Mudec Storage: behind the scenes of the Museum

Accessible storage

The centre collection is visible in the Museum’s storages on the ground floor and can be visited by the public on appointment. The displays have been arranged according to geographical and chronological criteria and the provenance of the works: West and Central Africa, the Middle East and Far East, South America and Central America, Southeast Asia, and lastly, Oceania. The earliest works bequeathed to the Museum come from a number of Milan’s state institutions such as the Brera Archaeological Museum, the Municipal Art Museum and the Museum of Natural History, while more recently, as the project for the Museum of Cultures became a reality, works have been acquired from or bequeathed by private parties. The works in the municipal art collections comprise over 7,000 objects that span three millennia, from 1500 A.D. to the twentieth century.

The Pre-Columbian and American Indian Collection: 1,627 items
The African collection: 1,162 items

The Alessandro Passaré Collection of African and Oceanic works of art: 448 items
The Franco Monti Collection of African works: 33 items

The Islamic art collection: 436 items

The Chinese collection : 1,028 items 
The Japanese Collection:1,574 items

The Southeast Asian Collection: 285 items

The Mariangela Fardella and Giorgio Azzaroli collection of Asmat art: 26 items

The hats and fans collection: 124 works
The ethnographic collection of musical instruments: 295 items


One’s visit to the Museum’s storerooms starts off in the African section. The African art collection is divided into two parts. The first is a series of objects from the earliest holdings of the Sforza Castle Museums; they belonged to the ethnographic collections put together during the period of Italy’s colonial expansion into Eastern Africa and were brought back to Italy by 19th-century travellers such as Giuseppe Vigoni and Achille Bertarelli. This small number of artefacts which survived the bombing of Milan in 1943 has been selected for the display case that opens the section devoted to the African continent.

The second group of sculptures and masks comes from Sub-Saharan Africa.
In addition, part of the collections belong to the well-known scholar Ezio Bassani, the physician Alessandro Passaré and Franco Monti.
Lastly, the collection includes masks and ceremonial sculptures in addition to a sizeable number of utensils and other objects (such as carved wooden doors and locks from Mali) and several small clay statues from the ninth up to the sixteenth centuries. Overall, this collection offers an introduction to the material production of West and Central Africa.

Guinea, Baga People, 20th century, wood, metal tacks. Nimba, ritual mask for shoulders. This particular mask, which represents the mother, shows the parallel between the fertility of women and fields. His performances propitiate the birth and the rains, the growth of children and rice.

Congo, Bakongo People, 20th century, wood, mirror, resin. The reliquary statuette shows a full and realistic face typical of the Bakongo style. The arms, rest on the chest, hold up a reliquary closed by a glass that covers the whole surface of the body. Inside the “medicine” is conserved.

Africa, probably assembled in Benin, late 17th century XX, pearls, glass, shells, seeds, copper alloy. This necklace was created for the export market, the container is adorned, in the lower part, by three rows of pearls from which numerous decorations depart. The object is the result of an assembly of numerous elements of local, European and Asian origin. The highest number of beads is made up of beads made from recycled glass in pieces of different colors produced in the Krobo area. There is also a high number of pearls obtained from glass dust, some of which are of ancient workmanship.


The next section of the Museum is devoted to China. The objects consist mainly of pottery and porcelain, and allow visitors to trace the history of the use of these materials from the Tang dynasty (618-906 A.D.)
to the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) and up to the 18th century and the production of works known as ‘chine de commande’: extensive table services made in China on commission, for export to the West.

Chinese manufacture, second half of the Qing dynasty (1644-1911), porcelain with enamels of the rose or fencai family. Vase in the shape of a flask with a short circular foot, decorated over the entire surface with the motif of the petals of the lotus flower in palpable pink enamel. The mouth, in green, has the shape of the fruit of the lotus, a detail that makes it an extremely rare specimen. A similar model is preserved in the Shanghai Art Museum.

Chinese production, 18th century, porcelain. ‘Chine de commande’ tea service. In the 17th and 18th centuries there was a growing interest in Europe in the so-called “chinoiserie”, resulting in a brisk demand for items such as porcelains, lacquers, paintings, bronzes and jades. The city of Canton duly specialized in providing articles on commission, produced exclusively for export to the West.

Beijing (Yuanmingyuan), 1750 - 1780, glazed stoneware. The subject is a Buddha of "long life" Amitayus in the colors of yellow, green and blue, resting on a throne formed by a rectangular support enamelled with blue with a double-row decoration of lotus petals. The sculpture, an important architectural decorative element, comes from the imperial temples of the emperor Qianlong of Beijing.".

Chinese production, Tang dynasty, 618-906 A.D., glazed terracotta. Bixie, horned sphinx, is a particular "Spirit of the Earth": a guardian of the tombs during the Tang era. Its name literally means "one who drives away harmful influences".

