A stupendous collection of fine art from Caravaggio to Bramante, often considered Lombardy's finest art collection. The Pinacoteca began life as a collection of paintings for students of the Accademia di Belle Arti in the same building; the paintings were harvested from churches and monasteries suppressed by the Napoleonic regime.
Although it can't compete with the Louvre or London's National Gallery, the Pinacoteca is of a size that makes for an easy visit. The collection is modest in breadth, but exquisite in quality, and covers works by major Italian artists from the 13th to the 20th centuries. It has its share of important works of art, including the exercise in foreshortening that is Andrea Mantegna's Dead Christ; a mournful Pietà by Giovanni Bellini (both in room VI); Piero della Francesca's Virgin and Child with Saints (room XXIV); the disturbingly realistic Christ at the Column by Donato Bramante, and Caravaggio's atmospheric Supper at Emmaus (room XXIX). Titian, Tintoretto and Veronese are all here, and rooms VIII and IX contain a series of huge pieces.
The palazzo was begun in 1651 by Francesco Maria Richini for the Jesuits, who wanted it to house their college, astronomical observatory and botanical garden. In 1776 part of the building was allocated to the Accademia di Belle Arti, and in 1780 Giuseppe Piermarini completed the main portal. The Pinacoteca was established as a study collection, with plaster casts and drawings for the students at the academy. Today, the 38 rooms are arranged in a circuit that begins and ends with 20th-century Italian painting. Two are glass-walled art restoration rooms, open to the public.
The Orto Botanico behind the Pinacoteca (open Apr-June 9am-noon, 3-5pm Mon-Fri; July-Mar 9am-noon) is a lovely little spot, stacked with aromatic herbs, climbers and vegetable gardens (for research, not the pot). Europe's oldest ginkgo biloba trees came over from China in the early 1700s and stand 30m (98ft) tall in the south-west corner.