• Leslie

Italy Art Pilgrimage: Definitive Guide To Finding the Best Art in Italy

Updated: 2 days ago

Sandro Botticelli's famous Birth of Venus in Florence's Uffizi Gallery
Sandro Botticelli's famous Birth of Venus in Florence's Uffizi Gallery

Want to know here to find the best art in Italy? Look no further! This is the definitive guide to the best places, museums, and art towns to find must see masterpieces in Italy. This guide includes famous paintings, sculpture, and frescos from ancient Rome to the Renaissance to Modern art.

Some of these must see Italian artworks are in Italy's hotspots like Rome, Florence, and Venice. Others are tucked away in secret museums, off the beaten path towns in Italy, or hidden behind the ornate doors of Italy's churches. It could take a lifetime to see all the art and culture Italy offers.

Italy art check list, where to find the best art

With this Italy itinerary, you can ferret out Italy's best art and must see masterpieces. If you're an art lover, you may want to even fashion your itinerary based on where to find the best Italian art. To further that cause, I have several artist trails you can follow -- Michelangelo, Leonardo, Bernini, Caravaggio, etc.

For your convenience, I've divvied up the must visit art destinations in Italy by city. And added in some other must visit destinations by region. Let's take a tour of the best art in Italy, to help you create your own Italy art bucket list.

Palazzo Barberini, a wonderful hidden gem palace museum in Rome
Palazzo Barberini, a wonderful hidden gem palace museum in Rome

The Best Places in Italy To See Famous Italian Paintings and Masterpieces

Here's my expert compilation on Italy for art lovers, based on years of travel and study.

Best Art in Rome Rome Italy

We'll start off with Rome, the Eternal City. Rome is overflowing with must see masterpieces and museums both large and small. Rome is almost head spinning. You can find magnificent art in Rome in world class museums, secret palace museums, and tiny less touristy churches. In some secret spots, you may have these masterpieces all to yourself.

Here's what you can't miss, art wise, in Rome:

view of St. Peter's Basilica and the Bridge of Angels in Rome
view of St. Peter's Basilica and the Bridge of Angels in Rome

1. Vatican Museums

The Vatican Museums hold one of the world's greatest art collections. Some of the most famous artworks on the planet are there. If you're an art or history lover, the Vatican is a must see site in Rome.

The Vatican Museums are the public art and sculpture museums in the Vatican City complex. They're housed in former wings of the Vatican Palace. The Vatican Museums are one of the world's most visited sites, attracting millions of visitors annually.

Because there's no crowd control, visiting the Vatican can be a bit of a dystopian experience. The crowds are oppressive. My best visit was in the dead of winter.

A museum path takes you through the long corridors and wings of the Vatican Museums. Most of the fine art, as opposed to decorative art, is in the Vatican Pinacoteca, the Pio-Clementine Museum, the Raphael Rooms, the Borgia Apartments, and the Sistine Chapel.

You'll find amazing works by the holy trinity of the High renaissance -- Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael. The highlight, of course, is the Sistine Chapel where Michelangelo painted the ceiling and altar wall in brilliant colors.

I've written an extensive guide to visiting the Vatican Museums, with tips for visiting. I also have guides to the Sistine Chapel, the Vatican Pinacoteca, and the Raphael Rooms.

Rome's Borghese Gallery, one of the best museums in all of Italy
Rome's Borghese Gallery, one of the best museums in all of Italy

2. Borghese Gallery

The magnificent Borghese Gallery is one of my favorite museums in Europe and one of the world's most perfect small museums. The museum houses a jaw dropping in situ art collection in a luxurious garden villa. If you're an art lover, the Borghese should definitely be on your itinerary for Rome.

In the 17th century, Cardinal Scipione Borghese meticulously assembled the densely-packed collection of wonders. The collection is rich in ancient Roman, Renaissance, and Baroque art.

The Borghese boasts major works by Bernini, Titian, Caravaggio, Raphael, Rubens, and Canova -- all set amid frescoed ceilings and splendidly decorated marble rooms. In fact, the Borghese owns 6 Caravaggio works, 1/10 of his paintings in existence in the world.

Unlike the Vatican Museums, the Borghese has timed entrances with limited tickets to enforce crowd control. It's a far superior museum experience.

