Exhibiting Renaissance Art at the Poldi Pezzoli Museum in Milan

From the Permanent Collection to Temporary Exhibitions

  • Federica Manoli (Autor/in)


Gian Giacomo Poldi Pezzoli started his career as a collector in 1848. Aiming to achieve a summa of the history of every form of art. From the archaeological age up to the 19th century, he progressively focused on Renaissance. His exhibiting criterion was based on the contextualization of the collections in historical rooms: the Gothic style for the Armory, the Baroque style for the porcelain collection, the medieval style for the cabinet and three rooms inspired to the Renaissance art. His house-museum opened to the public in 1881. The most important change in the display of the collections took place after the second world war bombing. In the reconstruction a very sober style was chosen and the various directors that followed, tried to keep it up to date according to the most recent museological and museographical theories, without ever completely renewing it. The first temporary exhibition was organized in 1922 and the first show on Renaissance art was held in 1982-83. It was entitled Zenale e Leonardo and it focused on Lombard art from 1480 to the early 16th century. The idea of the exhibition came up during the restoration of the two Poldi Pezzoli's panels representing St. Stephen and St. Anthony from Padua. The show had to revolve around the reconstruction of the Triptych of the Immaculate Conception (Cantù) by Bernardo Zenale, to which the panels originally belonged. More than fifty paintings by Zenale and followers of Leonardo were shown in the exhibition, in order to better contextualize the triptych in the Lombard artistic milieu. This show introduced in the Poldi Pezzoli Museum a new way of conceiving exhibitions, which had to focus and give value to the permanent collections through research campaigns, often showing a limited number of artworks. This became a guideline, which is still followed today.