Royal Palace of Milan

Royal Palace of Milan
Palazzo Reale di Milano

Royal Palace of Milan façade
General information
Status now used as a museum
Type Palace
Architectural style Neo-Classical
Location Milan, Italy
Address Piazza del Duomo 12
Technical details
Floor count 3
Design and construction
Architect Giuseppe Piermarini
Comune of Milan
Invalid designation
Official name Palazzo Reale di Milano
Type Non-movable
Criteria Monument
State Party Italy
Palazzo Reale and the square in front as seen from the roof of the Duomo, among the marble spire

The Royal Palace of Milan (Italian: Palazzo Reale di Milano) was the seat of government of the Italian city of Milan for many centuries, but today is an important cultural centre, home to expositions and exhibitions.

Originally designed with a system of two yards, then partially demolished to make room for the Duomo, the palace is located to the right of the facade of the cathedral in the opposite position with respect to Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. The facade of the building, following the line of the ancient courtyard, forming a recess with respect to Piazza del Duomo, known as the Piazzetta Reale (English: Small Royal Square).

On the first floor of the building you'll find the magnificent Hall of Caryatids, which occupies the site of the old theatre burned in 1776 and is the only environment that survived the heavy bombings in 1943, when the Palace lost most of the neoclassical interiors.



The royal palace has ancient origins. It was first called the Palazzo del Broletto Vecchio and was the seat of city's government during the period of medieval communes in the Middle Ages.

The palace became a key political centre during the rules of the Torriani, Visconti and Sforza households. After the construction of the Cathedral, there was an important renovation under the government of Francesco Sforza.

16th century

Between the late 15th and early 16th centuries, with the end of the Sforza dynasty and the French invasion, the Castello Sforzesco, which until then was the official residence of the Dukes of Milan, had increasingly become more of a fortress suited for weapons. Under the French rule of Louis XII and of François I, the seat of the court was moved to the current Royal Palace.

Thanks to the arrival of the Governor Ferrante Gonzaga in Milan, who took permanent residence in the city from 1546, the building flourished, elevating the ducal court to a true palace and governor's residence in Milan. The Gonzaga were the first to begin to complete the rooms of the complex.

To pursue these projects, we know that the Gonzaga governor demolished the old church of Sant'Andrea al Muro Rotto, annexing the land area of the building, while an interior road and enclosed courtyard leading from the church of San Gottardo.

New renovations of the building were chosen at the end of the 16th century with the arrival of Governor Antonio de Guzman y Zuniga, Marquis of Ayamonte, who was able to recruit Pellegrino Tibaldi, the architect for the archbishop Charles Borromeo, already engaged in the work of the Duomo in the archbishop's palace and the courtyard of the royalties. Tibaldi worked on the construction of the building from 1573 in 1598 and it was in these years which the pictorial decoration of the apartments noble porticos, of the private chapel and the church of San Gottardo was rebuilt. Several major artists of the time undertook this task, including Aurelio Luini, Ambrogio Figino, Antonio Campi and naturally Pellegrino Tibaldi himself, while other stucco and grotesque works were built by Valerio Profondavalle, a Flemish artist-impresario who had also produced some windows for the Duomo of Milan.

This was the era when the first Court Theater was completed, the beginning of a long process that ended only in the 18th century with the final construction of La Scala.

17th and 18th centuries

Portrait of Maria Theresa of Austria made by Anton von Maron and kept in the Palazzo Reale in representation of the importance of its role for the city of Milan

On 24–25 January 1695, a fire destroyed the Court theater. Reconstruction and expansion of a new ducal theater did not begin until 1717, when Milan, now ceded to the Austria after the War of Spanish Succession, received its first Austrian governor, the Count of Loewenstein. The new theater was designed by Francesco Galli Bibbiena, and his pupils Giandomenico Barbieri and Domenico Valmagini. The theater was larger, with four tiers of boxes and a gallery in the shape of a horseshoe; on the side was a small Ridottino for gambling and the sale of drinks and sweets beside masks and costumes for the feasts. It was completed on 26 December 1717 and it was inaugurated with the opera Costantino by Gasparini.

In 1723, a second fire struck, damaging the ceremonial halls of the palace. The Austrian magistrate, Wirich Philipp von Daun, commissioned restorations, updating the wings of the Cortile d'Onore (Honor Courtyard) in a livelier style, whitewashing walls and framing the windows with baroque frames designed by Carlo Rinaldi. The church of San Gottardo was redecorated with re-painting, stucco and gilding, becoming the Royal-Ducal Chapel.