Advance reservation are mandatory. Here's my complete guide to visiting the amazing Borghese Gallery. It tells you what masterpieces you can't miss and gives you tips for visiting.

stairs leading up to the Capitoline Museums on Piazza dei Campidoglio
stairs leading up to the Capitoline Museums in Piazza dei Campidoglio

3. Capitoline Museums

If you love sculpture, especially Greco-Roman sculpture, this wonderful museum in Rome will delight. The Capitoline Museums are Rome's oldest museum. It gives you a unique up close look at Rome's ancient imperial history.

The Capitoline Museums sit atop a beautiful square, the Piazza dei Campidoglio on Capitoline Hill. In the 16th century, Michelangelo re-designed the square, transforming it from pagan to papal. In the center is a grand statue of Marcus Aurelius on horseback (the original is in the museums).

The Capitoline's stash of ancient art and artifacts is unparalleled, albeit somewhat disorganized. It boasts an enormous array of ancient Roman, medieval, and Renaissance art -- statuary, paintings, and relics. The objets d'art are staged within gorgeous marbled rooms filled with tapestries and frescoes.

Here's my guide to visiting Rome's Capitoline Museums.

Caravaggio paintings in the Palazzo Doria Pamphilj, a must visit art gallery in Rome
Caravaggio paintings in the Palazzo Doria Pamphilj

4. Rome's Palace Museums

Want to get of the beaten path in Rome? Rome is so densely packed with treasures that, in a few short days, most visitors can only visit the must see sites in the historic center and the ruins of Imperial Rome.

But Rome really excels with its raft of elegant private palazzos that hold astonishing art collections. Most of these lovelies are hidden gems in a city that is often crowded jowl to jowl with tourists. If you spread your wings and venture off the beaten path, you may have an aristocratic private palace in Rome all to yourself.

READ: Hidden Gems in Rome

Diego Velazquez, Portrait of Innocent X, 1649-50 -- the crown jewel of the Doria Pamphilj
Diego Velazquez, Portrait of Innocent X, 1649-50 -- the crown jewel of the Doria Pamphilj

These rarely visited Roman palazzos hide some of Rome's unmissable masterpieces, amid dazzling rooms designed and decorated by Rome's rich and famous. They are just as splendid as Rome's other must see sites. And they offer a refuge from Rome's crowds and the ability to enjoy Rome's cultural riches in relative privacy. A true art lover will be utterly delighted by these unique museum experiences in Rome.

My very favorite palace-museum is the Doria Pamphilj. The museums holds a princely collection of 17th century works, one of the most impressive private collections in Europe. The museum is housed in a lavish Roman-Rococo palace. Every inch of the walls and ceilings are decorated with beautiful frescos, tapestries, and glittering chandeliers.

The art collection was meticulously assembled and is still owned by a powerful Italian family, the Doria Pamphilj (pronounced Pom-fee-lee). The museum boasts over 700 works spanning the 15th to the 18th century. There are rare master works by Bernini, Caravaggio, Velazquez, Titian, Carracci, and Bruegel.

I also loved the Palazzo Barberini, Palazzo Colonna, and Palazzo Spada. And you can find amazing secret Raphael frescos at the Villa Farnesina. Here's my complete guide to Rome's secret palace museums.

Caravaggio's triptych about the life of St. Matthew in the Contarelli Chapel
Caravaggio's triptych about the life of St. Matthew in the Contarelli Chapel

5. Free Churches in Rome

Traveling in any city as large and popular as Rome can be very expensive. And many of Rome's best museums have hefty entry fees. But, fear not, Rome is essentially a living museum with art sprinkled everywhere.

Most significantly, Rome's churches open their ornate doors for free. Inside, you'll find stellar art from the Renaissance and Baroque eras, including works by such luminaries as Michelangelo, Raphael, Bernini, and Caravaggio. It also costs nothing to wander in Rome's piazzas and parks, where you'll find even more art on display.

The best of these free options, I think, is the Church of San Luigi dei Francesi, or St. Louis of the French. It's a small church just one block from Piazza Navona. It's absolutely worth a stop. Inside, is the spectacular Contarelli Chapel, which has three massive paintings by Caravaggio.

