Gian Giacomo Poldi Pezzoli
To collect: a family passion
Gian Giacomo Poldi Pezzoli was born in Milan on the 27th of July 1822, the second son of Giuseppe Poldi Pezzoli and Rosa Trivulzio.Giuseppe Poldi Pezzoli (1768 - 1833) inherited in 1818 a great wealth from his uncle Giuseppe Pezzoli, whom family had been in charge of the tax collecting for the Austrian government. The inheritance included one of the most beautiful palaces in the centre of Milan, where the museum is now housed, with a wonderful garden decorated with statues and fountains. In 1819 Giuseppe Poldi Pezzoli married the young princess Rosa Trivulzio (1800-1859).
The Trivulzio family had one of the most splendid art collections in Milan. Rosa was the daughter of Marquis Gian Giacomo Trivulzio (1774 - 1831), who was an important intellectual in the Milanese Neoclassical scene. He was not only a close friend of some of the most distinguished men of culture of the time, such as the poets Vincenzo Monti and Giuseppe Parini, Gian Giacomo Trivulzio but also a member of the Crusca Academy, the institution founded in 1583 with the aim of safeguarding the purity of the Italian language. A Dante scholar, he also acquired antique books for the family library, namely the Trivulziana Library (now owned by the Milan City Council). Rosa played harp and was a lover of fine arts.
On the right: Giuseppe Molteni, Portrait of Rosa Trivulzio in her villa in Bellagio, 1829, Milan Private Collection
When Giuseppe Poldi Pezzoli died, his son Gian Giacomo was only eleven years old. So Rosa took charge of his education. Following the Trivulzios' tradition, the cultural formation of the young boy was influenced by his mother’s friendship with artists as the literate Pietro Giordani, the engraver Pietro Toschi and the sculptor Lorenzo Bartolini. In 1840 Rosa and Gian Giacomo spent several months in Paris, which deeply influenced the formation of the young man.
Gian Giacomo's Journeys and Models
In 1848, as soon as Gian Giacomo turned twenty-four, he gained the right to his father's inheritance, which included the palace in Via Manzoni as well as a remarkable fortune. Following the footsteps of his grandfather Gian Giacomo Trivulzio, who had been a patriot, Gian Giacomo Poldi Pezzoli sympathised with and supported the patriotic insurrection against the Austrian government in 1848. The insurrection ended with the defeat of the patriotic movements and the restoration of Austrian power in Lombardy, and Gian Giacomo left Milan in a voluntary exile; he therefore travelled to several cities in Italy and abroad. His visits to Switzerland, France, England and Germany were an important opportunity to learn about the latest international trends in art collecting. Indeed, during the 1850s the first Universal Exhibitions were organised in London and Paris, and the first examples of museums of decorative and industrial arts were born. The South Kensington Museum (now re-named Victoria and Albert Museum) was under construction in London, while in 1844 the Hotel de Cluny was opened to the public in Paris: home of the art collector Alexandre de Somerard, it was seen as an early model for a house-museum since it has a Gothic style furnishings.
From 1850 onwards Gian Giacomo started collecting paintings from the Lombard, Venetian and Tuscan Renaissance, and succeeded in gathering pieces of extraordinary value. Thanks to his friendship with Giuseppe Molteni, acclaimed portraitist, antiquary and restorer and a close friend of the Poldi Pezzoli family, Gian Giacomo was introduced to the most important European art critics. Among them, the German Otto Mündler, the Italian Giovanni Morelli and the English Charles Eastlake, director of the National Gallery in London.
The collector very much enjoyed opening his home to art scholars and collectors, and attribution questions concerning one of his paintings were often at the centre of the most up-to-date critical debates of the time.
The Apartment: An avant-garde model.
In 1846, Gian Giacomo Poldi Pezzoli started the refurbishing of his apartment in the family palace. He entrusted the project to Luigi Scrosati (1815 - 1869) and Giuseppe Bertini (1825 - 1898) two of the most appreciated interior designers of the time.
The first floor of the apartment was conceived as a series of rooms, each one inspired to a style of the past. The staircase and the bedroom were in Baroque style; the Black Room was inspired to the Early Renaissance, the Dante Study to a "14th century style".
For the people of the time, the revival of past styles and artistic techniques embodied the latest trend in interior design. Gian Giacomo Poldi Pezzoli's apartment was therefore highly appreciated.
A museum for Milan
Gian Giacomo Poldi Pezzoli died in 1879, when he was only fifty-seven years old. As he had already specified in his will written in 1871, he wanted his house and all the art works which it contained to become an Artistic Foundation "…for public use and benefit in perpetuity under the same regulations as for the Brera Art Gallery". The administration and direction of such foundation were entrusted to Giuseppe Bertini, who in 1881 opened the museum to the public.