The Bramante Sacristy



Since 2009 and until October 2015, the suggestive Bramante Sacristy in the convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie has been the exhibition venue of the Codex Atlanticus exhibition project alongside the Federiciana Room of the Biblioteca Ambrosiana.

The monumental complex of the Sacristy, which also includes the cloister, is certainly one of Milan’s most fascinating hidden corners, still almost unknown to the great public.

In the early nineties of the 15th century, Ludovico il Moro, Duke of Milan, decided to launch an ambitious expansion and renovation project of the convent of  Santa Maria delle Grazie, which was intended to become the mausoleum of the Sforza family. For this purpose, Ludovico relied on two of the greatest artists of those times, who were already serving at his court: Bramante, to whom he entrusted the task of building the lantern of the basilica and a new sacristy, and Leonardo, who was commissioned to paint the Last Supper on the north wall of the refectory.

The poor space available and the necessity to highlight the impressive lantern of the basilica, forced Bramante to build the new sacristy quite far from the church, so he connected the two parts with a small cloister of perfect Renaissance proportions that is still considered one of the most suggestive in Milan.

In 1947 the duchess of Milan, Beatrice d’Este, died prematurely and was buried in the choir of the “Grazie” basilica. This sad event made the completion of the renovation project even more urgent: by the end of the same year the little cloister and the sacristy are reported to be nearly complete, even though in 1499 the remaining expansion plans stopped suddenly after the fall of Ludovico’s Signoria.

The Sacristy, a large rectangular hall closed by a semicircular apse, hides many artworks and curiosities which cannot be missed. On the barrel vault Leonardo’s followers painted a suggestive blue sky, sprinkled with stars executed in pine resin and gold foil. This motif had been previously used for the ceiling of the hall of the Last Supper, which was unfortunately destroyed during World War II, whereas the two series of cabinets that run continuously along the side walls of the Sacristy were made at the end of the fifteenth century to keep the precious liturgical furnishings donated by the Moro to the convent after the death of Beatrice d’Este, now unfortunately lost.

The oral tradition says that along the left wall of the hall, where today you can admire a rare example of nocturnal clock, there was a secret passage connecting the Convent to the Sforza Castle, which was also destroyed during World War II.

Finally, the cloister is a real oasis of peace and harmony right in the centre of Milan and it is commonly known as “cloister of the frogs” because of the four frogs statues decorating the central fountain. The surrounding flowerbeds are adorned by wonderful specimens of star magnolias: their white flowers bloom in the month of March and stand out beautifully on the baked-clay decorations of the lantern and of the arcades.