10 maggio 2023
by Annalisa Cretella

Bye bye Brera


The precious treasures of Brera will welcome a new custodian. He leaves “everything in order, satisfied” with what he has accomplished over the years and complete with a 'memo' with instructions on how the great Brera machine, with its collection of priceless art and treasures, is to be organized.

British museologist James Bradburne, Director General of the Pinacoteca di Brera and the Biblioteca Braidense, is preparing to say goodbye to the place that he has called home for the past 8 years: his second term ends in October. “I'm leaving, it's absolutely confirmed, of course, it's the law,” he states flatly.

He explains that he is writing down “all the house instructions, which–that's the sore point–no one did for me. But I am doing it, to leave put down in words how Brera works. I am leaving the keys and hope that whoever succeeds me, man or woman, will be very grateful for this work by the previous owner. When I arrived, I had to guess how to run this place.”

British museologist James Bradburne, Director General of the Pinacoteca di Brera and the Biblioteca Braidense, is preparing to say goodbye to the place that he has called home for the past 8 years

And this is no small feat; the Pinacoteca di Brera and the Biblioteca Braidense are challenging institutions, with deep roots in the past and shining brightly for the great interest they continue to attract. The library was established in 1770 by Empress Maria Theresa of Austria and is among the largest public libraries in Italy. The Pinacoteca is an international museum, which was founded alongside the Academy of Fine Arts, again commissioned by the Empress in 1776, for educational purposes.

It is home to more than two thousand works, including many wonderful and unmissable pieces, including, for me, especially Lamentation over the Dead Christ by Mangegna, The Kiss by Hayez and The Finding of the Body of Saint Mark by Tintoretto. In person, these masterpieces are truly mesmerizing. The two institutions are both located within Palazzo Brera, built on a former 14th-century convent of the Humiliati and later Jesuit order. Its present-day layout dates back to the early seventeenth century, designed by Francesco Maria Richini. But let us leave the glorious historical asides and look ahead with James Bradburne. Who proudly tells us about his “vision of the future.”

This vision includes the huge project of 'doubling' the Brera exhibition space with a new location in Palazzo Citterio, for which work is ready to start. “I am very happy that I have also left a vision of my own,” he adds, “whether it will be embraced by my successor remains to be seen, it is not for me to decide.” What is certain is that now “every part of this machine is growing well, we have well-established best practices, people talk to each other, and, as we have seen with the Salone del Mobile, we are capable of performing miracles. This is the 'team'. I am leaving everything in order, with a professional team, with respect, with affection.”

The time to take stock of these years at the helm of the Pinoteca will come 100 days before his farewell: “I will make a speech 100 days before I leave with a report, somewhere around June 22.” For the real goodbyes, there will be a special occasion, in September, probably the 21st, when Bradburne plans to organize a “concert of 'Brera musica' (yet another project by the Pinacoteca di Brera, which explores in depth the relationships existing between visual art and music, advocated by the tireless director general, ed.) if the musicians are available,” and perhaps a party in the courtyard. But we shall see, because there will be work going on during this period to re-do the interior facade.

What's next? “I'm going to take at least a month off, probably in Japan, because that’s where I can really relax. I will not have the burden of being responsible for this immense heritage.” “I haven’t taken a vacation in 18 years: 8 years here and before that 10 years at Palazzo Strozzi. I have been on call 24 hours a day 7 days a week.” On what he will do at the end of his term James Bradburne does not elaborate further, but assures that certainly–born in Canada but a British citizen–he “will stay in Italy, write books for children and do whatever I like.”

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