Immediately as I entered the Visconti & Sforza exhibit I felt the immensity of the history I was about to inhabit. In my mind, I had this preconceived notion of lords: the autonomy, conflict and reputation. Yet, simultaneously I had no idea what to expect.
The exhibition began with an introduction and chronology of the Visconti and Sforza families. Each room was a mirror into the past, marked by the name of each lord that was in power. From Azzone to Galeazzo & Bernabò, Gian Galeazzo & Filippo Maria Visconti, then merging of families with Francesco Sforza, Galeazzo Maria, and Ludovico il Moro (the Moor). How strong a sovereign can appear but at its core how fragile their position is when conflict erupts. The exhibit focused on the timespan from the early 14th century, when Azzone Visconti consolidated his power, to centuries later when the French invasion put an end to the autonomy of the Sforza duchy. The more than 250 objects on display showed Milan in a new and enchanting light.
The story of the Visconti era began with archbishop Ottone Visconti who was proclaimed the lord of Milan in 1277. The house of Visconti consolidated its control over Milan expanding its influence until with Azzone Visconti (1329-1339) created a regional dominion. Under Azzone, the city was under the power of a Signory, or the governing body of an Italian Republic. As the emerging sovereign power, he introduced a new international artistic language that would permeate into centuries to come – commissioning influential artists such as Giotto.
My favorite room was dedicated to Gian Galeazzo Visconti’s rule and the significance of the Duomo. Gian Galeazzo undoubtedly transformed Milan into a city of international appeal (Lombard art influence spanned from France to Bohemia). In 1395, Gian Galeazzo received an imperial investiture, which gave him the title of the Duke of Milan and its territories. Simultaneously, the expansion of Visconti rule reached its peak with several Italian cities subjugated to Milan (even Florence shook at the Visconti power). In Gian Galeazzo’s strategy of internationalization was the construction of the Cathedral (Duomo) in 1386. The importance of the Duomo cannot be over-emphasized. This room showcased several works from the structure, lowered from high pillars and massive windows.
On display were manuscripts by Giovannino de Grassi a multi-faceted painter, illuminator and master of late Gothic Naturalism. The manuscript by de Grassi: Beroldo (1396 – 1398). The production of illuminated manuscripts was a key part in Gian Galeazzo’s political strategy. Additionally, sculptures from the Duomo were shown by Roland de Banille – Angelo con cartiglio (1398).
Thanks to this exhibit, more than 500 years later, Lombard art with its symbolism and cultural traditions has been revived. Yet, as I came face to face with the art and sculptures of history, I couldn’t help but question: is Milan in another golden age? With the EXPO 2015 as its foundation, I would have to contend Milan is experiencing a sort of renaissance. Let’s be honored to be a part of living history.
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