The Duomo Museum was opened to the public in 1953. My travel guide to Milan and the Lakes (2010) claimed the museum was closed for renovation, but it seems to have reopened in 2013. Although it is not as impressive as, for instance, the Duomo Museum in Florence, the Museo del Duomo still has an interesting collection of objects related to the city’s cathedral. Visitors can admire statues, paintings, stained glass panes, tapestries and many other precious artworks. The atmosphere in the museum is wonderful. The objects are positioned against a dark background and the lighting is very good.
“The six centuries of uninterrupted production of statuary are well represented in the collection”, according to the museum’s own website. I am by no means an expert with regard to sculpture, but I especially liked the collection of Gothic and early Renaissance statues of evangelists, saints and other people. The sculptor Benedetto Briosco (ca. 1460-1517) was perhaps responsible for a fine statue of Saint Agnes, made in 1491. The name ‘Agnes’ means ‘pure’ in Greek, but it was quickly associated with the Latin word agnus, meaning ‘lamb’. As is often the case in Christian art, Saint Agnes is depicted with a lamb here.
The museum also possesses a statue (ca. 1474) of the young Galeazzo Maria Sforza (1444-1476), who was Duke of Milan from 1466 until his assassination on 26 December 1476. As a fifteen-year-old, Galeazzo Maria had travelled to Florence to discuss the possibility of a new crusade. He was subsequently immortalised by Benozzo Gozzoli in one of the frescoes of the Cappella dei Magi of the Palazzo Medici Riccardi.
The most interesting painting in the museum’s collection is, in my opinion, The Dispute of Jesus with the Doctors in the Temple by the Venetian artist Tintoretto (1518-1594). We have previously seen some of his work in the Pinacoteca di Brera. His Dispute of Jesus can be dated to 1541-1542, when the painter was still a young man. According to a review in the Financial Times, the painting, “which shows Christ as an insubstantial figure dwarfed by two faux-Michelangelo giants, is an unqualified failure of scale, proportion and perspective”. Okay, so it is not a masterpiece. I like it nonetheless.
The museum is also quite proud of a panel painted on both sides by Michelino da Besozzo (ca. 1370-1455). It is known as the Madonna dell’Idea and apparently it is still carried around during processions. Michelino painted it in the International Gothic style the middle of the fifteenth century. It shows a Madonna and Child on the one side and the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple on the other. There has been much scholarly debate about the word ‘Idea’ in the name of the painting. Apparently, some believe it derives from the pagan cult of Magna Mater Idea (The Great Mother), for others it simply refers to the Greek word ἰδέα, which means “form” or “image”.
One of the museum’s showpieces is a scale model of the Duomo, commissioned from Bernardo Zenale (ca. 1460-1526) in 1519. Zenale was a painter and architect, who would become chief architect of the Duomo a few years later. His model (see the image above) is made of lime and walnut and has a scale of 1:20.
Perhaps the most prized artefact in the museum is a crucifix that is known as Aribert’s Cross. Aribert or Ariberto da Intimiano was archbishop of Milan from 1018 until 1045. The crucifix is made of bronze and used to be in the church of San Dionigi, demolished in 1783. We can see Aribert at Christ’s feet, holding a miniature model of the church, which he probably rebuilt (the founding of the church is attributed to Saint Ambrosius, but this is not certain). Aribert is labelled as INDIGNVS, or “unworthy”.
The church of San Gottardo in Corte is now part of the museum. It can be entered from one of the corridors.