Showing posts with label Bianca Maria Visconti. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Bianca Maria Visconti. Show all posts

28 May 2022

Muzio Attendolo Sforza - condottiero

Mercenary captain who founded Sforza dynasty

Muzio Attendolo Sforza became a soldier at the age of just 13
Muzio Attendolo Sforza became a
soldier at the age of just 13
Muzio Attendolo Sforza, who is recognised as the founder of the Sforza dynasty that ruled the Duchy of Milan from 1450 to 1535, was born on this day in 1369 in Cotignola, a town in Emilia-Romagna about 25km (16 miles) west of Ravenna.

A career soldier who made his fortune as a mercenary captain - a condottiero - Muzio was a key figure in many of the wars between rival states across Northern Italy in the late 14th and early 15th century, eventually losing his life on the battlefield.

He acquired the name Sforza initially as a nickname but it was eventually adopted as a family name. His illegitimate son, Francesco, one of Muzio’s 16 known children, became the first Sforza Duke of Milan through his marriage to Bianca Maria Visconti, whose father, the last Visconti Duke of Milan, died without a male heir.

Some accounts have it that the Sforza family grew from peasant origins. Muzio, in fact, though from a rural background, was born into family with noble roots, who were relatively well off.

Given the name of Giacomo or Jacopo at birth, he was called Muzio because it had been the name by which his paternal grandfather, Giacomuzzo, was commonly known.

According to legend, the 13-year-old Muzio was hoeing a field on the family estate when a company of mercenaries led by the condottiero Boldrino da Panicale passed nearby, seeking recruits. Muzio, tempted to join them in search of a more exciting life, is said to have thrown his hoe at a nearby tree, deciding that if the blade stuck in the tree then fate would have determined that it was right for him to join up. It did stick, upon which he stole one of his father’s horses and headed for a new life.

He stayed with Da Panicale for four years, initially as a page and guard, then an infantryman. His father forgave him for stealing a horse and in 1386 made him a gift of four horses, which enabled Muzio, along with his brothers, Bosio, Francesco and Bartolo, to join the company of Alberico da Barbiano, the protege of the English mercenary John Hawkwood, which fought under the flag of St George.

Sforza fought for numerous warring states in the Italy of the Middle Ages
Sforza fought for numerous warring
states in the Italy of the Middle Ages
It was in this Compagnia di San Giorgio that he became known as Sforza, after his refusal to be discouraged and ability to turn situations to his favour through his unwillingness to give up a fight. In modern Italian, the verb sforzare can mean “to strive”. 

In the manner of condottieri, he fought with and against different leaders at different times, including Gian Galeazzo Visconti of Milan and the Medici of Florence.  In the Battle of Casalecchio in 1402, leading the armies of Bologna and Florence, he came up against a Milanese army led by Da Barbiano and was defeated. In 1409, he fought for Niccolò III d'Este’s Ferrara against Ottobuono de' Terzi of Reggio-Emilia.

Later he entered the service of the Kingdom of Naples, mainly fighting against the forces of Florence and the Papal States. It was while he was in the service of Queen Giovanna that he died, in 1423.

Sent to aid the city of L’Aquila in their uprising against Braccio da Montone, he went to the aid of a page, who was in difficulties during the crossing of the Pescara river, near the coastal city of the same name, but himself encountered a strong current. He was swept away and drowned.

Muzio’s 16 children were borne by three wives and two mistresses.  Francesco was the first of eight children he fathered with his mistress, Lucia Terzani da Marsciano. 

Born in 1401, he fought alongside his father in the War of L’Aquila, participating in Braccio da Montone's eventual defeat in that campaign. Subsequently, he fought for the army of Naples and then for Pope Martin V and the Duke of Milan, Filippo Maria Visconti. After leading the Milanese forces against Venice, the duke’s daughter was betrothed to him. He became Duke of Milan himself in February 1450, three years after Filippo Maria Visconti died.

He controlled the Duchy for 16 years until his death. Five other Sforza Dukes of Milan followed, the last of whom, Francesco II, died childless in 1535, upon which the Duchy reverted to the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V. 

