A Milan mansion full of inventiveness

In Art and history, Travels and events by Roger Thomas

On a recent day trip to Milan to see the extraordinary Dentro Caravaggio exhibition at the Palazzo Reale, we stopped by another museum. Our dear friend Nicolò Rubelli suggested it as the Milan equivalent of the famed Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, which houses the assemblages of an extraordinary collector arrayed much as she lived with them every day in the fantastic surroundings of her own private Italianate palace.
The Museo Bagatti Valsecchi on the Via Gesù is a private home designed and built in the late 19th century in Italian Renaissance style by two brothers, Fausto and Giuseppe, scions of an important Milanese dynasty. The house is filled with collections of furnishings and art objects of the era.
Inventiveness was required here: To hide a shower in a carved stone archway above a marble Roman tub replete with stone salamanders at play, to hide a pianoforte in what seems to be a credenza and to conceal plumbing in the tripod leg of a copper basin for the bathroom sink.  Handwoven cut velvet fabrics were made in slightly different scales so that each wall of an eccentric room could have perfectly centered motifs between windows and meet perfectly in corners.
Rich in color, texture and form the spaces are truly transportive. (And the Caravaggio exhibition is truly one of the most beautiful, dramatic, amazing and informative exhibitions I have seen this century. Perhaps more on that at another time!)

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