Here's my complete guide to free art in Rome.

cityscape of Florence Italy, a must visit destination for art in Tuscany
cityscape of Florence

Best Art in Florence Italy

Florence is the cradle of art in the Western world, a designated UNESCO site for its cultural and artistic heritage. With more than 16 million visitors annually, Florence is home to scores of museums, palaces, churches, and cloisters that contain incredible masterpieces. There's an intense concentration of art work. So intense you might suffer from Stendhal Syndrome.

In the 14th and 15th century, Florence witnessed the birth of one of mankind's greatest experiments, the Italian Renaissance. Within Florence's medieval walls, lived the greatest painters of the time.

It was in Florence that Europe's first museums took shape. They began in family collections, then turned into princely collections.

the new "Raphael and Michelangelo Room" in the Uffizi, Michelangelo's Doni Tondo in the recessed center
the new "Raphael and Michelangelo Room" in the Uffizi, Michelangelo's Doni Tondo in the recessed center

1. Uffizi Gallery

The Uffizi has the world's best and most abundant collection of Italian medieval and Renaissance art. The museum is a crowd pleaser, the third most visited site in Italy. It deserves its accolades and should be on your bucket list and itinerary for Florence.

The Uffizi houses seminal works from the 13th to 18th centuries, with a concentration on Renaissance art. Here's where you'll find one of the world's most iconic paintings, Sandro Botticelli's Birth of Venus.

Basically, the Uffizi is a nonstop steady stream of masterpieces. You'll find works by Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, Lippi, Piero della Francesca, etc. And it's not just the glorious paintings. There are important statues and beautiful decorated ceilings.

Here's my complete guide to the must see masterpieces of the Uffizi Gallery, with tips for visiting.

Michelangelo's David -- the world's most famous sculpture
Michelangelo's David -- the world's most famous sculpture

2. Galleria dell'Accademia

Florence's Accademia Gallery houses what may be the world's most famous sculpture -- Michelangelo's magnificent David. The 17 foot Renaissance statue is considered the embodiment of male beauty, a Calvin Klein-like model of physical perfection.

People flock in droves to see David. After the Uffizi Gallery, the Accademia is Florence's most visited museum. Here's my guide to the marvel of David and, perhaps more importantly, how to skip the line at the Accademia to see the famed statue in person.

Aside from David, you can see Michelangelo's unfinished Slaves in the Hall of the Prisoners. The slaves have been named The Awakening Slave, The Young Slave, The Bearded Slave, and The Atlas. They were likely intended for the Tomb of Pope Julius II, a project that underwent continual revision.

The Accademia also houses Michelangelo's sculpture of St. Matthew. And there are paintings by Sandro Botticelli, Paulo Uccello, and Domenico Ghirlandaio, Michelangelo's teacher for one year.

e Donatello Room in the Florence's Bargello Museum
the Donatello Room in the Florence's Bargello Museum

3. Bargello Museum

The Bargello is, hands down, the best museum in Italy for sculpture. You'll be dazzled with artworks by Donatello, Michelangelo, and Andrea del Verrochio.

The august museum houses a world class collection of Renaissance sculptures. Despite that, and because Florence is so densely packed with treasures, the Bargello is a hidden gem in Florence.

The Bargello boasts early Michelangelo works, some of Donatello's most famous sculptures, and works by other famous Renaissance artists like Cellini, Giambologna, and Andrea del Verriocchio. Basically, the Bargello is to Renaissance sculpture what the Uffizi Gallery is to Renaissance painting.

Here's my guide to the Bargello Museum.

Fra Angelico's Annunciation in San Marco Monastery
Fra Angelico's Annunciation in San Marco Monastery

4. San Marco Monastery

This is truly one of my favorite spots in Florence. San Marco Monastery is an extraordinary decorative complex, one of the most unusual things to do in Florence. San Marco is a secret haven of early Renaissance paintings and frescos.

It's a rare opportunity to see Early Renaissance masterpieces in situ. You can admire art in its original location and understand how contemporary audiences experienced it. This simply isn't the case at the Uffizi or almost any other museum in Europe.

At this Renaissance convent-museum, you travel back in time to a nearly perfectly preserved 600 year old Dominican monastery. It was paid for by Medici family money, designed by the stellar architect Michelozzo, and decorated with delicate frescos by one of the most sublime painters of the Renaissance -- Fra Angelico. The fiery preacher Girolamo Savonarola even lived there.

