Mediaeval Milan - From Saint Ambrose to the Visconti

Prices from £2,090


6 Mar 2019 - 10 Mar 2019
Duration: 4 nights
With: Dr Sally Dormer


Prices from £2,090
Single Supplement: £420
Deposit: £200

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From 286 to 402 AD Milan – Latin Mediolanum – was capital of the Roman Empire in the West, in an attempt to defend the Italian peninsula against northern invaders. These hundred-odd years coincided with the rise of Christianity, from Emperor Constantine’s edict of tolerance towards Christianity in 313 to the death of Ambrose, the city’s most eminent Early Christian bishop and subsequent patron saint, in 397. Ambrose was the first to play a leading role in the Christian city’s civic and artistic life. Under his aegis at least three outstanding Early Christian basilicas were built and the production of glass, gold work and ivories flourished. The Ambrosian Golden Age came to an end with the Gothic and Lombardic invasions of the 5th and 6th centuries, when the centres of power temporarily shifted to Pavia and Monza. A second and third flourishing, however, came with the spread of Carolingian and Ottonian imperial renovatio in northern Italy which affected all the arts.

The early years of the second millennium saw the rise of a communal government and in 1167 Milan led the League of Lombard Cities against Frederick Barbarossa’s invasion. The commune, consisting of military leaders, merchants and bankers, effectively put an end to the hegemony of Milanese archbishops; the city’s princes took over as leading patrons. Indeed, the rebuilding of the cathedral was initiated at the end of the 14th-century by the Visconti Lords and later Dukes of Milan.


As the director of the Early Mediaeval year course at the V&A, Sally is an expert in mediaeval art and history. She is Dean of US study abroad undergraduate programmes for the University of the South and Rhodes College. Sally also lectures for the Art Fund and Arts Society.

DAY 1:

We fly mid-morning from London Heathrow to Milan Linate, and take a coach to our hotel. In the afternoon, a short stroll will take us to the huge complex of the cathedral and the excavations of the octagonal baptistery of San Giovanni alle Fonti, where St Ambrose baptised Augustine of Hippo in 387. The Duomo itself was begun in 1385 and beautifully illustrates the diversity of Italian and Northern European Gothic approaches to architectural design. The façade of the 13th-century Broletto, or town hall, in the peaceful Piazza Mercanti is dominated by an equestrian portrait of one of the city’s podestà, Oldrado da Tresseno, providing us with an opportunity to consider the evolution of government in mediaeval Milan.

DAY 2:

This morning we visit San Lorenzo, a centrally planned early Christian church which boasts important mosaics of c.400 AD in the chapel of San Aquilino. Proceed to San Satiro to see the Carolingian wall paintings in the Cappella della Pietà, dating from the time of Archbishop Ansperto (r. 868-81). In the afternoon we visit Sant’Ambrogio, Ambrose’s basilica martyrum. The early Christian mosaics in the votive chapel of San Vittore in Ciel d’Oro, a 9th-century golden altar and a late 10th-century terracotta ciborium have survived the 11th-century rebuilding, while a fine Romanesque pulpit straddles an early Christian sarcophagus.

DAY 3:

Until Barbarossa’s Sack of Milan in 1162 the basilica of Sant’Eustorgio was the repository of the relics of the Magi, which had arrived in Milan in 344. The church was subsequently rebuilt and became the city’s seat of the Dominican Order. It is famed for the most elaborate of all 14th-century tomb monuments belonging to St Peter Martyr (d. 1252), executed by Giovanni di Balduccio, today housed in the richly frescoed 15th-century Portinari Chapel. The Museo Diocesano in the cloisters holds rare treasures from St Ambrose’s basilica apostolorum, such as the 4th-century historiated silver capsella of St Nazaro. An afternoon visit to the Museo del Duomo includes a 5th-century ivory diptych, a 10th-century ivory situla and an 11th-century gold cross in addition to works of late-Gothic Burgundian, Rhenish, Bohemian, Campionese and Lombard sculpture, all testifying to the international nature of Milan’s cathedral workshop.

DAY 4:

Our morning excursion takes us to Monza, a short distance north-east of Milan. Now perhaps best known for its motor racing circuit, the town was a summer residence of the Lombard-Bavarian queen Theodolinda in the first half of the 7th-century, and flourished again under Emperor Berengar I in the early 10th-century. The handsome 14th-century cathedral now rises on the site of Theodolinda’s oraculum. Inside, a recently restored narrative cycle of lavishly gilded murals in the International Gothic style tells the story of the queen’s life, while the treasury houses the famous Iron Crown of Lombardy, an intriguing object of possibly Ostrogothic origin, and a unique 7th-century silver-gilt sculpture of a Hen with Seven Chicks. After lunch, we return to Milan for some free time.

DAY 5:

Morning visit to the Civic Archaeological Museum, housed in a former 8th-century convent built on top of a 1st-century Roman domus, has interesting exhibits relating to Roman Milan, above all the Diatreta Trivulzio, an exquisite late Antique cagecup. Our final visit will take us to Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper at S. Maria delle Grazie – a must-see for any visit to Milan and only accessible by advance booking. In the afternoon we transfer by coach to the airport for our return flight to London Heathrow.


Twin/double share: £2090 per person
Double room for sole use supplement: £420
Tour without flights cost: £1990
Deposit: £200 per person


  • Return flights with BA from London Heathrow to Milan Linate
  • Private coach transfers in Milan
  • Four nights’ bed and breakfast in the 4* Hotel Rosa, Milan
  • Two dinners
  • Guided visits to all sites listed in the programme
  • Services of the Lecturer and Tour Manager
  • Detailed programme and study notes
  • All entrance fees, taxes & gratuities for coach drivers & waiters

Hotel Rosa****

The four-star Hotel Rosa, is a large, beautifully designed hotel overlooking Piazza Fontana and a short walk from the Duomo and Teatro La Scala. The hotel facilities include a spa, bar and lounge, as well as two restaurants offering food in partnership with the Italian food specialists, Eataly. The bedrooms include satellite TV, mini bar, safe, complimentary internet access, bath robe and slippers, hair dryer and tea and coffee making facilities.


  • Pillow menu
  • WiFi
  • Smart Television
  • Espresso coffee machine and kettle facilities
  • Minibar
  • Safe