One of the most visited landmarks in the city centre and one of the focal points of the itinerary to retrace the steps of Leonardo da Vinci, Piazza della Scala is surrounded by a vast array of curiosities. Discover them all with this contribution by art historian Stefano Zuffi!

1. Its attire

The square adorned with trees in front of La Scala Opera House is one of the most prestigious historical settings in the center of Milan. The backdrop to the square includes the facade of the world-famous opera house, preceded by a portico and, on the opposite side, Milan City Hall, housed in a fine Renaissance edifice.

2. What's around it

On one side, you can glimpse the entry arch of Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, the elegant nineteenth-century covered passageway that leads to the Cathedral, while on the other side, you can admire the huge building originally destined for the Banca Commerciale and today home to Gallerie d’Italia, a series of exhibition spaces with an impressive permanent collection that also frequently hosts important art exhibitions.

3. A tribute to Leonardo da Vinci

Rising up in the centre of this downtown piazza, always bustling with tourists, is the tall monument dedicated to Leonardo da Vinci, the city’s most striking homage to the artist. Sculpted by Pietro Magni, it was officially unveiled in 1872, following a lengthy period of work and plenty of controversies. The poet Giosuè Carducci, the first Italian laureate of the Nobel Prize for Literature, was excessively critical of the monument, unceremoniously describing it as “ghastly”.

4. The monument, a controversial choice

The monument to da Vinci is one of the best-known in Milan, given its location and imposing size, but its construction was indeed particularly complicated and fraught with difficulty. Pietro Magni worked on the sculpture for 15 years, and the payment he received did not even cover the costs of the materials. In addition, since it was to be placed in front of La Scala, many people in Milan would have preferred a monument to a musician. The choice to portray Leonardo’s four pupils in the work was also the object of criticism.

5. The statue into more details

The central feature of the monument is the rather sullen figure of Leonardo, some four and a half meters tall and sculpted in Carrara marble. Arranged around the pedestal, decorated with bas-reliefs showing a number of activities the artist carried out in Milan, are four young Lombard painters: Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio, Marco d’Oggiono, Cesare da Sesto and Andrea Salaino. Unfortunately, the position of the figures and the shape of the statues immediately gave rise to an analogy with a wine bottle surrounded by four glasses, which earned the monument the tongue-in-cheek nickname of “un litro in quattro”, a litre split four ways, to the further chagrin of its unfortunate sculptor.