Between Genoa and Milan the ancient city of Pavia lay quietly along the Ticino. Once it had been the seat of the Lombard kings; now, in the fourteenth century, it was subject to Milan, and was used by the Visconti and the Sforzas as a second capital. There Galeazzo Visconti II began (1360), and Gian (i.e., Giovanni, John) Galeazzo Visconti completed, the majestic Castello that served as a ducal residence for its second founder, and as a pleasure palace for later dukes of Milan. Petrarch called it “the noblest product ofmodern art,” and many contemporaries ranked it first among the royal dwellings of Europe. The library contained one of the most precious collections of books in Europe, including 951 illuminated manuscripts. Louis XII, having taken Milan in 1499, carried off this Pavia library among his spoils; and a French army destroyed the interior of the castle with the latest artillery (1527). Nothing remains but the walls.
Though the Castello is ruined, the finest jewel of the Visconti and the Sforzas survives intact—the Certosa, or Carthusian monastery, hidden off the highway between Pavia and Milan. Here, in a placid plain, Giangaleazzo Visconti undertook to build cells, cloisters, and a church in fulfillment of a vow made by his wife. From that beginning until 1499 the dukes of Milan continued to develop and embellish the edifice as the favorite embodiment of their piety and their art. There is nothing more exquisite in Italy. The Lombard-Romanesque façade of white Carrara marble was designed, carved, and erected (1473f) by Cristoforo Mantegazza and Giovanni Antonio Amadeo of Pavia sponsored by Galeazzo Maria Sforza and Lodovico il Moro. It is too ornate, too fondly gifted with arches, statues, reliefs, medallions, columns, pilasters, capitals, arabesques, carved angels, saints, sirens, princes, fruits, and flowers to convey a sense of unity and harmony; each part importunes attention regardless of the whole. But each part is a labor of love and skill; the four Renaissance windows by Amadeo would of themselves entitle him to the remembrance of mankind. In some Italian churches the façade is a brave front on an otherwise undistinguished exterior; but in this Certosa di Pavia every external feature and aspect is arrestingly beautiful: the stately attached buttresses, the noble towers, arcades, and spires of the north transept and the apse, the graceful columns and arches of the cloisters. Within the court the eye rises from these slender columns through three successive stories of arcades to the four superimposed colonnades of the cupola; this is an ensemble harmoniously conceived and admirably wrought. Within the church everything is of unsurpassed excellence: columns rising in clusters and Gothic arches to carved and coffered vaults; bronze and iron grilles as delicately designed as royal lace; doors and archways of elegant form and ornament; altars of marble studded with precious stones; paintings by Perugino, Borgognone, and Luini; the magnificent inlaid choir stalls; the luminous stained glass; the careful carving of pillars, spandrels, archivolts, and cornices; the stately tomb of Giangaleazzo Visconti by Cristoforo Romano and Benedetto Briosco; and, as the last relic of a pathetic romance, the tomb and figures of Lodovico il Moro and Beatrice d’Este, here united in exquisite marble, though they died ten years and five hundred miles apart. In a like union of diverse moods the Lombard, Gothic, and Renaissance styles are here wedded in the most nearly perfect architectural product of the Renaissance. For under Lodovico the Moor Milan had gathered fair women to create an unrivaled court, and supreme artists like Bramante, Leonardo, and Caradosso to snatch the leadership of Italy, for one bright decade, from Florence, Venice and Rome.