Pinacoteca di Brera: The Best Art Museum You’ve Never Heard Of

February 16, 2023

In Milan, the financial and fashion capital of the north of Italy, there’s a small museum housing masterpieces from some of the biggest Italian artists. While most think of the Vatican Museums or Uffizi Gallery as Italy’s best art museums, the lesser-known Pinacoteca di Brera is also considered one of the best art museums in the world.

The main entrance to the Palazzo Brera, the 13th-century building that houses the Pinacoteca di Brera. Photo by François Philipp

The main entrance to the Palazzo Brera, the 13th-century building that houses the Pinacoteca. Photo by François Philipp

What is it?

The Pinacoteca di Brera, or Brera Art Gallery, is one of the most important museums in Milan, if not Europe. It houses more than 400 works from the 14th to the 20th century by master painters such as Piero della Francesca, Raphael, and Caravaggio.

Located in the beautiful Palazzo Brera, it was created along with the Accademia di Belle Arti, or Academy of Fine Arts, in 1776 to serve as a font of information for the students studying at the University.

The Palazzo itself is a work of art. The Jesuits built the Baroque palace at the end of the 17th century as a convent. After they were moved out, Palazzo Brera was remodeled in the neoclassical style.

The Art Gallery was filled with works from across the territory, thanks to Napoleon taking control of Italy and declaring Milan the capital of the country. It is one of the few museums in Italy that wasn’t formed from private collections, but by the hand of the Italian state.

What is there to see?

The Kiss by Francesco Hayez is regarded as a symbol of Italian Romanticism, a nostalgic look back at the Middle Ages and a portrayal of the spirit of the Italian Unification. It's home is the Pinacoteca di Brera in Milan.

The Kiss by Francesco Hayez is regarded as a symbol of Italian Romanticism, a nostalgic look back at the Middle Ages and a portrayal of the spirit of the Italian Unification.

The artworks are displayed chronologically across six centuries. Expect to see mostly Italian painters, especially those from Lombardy and the Veneto region, though under Napoleon’s rule there was an exchange with the Louvre in Paris that brought some Flemish paintings to Brera, including works by Rubens and Van Dyck.

Must-see masterpieces include the “Discovery of the Body of St. Mark” by Tintoretto, Caravaggio’s “Supper at Emmaus”, ‘Virgin and Saints’ by Piero della Francesca and the “Marriage of the Virgin” by Raphael, who used an entirely new perspective at the time it was painted. Another important piece is the incredibly sexy Il Bacio, or The Kiss, by Francesco Hayez. It depicts a couple in a passionate kiss. Though it’s actually rather political, supposedly portraying the patriotic spirit of Italy’s unification and freedom from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, it’s still considered one of the most romantic paintings in Italian history.

Be sure to also see the incredible “Lamentation Of Christ” by Andrea Mantegna, a Renaissance painter native to Lombardia. The painting shows a realistic and tragic theme enhanced by Mantegna’s mastery of perspective: The painting shows a foreshortened figure of Christ from the viewpoint of his feet.

Where is it and how do I get there?

The Pinacoteca di Brera is located in the hip, arty Brera neighborhood in Milan at via Brera, 28. Call or email with questions at (+39) 02 722 631 and [email protected]

Closed on Mondays, the gallery is open Tuesday through Friday, as well as Sunday, from 8:30 a.m. – 7:15 p.m. On Saturdays it’s open 8:30 a.m. until 11 p.m. There’s free access the first Sunday of every month.

You can get there by taking the Piccolo Teatro – Brera metro stop on the green line. From there it’s a short walk in a pleasant neighborhood filled with aperitivo bars and restaurants. Tickets cost 10 euro.   

The Botanical Gardens behind the Pinacoteca di Brera

Once run by the Jesuits, The Botanical Gardens were used to grow herbs and medicinal plants to teach to the medical students of Brera. Photo by Gina Mussio

What else do I need to know?

When the Palazzo Brera was taken over from the Jesuits by Queen Maria Teresa of Austria it was meant to become the home of the most advanced institutes of culture in the city. Today is still lives up to that status. Besides the Academy and the beautiful Art Gallery, the Palazzo holds the Lombard Institute of Science and Literature, the Braidense National Library, the Astronomical Observatory and a Botanical Garden still maintained from the 1700s.

The Orto Botanico behind the Pinacoteca di Brera is open Apr-June 9 a.m.–noon and 3–5 p.m. Mon-Fri and July–Mar 9 a.m.–noon. This tiny corner of the hectic city has aromatic herbs, wildflowers and a small vegetable garden for research.



The Kiss, by Francesco Hayez is an incredibly sensual painting kept in the Picatoteca di Brera, one of the best art museums in the world. Find out what other masterpieces it holds.

by Gina Mussio

View more by Gina ›

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