Top Leonardo Da Vinci Sights and Art to See when Visiting Milan

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by Henk Bekker

in Italy, Lombardy - Milan, N24

The Last Supper is the main attraction in Milan but also see Leonardo da Vinci’s models, Portrait of a Musician painting, and original Codex Atlanticus drawings and designs.

The Last Supper and Portrait of a Musician paintings are the top Leonardo da Vinci art to see in Milan while his designs and drawings in the Codex Atlanticus and various scale model exhibitions are also popular. (Leonardo’s vineyard is no longer open to the public.)

Detail of the Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci in Milan

Leonardo da Vinci sights remain among the top attractions for visitors to Milan. The top site to visit is Leonardo’s Last Supper Museum in the refectory of the Santa Maria dell Grazie convent — buy tickets long in advance. Seeing the only Da Vinci panel painting in Milan — Portrait of a Musician — in the Pinacoteca Ambrosiana is far easier with the added bonus that the Codex Atlanticus with 1,119 pages of Leonardo’s designs, sketches, and notes are seen in the same museum. Models of Leonardo’s designs and inventions are displayed in the huge Museum of Science and Technology or in the easily accessible Leonardo 3 — the World of Leonardo exhibition near the Milano Duomo and La Scala. Leonardo’s Vineyard replanted with his favorite vines near the Last Supper Museum is no longer open to the public.

Leonardo da Vinci in Milan

Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), the Italian painter, universal genius, and ultimate Renaissance man, spent much of his adult life in the services of the Sforza Dukes of Milan. During his first Milanese period (1482-1499), he painted amongst others The Last Supper, which remained on the wall of the refectory of Santa Maria delle Grazie, and the Portrait of a Musician, which is on display in the Pinacoteca Ambrosiana in Milan. Other artworks created during this period have left the city, including the Virgin of the Rocks (now in the Louvre) and the famous Vitruvian Man drawing (now in the Accademia in Venice and rarely displayed).

Da Vinci’s numerous designs, drawings, and notes are scattered around the globe but the largest single collection, the 1,119-folio Codex Atlanticus, remained in Milan and is displayed in the Biblioteca Ambrosiana.

Combination tours of Leonardo Sights in Milan are available while the Milan City Pass currently covers all sites described below except the Last Supper Museum.

See The Last Supper by Leonardo Da Vinci in Milan

Leonardo Da Vinci's Last Supper painting on a refectory wall in Milan.

The top Leonardo da Vinci artwork to see in Milan is undoubtedly The Last Supper (Il Cenacolo), which he painted on the wall of the refectory of the Santa Maria delle Grazie convent in Milan around 1495-99. Experimenting with a dry paint style rather than the tried and tested wet painting technique for frescoes, his painting started to fade and peel almost as soon as he had finished this masterpiece.

The special air conditioning system needed to preserve the painting allows only around 30 people to view the Last Supper every 15 minutes. Buy tickets for the Museo del Cenacolo Vinciano (Leonardo’s Last Supper Museum) as long in advance as possible or only far more expensive guided tours may be available (and these often sell out several weeks in advance too!)

See also What to Expect when Visiting The Last Supper for the procedure on the day of visit — there is no flexibility in the issuing of tickets and the entry into the museum.

Portrait of a Musician by Leonardo Da Vinci in Milan

Leonardo Da Vinci Portrait of a Musician painting in the Pinacoteca Ambrosiana in Milan

The only panel painting by Leonardo da Vinci that remained in Milan is his Portrait of a Musician, which is the art highlight of a visit to the Pinacoteca Ambrosiana.

Leonardo painted the relatively small oil on walnut wood panel Portrait of a Musician (Ritratto di musico), measuring 44.7 by 32 cm (18″ by 13″), in the 1480s while in the employment of the Duke of Milan. For centuries, the subject of the painting was considered to be Duke Ludovico Sforza.

However, cleaning the portrait in the early 20th century revealed the previously unknown sheet of music at the bottom of the painting — not really the duke’s thing. For the past century, scholars have argued about who the musician is supposed to be and who exactly painted it — most agree that Leonardo painted at least the face.