The church of San Francesco in Cotignola, which was turned into the Sforza family tomb in 1400
The church of San Francesco in Cotignola, which
was turned into the Sforza family tomb in 1400
Travel tip:

The town of Cotignola in Emilia-Romagna, where Muzio Attendolo Sforza was born, is situated about 25km (16 miles) from Ravenna and 13km (8 miles) north of Faenza. It had the misfortune to find itself on the German World War II defensive line along the Senio river, established in 1944 an attempt to repel the Allied advance following the invasion of Sicily. As a result, it was largely destroyed by bombing. After the war, the town did its best to restore some of its more important landmarks, which include the tower belonging to the English mercenary soldier, John Hawkwood, and the Palazzo Sforza, the historical residence of the Sforza noble family, which was rebuilt in 1961. Some original features, such as the coat of arms of the House of Sforza and the portico columns, were preserved.  Just outside the centre of the town is the church of San Francesco, with the oratory of Santa Maria degli Angeli, which was turned into the tomb of the Sforza nobles in 1400. 

The inner courtyard of the Castello Sforzesco and the imposing Torre del Filarete
The inner courtyard of the Castello Sforzesco
and the imposing Torre del Filarete
Travel tip:

Among the main sights in Milan is the impressive Sforza castle, Castello Sforzesco, which Francesco Sforza had built on the site of the Castello di Porta Giovia, which had been the main residence in the city of the Visconti family.  Galeazzo II Visconti was responsible for the original, a square-plan castle with 200m-long sides, four towers at the corners and walls up to seven metres (23 ft) thick. Francesco Sforza hired the sculptor and architect Filarete to design and decorate the central tower, which is still known as the Torre del Filarete. Renovated and enlarged a number of times in subsequent centuries, it became one of the largest citadels in Europe and now houses several museums and art collections. After Ludovico Sforza became Duke of Milan in 1494, he commissioned Leonardo da Vinci to fresco several rooms. For more information visit www.milanocastello.it

Also on this day:

1606: The painter Caravaggio murdered Ranuccio Tomassoni in Rome, after a brawl

1692: The birth of composer Geminiano Giacomelli

1839: The birth of author and journalist Luigi Capuana

1987: The birth of cricketer Leandro Jayarajah

1999: Leonardo da Vinci’s restored wall painting of The Last Supper - commissioned by Ludovico Sforza - goes back on display in Milan


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3 March 2020

Ascanio Sforza – Cardinal

Borgia pope’s ally used his power to benefit Milan


Cardinal Ascanio Sforza has been described as  Machiavellian in his diplomatic skills
Cardinal Ascanio Sforza has been described as
Machiavellian in his diplomatic skills
Ascanio Maria Sforza Visconti, who became a skilled diplomat and a Cardinal of the Catholic Church, was born on this day in 1455 in Cremona in Lombardy.

He played a major part in the election of Rodrigo Borgia as Pope Alexander VI in the papal conclave of 1492 and served as Vice-Chancellor of the Holy Roman Church from 1492 until 1505.

Ascanio was the son of Francesco Sforza, Duke of Milan, and Bianca Maria Visconti. Two of his brothers, Galeazzo Maria Sforza and Ludovico Sforza, became Dukes of Milan, as did his nephew, Gian Galeazzo Sforza.

At the age of ten, Ascanio was named commendatory abbot of Chiaravalle and he was promised the red hat of a cardinal when he was in his teens. He was appointed Bishop of Pavia in 1479.

Pope Sixtus IV created him cardinal deacon of SS Vito e Modesto in March 1484. Pope Sixtus died in August before Ascanio’s formal ceremony of investiture had taken place and some of the cardinals objected to him participating in the conclave to elect the next pope.

Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia intervened on his behalf and Ascanio was received with all the rights of a cardinal. The conclave elected Giovanni Battista Cybo as Pope Innocent VIII.

Sforza played an important part in helping Rodrigo Borgia be elected as Pope
Sforza played an important part in helping
Rodrigo Borgia be elected as Pope
After Pope Innocent’s death in 1492, Ascanio promised his vote to Rodrigo Borgia at the next conclave. In return, Borgia promised him the office of Vice-Chancellor of the Holy Roman Church, many other lucrative posts, and the Palazzo Borgia. Ascanio managed to persuade other Cardinals to vote for Rodrigo Borgia and he was duly elected, becoming Pope Alexander VI.

Ascanio became so powerful he was virtually prime minister of the Holy See.

He arranged the marriage of Giovanni Sforza, his cousin, to Lucrezia Borgia, the pope’s illegitimate daughter, but the marriage was annulled four years later on the grounds of non consummation.

