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Portrait attributed to Giovanni Ambrogio de Predis, reputed to be of Gian Galeazzo Visconti
The painted figures of Caterina and Gian Galeazzo are shown kneeling in the foreground in this missal by Anovelo da Imbonate

Gian Galeazzo Visconti (November 1351 – 3 September 1402), son of Galeazzo II Visconti and Bianca di Savoia, was the first Duke of Milan (1395)[1] and ruled the late-medieval city just before the dawn of the Renaissance. He was the great founding patron of the Certosa di Pavia, completing at Pavia the castello begun by his father and furthering work on the Duomo of Milan.

Although most famous as Signore of Milan, Gian Galeazzo was the son of Galeazzo II Visconti who possessed the signoria of the city of Pavia. In 1385 Gian Galeazzo gained control of Milan by overthrowing his uncle Bernabò through treacherous means. He imprisoned his uncle who soon died, supposedly poisoned on his orders.[2]

His first marriage was to Isabelle of Valois, who brought him the title of comte de Vertus in Champagne, rendered in Italian as Conte di Virtù, the title by which he was known in his early career.[3] A devoted father to his daughter Valentina (wife of Louis, Duke of Orleans and mother of the famous poet, Charles of Orleans), Gian Galeazzo reacted to gossip about Valentina at the French Court by threatening to declare war on France. The wife of King Charles VI of France was Isabeau of Bavaria, the granddaughter of Bernabo Visconti, and, thus, a bitter rival of Valentina and her father Gian Galeazzo Visconti. After Galeazzo's wife Isabella died in childbirth in 1373, he married secondly, on 2 October 1380, his first cousin Caterina Visconti, daughter of the late Bernabò; with her he had two sons, Gian Maria and Filippo Maria.

Galeazzo's role as a statesman also took other forms. Soon after seizing Milan he took Verona, Vicenza, and Padua, establishing himself as Signore of each, and soon controlled almost the entire valley of the Po. He lost Padua in 1390, when it reverted to Francesco Novello da Carrara. He received the title of Duke of Milan from Wenceslaus, King of the Romans in 1395 for 100,000 florins. Gian Galeazzo had dreams of uniting all of northern Italy into one kingdom,a revived Lombard empire. The obstacles to his success included Bologna and especially Florence. In 1402 Gian Galeazzo launched assaults upon these cities. The warfare was extremely costly on both sides, but it was universally believed the Milanese would emerge victorious. The Florentine leaders, especially the chancellor Coluccio Salutati worked successfully to rally the people of Florence, but the Florentines were being taxed hard by famine, disease, and poverty. Galeazzo won another victory over the Bolognese at the Battle of Casalecchio on 26 June 1402.

Galeazzo's dreams were to come to naught, however, as he succumbed to a fever at the castello of Melegnano in 10 August 1402. He died on 3 September. His empire fragmented as infighting among his successors wracked Milan, partly through his division of his lands among both legitimate and illegitimate heirs.[4]

Gian Galeazzo spent 300,000 golden florins in attempting to turn from their courses the Mincio from Mantua and the Brenta from Padua, in order to render those cities helpless before the force of his arms. His library, housed in the grandest princely dwelling in Italy, the castello in Pavia, and his rich collection of manuscripts, many of them the fruits of his conquests, were famous.

Notes

  1. ^ He was also Signore di Verona, Cremona, Bergamo, Brescia, Belluno, Pieve di Cadore, Feltre, Pavia, Novara, Como, Lodi, Vercelli, Alba, Asti, Pontremoli, Tortona, Alessandria, Valenza, Piacenza, Parma, Reggio Emilia, Vicenza, Vigevano, Borgo San Donnino and of the valli del Boite.
  2. ^ Barbara Tuchman A Distant Mirror A.A.Knopf, New York (1978) p.418
  3. ^ In Italian, virtù fortuitously connoted lordly charisma and connoisseurship, characteristics that were highly prized.
  4. ^ To his son Giovanni Maria he assigned the title of Duke of Milan, which included Como, Lodi, Cremona, Begamo, Brescia, Reggio Emilia, Piacenza, Parma, and claims to Perugia and Siena. To Filippo Maria, conte di Pavia, he assigned in addition Vercelli, Novara, Alessandria, Tortona, Feltre, Verona, Vicenza, Bassano and the shores of Trento. To his illegitimate son, Gabriele Maria, went Pisa and Crema.

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Preceded by
Matteo II Visconti
Lord of Milan
Duke from 1395

1378–1402
Succeeded by
Gian Maria Visconti
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