Be Italian - Day Two

True to our classic vacation style, our second day in Milan was a busy one. We started at the Pinacoteca di Brera, which must be associated with a university, because it was surrounded by students, many of whom were adamantly trying to sell us a Communist newspaper, despite our assertion that we didn't speak Italian to be able to read it. I was mostly interested in visiting the museum to see Andrea Mantegna's "Dead Christ," which is on my short list of favorite paintings. It was, indeed, quite cool, with a masterful use of foreshortening, though it was somewhat smaller than I had expected, but that is often the case when it comes to famous works of art, I've found.

Is it me, or does the Virgin Mary look like Mother Teresa in this?
They seemed to ascribe to an old-fashioned more is more philosophy when it came to displaying their collection; there were a large number of pieced crammed onto every wall and it the effect was somewhat overwhelming. I did notice that the balance of the collection was in surprisingly good condition -- midway through we ran across an elaborate conservation lab with glass windows open to the public, which was interesting to a museum nerd such as myself.

Home to the Sforza family.
After that, we walked over to the Castello Sforzesco, home to the Sforza family, who once ruled over the city. One gets the sense that they were not nice people, as their castle has enough fortifications to protect them from a huge army of enemies, and their family crest is an image of a dragon swallowing a man. Yikes!

Their crest says "benevolent rule," right?
Personally, I would have skipped the castle, but Dad loves them, and he was equally drawn to a Michelangelo sculpture on display in the Musei del Castello. He considers Michelangelo the greatest human genius ever (his words, not mine) and is determined to see every piece of his possible. This one, the unfinished Rondanini Pieta is very rough hewn, and not really much to see, in my opinion. It was a passion project for the artist, something he worked on at the end of his life, in his free time, without a patron. I'm not sure it was worth seeing, given how hard it was to find; we had to walk through the whole museum twice to find it, as the Italians seem reluctant to post informative signage anywhere.

Not Michelangelo's best work, in my opinion.
When we were done there, it was lunch time, when everything in Italy closes for 2-3 hours while people take their midday meal, so we were forced to do the same. We managed to hold our own at a restaurant with no English menu translation.  The only embarrassing moment came when Dad requested ice from the waiter, who seemed offended that that the drinks weren't sufficiently chilled to our liking, and then produced an entire bucket of ice for us -- more ice in one spot than I've seen in all my European travels combined! Given that this was no tourist establishment, I can only deduce that they had so much ice on hand because they had a great deal of seafood on the menu.

In the afternoon, we walked to a trio of churches, starting with Santa Maria delle Grazie, where the Last Supper is located. I thought perhaps we'd at least get to see the interior of the church, if not the painting, but you couldn't get in at all without a ticket. The ticket situation was partially my fault, as I had assumed one wouldn't need to book advance entry to see a piece of artwork located on the wall of a church, but apparently, due to the delicate conservation status of the work, the government only allows a limited number of people into the room with it at a time. By the time I learned about the ticket situation, it was too late; apparently they go on sale three months in advance, and due to the ongoing popularity of The da Vinci Code, they sell out shortly after they go on sale. We really had no chance, however, as we hadn't even picked out a travel date that far ahead of time.

Santa Maria delle Grazie, as viewed from the cloister garden, as close to the inside as we could get.
Second on the agenda was Sant' Ambrogio, a brick Romanesque church dedicated to the patron saint of Milan, who ordered the original construction of a church on that site in the 4th century, and whose skeleton, still dressed in his official vestments of office, is on view in the crypt. This is somewhat of an Italian tradition; similarly attired former popes are on view in the Vatican, and I thought it was kind of cool, though Dad was creeped out by it. I've always had a stronger appreciation for the macabre than most though...

I guess the creepiness factor is just a matter of cultural difference.
Last for the day was San Lorenzo Maggiore, which we had a great deal of trouble locating on foot. Dad mistook a closed-for-renovation church for this one, but my superior navigation skills saved the day, and we finally found it. It is an interesting church for its use of Roman and early Christian architectural fragments and mosaics, which they charge you an extra 2€ to see.

Dad was enamored of the giant statue of Constantine outside, and he was perturbed that the student group didn't move while we where there so he could pose for a photo next to it.
By then, since we'd walked the whole day, Dad was worn out and we'd seen everything on my list for the day, so we came back to the hotel so he could rest, and I could attend to my blogging for the day.

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