The friendship between Ascanio and Alexander VI came to an end when the French invaded Italy because the Sforza family had made a secret alliance with King Charles VIII of France. Ascanio tried to get the pope deposed along with several cardinals but the papal troops defeated the French. Once the Sforzas gave up their support of the French, Ascanio was received in the Vatican again, but his relationship with Alexander VI was never the same.

When Giovanni Borgia, the pope’s son, was stabbed to death, Ascanio was accused of the murder but he was quickly absolved by the pope.

After the French invaded Italy again in 1500, Ascanio’s brother, Ludovico Sforza, was imprisoned and Ascanio was taken to France where he was held captive for nearly two years.

Andrea Sansovino's tomb for Ascanio  was commissioned by Pope Julius II
Andrea Sansovino's tomb for Ascanio
 was commissioned by Pope Julius II
In the papal conclave of 1503 Ascanio tried to succeed Alexander VI, but he was beaten by Francesco Piccolomini, who became Pius III. He died the same month as his coronation and Ascanio took part in the conclave of October 1503 when Giuliano delle Rovere was elected as Pope Julius II almost unanimously.

Ascanio became ill with the plague in May 1505 and died, aged 50, at his home near San Girolamo degli Schiavoni in Rome. He was buried the same evening with no ceremony because he had died of the plague.

Julius II commissioned Andrea Sansovino to erect a tomb for Cardinal Ascanio in the Cappella Maggiore of Santa Maria del Popolo with an inscription announcing that Julius II had forgotten Cardinal Ascanio’s honest opposition - ‘honestissimarum contentionum oblitus’.

Ascanio Sforza has been judged to have been both intelligent and Machiavellian, but to have remained dedicated to Milan and to his family.

In recent TV dramas about the Borgias, the role of Cardinal Ascanio Sforza has been played variously by the British actors, Clive Merrison, Peter Sullivan and Christian McKay.

Cremona's famous bell tower, il Torrazzo
Cremona's famous bell tower, il Torrazzo
Travel tip:

Cremona in Lombardy, where Ascanio Sforza was born, is famous for having the tallest bell tower in Italy, il Torrazzo, which measures more than 112 metres in height. The city is also well known for producing torrone, a type of nougat. It is thought the concoction of almonds, honey and egg whites was first created in the shape of il Torrazzo to mark the marriage of Ascanio’s parents, Bianca Maria Visconti and Francesco I Sforza, in 1441. To sample the many different types of torrone now made in Cremona, visit Negozio Sperlari in Via Solferino in the centre of the city.

The Church of Santa Maria del Popolo in Rome, where Ascanio Sforza is buried
The Church of Santa Maria del Popolo in Rome, where
Ascanio Sforza is buried
Travel tip:

Ascanio Sforza’s tomb by Sansovino is in Santa Maria del Popolo, a minor basilica in Piazza del Popolo in Rome. The basilica was important during the Borgia era. When the Pope’s son, Giovanni Borgia, Duke of Gandia, was murdered in 1497 his body lay in state in the basilica for several days before being buried in the Borgia chapel. Vannozza dei Cattanei, former mistress of Alexander VI, and Ludovico Podocataro, the pope’s secretary and physician, were also buried there.

Also on this day:

1578: The death of Venetian Doge Sebastiano Venier

1585: The inauguration of the Teatro Olimpico in Vicenza

1768: The death of composer and teacher Nicola Porpora

1882: The birth of fraudstar Charles Ponzi


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24 January 2020

Galeazzo Maria Sforza - Duke of Milan

Effective leader with dark side



Piero Pollaiuolo's portrait of Galeazzo, which is kept by Uffizi in Florence
Piero Pollaiuolo's portrait of Galeazzo,
which is kept by Uffizi in Florence
Galeazzo Maria Sforza, who became the second member of the Sforza family to take the title Duke of Milan, was born on this day in 1444 in Fermo, in what is now the Marche region.

Sforza was an effective ruler but is often remembered as a tyrant with a cruel streak.  He ruled Milan for just 10 years before he was assassinated in 1476.

In that time, Galeazzo did much to boost the economy of Milan and the wider area of Lombardia. He introduced measures to promote and protect the work of Lombard craftsmen and boosted agriculture by the introduction of jasmine farming and rice cultivation. Farsightedly, he realised that a healthy population was a more productive one and expanded the health institutions started by his father, Francesco Sforza.  He minted a new silver coin, the Testone, which carried an image of his profile on the reverse.

