Gian Giacomo Poldi Pezzoli (Milan 1822-1879) was an important Italian collector in the 19th century. A patriot of the Risorgimento, he was sent into exile in 1849. After his return, he launched the project of a home-museum, to which he then devoted the rest of his life. Thanks to the legacy of his father and the education received from his mother, Rosa Trivulzio, he was able to gather incredible masterpieces, purchased in Italy and abroad. In contact with the great Italian and English connoisseurs, he died at the age of 57, a childless bachelor, but not before having formed a foundation to which to entrust almost 2000 objects, including paintings and works of the applied arts.

Calling you by your full name was just a waste of time: Gian Giacomo Poldi Pezzoli d’Albertone. You were more pragmatic, and simply signed off as Giacomo Poldi. You weren’t looking to be noble through your father’s surname. In the end, what was so noble about your father’s deeds? Not much, maybe nothing. At 50 he had found himself the sole heir to a title and immoderate wealth, left by his uncle, Giuseppe Pezzoli d’Albertone, a tax collector for Maria Theresa of Austria. Lots of money and a palace on Corsia del Giardino, Milan’s noblest street in those days. A fine catch in spite of himself, your father finally looked for a wife and a more solid coat-of-arms, marrying a very young descendant of the Trivulzio family, a lineage of the city’s historic aristocracy. Poor Rosina, just eighteen, thirty-two years his junior, with a husband as old as her father. But, as we know, that’s how things were back then.

Hayez, Ritratto di Gian Giacomo Poldi Pezzoli

In the end, you had few ties with your father. He died when you were still a boy. He didn’t bring you up. You were named Gian Giacomo, after your maternal grandfather, an intellectual, a Dante scholar and art collector. Your mother selected the finest tutors available in the city, to raise you with aristocratic and liberal ideals. Classical studies, of course, but also medieval. With a vivid accent on contemporary history. Because you knew, you felt that everything was changing, and you were in the eye of the storm. The history of the nation was moving, and you wanted to be part of it.

You were young and waiting to inherit, with the age of majority, five million Austrian lire, an unthinkable figure even back then. Young and a bit on the loose, not ready to settle down. Your mother had to smooth over the liberties you took with the maidservants, or hush up the rumors that spread about you and Cora, a woman not suited to your rank, or you and Eleuteria, a protegée of your cousin Cristina Belgiojoso, the feminine glory of the national resurgence. After all, you were never married, just sporadic flings with actresses or dancers, no steady ties. Other than the clandestine relationship with Giuseppina Parravicini, the second wife of Francesco Cavezzali, who lived on Via Bigli, a few steps from your house. Your affection for Camilla, “their” daughter, raised plenty of eyebrows. Since you couldn’t acknowledge her as yours, she became your pupil, lavished with attention on your part, ever since she had been wrapped up in her baptismal gown, the same one worn during the next century by Camilla Cederna, a direct descendent of “your” Camilla. You left your pupil a true fortune. And she, with comparable affection, returned the favor at the end of her days, when you were just a memory, donating the things she had collected during her life to the museum that bears your name.