1903 – 1957

Fernanda Wittgens is one of Italy’s unknown heroines. An art historian of great competence and social idealism, she was imprisoned by the Nazis in 1944 for helping Jews escape. Above all, however, she was a formidable museum director, the first woman in Italy to head a state museum.

After the premature death of her mentor Ettore Modigliani in 1947, she oversaw the reconstruction of the Pinacoteca di Brera following the devastating bombings of August 1943, and on 9 June 1950 she inaugurated the ‘Grande Brera’, a set of thirty-eight completely renovated exhibition spaces designed by Piero Portaluppi, which she dedicated to the late Modigliani.

Wittgens aimed to create a ‘living museum’. She filled the rooms with flowers, hosted fashion shows and extended the opening hours until late in the evening. She was passionate about modern art. After her untimely death in 1957, her protégé Franco Russoli continued to champion the museum’s social mission as a melting pot of civilizations.


On 1 October 2018, the Pinacoteca di Brera opened its first café, Caffè Fernanda, after a brief experiment in the 1980s. The new café is set in a 1950s-designed setting in continuity with the artistic-cultural context of the museum. The café, characterized by its pink, blue and mustard colors, has 32 seats inside and 40 seats in the splendid outdoor loggia.

The management of Caffè Fernanda takes care of every step in the chain. Some of the selected genuine raw materials from sustainable agriculture are produced in the zero-km bio garden of Agrivis, a social cooperative of the L’Impronta group, with the aim of supporting social projects in the area aimed at the most fragile categories, while others come from typical Italian territories, without excluding some incursions into those places beyond the country that have influenced our culinary culture or stimulate our imagination. In all cases, the raw materials are sourced with respect for the land, its natural seasonality and the people who dedicate themselves to it.

A chef, Angela Adamo, was chosen as the first head of Caffè Fernanda, to honor the name of Fernanda Wittgens and the commitment to enhance the contaminating force of a cultural enterprise that wants to give nature and human gestures a prominent place.

Chef Marco Valneri is currently in charge of Caffè Fernanda.