Virtual Milan: Treasures of Art and Architecture

An 8-week course: 3rd May-28th June 2024. Fridays 11.00AM-12.45PM BST


Join our new 8-week online course this summer and explore Milan’s most outstanding art treasures, from Michelangelo’s Rondanini Pietà and Leonardo’s Last Supper to masterpieces of the Brera Art Gallery and Pinacoteca Ambrosiana.

Milan is the elegant and vibrant hub of northern Italy, a city famed for business and fashion but also for its wealth of art and culture. The charm of the city lies within her historic centre which is full of beautiful palaces, museums and churches as well as a magnificent Gothic Cathedral. Our course explores the many facets of the city and also examines in depth some of the more intimate, lesser-known collections such as the Pinacoteca Ambrosiana.

Our unique, interactive classes combine lectures with livestream guided tours broadcast direct from the Pinacoteca del Castello Sforzesco, Michelangelo’s Rondanini Pietà (Castello Sforzesco) and the Brera Art Gallery, with special permission from the museum directors.

The sessions are led by the renowned Lombard art scholar Dr Antonio Mazzotta and Art History in Focus director Siân Walters.


Each week we will explore a different collection, museum or work of art.

The Castello Sforzesco is one of the most iconic monuments of Milan, symbolising the power of the Visconti and Sforza dynasties who ruled the city state in the 14th and 15th centuries. In its later history the building suffered much damage but thanks to the efforts of architect Luca Beltrami and his restoration project, begun in 1893, it still stands today. The building now contains several important museums displaying collections which belong to the city of Milan.

In Part One we enjoy a live broadcast from the Pinacoteca del Castello Sforzesco, which represents a microcosm of Lombard Art. Dr Mazzotta will discuss masterpieces by artists such as Vincenzo Foppa,  Bramantino,  Francesco Galli (pictured) and Cesare da Sesto, as well as paintings by Venetian and Tuscan artists such as Lorenzo Lotto and Filippo Lippi. One of the most important works in the Castello is Michelangelo’s Pietà Rondanini (named after its one-time home, the Palazzo Rondanini in Rome). The sculpture of Mary mourning the Dead Christ is widely acknowledged as the artist’s final masterpiece. Michelangelo worked on it up until the very end of his life. It was discovered unfinished in his studio after his death in 1564. In Part Two Dr Mazzotta will describe the history of the castle and its architecture, followed by an in-depth discussion of Michelangelo’s Pietà.

A highlight of the course will be a live broadcast from the world-famous Brera Art Gallery in Milan. Here we have been granted a special privilege by the director, allowing us to broadcast a live, guided tour which will be led by Dr Mazzotta. We will trace the history of northern Italian painting, exploring many familiar names such as Mantegna and Bellini, as well as other lesser-known Lombard painters such as Bramantino, Bernardino Luini and Sofonisba Anguissola. The museum contains one of the most important collections in Italy, with highlights including Piero della Francesca’s Brera Altarpiece, Gentile and Giovanni Bellini’s St. Mark Preaching in Alexandria (pictured), Raphael’s Marriage of the Virgin and Caravaggio’s Supper at Emmaus.

During the reign of Ludovico il Moro (1489-1500) the Sforza court became one of Italy’s’ most refined centres of art and learning, attracting scientists, engineers and mathematicians such as Bramante and Luca Pacioli, as well as musicians and artists such as Gaffurio and Leonardo da Vinci. We enjoy a lecture on this seminal period in Milanese history, with a special focus on Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper, commissioned by Ludovico for the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie. We will examine the fascinating story behind its creation and dramatic history, learning how the work was to cause its creator, its commissioner and its successive owners considerable concern, partly because of Leonardo’s unusual decision to experiment with a radical new technique.

“Leonardo’s Followers in Milan” will explore the artist’s legacy in the city. Leonardo stayed in Milan for long and decisive periods of his life as an artist. Especially in the first sojourn (c.1482-1499), he inspired a school of followers and pupils who changed the artistic scene of Lombard art. One artist, in particular, reached peaks in both technique and quality: Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio.

Another lecture will explore the collection of the Pinacoteca Ambrosiana, one of the city’s most beautiful art galleries which was founded in 1618 by the cousin of San Carlo Borromeo, archbishop of Milan. The museum includes masterpieces such as Caravaggio’s Basket of Fruit (pictured), Leonardo da Vinci’s Portrait of a Musician and Titian’s Adoration of the Magi as well as drawings by Raphael and Michelangelo. The Ambrosian Library also contains one of Leonardo’s most famous manuscripts, the Codex Atlanticus.

