Milan’s Casa degli Atellani once echoed every day with parties that the whole city envied. Its spacious frescoed rooms saw a constant celebration of the carnival of life, described in rhymes by Lorenzo the Magnificent in his famous “Canzona di Bacco”: “How beautiful our Youth / is that’s always flying by us! / Who’d be happy, let him be so: / Nothing’s sure about tomorrow.”
Ludovico il Moro purchased the building in 1490 from the Landi family, Counts of Piacenza. Ludovico had been the Duke of Milan for about ten years, and decided to donate the property – which was part of the so-called “Barcho Ducale”, where he went to hunt – to a noble family in his court, the Atellani. He wanted the whole area of town around the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie – which he had built as a mausoleum for his family – to bear witness to the prestige of his lineage.
Ludovico was an educated humanist and an active and ambitious patron, as well as an astute and cynical politician. He formed and broke alliances with the powerful of Europe, including Lorenzo the Magnificent, ruler of Florence, with whom he obviously shared the idea that men’s lives were steered in different directions by the unpredictable Fortuna.
Fortuna – the Roman goddess of fortune – indeed had an impact on Casa degli Atellani, which underwent deep changes over time: architect Piero Portaluppi renovated it completely in 1922, and later rebuilt part of the structure – with a skillful reinterpretation of the 1400s’ style – after it was bombed during the Second World War. Thus, the beautiful interiors are still here to remind us of their luxurious past.
That is Fortuna: unconcerned with men’s wishes, she does and undoes as she wishes, like Ludovico did with his political alliances. The Duke was well aware that “nothing’s sure about tomorrow”. Even after his death… he wanted to be buried in Milan, in Santa Maria delle Grazie, and instead his body is in France, where he died in 1508…
But beauty, apparently spared by Fortuna, has remained intact in these magnificent rooms.