for their own safety to raise objections.

However, his excesses and cruelties eventually cost him his life when three of high-ranking officials in his court, Carlo Visconti, Gerolamo Olgiati and Giovanni Andrea Lampugnani, conspired to assassinate him.  All three had motives, Lampugnani’s stemming from a land dispute that cost him a considerable part of his fortune, Olgiati’s from political differences, and Visconti’s from suspicions that Galeazzo had raped his daughter.

Their plot came to fruition on 26 December, the feast of Santo Stefano, when Galeazzo attended the Basilica di Santo Stefano Maggiore to celebrate the saint.  When Galeazzo arrived, Lampugnani knelt before him in the atrium but then rose suddenly and stabbed him in the groin and chest. Visconti and Olgiati joined in, plunging their own weapons into the body of the Duke, who was soon dead.

Lampugnani himself was killed by one of Galeazzo’s guards, while Visconti and Olgiati were caught and executed within days.  Galeazzo was succeeded as Duke of Milan by Gian Galeazzo Sforza, the first-born of his four legitimate children, although for five years, until his majority, Milan was governed by his mother, Bona of Savoy.

The inner courtyard of the Castello Sforzesco in Milan, which Galeazzo Maria Sforza turned into his luxurious home
The inner courtyard of the Castello Sforzesco in Milan,
which Galeazzo Maria Sforza turned into his luxurious home
Travel tip:

The Castello Sforzesco is one of the main sights for visitors to Milan, situated to the northwest of the city centre, with the Parco Sempione behind it. Francesco Sforza built it on the site of the Castello di Porta Giovia, which had been the main residence in the city of the Visconti family, from which Francesco was descended. The Viscontis ruled Milan for 170 years. Renovated and enlarged a number of times in subsequent centuries, it became one of the largest citadels in Europe and now houses several museums and art collections.

The Basilica of Santo Stefano Maggiore in Milan, the scene of Galeazzo Maria Sforza's assassination
The Basilica of Santo Stefano Maggiore in Milan, the
scene of Galeazzo Maria Sforza's assassination
Travel tip:

The Basilica of Santo Stafano Maggiore can be found in Piazza Santo Stefano, to the southeast of Milan’s centro storico, just a few minutes’ walk from the Duomo. Although it dates back to the fifth century, the present structure was built in 1075 in Romanesque style.  It contains the relics of at least eight saints. As well as being the scene of the death of Galeazzo Maria Sforza, an event which is commemorated with a plaque in the atrium, the church also witnessed the baptism, in 1571, of the painter Michelangelo Merisi, better known as Caravaggio.

Also on this day:

41AD: The assassination of Roman Emperor Caligula

1705: The birth of the castrato singer Farinelli, acknowledged as music’s first ‘superstar’

1916: The birth of actor Arnoldo Foà

1947: The birth of footballer Giorgio Chinaglia


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16 February 2019

Achille Castiglioni - designer

Leading figure in post-war Italian style


Achille Castiglioni regarded furniture-making as art
Achille Castiglioni regarded
furniture-making as art
The designer Achille Castiglioni, whose innovative ideas for lighting, furniture and items for the home put him at the forefront of Italy’s post-war design boom, was born on this day in 1918 in Milan.

Many of his designs, including the Arco floor lamp for which he is most famous, are still in production today, even 17 years after his death.

The Arco lamp, which he designed in 1962 in conjunction with his brother, Pier Giacomo, combined a heavy base in Carrara marble, a curved telescopic stainless steel arm and a polished aluminium reflector.

Designed so that the reflector could be suspended above a table or a chair, the Arco was conceived as an overhead lighting solution for apartments that removed the need for holes in the ceiling and wiring, yet as an object of simple chic beauty it came to be seen as a symbol of sophistication and good taste.

The Arco lamp, anchored in a block of marble, is perhaps Castiglioni's most famous creation
The Arco lamp, anchored in a block of marble, is
perhaps Castiglioni's most famous creation
The Arco was commissioned by the Italian lighting company Flos, which still produces numerous other lamps designed by Castiglioni.