There will be a session dedicated to architectural highlights of the city including Milan’s majestic Gothic Duomo, one of the largest cathedrals of the world. Construction began in 1386, supported by the first duke of Milan Gian Galeazzo Visconti who invited some of the greatest master builders from Europe to supervise its construction and ensure that the most spectacular and impressive techniques and styles would be used. We will also look at the new Piero della Francesca exhibition at the Poldi Pezzoli Museum.

Navigli is a much-loved district in Milan, an area which reminds us that the city was once founded on waterways like those of Venice and Amsterdam, but after most of its canals (the ‘Navigli’) were buried, it lost a fundamental part of its soul.  This lecture will provide an opportunity to travel back in time through old photographs, paintings and prints that depict the canals as they were. Insights on the art and history of Milan and its institutions will be also included.

Our final lecture is dedicated to the Futurist movement, born in Milan in 1909 when the poet Filippo Tommaso Marinetti published his Manifesto of Futurism in the La gazzetta dell’Emilia . Its adherents, including artists such as Umberto Boccioni, Gino Severini and Giacomo Balla (pictured below), were above all interested in movement and dynamism, and fuelled by an enthusiasm for modern technology, particularly moving bodies such as the racing car or the aeroplane. The movement also influenced concepts in music, literature and dance.

Dr Antonio Mazzotta is a distinguished scholar of Venetian and Lombard painting and a lecturer in the History of Art at the University of Milan. Dr Mazzotta worked as Curatorial Assistant at the National Gallery in 2008-2010, where he curated the exhibition Titian’s First Masterpiece: The Flight Into Egypt (2012). In 2018-2019 he curated an exhibition at the Castello Sforzesco (Milan) exploring the origins of the iconography of Michelangelo’s Pietà (Vesperbild: Alle origini delle Pietà di Michelangelo) and in 2024 he curated Titian 1508: At the Beginning of a Luminous Career at the Gallerie dell’ Accademia in Venice. 



All lectures and museum broadcasts are live and interactive, allowing you to ask questions.  Siân and Antonio are known for their informative but informal approach, combining erudite commentary with an entertaining and approachable delivery.  The sessions, streamed on Zoom Webinar, will enable you to gain special access to museums and galleries whilst at the same time providing a wonderful opportunity to travel virtually from home.

– A full course outline and reading list will be emailed to all attendees approximately one week before the first session. The date of each lecture described above will be confirmed in the outline. Students also receive an informal weekly newsletter with news, reading suggestions, recipes and website links.

– Live streamed sessions are on Friday mornings and run from 11.00am – 12.45 (UK time). There is no session on 7th June (half-term).

– Tune in from anywhere in the world or enjoy a recorded version if you cannot watch live. A link to the recording will be sent soon after the end of the session if you cannot attend, enabling you to watch on catch up after the session any time until Monday at midnight (UK time). Please note that recordings are only available to those who miss a live session.

– You are welcome to join the course at any point however, please note that you will only be able to see the recording from the previous session if you join after the course start date.

– Our guided tours use the most up-to-date technology to provide you with the best possible virtual experience. You will feel as though you are exploring the museums yourself with the running commentary given by our guides, with the possibility of admiring details of the artworks in high resolution as we move around the rooms.

– The cost includes museum entrance fees and filming permits. Our visits will also support both galleries and individuals working in the cultural sector, and a percentage of the course price is also reserved for charitable donations.

– Please refer to the Further Information panel below for booking details.

 – Please book at least 48 hours before the course commences in order to receive your course documentation and log-in details in good time, thank you.


Here are just a few comments following recent similar courses:

“I wanted to let you how much I’ve enjoyed these lectures.  You and your guest lecturers have exceeded all expectations.  Your knowledge, technical skills and presentation all combine to keep me enthralled every Friday morning – Bravo!”

“Thank you for such a wonderful course. Every week’s lectures and visits have been a delight .. and have made Friday mornings the highlight of the week. I shall be signing up for the next and look forward enormously to more Friday mornings of bliss!”

“The format works really well and the lectures are excellent … it feels really special to be allowed to be in the galleries and churches live. This is the first we have done with Art History in Focus but it won’t be the last!”