Here's my complete guide to visiting San Marco Monastery.

reconstructed Duomo facade in the Hall of Paradise in Florence's Duomo Museum
reconstructed Duomo facade in the Hall of Paradise in Florence's Duomo Museum

5. Florence's Duomo Museum

Museo dell'Opera del Duomo is a fabulous treasure box of sculpture. It boasts an unparalleled collection of Medieval and early Renaissance Florentine pieces by artists such as Donatello, Michelangelo, Arnolfo di Cambio, and Nanni di Banco.

The museum is housed in the Piazza del Duomo at the back of Giotto's Bell Tower, behind the Duomo apse. It's the same space where Michelangelo famously carved David in secret. On top of the art, its rooftop terrace offers a mesmerizing view of Brunelleschi's dome.

Here's my complete guide to visiting the Duomo Museum.

Cortona ceiling frescos in the Pitti Palace, a must visit place for great art in Florence
Cortona ceiling frescos in the Pitti Palace

6. Medici Palaces

There are three palaces in Florence that the Medici dynasty called home: (1) the Medici-Riccardi Palace; (2) Palazzo Vecchio; and (3) the Pitti Palace. Everything the Medici owned, created, and commissioned is gorgeous.

Though somewhat craggy and rusticated on the outside, inside the palaces hold some of the world's greatest and most opulent paintings, frescos, and sculptures.

READ: Nutshell History of the Medici Family

fresco of Lorenzo the Magnificent in the Chapel of the Magi
fresco of Lorenzo the Magnificent in the Chapel of the Magi

Palazzo Medici-Riccardi

The ancient and austere Palazzo Medici-Riccardi is the Renaissance home where it all began. The fortress-like palace was home to the Medici family in the second half of the 15th century and a couple of decades of the 16th century.

Most importantly, it was home to two of the greatest historical figures of the Renaissance, Cosimo the Elder and Lorenzo the Magnificent.

The highlight of the palace is the The Chapel of the Magi . It was a private chapel used exclusively for prayer and devotion. The chapel is decorated with a beautiful series of frescos painted in 1459 by Benozzo Gozzoli. Gozzoli was trained by Ghiberti and Fra Angelico, and thus rendered the frescos in a charming narrative style.

Giorgio Vasari frescos in the Palazzo Vecchio's Hall of Five Hundred
Giorgio Vasari frescos in the Palazzo Vecchio's Hall of Five Hundred

Palazzo Vecchio

In 1540, Cosimo I moved his family from the Medici Palace into the Palazzo della Signorina, now called the Palazzo Vecchio. You first step into the charming courtyard, designed by the famed architect Michelozzo in 1453.

On the first floor of Palazzo Vecchio, you can visit the Hall of the Five Hundred, awash with frescos by Giorgio Vasari -- famed Florentine artist, architect and the world’s first art historian. On the second floor are the sumptuously decorated private rooms of the Medici.

READ: Leonardo vs Michelangelo in the Palazzo Vecchio

Palatine Gallery in the Pitti Palace
Palatine Gallery in the Pitti Palace

Pitti Palace

The magnificent Palazzo Pitti is located across the Arno River, in the off the beaten path Oltrarno district that's now Florence's trendiest neighborhood.

The palace is one of Florence's most stunning architecture gems. Built in 1457, it was designed by Brunelleschi and built for the Florentine banker Luca Pitti, a Medici rival.

Inside, there are 8 museums. The best one is the Palatine Gallery, with a stunning array of works by Raphael, Titian, Rubens, Caravaggio, and other European and Italian painters. In the five Planet Rooms, there are spectacular ceiling frescos by Pietro da Cortona.

READ: Ultimate Guide To the Pitti Palace

tomb of Lorenzo in the Medici Chapel, a place with the most Michelangelo sculptures in Florence
tomb of Lorenzo in the Medici Chapel

7. Church Museums and Chapels in Florence

Much of the glorious art in Florence is tucked away in churches and chapels. I've written a definitive guide to all the best museums in Florence. But the top two absolute must visit churches to visit are the Medici Chapel in the Basilica of San Lorenzo and the Basilica of Santa Croce.

Medici Chapel

In 1519, Michelangelo was commissioned to construct burial chapels for the Medici. The result, the Medici Chapel, is an incredibly unique monument.

