Milan’s historical Ambrosiana Library and Picture Gallery (Biblioteca-Pinacoteca Ambrosiana) was founded in 1618 by Cardinal Federico Borromeo. The cardinal donated more than 30,000 books, 15,000 manuscripts, and 12,000 pieces of artwork by famous artists such as Caravaggio, Raphael, Botticelli, and Leonardo da Vinci.
The cultural mecca of the Ambrosiana Library was built to ensure the artists with talent and intellectuals would have a place to train. Today many tours and travelers visit the Ambrosiana Library and Picture Gallery (or Art Gallery) to experience and understand the importance of art in Italy during the Renaissance. The library famously displays Leonardo da Vinci’s Codex Atlanticus in a permanent exhibition, as well as the love letters of Lucrezia Borgia and the works of Petrarch.
Many Milan city tours include skip-the-line access to Vespino’s famous copy of da Vinci’s The Last Supper. If visiting independently, buy a combination ticket to the Ambrosiana Library and The Last Supper in advance for the best availability.
Things to Know Before You Go
- The Ambrosiana Library and Picture Gallery is a must-visit for art and art history buffs.
- Audio guides are available in several languages for a small fee.
- The library and art gallery are fully accessible to persons with physical disabilities and can be independently accessed.
How to Get There
The library is located in the heart of Milan, on Piazza Pio XI. Take the M1 red line or M3 yellow line to the Duomo stop and walk about five minutes. You can also take tram 2 or 3 to the Duomo stop, or tram 12, 14, or 16 to the Orefici-Cantù stop.
When to Get There
The Ambrosiana Library and Picture Gallery is open 10am to 6pm Tuesday to Sunday, and is closed January 1, Easter Sunday, and December 25. The best time to visit is during the shoulder seasons of spring and fall, when Last Supper tickets are more readily available.
The Legend of Lucrezia Borgia
Lucrezia Borgia was the Duchess of Ferrara during the late 1400s. A long lock of her golden hair is kept at the Ambrosiana, encased in glass and bronze, and has attracted many writers and poets passing through Milan. Legend has it that on All Souls’ night her ghost wanders the halls of the library in search of her hair. When found, she washes and combs it, which is why it remains silky and shiny to this day.