Azzone Visconti, sometimes described as the founder of the state of Milan, was born on 7th December, 1302 in Ferrara. He brought prosperity to the city in the 14th century.
Born in Ferrara to Galeazzo I Visconti and Beatrice d’Este, the daughter of the Marquis of Ferrara, Azzone Visconti would see Milan prosper under his rule.
The Visconti family ruled Lombardy and Milan from 1277 to 1457. After a brief period as a republic, the Sforza family took control.
Azzone’s father was a descendant of Ottone Visconti who first took control of Milan in 1277. He had been made Archbishop of Milan by Pope Urban IV but found himself opposed by the Della Torre family.
Ottone was barred from entering the city until he defeated Napoleone della Torre in a battle. Other than a brief period during which forces loyal to Guido della Torre drove out Galeazzo’s father, Matteo, the Visconti family held power for the next 170 years.
In 1328, Louis IV, the Holy Roman Emperor had Galeazzo and other members of the family arrested following the death of Galeazzo’s younger brother, Stefano. It was brother against brother, as Marco accused his brother Galeazzo of being at the heart of the assassination of Stefano.
Louis IV confiscated the Visconti territories, handing control of the smaller cities in Lombardy to local families. Galeazzo died later that year. On their release, Azzone and Marco struggled against each other for control of Milan.
Imperial Vicar of Milan
Azzone gained the upper hand when, with the help of his uncle Giovanni, he raised the sum of 60,000 florins which he paid Louis IV for the title of Imperial Vicar of Milan. This effectively made him the ruler of the city.
This development angered Pope John XXII, who excommunicated Azzone. As a result, Azzone renounced his Imperial Vicariate, and reached a compromise with the Pope. He retained political power under the title of Lord of Milan.
Nine year rule
Azzone was only in power for nine years, but during that time (1330-1339), the city’s power and wealth grew.
By joining the League of Castelbaldo, he brought the Lombardy cities of Bergamo, Novara, Cremona, Como, Lodi, Piacenza and Brescia back under the rule of Milan.
Azzone rebuilt the Palazzo del Broletto Vecchio, opposite the Duomo, formerly the municipal seat, as Visconti palace. He also moved the town hall to the Palazzo della Ragione.
Commissioned by Azzone, architect Francesco Pecorari constructed the the church of San Gottardo in Corte. It had an octagonal bell tower, which remains today. Inspiration may well have come from Giotto’s drawings for the bell tower of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence. Azzone also hired Giotto to create a number of frescoes in the Visconti palace, though sadly none remain today.
Azzone is also credited with rebuilding the city of Lecco, destroyed by his grandfather, Matteo, in 1296.
The family continued his architectural legacy, with work starting on the Milan Duomo in 1386 under the rule of Gian Galeazzo Visconti.
Azzone’s rule, even though short, was fraught with battles against other family members. His uncle Lodrisio plotted to unseat him. Imprisoned in the castle of San Colombano al Lambro, Lodrisio escaped. He gathered an army which another uncle, Luchino, defeated at the Battle of Parabiago.
However, it was not family that proved Azzone’s undoing. He died of gout in 1339, aged just 37. His only issue from his marriage to Caterina di Savoia was a daughter, Luchina.
Buried in the church of San Gottardo, he was succeeded as lord of Milan by his uncles Giovanni and Luchino.