Friday, December 14, 2007

Introduction on Castello Sforzesco

Besides fashion, Milan has plenty of architecture and culture to offer Gothic and Renaissance fans. Although considered by many to be more European than Italian, Milan’s contributions to Italian history and art can still be found beneath the polished and commercial atmosphere.

A great place to begin exploring that history is at the Castello Sforzesco, or Castle Sforza. Construction on the castle originally began in 1450 by Francesco Sforza, the fourth Duke of Milan and one of the city’s condottiere, or hired mercenaries. Although it has been destroyed and rebuilt several times, the fortress-like castle still shows signs of the two powerful families who ruled Milan in the 14th century – the Visconti and Sforza dynasties. On the front of the castle is the Visconti family emblem: a viper with its jaws open wide swallowing a child. The design of the castle shows evidence of turbulent times in which the Visconti and Sforza families ruled. Rows of seemingly decorative arches line the outer walls that were actually built to disguise holes used for pouring boiling oil on attacking forces. The castle walls were also constructed with strategically - placed square openings that could be used for scaffolding to make repairs on the roof and walls easier.

At the back of the castle, visitors can see what remains of the secret passageway the duke and his family could use to escape during times of trouble. The hallway leads from the interior rooms out to the moat and continues all the way to the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie, which is where Lenoardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper is housed. Because da Vinci chose to paint the fresco with oil pigments on dry plaster instead of working with the traditional wet plaster method, the painting has rapidly deteriorated. After restorers spent years cleaning and retouching the paining, its original colors have been brought back to life.

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