It's a rare architectural space that was both designed and decorated by a single artist. Michelangelo may have intended to paint frescos there as well. But they were never begun.

There are 6 tomb sculptures carved by Michelangelo. Four are allegories of the passage of time. They were intended to convey the message that time destroys everything earthly, that the days of our lives ineluctably lead to our death.

Michelangelo's sculpture of Night in Florence's Medici Chapel
Michelangelo's sculpture of Night in the Medici Chapel

On the tomb of Lorenzo, the effigy of Lorenzo is shown at the top as a brooding introvert, whose face remains in shadow. Below him are the sculptures of Dawn and Dusk. Dawn suggests the emergence of light. Dusk suggests twilight.

On the tomb of Giuliano, Giuliano's effigy shows him as an extrovert. This is a beautiful sculpture. It's one of Michelangelo's most idealized pieces. I mean, just look at his long elegant neck.

The two tomb statues below Giuliano are allegories of Night and Day. Art historians consider Night to be one of Michelangelo's finest works.

iconic marble facade of Florence's Basilica of Santa Croce
iconic marble facade of Florence's Basilica of Santa Croce

Basilica of Santa Croce

The Basilica of Santa Croce has one of the greatest assemblages of paintings, sculptures, and funereal tombs in existence.

Santa Croce is a place of superlatives. It’s the largest world’s Franciscan church, a fine example of Italian Gothic style, and home to many celebrity tombs, magnificent frescos, and Donatello sculptures.

It’s a place of one stop shopping for Italian culture and a must see site in Florence for art lovers. Santa Croce is also where you'll find the Vasari-designed tomb of Michelangelo, if you want to pay your respects.

Here's my complete guide to visiting the Basilica of Santa Croce complex.

copy of Michelangelo's David in the Piazza della Signoria
copy of Michelangelo's David in the Piazza della Signoria

8. Sculptures of the Piazza della Signoria

Don't feel like paying for art in pricey Florence? No problem, head to the Piazza della Signoria. The piazza is the jackpot of street art.

The Piazza della Signoria is the home of Palazzo Vecchio -- the seat of Florence's government and a museum. It's the center of Florentine life and politics, a meeting spot buzzing with activity.

Many beautiful sculptures by Italy's greatest artists are on display in front of the Palazzo Vecchio or adjacent to it in the Loggia dei Lanza. There are works by Cellini, Giambologna, Michelangelo (copy), Dontaello (copies), and Bandinelli. My favorite is Cellini's bronze Perseus.

the Grand Canal in Venice
the Grand Canal in Venice

Best Art in Venice Italy

People don't usually think of Venice as an art destination. But it definitely is. Most people are just, understandably, too besotted with the picturesque canals to notice.

Venice is the home of the Venetian school of Renaissance paintings and the 20th century works of an eccentric American heiress living in Venice, Peggy Guggenheim.

room in the Guggenheim Venice with a Picasso painting and Calder mobile
room in the Guggenheim Venice with a Picasso painting and Calder mobile

1. Peggy Guggenheim Museum

The Guggenheim Museum is housed in the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni in Venice's Dorsoduro neighborhood. It holds one of the finest modern art collections in the world. If you love 20th century art, the golden age of modern art, this museum is a must visit in Venice.

Virtually every piece is a seminal work of art. Guggenheim's collection includes works from the major movements of Cubism, Surrealism, Futurism, and Abstract Expressionism.

There's an entire room dedicated to her beloved Jackson Pollack, an artist Guggenheim "discovered." You can see works by Picasso, de Chirico, Vassily Kandinsky, Joan Miro, Paul Klee, Max Ernst, Magritte, Willem de Kooning, Salvador Dali, and Alexander Calder.

READ: Complete Guide to Visiting Venice's Guggenheim Museum

Piero della Francesca, St. Jerome and a Donor, 1451 -- in Venice's Galleria dell'Accademia
Piero della Francesca, St. Jerome and a Donor, 1451 -- in the Galleria dell'Academia

2. Galleria dell'Accademia

The Accademia Gallery is the most important museum in Venice and one of the best in Europe. It's housed in the former Santa Maria della Carita church and convent complex. The museum was built, in part, by famed Italian Renaissance architect, Andrea Palladio.

