1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Visconti
VISCONTI, the name of a celebrated Italian family which long ruled Milan; they claimed descent from King Desiderius, and in the 11th century possessed estates on Lakes Como and Maggiore. A certain Ottone, who distinguished himself in the First Crusade, is mentioned in 1078 as viscount of Milan. The real basis for the family's dominion was laid, however, by another Ottone, a canon of Desio, appointed archbishop of Milan by Pope Urban IV. in 1262 through the influence of Cardinal Ubaldini. The Delia Torre family, who then controlled the city, Opposed the appointment, and not until his victory at Desio in 1277 was Ottone able to take possession of his see. He imprisoned Napoleone Delia Torre and five of his relatives in iron cages, and directed his later efforts toward the advancement of his nephew Matteo. He died on the 18th of August 1295, aged eighty years. Matteo, born at Invorio on the 15th of August 1255, succeeded his uncle as political leader of Milan, and although an uprising of the Delia Torre in 1302 compelled him to take refuge at Verona, his steadfast loyalty to the imperial cause in Italy earned him the gratitude of Henry VII., who restored him to Milan in 1310 and made him imperial vicar of Lombardy. He brought under his rule Piacenza, Tortona, Pavia, Bergamo, Vercelli, Cremona and Alessandro. An able general, he yet relied for his conquests more on diplomacy and bribery, and was esteemed as a model of the prudent Italian despot. Persevering in his Ghibelline policy, and quarrelling with Pope John XXII. over an appointment to the archbishopric of Milan, he was excommunicated by the papal legale Bertrand du Puy in 1322. He at once abdicated in favour of his son Galeazzo, and died at Crescenzago on the 24th of June of the same year. He left besides Galeazzo several sons: Marco, Lucchino, Giovanni and Stefano. Galeazzo I. (1277–1328), who ruled at Milan from 1322 to 1328, met the Holy Army which the pope had sent against the Visconti at Vaprio on the Adda (1324), and defeated it with the aid of the emperor Louis the Bavarian. In 1327 he was imprisoned by the emperor at Monza because he was thought guilty of making peace with the church, and was released only on the intercession of his friend Castruccio Castracane. By his wife Beatrice d'Este he had the son Azzo who succeeded him. His brother Marco commanded a band of Germans, conquered Pisa and Lucca and died in 1329. Azzo (1302–1339), who succeeded his father in 1328, bought the title of imperial vicar for 25,000 florins from the same Louis who had imprisoned Galeazzo I. He conquered ten towns, murdered his uncle Marco (1329), suppressed a revolt led by his cousin Lodrisio, reorganized the administration of his estates, built the octagonal tower of S. Gottardo, and was succeeded in turn by his uncles Lucchino and Giovanni. Lucchino made peace with the church in 1341, bought Parma from Obizzo d'Este and made Pisa dependent on Milan. Although he showed ability as general and governor, he was jealous and cruel, and was poisoned in 1349 by his wife Isabella Fieschi. Giovanni, brother of the preceding, archbishop of Milan and lord of the city from 1349 to 1354, was one of the most notable characters of his time. He befriended Petrarch, extended the Visconti sway over Bologna (1350), defied Pope Clement VI., annexed Genoa (1353), and died on the 5th of October 1354 after having established the rule of his family over the whole of northern Italy except Piedmont, Verona, Mantua, Ferrara and Venice. The Visconti from the time of Archbishop Giovanni were no longer mere rivals of the Della Torre or dependants on imperial caprice, but real sovereigns with a recognized power over Milan and the surrounding territory. The state was partitioned on the death of Giovanni among his brother Stefano's three sons, Matteo II., Galeazzo II. and Bernabo. Matteo II., who succeeded to Bologna, Lodi, Piacenza and Parma, abandoned himself to the most revolting immorality, and was assassinated in 1355 by direction of his brothers, who thenceforth governed the state jointly and with considerable ability. Galeazzo II., who held his court at Pavia, was handsome and distinguished, the patron of Petrarch, the founder of the university of Pavia and a gifted diplomat. He married his daughter Violante to the duke of Clarence, son of Edward III. of England, giving a