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Bicocca degli Arcimboldi

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Built shortly after 1450 in what was then open countryside stretching as far as the Pre-Alpine zone, the "Castello della Bicocca" is still a remarkable construction an ancient fortified manor used as a civil habitation. It is a rectangular villa on two floors, 40 metres long and thirteen metres wide. Some characteristic details can be identified. On the outside: the moulded terracotta typical of Lombard art from that period, while inside painted and graffito decorated  walls with sandstone fireplaces are good examples of artisan work from that age.

A compact structure and rectangular framework with a five arched loggia-portico on the ground floor opening to the north which used to be an elegant entry hall and also an area for rural equipment. Along the four sides of the first floor where the master lived in the main rooms are windows with unsymmetrical terracotta decorations two by two separated by protruding chimney breasts. On the top floor, above a highly prized terracotta cornice, is a covered roof terrace stretching across all the building opened by double lancet windows with little columns and central capital which in old times was most probably used as a granary or for storage. Inside in the "Salotto degli Affreschi" (the frescoed salon) is one of the best series of Milanese 15th century frescoes showing occupations and pastimes of the ladies of the court of its kind. The scenes are separated by columns and cornices and a Renaissance frieze along the upper part and below an intertwined wickerwork design. It would seem to be by an artist used to antique codex decorations, possibly influenced by medieval Hungarian art.

Originally the villa belonged to the noble Arcimboldi family and was used for holiday periods and hunting. When the Arcimboldi family became extinct, the Bicocca together with the surrounding agricultural land passed into the hands of the Arconati family, later to the Buscas and finally became a Sormani property. Under the last owners near the end of the nineteenth century the villa, which had by now fallen into decay, was used as a farmstead and living quarters for farmworkers.

In 1918, after a first perfunctory attempt to restore it, the construction was bought by the Pirelli tyre firm. It was a period of expansion and the factory was being enlarged. In 1922 a "Museo dell'Industria della Gomma", a museum of the rubber industry, was planned on one floor of the old building and the remaining space was used for an asilo and professional school. After the end of the Second World War the schools were transferred and the building used as a centre to receive guests and for official entertaining.

 As can be seen today the Bicocca has been fully restored to its original decorum. From 1994 to 1996 it was completely restructured by a team led by architect Piero Castellini who worked in close contact with the "Soprintendenza per I Beni Ambientali e Architettonici di Milano". When it was decided to go ahead only two rooms were visibly frescoed, the remaining interior walls were covered by anonymous plasterwork. A careful inspection of what was beneath the plaster led to the discovery of traces of ancient frescoes. It took two years of painstaking work for restorers to uncover all the original decorations. The restoration work favoured this exciting rediscovery and brought the original colours of all the decorative graphics back to the light of day enhancing interior and exterior architectural elements. The paintings along the great staircase depicting various subjects including two musicians playing wind instruments and a girl concentrating on fishing were brought back to life.

The characteristic friezes and festoons around these figures are typical of the period as are decorated maxims "Sempre il Dovere e Sempre in Dio" (always put your duty first and you will have God with you) seen on the ground floor framed by naturalistic elements.

Renovation work also took in the mainly lacunar ceilings which have been restored to their original aspect, durmast wood was that most used with trusses forming  a gracious pattern of square shapes "cassettoni" ornamented with painted bricks which fortunately have been salvaged. The top floor of the villa has undergone restoration work as well. It is composed of a covered roof terrace (altana) with light entering through double lancet windows. The portico has been redone, the graffito put in order and traces of a fresco can be seen once again. The precious garden surrounding the edifice has been completely renewed.

The restoration of the Bicocca to its original splendour enables us to have a clear testimony of fifteenth century social life at our disposition. It provides important relevant evidence because the "Bicocca degli Arcimboldi" is one of the rare examples of a fifteenth-century country house to have survived until now.

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Bicocca degli Arcimboldi Viale Sarca, 214
20126 Milan, Italy

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