But the Accademia is always empty, even during high season. Venice's crowds are mostly centered in Piazza San Marco. Given the museum's vaunted collection, it's rather shocking. But it may be difficult viewing, if you're not an art lover.

The Accademia houses the world's most important collection of Venetian paintings. It has pieces by Veronese, Titian, Tintoretto, Tiepolo, Bellini, Canaletto, Mantegna, and Giorgione.

Don't miss one of the world's most famous Last Supper paintings, Veronese's The Feast in the House of Levi. The Galleria also possesses the world's most famous drawing, Leonardo da Vinci's Vitruvian Man (which isn't often on display).

Loggia dei Cavalli of Venice's St. Mark's Basilica
Loggia dei Cavalli of Venice's St. Mark's Basilica

3. St. Mark's Basilica

St. Mark's is an astonishing tour de force of Italo-Byzantine architecture. Consecrated in 1093, it's one of the world's most famous churches. Since 1807, St. Mark's has been the cathedral of Venice.

Inside, is a golden extravaganza of mosaics, 90,000 square feet in total symbolically concentrated high above in the celestial world. In the middle ages, Venice was the leading school of mosaic in, ahead of Ravenna. The oldest mosaics in St. Mark's date back to 1070, telling Old Testament stories.

It's worth it to cough up the cash to see the Pala d'Oro, an elaborate Gothic altar panel on a pivot behind the baldachin. It's made of gold and decorated with 2,000 precious gems, enamels, and ivories. The panel is universally considered the most refined expression of Byzantine art.

Also head upstairs to the Loggia dei Cavalli, or Balcony of the Horses. This is where you'll find the Triumphal Quadriga -- the four beautiful bronze horses of St. Mark. Copies are on an observation balcony, which gives you stunning views over Venice.

READ: 2 Day itinerary for Venice

Doge's Palace on the Grand Canal in Venice
Doge's Palace on the Grand Canal in Venice

4. Doge's Palace

The Doge’s Palace or Palazzo Ducale, is one of Venice's most iconic landmarks. Set in St. Mark's Square, the palace is the very symbol of Venice. This pink and white marble Gothic-Renaissance building was the official residence of the doges, rulers of Venice for more than 1,000 years.

Inside the grand interior are some fabulous pieces of Renaissance and Venetian art. The must see masterpieces are Veronese's Rape of Europa and The Triumph of Venice, paintings and ceilings by Tintoretto and Veronese, and Tiepolo's Neptune Bestowing Gifts upon Venice. The Doge's Palace also has the world's largest oil painting Tintoretto's Il Paradiso.

If you buy tickets for the Secret Itineraries Tour, you'll pass into the private chambers, judges' chambers, interrogation rooms, and prisons. You'll see the cell of the infamous ladies' man Casanova, who made a miraculous escape. And you'll walk across the Bridge of Sighs where prisoners took their last glances of Venice through tiny windows and "sighed."

views from the loggia of Venice's Ca d'Oro
views from the loggia of Venice's Ca d'Oro

5. Palace Museums in Venice

As you sail along the Grand Canal, you'll see Venice's famous palazzos. Not only are these palazzos handsome examples of Venetian architecture, inside they house some of Venice's best art.

The Palazzo Rezzonico museum is a shrine to 18th century Venetian artists, a period called the "Age of Decadence." It's a beautiful and rare in situ museum, where the art on display was created specifically for the palazzo. You'll find paintings and frescoed ceilings by Tiepolo, Longhi, Canaletto, Guardi, Molinari, and Lazzarini.

Ca d'Oro is a jewel box museum housing an art collection gifted by Baron Franchetti. The most famous piece is the St. Sebastiano by Andrea Mantegna. There are also works by Titian, Gordon, Guardi, Van Eyck, and marble sculptures Giambologna and Bernini. The museum also boasts outstanding views of Venice from its first floor loggia.

Klimt painting in Venice's Ca Pesaro
Klimt painting in Venice's Ca Pesaro

Ca' Pesaro is a spectacular 18th century Venetian palace in Venice's Santa Croce area. It's a hotspot for modern art lovers with a fabulous collection especially rich in Expressionism and Surrealism.

The collection includes art works by works by Kandinsky, Chagall, de Chirico, Ernst, Matisse, Miro, and Klimt. The absolute highlight is Gustav Klimt's glittering Gold Period Judith II.

