The Last Supper and Portrait of a Musician are the top Leonardo da Vinci art to see in Milan while his Codex Atlanticus, several model exhibitions, and Leonardo’s vineyard are also popular.
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 Penacoteca 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. Leonardo’s Vineyard replanted with his favorite vines is near the Last Supper 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 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 Vitruvian Man (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
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 finished his 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!)
Portrait of a Musician by Leonardo Da Vinci 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 — most at least 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
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. 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. 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.
A popular Da Vinci sight in Milan is the vineyard near the Santa Maria delle Grazie convent that he received from the Sforzas while finishing the Last Supper. The French confiscated the property soon after forcing the Sforzas from Milano but Leonardo made the return of his vineyard a condition for returning to Milan at the request of the French.
Leonardo’s Vineyard is a privately owned museum that successfully replanted Malvasia di Candia Aromatica, Leonardo’s grapevine of preference, in 2015. The grapes have been harvested since 2018.
The small museum may be visited with an audioguide or guided tour.
More Tips on Milan Sights and Tickets
- Securing Tickets for the Last Supper by Leonardo Da Vinci — buy early or only guided tours are available.
- How to Buy Tickets or Book Tours for Leonardo’s Last Supper Museum.
- What to Expect when Visiting the Last Supper Museum in Milan.
- Tips on Buying Tickets for the Milan Cathedral Complex.
- Visit the Rooftop of Duomo di Milano on Stairs or Lift Pass Tickets.
- Top Leonardo da Vinci Sights and Art to See in Milan
- Visit the Pinacoteca Ambrosiana to See Leonardo Da Vinci’s Musician Painting and the Codex Atlanticus.
- Cheapest Public Transportation to Milan Malpensa Airport (MXP).
- Book luggage storage in advance — close to transportation hubs is generally the better option.
- Book Last Supper Tours at Viator.
- Buy Admission Tickets for the Duomo and top sights in Milan from Tiqets.
- Book Guided Tours for the Duomo, Last Supper, and other sights in Milano from Get Your Guide.
- Buy Milan Guidebooks at Amazon.