The exhibition, curated by Francesca Barbieri and Alessandra Mignatti, with Annamaria Cascetta in the role of scientific director, presents engravings, drawings, reports, satirical writings, librettos, theoretical printed works and periodicals from the heritage of the Ambrosiana Library as well as assets from the collections of paintings and relics of the Pinacoteca.
The varied material allows an in-depth study of representation which, in its broadest anthropological meaning, constitutes a privileged observatory on the cultural transformations that the city of Milan experienced in the Napoleonic era. How does the new power appear, or rather ‘does it represent itself’? How is it perceived and in turn represented?
The review analyzes various fields of investigation, such as the development of festivities and other celebratory forms from the Cisalpine republic to the Kingdom of Italy, or the organization of urban space which reveals, between ephemeral and permanent layouts, a new structure resulting from a profound rethinking. The theatrical performances, moreover, with their creative ferment, place themselves in dialogue with the great events of the time and participate in the construction of the new citizen.
Finally, the representation also affects the more everyday aspects of life, from the new allegories that appear in the bureaucratic field to the fashion for clothing and hairdressing.
In the first rooms of the exhibition there is a chronological path that begins with the entry of the French troops in Milan and reaches up to 1814. Particularly noteworthy is the inspired portrait of Napoleon painted by Andrea Appiani immediately after the arrival of the then young general in town. The engravings on display are signed by important artistic personalities of the Milanese neoclassical age, such as Alessandro Sanquirico and Gaspare Galliari; there is also a drawing by Giovanni Perego.
Ideally part of the exhibition itinerary are some works related to the Napoleonic period present in the subsequent rooms of the Pinacoteca, which are indicated to the visitor with the logo of the exhibition. These also include some works prey to the Napoleonic spoliation in Ambrosiana and then partly returned.
Finally, there is an appendix to the exhibition in the Federiciana room, with some insights on the themes anticipated in the first rooms. In particular, the room houses the drawings of Leonardo da Vinci’s Codex Atlanticus, a work that was also involved in the Napoleonic looting at the time.