A Rare Peek Inside a Secret Garden in Milan

The Poldi Pezzoli Museum inaugurated its new orangerie overlooking an enchanting private garden.

Acquired around 1777 by an aristocratic family, the building that now houses the Poldi Pezzoli Museum is in part still a private home. Its secret garden is the captivating background surrounding the newly inaugurated orangery of the museum. Milano Art Guide

MILAN – Mayor Beppe Sala inaugurated the new Orangerie of the Poldi Pezzoli Museum on Tuesday morning. The museum, located a stone’s throw from La Scala, has added a new glazed roof hall overlooking the enchanting private garden of the 18th-century palazzo.

“Milan is famous for its hidden gardens,” said Annalisa Zanni, director of the Poldi Pezzoli Museum. “Today’s Via Manzoni was still known at the time of Gian Giacomo Poldi Pezzoli, the founder of the museum, as Corsia del Giardino.” Before it was named after the Italian writer, Via Manzoni was called Corsia ‘del Giardino’ (Garden street) because of the presence of an ancient large vegetable garden, which constituted a district in itself. The space was divided among four owners: Count Porta, Count Olgiati, Count Alario, and Marquis Olivazzi.

From the 17th century, the various noble palaces still present in the area began to appear, including the museum building, which was bought, together with the garden, by Giuseppe Pezzoli d’Albertona, an uncle of the founder of the collection, around 1777.

Until the 1820s, it was styled as an Italian garden, and in the 19th-century, to follow the fashion of the times, the courtyard was transformed into an English garden.

In the garden, as we see it today, there are statues and fountains, as imagined by Giuseppe Balzaretto, who also designed the nearby public gardens of Porta Venezia. Photo Milano Art Guide.

Its last resident, Count Gian Giacomo Poldi Pezzoli, who later donated his collection and palace to found the modern museum, asked to design the garden to Giuseppe Balzaretto, an architect who also conceived the nearby Porta Venezia public park.

Balzaretto designed an oasis crossed by walkways that shape large portions of lavish lawn and trees. As for the public park on Via Palestro, those who walk through Balzaretto’s romantic gardens are immersed in a landscape punctuated by entertaining climbs, drops, and surprising fountains in hidden corners.

The garden was renovated when Mr. Poldi Pezzoli commissioned the twin palace next door, still owned by his heirs, who are the only ones who can enjoy this green jewel far from the chaos of the city.

Inspired by the early 20th-century greenhouses and made in steel and glass, the 100-square-meter new orangery will host many events and exhibitions this year. In 2022, the museum celebrates the 200th anniversary of the birth of its founder.

Count Gian Giacomo Poldi Pezzoli portrayed by Francesco Hayez in 1851. Photo Public Domain/Google Arts Project.

“In Milan, beautiful things are hidden,” said Mayor Sala. “This museum has the ability to continue to revamp itself, and this orangery will show another extraordinary garden little known to many.” The courtyard is one of the very few large private gardens in the very center of the city.

“Every time you come, this museum is never the same, thanks to its continuous activities,” said Dr. Antonella Ranaldi, Superintendent of Archaeology, Fine Arts, and Landscape for the metropolitan city of Milan. At the Poldi Pezzoli “every year there is a surprise,” added the mayor.

Last month, the museum inaugurated the first solo exhibition in Italy devoted to the work of the contemporary artist Nicolas Party, who presented new works inspired by the old masters’ masterpieces on display in the rooms on the first floor.

Gianmaria Biancuzzi is executive editor of Milano Art Guide.