The wooden leg

El Gamba de Legn’: ‘the wooden leg’ is an unusual name for a means of transport. It was the nickname that the people of Milan gave to the first steam-powered tram which started running on 9 September 1878, connecting Milan and Magenta over a distance of about 23 kilometres. But why wooden leg? Apparently the…

A Cathedral mystery

A Cathedral as enormous as Milan’s is bound to have a few mysteries hidden away somewhere. One of them can be found in the left-hand transept: a giant candlestick, known as the Candelabro Trivulzio. It is a triumph of fractal geometry: from a distance it seems just a bronze seven-armed candlestick, but as you move…

Last Supper, a grand complication in art

One of Milan’s claims to fame is that it is the only city in which you can give the name of a painting to a taxi driver, and he’ll know exactly where to take you. The Last Supper caused a revolution in painting when it was first unveiled in 1499, and it has contined to…

Sala delle Asse, Milan

Leonardo da Vinci and the exploration of space

If one had to choose a characteristic of Italian art that sets the 15th century apart from previous periods, it could only be perspective. The depiction of three-dimensional forms on a two-dimensional surface as theorized by Brunelleschi and mathematician Luca Pacioli was as powerful then as the advent of virtual reality is today. Perspective made…

Just desserts

“Mmm, this is lovely”, I said, turning away from the view over Amsterdam. “Mmm, buonissima“, said my wife, “what is it?” “Kwarktaart“, replied my aunt. A white cake with a biscuity base, something like cheesecake but much lighter. “Kwarktaart? Strange name. Sounds like it’s made of sub-atomic particles”. “No, the main ingredient is kwark. Not…

Milan's Cimitero Monumentale

The Cimitero Monumentale

November starts with the ponte dei morti, which, literally translated, means the bridge of the dead. A horror movie? A natural disaster? No, just a long weekend, from Thursday 1 November 2012 to Sunday 4 November. Tutti i Santi, 1 November, is a public holiday in Italy. For many people, Friday gets thrown in free…