The Cortile d'Onore wings housed the chancery, magistrate and accounting offices, the mint, and other administrative and financial offices. The Governor and the Privy council met in new rooms built at the north side of the garden. The piano nobile was restored, including the Salone dei Festini and the Salone di Audienzia (now Hall of Emperors). The Governor was housed in the northern and southern wings of the courtyard.

In 1745, Gian Luca Pallavicini became governor and minister plenipotentiary of Milan. At his expense, he refurbished the interiors – including furniture, silverware, chinaware and chandeliers –, employing the architect Francesco Croce, active with the Cathedral Workshop. Croce commissioned tapestries reproducing Raphaelite works from the Gobelins factories. The halls of Festini and Audienzia were merged to create an enormous 46 by 17 meter ballroom (current Hall of the Caryatids) with boxes built to hold an orchestra. Pallavacini also commissioned a salon for gala dinners – a new fashion coming from France. When Pallavacini left in 1752, he sold his furniture and decor to the state.

Reconstruction by Piermarini

Piermarini 18th century facade.

The Archduke Ferdinand of Austria-Este, a son of Maria Theresa of Austria married Maria Beatrice d'Este in Milan in 1771. For their wedding, Ascanio in Alba by Mozart was staged in the palace. Mozart almost gained an appointment in the Milan court. Maria Beatrice was the heir for the Duchy of Modena and Reggio, and the young archduke was named governor of the Duchy of Milan, and a decade later of Lombardy. Ferdinand had hoped to build a new palace, but settled on increasing the rooms forming part of the royal residence, but moving many of the administrative offices.

The neoclassical grand staircase of the building

Rebuilding in 1773 was directed by Giuseppe Piermarini, in collaboration with the Viennese Leopold Pollack. Piermarini eliminated the side of the courtyard to the Cathedral, leaving the other three, thus creating the Piazzetta Reale - and its geometric design on the pavement - then larger than the square of the Cathedral. The renovation had to balance the demands of the archduke and the financial limitations imposed by Vienna. Piermarini built the present neoclassical facade.

Fire struck again, destroying the Court Theater on February 26, 1776. This time the fire-prone Court Theater was built elsewhere, now Teatro Alla Scala, which became one of, if not the first public opera houses. A smaller court theater, now Teatro Lirico, was built at the site of a demolished school.

The interior underwent transformations. The largest-scale enterprise is undoubtedly represented by the famous Hall of Caryatids (named after 40 caryatids made by Gaetano Callani.) It was simultaneously restored the ducal chapel of St. Gotthard getting a new altar and an internal decoration in neoclassical style. Only the bell tower was preserved, being considered a model of the idea of architectural beauty of the time of Azzone Visconti.

The Archduke ordered more Gobelin tapestries with the stories of Jason and those of Pallavicini. The rooms were decorated in stucco by Albertolli, frescoed by Giuliano Traballesi and Martin Knoller, a cycle of works that will end only in the 19th century due to the intervention of Andrea Appiani before and Francesco Hayez then.

Piermarini tasks officially ended on 17 June 1778, when the Archduke moved back into the new Palazzo Reale.

Napoleonic era and restoration

One of the commemorative paintings commissioned to Andrea Appiani for the Palazzo Reale in Milan, depicting the triumph of Napoleon, shown above in the style of the era as a Roman emperor

In 1796, Napoleon Bonaparte - still a general - occupied and ruled Lombardy for nearly two decades. The Palace was renamed the National Palace and became the seat of the main governing bodies of the new republic, namely the military command, first and then the Directory. When the Austro-Russians regained control of Milan in 1799, the French government hastily sold most of the furnishings of the building at auction as well as allowing the looting of other halls by the population.

It will only be in 1805 that the building will rise again, reaching its peak of splendor. It would indeed be in the same year that Milan will become the capital of the newborn Kingdom of Italy consisting of Napoleon's adopted son Eugène de Beauharnais who was appointed Viceroy and took residence right in Milan's Palazzo Reale. Milan is the capital of a vast kingdom including all of northern Italy and as such also the home of the new government needs to be worthy of this privilege.

Therefore the damages caused by war are repaired and new and lavish furnishings are purchased and Eugène de Beauharnais himself proceeded to the enlargement of the rear of the building thanks to a project entrusted to Luigi Canonica, which added the entire block - now occupied by the city council offices - where there are fitted new stables, a large riding school and many local offices, all in austere neo-classical style (the project was completed years later by Tazzini that was also the author of the facade on Via Larga.) From the riding school, known as "La Cavallerizza" and the seat of horse shows, one could access through a bridge on via Restrelli to the court theater (theatre Cannobiana). Andrea Appiani was given the completion of the frescoes in the halls of representation that were opened the 8th of May 1805 during an official visit by Napoleon in Milan.