The Pinacoteca Ambrosiana has a fine collection of further art on display as well as the famous Codex Atlanticus.

See the Codex Atlanticus of Leonardo Da Vince Drawings in Milan

Folio from Leonardo Da Vinci Codex Atlanticus in the Pinacoteca Ambrosiana in Milan

The Codex Atlanticus of 1,119 folios of drawings, sketches, and notes by Leonardo da Vinci is the largest single collection of Da Vinci’s works. It has been in the Biblioteca Ambrosiana in Milan since 1637.

Since 2008, each folio of the Codex Atlanticus is in a special passe-partout allowing both preservation and the safe exhibiting of works on a rotation schedule. When visiting the Pinacoteca Ambrosiana, some of these may be seen in the Sala Federiciana — the old library reading room that follows after the Aula Leonardi where Portrait of a Musician is displayed.

A facsimile of the original Codex Atlanticus leather binding is on display in a special lockable cage but anyone may consult the complete codex for free online

Leonardo’s Models in Museums and Exhibitions in Milan

In recent years, very popular Leonardo museums of Da Vinci’s models and designs have sprung up in many Italian cities. Milan is fortunate to have two of the better exhibitions of his models:

National Museum of Science and Technology Leonardo da Vinci

The Museo Nazionale Scienza e Tecnologia Leonardo da Vinci in Milan with a collection of 19,000 items is the largest museum of science and technology in Italy. The museum opened in 1953 with an exhibition of 170 models of Leonardo’s designs. For many, the Leonardo da Vinci galleries remain the highlight of a visit to the museum but there is much more to see ranging from items as large as a submarine, airplane, ships, and a locomotive to a moon rock, space suit, early Marconi and Olivetti instruments.

The Leonardo da Vinci National Museum of Science and Technology is only a few blocks to the south of the Last Supper Museum. Tickets are available online.

Leonardo3 — The World of Leonardo Da Vinci Exhibition in Milan

The Leonardo3 -- the World of Leonardo Da Vinci is a large exhibition in the heart of Milan.

The Leonardo3 — the World of Leonardo Da Vinci is a large exhibition in the heart of Milan. It covers the life, art, and especially inventions of Leonardo. More than 200 interactive 3D reconstructions of his designs are on display with many accessible to visitors to manipulate and test out.

An interesting aspect of the Leonardo3 exhibition is digitally restored versions of his art. Sure the Last Supper here is not the real thing but the colors and details may be closer to what Da Vinci painted than what survived to the present (and tickets for the Last Supper Museum remain hard to secure).

The Leonardo3 — the World of Leonardo Da Vinci is very conveniently located at the Piazza della Scala side of the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II across from the Duomo. It is open daily from 9:30 to 20:00.

Leonardo’s Vineyard (Closed)

The privately owned Leonardo’s Vineyard changed hands in 2022 and is currently closed to the public. It is unlikely that it will reopen for visits any time soon.

Duke Ludovico Sforza gave Leonardo a vineyard near the Santa Maria delle Grazie church while finishing the Last Supper. The French confiscated the property soon after forcing the Sforzas from Milano (1499) but Leonardo made the return of his vineyard a condition for returning to Milan at the request of the French.

In 2015, the private owner successfully replanted Malvasia di Candia Aromatica, Leonardo’s grapevine of preference and harvested the grapes for really expensive wine since 2018. The small museum was open and popular with visitors but it is currently closed.

More Tips on Milan Sights and Tickets

 

Henk Bekker in armor

About the author:

Henk Bekker

Henk Bekker is a freelance travel writer with over 20 years of experience writing online. He is particularly interested in history, art, and culture. He has lived most of his adult life in Germany, Switzerland, and Denmark. In addition to European-Traveler.com, he also owns a travel website on the Lake Geneva region of Switzerland and maintains statistical websites on car sales and classic car auction prices. Henk holds an MBA from Edinburgh Business School and an MSc in Development Finance from the University of London.

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