Chinese production, 19th century, Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), bronze, lost wax casting, patination and fretwork. Censer in the form of a mythological unicorn crouched on a rock base, with tail raised and head turned in profile with jaws open. On the back, the central hole of the stove is surmounted by a lid, which fits into three points, perforated and formed by some objects joined together, including: a ruyi scepter, a flask, a butterfly banner, a pearl and a horn clamshell. The pose of the creature, with its head turned back, is traditional, but the presence of a perforated lid and objects makes the artifact quite original.

Chinese production, 19th century, Blanch de Chine porcelain. Statuette depicting Guanyin on a rock pedestal with dragons and lotus flowers (?) at the base and two praying children. The bodhisattva is depicted crowned with a child in his hands. To his right the amrita flask and to his left a book. The hair and the lotus are decorated with light undercover carving.


The Museum’s collection of Japanese art includes over 1,500 articles from the Momoyama period (1573-1615) up to the Meiji period (1868-1912). The collection of porcelains, fabrics, bronzes, armours, lacquers, ivories and items strictly connected with the Japanese tradition provides a clear picture of the history of the arts and culture of this country.
In the middle of this section is shown an extraordinary lacquered wood saddle and mask from the Edo period (1603-1868). Along the sides, western-style wooden furniture made in Japan have been placed, as well as two-panel wooden screens with different colored lacquers, featuring maki-e (“sprinkled picture”) with ivory inlays (Meiji Restoration 1868-1912).

Japan, Edo Period (1603-1868), enameled craquelé type ceramic. Shell-shaped box (kaigatakogo) in light brown, with two side areas in pouring green below deck. Externally decorated with gold lacquered flower basket (toshitsu).

Japan, second half of the 16th century XIX, statuette in bronze and enamels champlevé of Chinese little lion (karashishi), with the rear legs raised and the front ones crushed to the ground. The champlevé is an ancient Limoges enamel decoration technique, which provides that the alveoli or cavities are dug on the surface of a metal object and filled with vitreous enamel. Bronze is a typical object created for export.

Japan, sec XIX, Tobacco bag (tabako-ire) in leather covered with fabric partly worked in gold, with metal mesh. On the outside the leather is covered with blue velvet, while inside there is a floral decoration in gold leaf on a blue background. On the closing flap of the handbag is a metal buckle (kanagu) depicting a dragon (ryu). The netsuke in carved ivory, on the other hand, depicts a frog, a snake and a snail: a very popular iconography in Japan, known as Sansukumi (literally "tripartite dead center"). The snake eats the toad but can be killed by the venom of the snail, the toad eats the snail but can be killed by the snake, finally the snail can kill the snake but it can be eaten by the toad.


The collection devoted to pre-Hispanic and American Indian art consist of pottery, fabrics and objects made from a wide range of materials (e.g. feathers, seeds, ivory, wood and precious metals). It testifies the variety of items produced in Central and South America, from archaeological findings in Mesoamerica and the Andes (enriched by generous bequests by Federico Balzarotti and Giovanna Torricelli) and from the recent long-term loan of the HN Inuit Collection (61 sculptures from the Canadian Arctic Archipelago),

to modern-day (contemporary ethnography of Brazil, bequeathed to MUDEC by the physician and world traveller Aldo Lo Curto). The collection of pottery from the Andes covers a vast time frame from the end of Formative period (1500 B.C.) to the Spanish conquest (17th century).

Argentina, ante 1000, terracotta. Anthropomorphic vase depicting a Venetian steatopygia, with a large upper opening and lateral handles. Hand-shaped coarse gray-cream mixture; applied mouth, nose, eyes, eyebrows and ears. The vase represents a seated female figure with enormous legs and buttocks that act as the base of the vase. The face has engravings that simulate tattoos. The eyebrows and ears are represented by two lines in relief, without solution of continuity, which branch from the root of the nose and which are decorated with engraved horizontal dashes. Eyes (one is missing) to coffee bean.

Brazil, Kayapo culture, second half of the 20th century, cotton, feathers and vegetable fibers. Ornamental headdress made of cotton, quills and feathers. The cotton base consists of numerous interwoven strings. The 181 quills (153 red and 28 brown) are arranged in a single row and grow taller at the top of the headpiece, which is attached to a base made of buritì palm fiber by means of special laces. Used by high-ranking males on ritual occasions.

Peru, Inca culture, 15th - 16th centuries, cotton and camelid hair wool. Rectangular polychrome textile that depicts a series of quills of the kind applied to certain Andean ceremonial costumes. The warp of the fabric is made of cotton, while the tapestry weft is made of camelid hair, fiber and cotton.


In this section are collected objects from the Islamic areas: North Africa, the Near East and parts of Central Asia. Very relevant is the collection of carpets, dating from the 16th to the 19th century, which includes exemplars from the Ushak manufacture (16th – 17th century). Some pillows from the city of Bursa, where there was a famous imperial factory, are also on display

The collection also includes an exhibition of ceramics, ornamental or for everyday use, the oldest ones from Iran and Syria dating from the 12th and 13th centuries. Among the ceramics are reported numerous tiles from Syria dating from the 16th and 17th centuries that were used to embellish the sacred buildings.