Achille’s father was the sculptor Giannino Castiglioni. His brothers Livio and Pier Giacomo, both older, were architects.

He initially studied classics at the Liceo classico Giuseppe Parini in Milan, but switched to study the arts at the Liceo artistico di Brera. In 1937 he enrolled in the faculty of architecture of the Politecnico di Milano.

As was common for young Italians of his generation, the Second World War interrupted Achille’s progress. He joined up, became an officer in the artillery, and was stationed on the Greek front and later in Sicily, returning to Milan just before the Allied invasion of 1943. In March 1944 he was able to graduate.

The Mezzadro chair incorporated a tractor seat mounted on a metal and wood base
The Mezzadro chair incorporated a tractor seat
mounted on a metal and wood base
He joined the studio his brothers ran with Luigi Caccia Dominioni, another young Italian architect and designer. They designed interiors and created products, among them the Fimi-Phonola 547 radio, an extraordinary piece in metal and moulded bakelite that fulfilled the need to be inexpensive but was uniquely stylish.

After the war, Italy entered a kind of mini-Renaissance, inspired with the sense of a new beginning. Designers gave free rein to their imagination, often placing art above functionality in the design process. Castiglioni managed to marry the two.

When Livio left in 1952, Achille and Pier Giacomo continued to work together on innovative, sleekly modern designs for everyday objects and appliances. One creation, a vacuum cleaner in red plastic with a leather strap that the user could carry on his or her back, made for the REM company, can now be found in the Museum of Modern Art in New York, along with more than a dozen other Castiglioni designs.

Lighting was always Achille Castiglioni's speciality, enabling him to indulge his fascination with symbolism and theatricality. From the 1960s to the ‘80s, seen as Milan’s heyday as the city of design - he applied the same creative strategy to a wide range of projects, as diverse as hi-fi equipment and hospital beds.

Castiglioni's unique bakelite radio, the  Fimi-Phonola 547
Castiglioni's unique bakelite radio, the
Fimi-Phonola 547
He embraced the concept of using ‘found objects’ to create unusual but functional furniture, such as his Sella - saddle - stool, which featured a bicycle seat atop a pole with a rounded base designed as a telephone stool. Another seating solution, the Mezzadro, incorporated a tractor seat.

In his later years, after Pier Giacomo's death, Achille remained active in the studio in Piazza Castello but also went back to college, this time to lecture in design, first at the Polytechnic of Turin and later as a professor at the Polytechnic of Milan.

Castiglioni, who was one of the founding members of Association for Industrial Design (Associazione per il Disegno Industriale), established in 1956, died in 2002 at the age of 84. He was survived by his wife, Irma, and three children.

Castiglioni's studio, now a museum, is close to Milan's magnificent Castello Sforzesco
Castiglioni's studio, now a museum, is close to Milan's
magnificent Castello Sforzesco

Travel tip:

Castiglioni’s studio in the Piazza Castello in Milan has been turned into a museum, looked after by his youngest daughter, Giovanna. It is also the headquarters of the Fondazione Achille Castiglioni, established in 2011 to celebrate his work but also to promote innovative and stylish design. Piazza Castello is the semi-circular space surrounding the Castello Sforzesco, Milan’s impressive 15th century castle, which can be found about a 20-minute walk from the Duomo in a northwesterly direction. The Fondazione, at Piazza Castello 27, is open to the public via guided visits only, which take about an hour and cost €10. For more information, visit http://fondazioneachillecastiglioni.it/en/visits/

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The main building of the Politecnico di Milano in Piazza Leonardo da Vince in the Città Studi
The main building of the Politecnico di Milano in
Piazza Leonardo da Vince in the Città Studi
Travel tip:

The Politecnico di Milano was founded in November 1863 by Francesco Brioschi, secretary of the Ministry of Education and rector of the University of Pavia. It is the oldest university in Milan. Originally, only civil and industrial engineering were taught. Architecture was introduced in 1865 in cooperation with the Brera Academy. There were only 30 students admitted in the first year; today, there are 42,000. Its central offices and headquarters are on Piazza Leonardo da Vinci, located in the historical campus of Città Studi in Milan, about 3.5km (2 miles) northeast of the city centre.


