Museum History


The House of Gian Giacomo Poldi Pezzoli

In 1850 Gian Giacomo Poldi Pezzoli began the decoration of his apartment within the family palace. The result was a series of rooms inspired to various artistic styles of the past (Baroque, Medieval period, Early Renaissance, Rococo), designed and decorated by some of the most innovative artists of the time.

Each room was conceived to host objects referring to its epoch. Thus, the 18th century porcelains found their place in the Rococo-style room (now called the Stucco Room), while the "Flemish Polyptych" was part of the furnishing of the Black Room, in a 16th century Northern-European style. Likewise, Gothic golden jewels were placed in the Medieval study (now the Dante Study), and Baroque statues around the Antique Staircase.
Although the placing of the artworks mainly followed such strategy, their positioning also depended upon the collector's personal taste.

When Gian Giacomo Poldi Pezzoli's house-museum was opened to the public in 1881 in occasion of the Milanese National Exhibition, it was visited by thousands of people. From then on, the Poldi Pezzoli Museum became a model for other house-museum projects, including  those of Isabella Stewart Gardner in the United States, of Antonio Borgogna in Vercelli (Italy), and of the Jacquemart - Andrè in Paris.



The first director of the museum was Giuseppe Bertini, a friend of Gian Giacomo Poldi Pezzoli as well as an artist who contributed to decoration of the apartment. As the museum director, he remarkably increased the number of the art works in the collection, without changing its characteristics. After Bertini's death in 1898, the architect Camillo Boito (1836 - 1914), who was the director of the Brera Academy, took charge of the direction of the Poldi Pezzoli Museum. He focused on the organisation of the collection according to more innovative museological criteria, with the aim of making the works of art more accessible and easily viewed by the visitors. He also promoted a photographic campaign of the museum, which is a precious historical evidence of the late 19th century museological taste.


 1943: The bombing

During the Second World War a bombing raid destroyed all the main museums in Milan in one night. Also the Poldi Pezzoli palace in Via Manzoni was severely damaged. Although all the works of art that could be moved had previously been transported in a safer place, the palace itself and its decorations were severely damaged. The ceilings and windows collapsed, and with them the stuccowork, the frescoes and the wooden decorations. These elements, which contributed to create the unique atmosphere of the Poldi Pezzoli house-museum, were lost forever.


 1946-1951: The reconstruction

After the war the reconstruction of the Museum started, with the aim of rebuilding it "where it was and as it was." An effort was made to recover the parts that had been less damaged, such as the Antique Staircase and the Dante study. In order to recreate the original home-like atmosphere of the interiors, the opulent decorations lost in the bombing were evoked by new, lighter ones. The museum was then re-opened to the public on the 3rd of December 1951.



Thanks to generous donations (over a thousand objects in the last fifty years), the Poldi Pezzoli Museum has now one of the most refined collections in Europe. In the unique atmosphere of the refurbished rooms, great paintings coexist with furnishings and decorative artworks of outstanding artistic quality. New areas were created: the Armour Room and the Jewellery Room.
The museum, which its founder wanted "for public use and benefit", continues to fulfil its original purpose: to be a service for the community.