He saw to it that work on Milan’s cathedral, which had started almost 100 years earlier, continued to progress, and took over the construction of a major hospital that his father had wanted to see built.

Galeazzo was also a major patron of music, attracting composers and musicians not just in Italy but from northern Europe, especially the Franco-Flemish areas of present day Belgium and Holland. Alexander Agricola, Johannes Martini, Loyset Compère, and Gaspar van Weerbeke all had their standing boosted by their association with the Sforza court, where they composed masses, motets and secular music.

The Testone coin, bearing the image of Galeazzo Maria Sforza on the reverse
The Testone coin, bearing the image
of Galeazzo Maria Sforza on the reverse
He was also a patron of the arts, although this was mainly connected with the extravagant decoration and embellishment of the vast Castello Sforzesco. The castle had been built by his father, Francesco, but he and Galeazzo’s mother, Bianca Maria Visconti, chose to live in the more modest Corte d’Arengo rather than be seen to flaunt their wealth.

Such considerations were dismissed by Galeazzo, who decided the castle was a suitable home for him and his family and hired two Florentine architects of particular note, Bartolomeo Gadio and Benedetto Ferrini, to oversee the restructuring of the Ducal Court, Rocchetta courtyard and his own private accommodation.

He commissioned the Ducal Chapel, built in 1471, and engaged artists of considerable reputation such as Bonifacio Bembo, Giacomino Vismara and Stefano de Fedeli.  The chapel’s extraordinary decoration, with much use of pure gold, makes it one of the masterpieces of Sforza art.

A skilled soldier, Galeazzo was called back from a military expedition in France at the time of his father’s death and hundreds of Milanese turned out to acclaim him as the new Duke when he returned to the city. It was not long before his ruthless streak emerged, however. At first ruling jointly with his mother, he soon took steps to relegate her to a much less influential position and it was not long before she moved to Cremona, where she had considerable support.  It is said that she was in contact with Ferdinand I of Naples, an enemy of Galeazzo, and after she became ill and died in 1468 there were suspicions that Galeazzo had ordered his agents to poison her.

Part of the sumptuously decorated ceiling of the Ducal Chapel
Part of the sumptuously decorated
ceiling of the Ducal Chapel
If that were true, it would have been consistent with the stories of cruelty that have been associated with Galeazzo, who is said to have taken delight in condemning those who offended him to agonizing deaths and subjecting his enemies to torture.  A womaniser, he allegedly raped the wives and daughters of Milanese noblemen, confident that they would be too fearful for their own safety to raise objections.

However, his excesses and cruelties eventually cost him his life when three of high-ranking officials in his court, Carlo Visconti, Gerolamo Olgiati and Giovanni Andrea Lampugnani, conspired to assassinate him.  All three had motives, Lampugnani’s stemming from a land dispute that cost him a considerable part of his fortune, Olgiati’s from political differences, and Visconti’s from suspicions that Galeazzo had raped his daughter.

Their plot came to fruition on 26 December, the feast of Santo Stefano, when Galeazzo attended the Basilica di Santo Stefano Maggiore to celebrate the saint.  When Galeazzo arrived, Lampugnani knelt before him in the atrium but then rose suddenly and stabbed him in the groin and chest. Visconti and Olgiati joined in, plunging their own weapons into the body of the Duke, who was soon dead.

Lampugnani himself was killed by one of Galeazzo’s guards, while Visconti and Olgiati were caught and executed within days.  Galeazzo was succeeded as Duke of Milan by Gian Galeazzo Sforza, the first-born of his four legitimate children, although for five years, until his majority, Milan was governed by his mother, Bona of Savoy.

The inner courtyard of the Castello Sforzesco in Milan, which Galeazzo Maria Sforza turned into his luxurious home
The inner courtyard of the Castello Sforzesco in Milan,
which Galeazzo Maria Sforza turned into his luxurious home
Travel tip:

The Castello Sforzesco is one of the main sights for visitors to Milan, situated to the northwest of the city centre, with the Parco Sempione behind it. Francesco Sforza built it on the site of the Castello di Porta Giovia, which had been the main residence in the city of the Visconti family, from which Francesco was descended. The Viscontis ruled Milan for 170 years. Renovated and enlarged a number of times in subsequent centuries, it became one of the largest citadels in Europe and now houses several museums and art collections.

