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(vēskôn`tē), Italian family that ruled Milan from the 13th cent. until 1447. In the 12th cent. members of the family received the title of viscount, from which the name is derived.

Ottone Visconti, 1207–95, archbishop of Milan, was recognized (1277) as lord of the city after he had defeated the opposition of the Della Torre family, established leaders of the popular party. To keep the lordship in the family, he had Matteo I Visconti, 1255–1322, elected captain of the people in 1287. Exiled (1302–10) by the Della Torre faction, Matteo returned with the help of Holy Roman Emperor Henry VIIHenry VII,
c.1275–1313, Holy Roman emperor (1312–13) and German king (1308–13). A minor count of the house of Luxembourg, Henry was elected German king on the death of King Albert I after the electors had set aside the two main contenders, Albert's eldest son,
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 and became imperial vicar. He established his overlordship in all Lombard cities, but Guelph opposition (see Guelphs and GhibellinesGuelphs and Ghibellines
, opposing political factions in Germany and in Italy during the later Middle Ages. The names were used to designate the papal (Guelph) party and the imperial (Ghibelline) party during the long struggle between popes and emperors, and they were also used
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) obliged him to retire (1322) in favor of his son, Galeazzo I Visconti, 1277?–1328, who continued the struggle against popes and Guelphs. Galeazzo's son Azzone Visconti, 1302–39, consolidated the state, made peace with the pope, and increased the Milanese territories. At his death his two uncles, Lucchino and Giovanni, were proclaimed dukes.

Lucchino Visconti, 1292–1349, who in fact ruled alone, continued his predecessor's conquests, acquiring territory in Piedmont, Tuscany, and the present Ticino canton of Switzerland. The expansion of Milan aroused the other Italian states, and coalitions were repeatedly formed against Lucchino and his successors. Lucchino's brother, Giovanni Visconti, 1290–1354, took over the government in 1349. At his death the Milanese possessions were divided among his three nephews, Matteo II, Galeazzo II, and Bernabò.

Matteo II Visconti, 1319–55, was probably poisoned by his brothers, who divided his possessions. Galeazzo II Visconti, 1320–78, an able diplomat, began the transformation of his various communal lordships into an organized state. He was a patron of the arts and letters and a friend of Petrarch. At Pavia, where he held his court, he built the castle and founded the university and the library. Bernabò Visconti, 1323–85, ruled in Milan. His intrigues and territorial ambitions kept him at war with the pope, Florence, Venice, and Savoy. He died in prison, arrested by his nephew, Gian Galeazzo Visconti, 1351?–1402, the son of Galeazzo II.

Left the sole ruler of all Visconti possessions, Gian Galeazzo embarked on a systematic program of conquest, first in Venetia, then in central Italy. He withstood hostile coalitions partly by skillful diplomacy, partly by employing the best condottieri of his time. He bought (1395) his investiture as hereditary duke of Milan from Holy Roman Emperor WenceslausWenceslaus,
1361–1419, Holy Roman emperor (uncrowned) and German king (1378–1400), king of Bohemia (1378–1419) as Wenceslaus IV, elector of Brandenburg (1373–76), son and successor of Emperor Charles IV.
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 and defeated (1401) Holy Roman Emperor RupertRupert,
1352–1410, German king (1400–1410), elector palatine of the Rhine. He was elected German king after the deposition of Wenceslaus. Seeking the imperial crown, Rupert went to Italy.
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 when Rupert sought to restore imperial rule over Italy. Gian Galeazzo's ambition was to establish an Italian kingdom, but he died of the plague while preparing a final attack on Florence, his chief enemy.

Gian Galeazzo reformed and centralized the government and promoted the arts and industries. During his reign the cathedral of Milan and the Certosa di PaviaCertosa di Pavia
, former Carthusian abbey of Pavia. One of the most magnificent of all monastic structures, it has been maintained as a national monument since 1866. The church, forming its nucleus, was begun in the style of the Italian Gothic in 1396 by Gian Galeazzo Visconti,
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 were begun. He allied his family with the ruling house of France by marrying Isabella, daughter of John II. His daughter by a second marriage, Valentina, married Louis d'OrléansOrléans, Louis, duc d'
, 1372–1407, brother of King Charles VI of France, whose chief counselor he was from 1388 to 1392. After 1392, when Charles VI suffered his first attack of insanity, Louis became involved in a long struggle for control with his uncle, Philip
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; it was through her that Louis XII and Francis I of France derived their claim to Milan in the Italian Wars.

During the regency of Gian Galeazzo's widow for her son, Giovanni Maria Visconti, 1389–1412, many cities were lost and political chaos prevailed. On reaching his majority Giovanni Maria revealed himself a dissolute and cruel ruler. He was assassinated, and the duchy passed to his brother, Filippo Maria Visconti, 1392–1447, who employed both diplomacy and force to restore the duchy. In his wars with Venice and Florence he was at first aided, then opposed, by the condottierri CarmagnolaCarmagnola, Francesco Bussone da
, c.1380?–1432, Italian condottiere. He fought for Filippo Maria Visconti, duke of Milan, in his wars against Florence and Venice but later fell out with Visconti and entered the service of Venice.
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. His daughter and sole heir, Bianca Maria, married Francesco I SforzaSforza, Francesco I
, 1401–66, duke of Milan (1450–66); illegitimate son of Muzio Attendolo Sforza. He succeeded his father as leader of his band of mercenaries, and by his valor and sagacity he became one of the most powerful condottieri of his time.
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, who became duke of Milan after the fall of the short-lived Ambrosian Republic (1447–50), set up after Filippo Maria's death.

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a distinguished family of Lombardy feudal lords (known since the end of the tenth century); from 1277 to 1447 they were rulers of Milan. Ottone Visconti, arch-bishop of Milan from 1262, became the ruler of the city in 1227. By the beginning of the 14th century Ottone’s successors, relying in turn on popes and emperors, had essentially destroyed the republican establishments. In the 13th century the Visconti family embarked on a course of territorial expansion, appropriating Piacenza, Bergamo, Cremona, Vercelli, Brescia, Parma, and, within a short time, Bologna (1350-54) and Genoa (1353-56). In 1395, Giangaleazzo Visconti (1385-1402) received the title of duke of Milan, and in 1397, of duke of Lombardy; his holdings included a significant part of northern Italy. During the rule of Giovanni Maria Visconti (1402-12) most of the conquered territory was lost. Filippo Maria Visconti (1412-47) partially won back the Milan duchy in protracted wars with Venice and Florence. The Visconti dynasty came to an end in 1447.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


1. the ruling family of Milan from 1277 to 1447
2. Luchino, real name Luchino Visconti de Modrone. 1906--76, Italian stage and film director, whose neorealist films include Ossessione (1942). His other films include The Leopard (1963), Death in Venice (1970), and The Innocents (1976)
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005