Turkey, 17th century, silk velvet. Textile decorated with staggered rows of large stylized brocaded carnations on a red background. Each flower shape is a composite: from an arabesque motif two serrate leaves (saz) emerge, with a stylized tulip between them; the tulips in turn contain seven fringed carnation petals. Along the short sides of the textile are six sections depicting other stylized floral motifs. The stylized carnation in bloom was one of the most popular motifs for the textiles made in Bursa on the imperial looms and many variations exist.

Central Asia, 17th – 18th centuries, wood, ivory and leather. Saddle wood covered with leather edges and decorations in bone, lacquered in green. It presents a central floral motif depicting a tulip, one of the four classic flowers of Islamic art.

Syria, 1590-1610, ceramic. Square shaped tile painted in blue, green, mauve and white under transparent glaze. The decoration is divided into three vertical bands. In both side bands there is a continuous frieze of palmettes. The larger central part is adorned with a double-mouthed flower vase and arched handles. On the sides of the vase, decorated with spheres superimposed on motifs similar to rice grains, tulips and carnations can be recognized.


The collection of Southeast Asia and Oceanic Islands art can boast a great variety of works of different kinds, made of an array of materials from many different periods, including textiles, Indian clothing, 20th century weapons and ornamental items from the Solomon Islands. The collection keeps growing, thanks to bequests by missionaries and private collectors.
Its original core was a 19th century bequest by the PIME (The Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions), enriched by subsequent bequests and loans by benefactors from Milan such as Alessandro Passaré and Aldo Lo Curto. Recently the collection has been enriched with purchase and loan of Asmat's culture objects from the private collections of Leigheb – Fiore and Fardella - Azzaroli.

Thailand, Ban Chiang, 300 BC - 200 AD., Terracotta, burial pot with red decorations. These vessels, decorated with red spirals and hooks, are typical of the burial sites of Ban Chiang in the northeast of Thailand. Usually, they were buried with the body, containing food or other items for the deceased in his afterlife passing.

Indonesia, sec XX, wood, lime, red ocher, coal dust. The shield has a rectangular shape with red symbols on white backgrounds, typical decorative elements of the central Asmat region. These drawings are ainor symbols, used on shields to terrorize enemies. In the upper part of the shield there are two figures of ancestors carved and painted in red and black, which emerge from the shield itself and represent its tjemen.

Western Indonesia, Nias island, 20th century, metal, wood, wicker, bone. Balato, a sword with a basket filled with teeth attached to the sheath of the weapon.


The hat and fan collection includes 124 works dating from the 19th and the 20th centuries and coming from all parts of the world.
Some of the fans dating back to the 18th century are made of paper, wood, and straw, featuring rich decorations and appliquès such as bird feathers.

India, 20th century, cotton and gold. Hat with quilted cotton, red inside, purple outside and gold decorations.

Martinique, Caribbean, 20th century. Fan made with intertwined palm leaves with decorations in green, yellow and purple. The semicircle structure ends in a ring handle.

China, 19th century, silk and wood. Pien mian (“to cover the face” in Mandarin) screen fan in white silk taffeta, with floral embroideries in polychrome silk and decoration painted in ink and colors showing ladies in an interior and in a garden. The frame is octagonal and the handle is in ebonized wood, with a slightly arched shape.


The visit to the museum’s holdings is rounded out by a section devoted to musical instruments which overlaps with all the other sections as the instruments come from all the geographical areas covered.
Different kinds of items are on display, grouped according to cultural or geographical criteria.

Pakistan, first half of the 20th century, wood, leather, horsehair, steel, brass, mirror, nylon. Sarinda (archlute), heart-shaped resonator partially covered in leather, which forms the soundboard featuring five inlaid round mirrors surrounded by smaller silver-coloured rings; the same decoration on the sides and the scrall; six tuning pegs (four missing). Various decorations with tufts of coloured thread.

Chinese production, Yueqin (Moon-Guitar), wood, natural fibre. It is the main short-necked lute of traditional Chinese music with a "guitar" body, i.e. made up of assembled boards and not of a block of wood carved out to obtain a shell. The name can be translated as "moon-shaped stringed instrument", due to the perfect circularity of the harmonic case. The other typical morphological character of the Yueqin is the particularly short handle. According to Chinese tradition, the Yueqin dates back to its origins in the III-V century. A.D. (period of the Minor Dynasties). Today it is mainly dedicated to the accompaniment of singing in an intermediate ambit between that of classical music and that of popular music.

Morocco, sec XX, leather, painted terracotta, rope. The body in the shape of a chalice, painted in blue, to form two bands with typical motifs of Arab folk decoration, opens upwards in a modest conical flare, on which a membrane of animal skin is stretched, probably mesoderm, secured. by means of glue. In Morocco it is considered first and foremost the women's drum, mainly in the urban environment, where the brightly painted versions circulate above all in the markets. Hold one hand at the narrowest point and beat the membrane with the other hand, usually without resorting to particular executive techniques, but still obtaining elaborate rhythmic effects due to the overlapping of multiple strokes simultaneously inflicted on as many drums.

Mudec storage is accessible by appointment. Costs and booking methods are being updated.