With the fall of Napoleon in 1814, the kingdom of Italy in Milan toppled and the huge palace begins a slight loss of importance, immediately recovered with the Restoration. Under the Austrians, the Kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia was formed and as such the Palazzo Reale in Milan would serve as the seat of the new viceroy of a wide realm.

The building era and loss of the Hall of Caryatids

Reception held in 1875 for the German Emperor Wilhelm I in the Hall of Cariatidi held in the Hall of the Palazzo Reale. This depicts the Hall of Caryatids before its destruction by fire on 15 August 1943.
The Emperor's room in 1875

With the annexation of Lombardy to Piedmont in 1859, the palace housed the new governor of Milan, Massimo d'Azeglio. With the proclamation of the kingdom of Italy in the 1861, the palace became a royal residence of the Savoy monarchy, however it was little used once the capital was moved onto Florence. Umberto I, resided mainly in the Villa Reale di Monza, but after his assassination in 1900, his son, Vittorio Emanuele III, avoided Milan. The last official royal reception held in Milan occurred in 1906 for the Universal Exhibition.

In 1919 President Woodrow Wilson was welcomed in Milan by Vittorio Emanuele III of Savoy and it was the last official visit. On October 11 of that same year, the palace was sold by the House of Savoy to the Italian state, however, on the condition that the apartments remained available to the royal family.

With the sale of the palace, large changes occurred. The first was the shortening of the side nearest to the Duomo, spoiling the monumental proportions of the palace. Second havoc occurred in 1925, with the demolition of the Royal Stables and then again in 1936-37 when the so-called "long sleeves" are shortened by at least 60 metres more, to build the Arengario. This has definitely ruined the beauty of the building, linked largely to the proportioned relations between the bodies. Same goes for the square.

The whole building was heavily damaged during the night of 15 August 1943 when the city was hit by a British bombing raid. The bombs didn't directly hit the building, though the building was destroyed by fire unleashed in neighbouring buildings that eroded the attic of the Hall of Caryatids, burning the wood warping and causing the collapse of large trusses. The trusses fell and eventually split the balcony in several places also damaging the floor. The high temperature in the room overheated the stucco causing it to delaminate. The materials changed colour under the heat, permanently ruining the famous hall, including Appiani's paintings that were kept there.

After the war, in 1947, the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage started the refurbishment of the building beginning with the Hall of Caryatids. A new floor and a new roof were made, though these lacked the earlier decorations (of which, however, there is ample documentation) to leave a testimony to the war in Milan.

The room gained in reputation in 1953 when it was chosen by Picasso to host an exhibition. The Spanish artist's work Guernica, was displayed at Palazzo Reale, with the venue being chosen as a clear symbolic purpose.

Only from 2000, however, the room has regained its former glory with a very careful restoration that removed the blackening on the walls caused by the fire of the 1943 and consolidated all surfaces (structural and painting). On the cover of the ceiling, previously white, have been drawn sketches of how the ceiling of the room was to appear before the collapse.

The Museum of the Palace

Only at the beginning of the 21st century, more than fifty years after destruction during the war, is the Royal Palace finding a central role in the social and cultural life of Milan. Although still under the third stage of restoration, which will return the entire building to its former glory, the first two stages have been completed. This allows visitors the opportunity to admire the halls of the Palace Museum with an itinerary through the four seasons of the historic Palazzo: the era Teresiana and Neoclassical, the Napoleonic era, the Restoration and the Unification of Italy.

The restoration took place through a complex task of reconstruction of the original furniture to allow a wider and more articulate historical and stylistic reading of court life. The first visible halls belonging to the neoclassical period, with reconstruction ranging from Giuseppe Piermarini to Napoleonic times, are those that best explain the splendor of the "enlightened" era, during which the city had a major role in Europe. The third phase of restoration, still in progress, will return to the museum the rooms of the old Apartment of Reserve, in which the royal ways of living of the 19th century are documented and maintained.

Cultural centre

The Royal Palace is a cultural centre in the heart of the city coordinated with three other exhibition venues: the Rotonda della Besana, the Palace of Region and Palazzo dell'Arengario.

The building played an important role with regard to art in Milan, as shown by the great success of recent years exhibitions that included Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso and other painters and sculptors. Fundamental was the exhibition opened at the Palazzo Reale in 2009 on the centenary of the birth of Futurism.

Since November 4, 2013 the collection of the Great Museum of the Duomo of Milan (Grande Museo del Duomo di Milano in Italian) has been shown to the public in a wing of the Palace.[1]



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Coordinates: 45°27′48″N 9°11′28″E / 45.4632°N 9.19114°E / 45.4632; 9.19114

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