READ: Gustav Klimt Trail in Vienna

If you prefer classical art, head to the absolutely breathtaking Scuola Grande di San Rocco. The school was the seat of the "scuolo" of the Brotherhood of San Rocco, a social club of wealthy Venetians dedicated to charitable works.

The school is decorated wall to wall by Venetian Renaissance painter Tintoretto. His cycle fresco in the Chapter Room is considered the "Sistine Chapel of Venice."

the magnificent flamboyant Gothic Milan Cathedral
the magnificent flamboyant Gothic Milan Cathedral

Best Art in Milan

Milan is an art lover's haven, even if you wouldn't necessarily guess so. Most visitors to Milan fly in and out of the magnificent Duomo and environs in ed. But Milan has a lot on offer culturally. One reason is that Leonardo da Vinci lived in Milan for 18 years.

1. Leonardo's The Last Supper in Santa Maria delle Grazie

The #1 site and must visited destination in Milan is Leonardo's The Last Supper fresco. The Last Supper is one of the world's most iconic paintings, found on the back wall of the refectory in Santa Maria delle Grazie. No painting is so familiar, save for Leonardo's Mona Lisa at the Louvre.

Leonardo's The Last Supper fresco in Milan
Leonardo's The Last Supper fresco in Milan

The billboard size wall painting is a Renaissance masterpiece. It shows the moment when Christ reveals that one of his apostles will betray him. You can see the varying psychological reactions.

You've got to be organized and reserve your timed entry slot in advance to see this quasi-restored, yet still beautiful, masterpiece. Advance reservations are mandatory and can be made 2-3 months in a advance.

I've written a complete guide to everything you need to know about seeing The Last Supper -- what to expect, how to get tickets, and an analysis and history of the painting itself. Click here for practical information and must know tips on how to see Leonardo's The Last Supper.

2. Pinacoteca di Brera

The Pinacoteca di Brera is one of the most underrated museums in Europe. The museum is Milan's premiere museum and a must see site for art lovers in Milan.

Its exquisite collection is housed inside the beautiful late 17th century Palazzo Brera. The museum has a magnificent collection of Italian art, especially religious-themed works. It's one of the best museums you've never heard of.

The Pinacoteca di Brera boasts works from the 14th to 20th centuries, including important pieces by the likes of Raphael, Caravaggio, Guercino, Bellini, and Titian. The museum's must see masterpieces are Caravaggio's Supper at Emmaus, Francesco Hayez's The Kiss, Andrea Mantegna's Lamentation of Christ, Raphael's Marriage of the Virgin, and Guercino's Dead Christ.

But the Brera isn't just Renaissance art works. It also has an impressive collection of modern art by the likes of Picasso, Modiglianai, Braque, de Chirico, and Morandi.

Here's my complete guide to the Brera Museum.

3. Ambrosiana Museum

The Pinacoteca Ambrosiana is a hidden gem in Milan, a beautiful place to lose yourself in classic Renaissance art. It's a nifty combination of great art, no crowds, and rare Leonardo da Vinci paintings and journals. The pinacoteca was founded in 1618 with a large donation by Cardinal Frederico Borromeo.

Housed in a beautiful library, there's a large collection of 2000 works donated by the Marquis Galeazzo Arconti in 1637. The museum's claim to fame is its important cache of drawings, including the Leonardo's Codex Atlanticus in the Reading Room. The codex is a 12 volume set of drawings and writings Leonardo created between1478-1519.

The other must see masterpieces in the Pinacoteca Ambrosiana include Caravaggio's Basket of Fruit, Titian's Adoration of the Magi, and Botticelli's Madonna del Padiglione. Another must see is Raphael's cartoon (a preparatory drawing) for School of Athens, which is perhaps the most famous fresco in the Vatican Museums.

The Ambrosiana also houses two rare disputed Leonard da Vinci, Portrait of Isabella d'Este and Portrait of a Musician.

Castle Sforza
Castle Sforza

4. Castle Sforza

If you prefer castles to museums, head to Castle Sforza on the edge of the Brera district. The Castello Sforzesco is one of Milan’s most stately structures. It's a splendid example of Renaissance architecture, the product of mercenary-turned-politician Francesco Sforza. It was the former seat of the Dukes of Milan.

