Monday, 4 January 2016

Gonfalon of the City of Milan

This object intrigued and fascinated us. It hangs in the middle of one of the rooms in the Castello Sforzesco, and is a curious and surprising mixture of mediums. We looked at it and thought it was a tapestry, then realised bits were painted and other bits embroidered. It's also huge. We thought it was for public processions, but then because it is so big and unwieldy looking, wondered if it was a theatrical backdrop of some sort. Then we gave up and read the museum panel.

Rather than re-invent the wheel I will quote directly from that museum panel to enlighten you too:

The gonfalon of the City of Milan belongs to the type of city ensigns decorated on both sides so as to be clearly visible to all during processions, although it is much larger than most, measuring a huge 5 metres high and 3.5 metres wide. It was crafted on a drawing by Guiseppe Arcimboldi, using a mixed technique that combined embroidery and tempera paint and featuring inserts of precious stones. Created by Scipione Delfinone and Guiseppe Posterla, between 1565 and 1567, it was drawn to be the main gonfalon of the city and remained in use as such until it became a museum exhibit in the 1870s; it has, however, subesquently been used for a number of important occasions.

On both sides the gonfalon depicts Saint Ambrose standing in the middle of an elaborately decorated arch, holding, in his left hand, the whip he is traditionally associated with and, in his right hand, a finely crafted crosier. At his feet are two soldiers, face down, symbolising the episode of the saint driving out the Aryans. The round-arched portal framing the figure of Saint Ambrose and set against the backdrop of a building rests on piers decorated with scenes from the life of the saint. The border at the bottom, which was added later, is embroidered with gold thread on a damask base, and features nine coats of arms, three of which belong to the Municipality of Milan (a red cross on a white background) and the rest to the gates of the city.

The gonfalon of Milan was commissioned by the Magnifica Communiti institution of the city for Palazzo dei Giureconsulti, which housed the Collegio dei Nobili Dottori training institution from its inauguration in 1654 until the Napoleonic Era. The work was initially entrusted to the painter Carlo Urbino and the weaver Bernadino Riome (weaving was chosen for financial reasons, since the technique is less expensive than painting and lasts longer), but the initial results were deemed unsatisfactory, in particular the skin tones, and the decision was taken to place the work in the hands of the prestigious Milanese embroiderer Scipione Delfinone; at the same time the preparatory drawings were entrusted to the artists Guiseppe Arcimboldo and Guiseppe Meda, both from Milan.

The iconography of the composition appears to have remained unchanged; the radical departure from the initial version consisted of the use of the more sophisticated technique of embroidery. The embroiderers created the work using the appliqué technique, consisting of a support on which were placed shaped pieces of different fabrics, mostly painted with embroidered inserts. For example, the saint's face is painted, while the mitre is embroidered and embellished with precious stones, creating a striking relief effect. The embroiderer also used a large number of precious materials, the purchase of which is extensively documented. Particularly fine gold and silver threads and fabrics were purchased, as well as brocades, silks and satin fabrics, while the goldsmith Battista Cellario supplied the precious stones: pearls and garnets, together with the rubies destined to adorn the mitre of Saint Ambrose.

A la cuisine hier: Beef casserole with some good leftover red Touraine cabernet franc, lots of carrots, baby onions and some aged celery that needed using up, cooked on the wood stovetop. 

Since it was Epiphany Sunday I made a galette des rois from some homemade rough puff pastry that I had in the freezer, filled with almond paste from the supermarket and a couple of the remaining homegrown apples, sliced. I also sprinkled it with raw sugar (Fr. cassonade) so it made a sweet crispy crust. Not traditional but good. I got the fêve.
Loire Valley Nature: An new entry has been added for Morel Morchella esculenta, one of the most prized of the edible mushrooms.


  1. If you are the King or Queen for the day I was told by French folk that you have to make or buy the galette for the following day!!!!!!!!!!! ...
    Meilleurs Voeux...

    1. No need for that. Plenty of leftovers :-)

  2. Hope Simon took on board that you were Queen. I doubt the Queen washes up or cleans the loo... ;o)

    1. This one performed exactly those two tasks today. Obviously I'll have to scrutinise the rulebook more closely!