The Brera Art Gallery (Pinacoteca di Brera) was established in 1776 by the order of Empress Maria Theresa of Austria together with the Academy of Fine Arts with clear educational aims as is the case with many other art collections of this kind established at about this same period.
Under Napoleonic rule many paintings from the territories conquered by his armies, especially many religious paintings coming from churches and monasteries following the suppression of religious orders.
The building that houses it is an ancient fourteenth-century convent. In 1773, following the abolition of the religious order, the building became public property and the Empress wanted it to be a cultural hub for the city. It still houses the academy and the picture gallery and moreover the sciences institute, the national library, the Observatory and the botanical garden. The architect Giuseppe Piermarini of Teatro alla Scala fame was designated to plan the refurbishment works.
The collections own many masterpieces. When Giuseppe Bossi was secretary of the academy the collections were enriched with paintings such as Raffaello (The marriage of the Virgin), Giovanni Bellini (Madonna and child) and Bramantino (The Crucifixion). Under Napoleonic rule the academy also had 5 paintings by Rubens, Joardens, Van Dyck and Rembrandt, originating from Louvre because the archiepiscopal picture collection was forced to give to the French museum 23 paintings. Another famous painting owned by Brera is Mantegna (Lamentation of Christ). In 1882 the gallery was made independent from the academy.
Thanks to the Association Friends of Brera and to the Museums of Milan, important works by Correggio, Longhi, Piazzetta, Tiepolo, Canaletto, Silvestro Lega, Fattori, Caravaggio (la Cena in Emmaus) were acquired.
During the Second World War, heavy bombing damaged the building but it was reopened in 1950 with a new museum layout by the modern architect Piero Portaluppi.
In the 70s a major donation enriched the collections of works by artists of the twentieth century such as Boccioni, Braque, Carrà, De Pisis, Marino Marini, Modigliani and Morandi. The absence of a real space to use for temporary exhibitions pushed the gallery to develop a project that started in 2001 called Brera Mai Vista. It consisted of a series of small exhibitions of paintings coming from the museum deposits. On this occasion the paintings were restored and catalogues were published. From 2001 to 2011 more than 20 of these exhibitions were held.
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