More reading:

How Marco Zanuso's ideas put Italy at the forefront of contemporary design

The Rome designer who became England's Royal jeweller

Flaminio Bertoni: car design as sculpture

Also on this day:

1740: The birth of Giambattista Bodoni - printer and type designer


1970: The birth of footballer Angelo Peruzzi

1979: The birth of multiple world motorcycling champion Valentino Rossi

(Picture credits: Mezzadro chair by Sailko; Watch by austincalhoon; Castello Sforzesco by Gpaolo; Politecnico by Luigi Brambilla; all via Wikimedia Commons)


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27 May 2017

Lucrezia Crivelli – lady in waiting

Mystery of the beautiful woman in painting by Leonardo


For many years, it was assumed the woman in Da Vinci's La belle Ferronnière was Sforza's mistress, Lucrezia Crivelli
For many years, it was assumed the woman
in Da Vinci's La belle Ferronnière was
Sforza's mistress, Lucrezia Crivelli
Lucrezia Crivelli, mistress of Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan, who was for a long time believed to be the subject of a painting by Leonardo da Vinci, died on this day in 1508 in Canneto sull’Oglio in Lombardy.

Crivelli served as a lady in waiting to Ludovico Sforza’s wife, Beatrice d’Este, from 1475 until Beatrice’s death in 1497.

She also became the Duke’s mistress and gave birth to his son, Giovanni Paolo, who went on to become the first Marquess of Caravaggio and a celebrated condottiero.

Crivelli lived for many years in the Castello of Canneto near Mantua under the protection of Isabella d’Este, the elder sister of Beatrice, until her death in 1508.

Coincidentally, her former lover, Ludovico Sforza, is believed to have died on the same day in 1508 while being kept prisoner in the dungeons of the castle of Loches in Touraine in France, having been captured by the French during the Italian Wars.

It was never proved, but it was assumed for many years that Crivelli may have been the subject of Leonardo da Vinci’s painting La belle Ferronnière, which is displayed in the Louvre in Paris. Another theory was that either Beatrice d’Este or Isabella of Aragon could have been the subject.

It is now thought LucreziaCrivelli was the subject of Da Vinci's Profile of a Young Lady
It is now thought LucreziaCrivelli was the subject
of Da Vinci's Profile of a Young Lady
It was originally believed to be Crivelli because da Vinci had painted another of Ludovico Sforza’s mistresses, Cecilia Gallerani, in his painting Lady with an Ermine.

Eventually the theory was disproved when a painting of Lucrezia Crivelli, also by da Vinci and which had been kept by her family for centuries, was put on display in Germany in 1995. The woman in this painting, Profile of a Young Lady, is thought not to be the same woman who featured in La belle Ferronnière.

The real Crivelli painting has been examined by the man who restored The Last Supper, Pinin Barcillon Brambilla, who found some pigments to be the same as those of the Milanese mural.

The Castello Sforzesco in Milan
The Castello Sforzesco in Milan
Travel tip

One of the main sights in Milan is the impressive Sforza castle, Castello Sforzesco, built in the 15th century by Francesco Sforza, Duke of Milan. After Ludovico Sforza became Duke of Milan in 1494 he commissioned Leonardo da Vinci to fresco several rooms. The castle now houses some of the city’s museums and art galleries. For more information visit www.milanocastello.it

Travel tip

Canneto sull’Oglio, where Lucrezia Crivelli died, is in the province of Mantua in Lombardy, about 100 km (62 miles)  south of Milan. It is home to the restaurant Dal Pescatore, which has three Michelin stars. Run by the Santini family, the restaurant is famous for its pumpkin-stuffed tortelli.