Today, the castle houses various museums: the Pieta Rondanini museum, the Art Gallery, the Archaeological Museum, and the Museum of Decorative Arts. Though the castle courtyards are free, there's a fee for the museums.

Inside, you'll find Michelangelo's moving final (unfinished) sculpture, the Rondanini Pieta. You'll also find a restored ceiling fresco by Leonardo da Vinci. It depicts a garden pergola with 16 mulberry trees bound together by a golden rope. As with The Last Supper, painted in seco fresco, it was in a state of disrepair. After conservation, it's now back on display for the first time since 2013.

Giorgio de Chirico, Philosopher's Troubles, 1925-26 -- in Milan
Giorgio de Chirico, Philosopher's Troubles, 1925-26

5. Museo del Novecento

Right next door to the Royal Palace is Milan's 20th century art museum, the Novecento Museum. The museum is housed in the Palazzo dell'Arengario. The impressive collection is a veritable who's who of the 1900s, with both Italian and International artists represented.

The collection showcases Futurism, Spatialism, and Art Povera (art made from poor materials). While not as stunning as the Renaissance art Italy is most known for, this is still a worthwhile museum if you're in Milan for more than one day and/or love modern art.

The must see masterpieces include Giorgio de Chirico's Philosopher's Troubles, Arturo Martini's Thirst, and Giuseppe Pellizza da Volpedo's The Fourth Estate. The museum also boasts a fantastic view of Milan's flamboyant Gothic Duomo.

Antonio Canova, Hebe, 1796
Antonio Canova, Hebe, 1796 -- in GAM

6. Galleria D’Arte Moderna di Milano (GAM)

Galleria D’Arte Moderna, nicknamed "GAM," is Milan's modern art gallery. Its collection includes work from 1800 to 1900. GAM is housed in the 18th century Neo-Classical Villa Belgiojoso built at the end of the 18th century by Count Ludovico Barbiano de Belgiojoso.

The artists represented include Boccioni, Canova, Picasso, Modigliani, Gauguin, Van Gogh, Cezanne and Manet. The first floor features Italian artists. The second floor features the Grassi and Vismara collections of European artists, including equestrian statues by Marino Marini.

landscape of Asciano in Tuscany
landscape of Asciano in Tuscany

Best Art in Tuscany

You must have known ... I have an extensive article on the must see art in Tuscany, some of it covering Florence destinations noted above. I'll give you a quick run down of the non-Florence highlights.

1. Palazzo Pubblico, Siena

The Hall of Peace is effectively the oval office of the Palazzo Pubblico. It's main claim to fame is the amazing piece of political propaganda adorning its walls, Ambrogio Lorenzetti's Allegory of Good and Bad Government.

Ambrogio Lorenzetti, Allegory of Good Government, 1337-41, in Siena's Palazzo Pubblicco
Ambrogio Lorenzetti, Allegory of Good Government, 1337-41

This is one of the most marvelous, poignant, and timeless fresco cycles in Italy. It's the only secular painting of everyday urban and rural life that exists from the middle ages. It's an incredibly significant work.

The Hall of the Grand Council of the Palazzo Pubblico holds another one of Italy's greatest works -- Simone Martini's Maesta. The painting marks the day the Virgin Mary got into politics. Mary had never been used in a civic setting before.

READ: Guide to Siena's Palazzo Pubblico

Duccio's Maesta in Siena
Duccio's Maesta in Siena

2. Siena Cathedral Museum

Painted by Sienese artist Duccio di Buoninsegna, the Maesta is the most famous Italian painting from the International Gothic period and the most precious art work ever created in Siena. It's a famous painting in the course of art history, now housed in the museum of Siena Cathedral.

The Maesta was 17 x 16 feet, a massive double sided altarpiece covered in gold and glitter. It was so large it likely served as a rood screen for the cathedral, separating the laity from the common folk.

3. San Francesco Church, Arezzo

Piero della Francesca was a hugely influential artist. His works and early use of perspective (showing Masaccio's influence) left a profound influence on the Renaissance. Most of his work lies in the Tuscan Provence of Arezzo.

Piero della Francesca's Legend of the True Cross frescos in Arezzo
Piero della Francesca's Legend of the True Cross frescos in Arezzo

Della Francesca veered away from the blank gold backgrounds of the Gothic era, adding landscapes and architectural forms to his painting