dowry of 200,000 gold florins; and his son Gian Galeazzo to Isabella, daughter of King John of France. He died in 1378. Bernabo, who held his court at Milan, was involved in constant warfare, to defray the expenses of which he instituted very oppressive taxes. He fought Popes Innocent VI. and Urban V., who proclaimed a crusade against him. He fought the emperor Charles IV., who declared the forfeiture of his fief. He endeavoured to exercise sole power in the state after the death of his brother, but his young nephew Gian Galeazzo plotted against him and put him to death (1385). Gian Galeazzo, the most powerful of the Visconti, became joint ruler of the Milanese territories on the death of his father in 1378 and sole ruler on the death of his uncle seven years later. He founded the cathedral of Milan, built the Certosa and the bridge across the Ticino at Pavia, improved the university of Pavia and established the library there, and restored the university at Piacenza. His bureaucratic government was excellent; he was an able and economical administrator, and was reputed to be one of the wealthiest princes of his time. He was ambitious to reduce all Italy under the sway of the Visconti. He conquered Verona in 1387; and in the following year, with the aid of the Venetians, took Padua. He plotted successfully against the rulers of Mantua and Ferrara, and now that the whole of Lombardy lay prostrate before him he turned his attention to Tuscany. In 1399 he bought Pisa and seized Siena. The emperor Wenceslaus had already conferred on him the title of duke of Milan for 100,000 florins reserving only Pisa, and refused to take arms against him. Gian Galeazzo took Perugia, Lucca and Bologna (1400–1), and was besieging Florence when he died of the plague (3rd of September 1402) at the age of fifty-five years. His sons, Giovanni Maria and Filippo Maria, were mere boys at the time of his death, and were taken under the protection of the celebrated condottiere Facino Cane de Cesale; but most of Gian Galeazzo’s conquests were lost to his self-seeking generals. Giovanni Maria was proclaimed duke of Milan in 1402, displayed an insane cruelty, and was killed in 1412 by Ghibelline partisans. Filippo Maria, who became nominal ruler of Pavia in 1402, succeeded his brother as duke of Milan. Cruel and extremely sensitive about his personal ugliness, he nevertheless was a great politician, and by employing such powerful condottieri as Carmagnola, Piccinino and Francesco Sforza he managed to recover the Lombard portion of his father’s duchy. From his marriage with the unhappy widow of the above mentioned Facino Cane he received a dowry of nearly half a million florins. He died in 1447, the last of the Visconti in direct male line, and was succeeded in the duchy, after the shortlived Ambrosian republic, by Francesco Sforza, who had married his daughter Bianca in 1441 (see Sforza). Valentina (1366–1408), a daughter of Gian Galeazzo and a sister of the preceding, married Louis of Orleans in 1387, and it was from her that Louis XII. of France derived his claims to the duchy of Milan. Gabriele, an illegitimate brother, gained possession of Pisa and other towns, but was despoiled and beheaded (1407) by Charles VI.’s governor of Genoa, under whose protection he had placed himself. Among collateral branches of the Visconti family were the counts of Saliceto, counts of Zagnano, lords of Brignano, marquis of San Giorgio di Borgoratto, marquis of Invorio and Marquis Della Motta. Other branches attained to some prominence in the local history of Bari and of Tarento. Tebaldo Visconti of Piacenza became Pope Gregory X. in 1271. Among the Visconti lords of Fontaneto was Gasparo, who died in 1595 archbishop of Milan. An Ignatius Visconti was sixteenth general of the Jesuits (1751–55).
There is a contemporary history of the principal members of the family by Paolo Giovio, bishop of Nocera, which may be had in several editions. See J. Burckhardt, The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy, trans, by S. G. C. Middlemore (London, 1898); J. A. Symonds, Age of the Despots (New York, 1888); C. Magenta, I Visconti e gli Sforza net Castello di Pavia (1883); A. Medin, Visconti nella poesia contemporanea (Milan, 1891); F. Mugnier, “Lettres des Visconti de Milan” in Memoires et documents de la society savoisienne d’histoire et d’archeologie, vol. x . of the second series (1896). (C. H. Ha.)