“Thank you so much for another beautifully presented course with wonderful choices of music and your follow-up Monday email, with lots to inspire further… Travel and galleries and museums are difficult for me, so I very much appreciate particularly the live visits.”

“I absolutely love your courses Sian! I am learning so much about art, history and the world .. but above all it is your unique style that is so enchanting and keeps me coming back for more! As an expert in your subject you have great knowledge but also the gift of making your lectures accessible to a wide range of participants through your wonderful use of language and lovely sense of fun. Thank you!”

“ I wanted to thank you very much for such a great educational course. I attended classes through the recording as I am an Australian resident and found this such a game changer for me. It gave me the possibility to participate in class even though broadcast from London. You and your expert lecturers imparted such a wealth of knowledge and I loved the virtual tours.”

“Your course is splendid – the combination of lectures and virtual walks/visits works brilliantly.”

“It is marvellous to be able to enjoy, and marvel at, the pleasures of art, the galleries, the whizzing round Europe, from my armchair! Thank you again for your wonderful lectures, your knowledge, and your lovely, lively lecture delivery.”

“Your absolutely brilliant lectures have been a real highlight of this year. I cannot thank you or praise them enough”.

“Your recent course was another triumph. Not only do I have unique access to buildings and works of art which I could not otherwise see, but also fascinating lectures from such an erudite cast of guides”


Art History in Focus is proud to have initiated the concept of online tours in many major European museums and historic sites. We are delighted to have developed these collaborations which continue to raise important funds for the galleries and cultural sites as well as those working in the cultural sector.

Further Information


1. BOOK.

Click on the gold “Book This Course/Event” button on the right hand side now, fill in the online booking form and pay online. You will be notified automatically by email once your booking has been accepted.

Please ensure you enter your email address correctly, as your Zoom link will be sent to this address, thank you.

The participation fee is £125 per person, if making bookings for a number of people please provide their email addresses when booking them as separate participants. The fee includes “virtual visit” fees to sites visited as well as donations to cultural institutions in need of support.


Download ZOOM once you have booked – please print/download the instructions in this downloadable link and read them carefully. Zoom works best when using Google Chrome.


You will receive an email approximately 24-48 hours in advance of the event asking you to register.** This is a privacy function enabling only registered participants to attend. After registering you will automatically receive the Zoom log in link – please keep this safe

** Please note that these details are sent out in office hours, so if you book on a weekend you may not receive them until Monday. You must register with the same name that you have booked under, otherwise you may not be able to watch. If you have not received your email confirmations, please check your ‘deleted items’ and ‘junk mail’ folders or click here for advice.


Join the event at least ten minutes before it is scheduled to start, to ensure everything is working.

If you are not able to watch at the time it is live-streamed, you can still book online, as above. You do not need to advise us if you can’t participate live, don’t worry! You will be contacted after the event has been broadcast with instructions on how to watch on catch up (until Monday at midnight UK time). Please note, the recording is only available to those who have not been able to participate live and the viewing window cannot with regret be extended, for copyright purposes.

Please refer to our Terms and Conditions for booking this event. We regret that we are unable to offer technical support with Zoom but tips can be found in the attachment. If you would like to book more than one event, please book separately for each lecture that you would like to attend, thank you. If you are booking for more than one person, it is important that you include their email address so that we can send them the lecture link too. We regret we are unable to offer refunds but don’t worry if you are not able to attend, as we will send you the recording link.

Lead image: Duomo, Milan by Dimitris Vetsikas.
Text images: Francesco Galli known as Napoletano, Madonna Lia, c.1495. Pinacoteca del Castello Sforzesco, Milan. Gentile Bellini and Giovanni Bellini,St. Mark Preaching in Alexandria, c.1504-7. Brera Art Gallery, Milan. Photo by Dimitris Vetsikas. Leonardo da Vinci, The Last Supper,1495-8. Santa Maria Della Grazie, Milan. Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio, Head of a Youth with Ivy Wreath, c. 1491-94. Uffizi Gallery, Florence. Caravaggio, Basket of Fruit, c.1597-1600. Pinacoteca Ambrosiana, Milan. Image by Lafit86- Public Domain. Navigli district Milan. Photo by Pixamio. Giacomo Balla, 1912, Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash (Dinamismo di un Cane al Guinzaglio) © Albright–Knox Art Gallery, New York