Walking along the streets of the Maggiolina district, we encounter long perimeter brick walls that pique the interest of even the most preoccupied passer-by.
From outside, it is difficult to imagine what we will find behind the gates, although the Lombard brick structures hint at something out of the ordinary.
Hidden within is Villa Mirabello, one of the most important and well-preserved examples of a fifteenth-century suburban farmstead, as well as one of the most enchanting places in Milan, and yet amongst the least well-known.
The long history of Villa Mirabello begins in the fifteenth century, when the family of the same name are thought to have started building work. In 1445, it then changed hands to the rich Florentine Portinari family, serving as their country residence and, later to the Landriani and then Marino families. In this renaissance period, the villa was at its most magnificent, hosting even Ludovico il Moro.
In the subsequent centuries, Villa Mirabello fell into a long period of decline, becoming an agricultural building until the early twentieth century. During the First World War, it was re-purposed as a centre offering employment and support for individuals from Lombardy blinded at war. This change led to restoration and renovation of the structure, which was extended based on a design by architect Annoni, who successfully returned the complex to its original fifteenth-century appearance.
Villa Mirabello was thus saved and to this day amazes all visitors with its impressive courtyard, from where they can admire the historic brick-built L-shaped structure and Mater Amabilis chapel.
The interiors of the villa and church contain delightful fifteenth-century frescoes. One example carries the rather austere motto of the Landriani family: “El dovere sempre” (always one’s duty), while another features the Visconti-Sforza emblem at the entrance to the chapel, with the “raza viscontea” or “shining sun”. This iconic emblem also symbolised God, with the most famous example to be found in the apse window of Milan Cathedral.
Today, Villa Mirabello is the home of the Villa Mirabello Foundation, a non-profit organisation which, along with other projects, continues to support the partially sighted and blind, including through its post-graduate study grants.