The Hall of Caryatids of the Royal Palace is at the same time a symbol of splendour and a scar on the history of the city of Milan.
What we can see today is what remains of the original palace ballroom. The hall has been restored since the large scale bombing that devastated the city in 1943 and struck the Royal Palace, destroying its most prestigious room.
The hall was designed by the architect Giuseppe Piermarini as part of a reconstruction and enlargement project at the end of the 18th century, and is decorated elaborately. Forty caryatids, portraying men and women, were installed in the hall. These stucco statues have were sculpted by Gaetano Callani and finished off by Giuseppe Franchi in 1778. Over the years the ballroom has hosted sumptuous court dances and balls for reigning governors from around Europe, including Maria Theresa of Austria, Napoleon, Austrian emperor Ferdinand I, and the Savoia family of Italian kings.
The hall was modified in the 19th century. In 1919, the palace was given to the state and in 1922 it was opened to the public as an art gallery.
During a night of heavy attacks on 15 August 1943, bombs and incendiary devices were dropped on the palace and the hall. Paintings, decorations and the stucco floor were completely destroyed. In 1947 restoration works began in order to provide the palace with a new ceiling. The vault was restored according to the original project.
In 1953, Picasso chose the Hall of Caryatids to exhibit his Guernica to reflect the link between the subject of the painting and the dramatic story of the venue.
Palazzo Reale: a major cultural centre
Today, Palazzo Reale has regained its central role in Milan’s cultural and social life. This exhibition venue attracts more than a million visitors each year and plays host to major modern art exhibitions, as well as ancient and contemporary art. Some of these exhibitions are held in the Hall of Caryatids itself. Based upon its strong artistic tradition that initiated in the fifties, the commitment of the last decade has placed Palazzo Reale at a high level of excellence both for the quality of its scientific projects and for the appeal of its exhibitions: from the greatest names such as Picasso, Cezanne, Van Gogh, Leonardo, Caravaggio, Chagall to the main art movements as Futurism, Impressionism, Symbolism and others that marked the history. An undertaking that has been much appreciated by the public, resulting in annual entrance numbers that have steadily exceeded a million visitors for many years: the Palazzo Reale exhibitions are increasingly and resolutely ranked top of the most-visited locations in Italy.
The Royal Palace has roots going back a long way. During the late middle ages it was the seat of the city government; when the city was ruled by the Torriani, Visconti and Sforza families. It has been a theatre of magnificent court life, investitures and solemn receptions. During the second half of the 18th century, under the Austrian rule, the palace was heavily decorated with ornaments and artefacts inspired by the Theresian baroque. At the end of the same century, architect Giuseppe Piermarini was behind the restoration works that gave the Royal palace its current neoclassical style. He designed the new façade, the monumental sweeping staircase leading to the main floor and added a number of splendid rooms with the help of the greatest artists, painters and decorators.
Piazza Duomo 12 - metro station Duomo (red line and yellow line).