The Basilica of Santo Stefano Maggiore in Milan, the scene of Galeazzo Maria Sforza's assassination
The Basilica of Santo Stefano Maggiore in Milan, the
scene of Galeazzo Maria Sforza's assassination
Travel tip:

The Basilica of Santo Stafano Maggiore can be found in Piazza Santo Stefano, to the southeast of Milan’s centro storico, just a few minutes’ walk from the Duomo. Although it dates back to the fifth century, the present structure was built in 1075 in Romanesque style.  It contains the relics of at least eight saints. As well as being the scene of the death of Galeazzo Maria Sforza, an event which is commemorated with a plaque in the atrium, the church also witnessed the baptism, in 1571, of the painter Michelangelo Merisi, better known as Caravaggio.

Also on this day:

41AD: The assassination of Roman Emperor Caligula

1705: The birth of the castrato singer Farinelli, acknowledged as music’s first ‘superstar’

1916: The birth of actor Arnoldo Foà

1947: The birth of footballer Giorgio Chinaglia


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31 March 2016

Bianca Maria Visconti – Duchess of Milan



Ruler fought alongside her troops to defend her territory


Portrait of Bianca Maria Visconti painted in 1460
Bianca Maria Visconti

Bianca Maria Visconti, the daughter of Filippo Maria Visconti, Duke of Milan, was born on this day in 1425 near Settimo Pavese in Lombardy.

A strong character, her surviving letters showed she was able to run Milan efficiently after becoming Duchess and even supposedly donned a suit of armour and rode with her troops into battle, earning herself the nickname, Warrior Woman.

Bianca Maria was the illegitimate daughter of the Duke of Milan, and was sent to live with her mother in comfortable conditions in a castle where she received a good education.

At the age of six she was betrothed for political reasons to the condottiero, Francesco I Sforza, who was 24 years older than her.

Despite the political situation changing many times over the years, Bianca Maria and Francesco Sforza did get married in 1441 when she was 16. The wedding took place in Cremona, which was listed as part of her dowry. The celebrations lasted several days and included a banquet, tournaments, a palio and a huge cake made in the shape of the city’s Torrazzo, the bell tower.

Bianca Maria quickly proved her skills in administration and diplomacy and at the age of 17 was named Regent of the Marche.

Il Torrazzo, 112 metres high, is the tallest bell tower in Italy
Il Torrazzo, the tallest bell tower in Italy

After the death of her father, Bianca Maria and Francesco set off for Milan with their armies and Francesco spent three years trying to reconquer the cities that had declared independence from Milan after Filippo Maria Visconti’s death.

In 1448, while Francesco was away fighting in Pavia, the Venetians attacked Cremona and it is claimed Bianca Maria put on a suit of armour and went with her troops to defend the city.

When Bianca and Francesco were welcomed to Milan as the new duke and duchess they refused to travel in the triumphal wagon and instead chose to ride to the Duomo on horseback.

With Francesco constantly occupied with his army, Bianca Maria devoted herself to the administration of the Duchy and to public works.

After the death of Francesco, Bianca Maria moved back to live in Cremona. She was in the process of returning to Milan to attend her son’s marriage when she fell ill. She died in Cremona a few months later at the age of 43 and was buried in the Duomo in Milan alongside her husband.

Travel tip:

Cremona has the tallest bell tower in Italy, il Torrazzo, which measures more than 112 metres in height. The city is also famous for producing torrone, a type of nougat. It is thought this concoction, of almonds, honey and egg whites, was first created in the shape of il Torrazzo to mark the marriage of Bianca Maria to Francesco in 1441. To sample the many different types of torrone now made, visit Negozio Sperlari in Via Solferino in the centre of the city.

The Museo Stradivariano in Cremona is dedicated to Stradivari
The Museo Stradivariano in Cremona is
dedicated to the violin maker Stradivari

Travel tip:

Cremona is also famous as the birthplace of Antonio Stradivari, who is considered to be the greatest ever violin maker. He is believed to have produced more than 1,100 instruments, some of which have achieved millions of pounds when sold at auction in modern times. There is a Museo Stradivariano in Cremona in Via Ugolani Dati, housed in the elegant rooms of a former palace. Visitors can see more than 700 relics from Stradivari’s workshop, which date back to the 17th and 18th centuries.

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