Leonardo: the genius in Milan
  • Europe /
  • Italy /
  • Milan

A unique tour for a special person. Explore Milan through the eyes of Leonardo da Vinci.

The art gallery
Heritage place of interest.
Heritage place of interest.
(Riccardo Ortelli, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons)
(Riccardo Ortelli, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons)
Heritage place of interest.
Roman Peristyle mosaic (by Simone Vaccari, CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)
Ambrosiana Library (by Simone Vaccari, CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)
Codex Atlanticus book (by Simone Vaccari, CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)
One of the Codex Atlanticus' pages with Leonardo's drawings (by Simone Vaccari, CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)
One of the Codex Atlanticus' pages with Leonardo's drawings (by Simone Vaccari, CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)
One of the Codex Atlanticus' pages with Leonardo's drawings (by Simone Vaccari, CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)
The famous "Ritratto di Musico" by Leonardo Da Vinci (by Simone Vaccari, CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)

So the Sforza family, after a period of alternating conquests by the French, finally fell with the last ruler Francesco II Sforza, who died in 1535 CE. After the French, Milan underwent other dominions, such as the Spanish and the Austrians, culminating in the Napoleonic Wars when the city was handed back into French hands in 1796 CE.

Heavy artistic losses characterised this period, and with the Napoleonic plundering, many Milanese works, including some by Leonardo, were stolen and sent to France. 

It is precisely these disastrous events of unscrupulous war and spoliations that somehow suggest the next destination: the Pinacoteca Ambrosiana.

The palace of the Pinacoteca was built in the 17th century, around two centuries before the french plundering. The Milanese Cardinal Federigo Borromeo founded it to house an extraordinary heritage of manuscripts and artistic works collected by his emissaries. Still, these walls saw dark periods when many pieces were seized under French rule.

Today’s complex boasts works unique worldwide, including Botticelli, Raphael, Caravaggio and Leonardo’s masterpieces

One exceptional work of Leonardo, the famous “Ritratto di Musico” (Portrait of a Musician), is within the walls of the Pinacoteca. Its uniqueness derives from the fact that it is the only painting on canvas preserved in Milan performed by the Florentine artist. It is curiously also the only painting of Leonardo with a male subject. Moreover, the original location and circumstances of the painting’s commission are unknown, and although some guesses exist, the subject’s true identity is still a mystery.

During his stay in Milan, Leonardo accomplished many other projects and pieces of art. Among his most notable and famous works are “The Virgin of The Rocks” (1483), “The Lady with The Ermine” (1490), the visited “Sala Delle Assi” by Sforza’s Castle, and the most famous: “The Last Supper” fresco, previously explored.

It is worth mentioning that “The Virgin of The Rocks,” consists of two paintings, not one. The first one was commissioned to Leonardo by friars to embellish their church. However, they never reached an agreement, and the painting was kept in Leonardo’s workshop for over 20 years. Finally, Leonardo made a second copy, a more affordable replica of the original, and this time met the needs of the friars who displayed it in their church. Today both representations, unfortunately, are not in Milan. The first is in the Louvre in Paris, and the second is in the National Gallery in London.

The renowned “The Lady with The Ermine” was a painting commissioned from Leonardo by Ludovico il Moro, representing his mistress and Leonardo’s friend, Cecilia Gallerani. Today the work is kept in the Kraków Museum and is one of Poland’s national treasures.

Nevertheless, the Pinacoteca Ambrosiana now boasts the most astonishing and extensive collection of Leonardo’s folios known, such as the Codex Atlanticus, a series of writings and drawings dating from 1478 to 1519 CE, which displays the artist’s resilient and ever-changing creativity. This unique book of drafts, calculations and a thousand other writings was kept in the Louvre in Paris for almost twenty years, only to return to his hometown after the end of the Napoleonic wars.

Notably, Leonardo’s famous Head of the Virgin also resided here in the Pinacoteca. But unfortunately, it was later taken by the French and went lost on its way to France in May 1796 CE.


1. Water dams

2. The statue

3. Leonardo’s museum

4. The symbol of Milan

5. Experiments

6. The castle

7. Santa Maria Delle Grazie

8. The masterpiece

9. Leonardo’s vineyard

10. The art gallery

11. A creativity that will last forever