The project positions itself within the conceptual framework of research on cultural identity in modern Europe, a dense aggregation of discrete cultures in constant dialogue between autochthonous and intercultural identities. It aims to analyze a precise period of the history of Lombardy, one of the most important European regions, from the 14th to the beginning of the 16th century, which saw the establishment of the region as a distinct political and cultural entity. Focusing on this particular geographical area, the project will study an exemplary case of the construction of a cultural identity, whose cultural repercussions still resonate in present-day Italy. As a part of a potent political project, it has been sustained by complex mechanisms of self-representation and the imposition of a prestige taste. The investigation proposes both an archaeological examination of cultural identities and an investigation of cultural signifiers, objects, and expressive forms of the past; it also interrogates the objective status of interpretations transmitted from the past. Far from seeking to consolidate the historical and mythic bases of the identity of this powerful European region, it aims rather to taxonomize the temporal and stylistic phases of the historical process, deconstructing indeed the historiographic trajectories which have sustained this vision of the past until the present day.

Bernabo Visconti

The project develops from the study of the court, the primordial crucible of culture and political power at the dawn of the modern age. Language, space, architecture, and imagery form the fields of enquiry. The focus is on new city structures and their realization, new public building-types and their symbolically charged decorative programs, laudatory descriptions, elite proto-humanist Latinity and the vernacular, French chivalric romances with their illustration of a vanished mythical past, lavish court costumes and jewelry, and the natural sciences and books cultures. This constituted the intricate world of the court and its surroundings in 14th and 15th century Lombardy, until the French invasions brought the sudden collapse of Lombard political and dynastic polity. The research project thus respects a temporal and geographic unity. It is interdisciplinary, founded on the conviction of unitary guiding principles and strategies of communication, in a desired continuum between the Visconti and Sforza dynasties, and involving the history of Italian language and literature, history of art and architecture.


The Visconti Court

Models, Programmes and Patrons. The Court Context 1328-1402

The overarching research hypothesis is that the Visconti and their individual rulers (Azzo, Galeazzo II, Gian Galeazzo, and also Matteo, Giovanni, Luchino and Bernabò) employed a conscious image strategy deliberately using it to give a uniformity and visibility to their polity, thus constructing programs, sites, decorative ensembles, building new edifices and taking over others, focusing on the cities of Milan and Pavia as well as minor centers of the Lombard hinterland. This policy signaled a defining rupture with the past.

Palaces and Castles, City and Country

Visconti and Sforza Buildings in Lombardy, 14th-15th Centuries

This project’s research field is architecture, as a particularly important medium through which the ruling families visualized their presence and interventions in the cities and territory. It is possible to discern analogue dynamics in architecture as the ones we suppose in the field of figurative arts and literature: a complex of exigencies, balanced between the practical and representative function of architecture, and in tension between the possible models, the traditional regional ones and others, deliberately imposed by the seigniorial circles.

Knightly Idealism at the Visconti and Sforza Courts

Libraries, Romances, Miniatures

The Sforza and Visconti Lombard court offers an exceptional field of investigation for analyzing the phenomenon of the passion for reading, collecting, illustrating a known group of Arthurian romances of chivalry: a literary, but also sociological phenomenon, certainly rooted in a search for identity on a longer arch of time. The subject of this research focuses on the phenomenon of reception, passive in a certain measure, which could appear marginal at first glance, but which in reality is the sign of a mentality requiring to be studied with new instruments and in an interdisciplinary perspective.

Visconti Writings

Poetic Literature, Historiography and Documentary Production Around the Milanese Court

We will inventory all relevant texts produced to satisfy the demands or the needs of the Visconti and of the court, or simply addressed to them in the hope of obtaining an advantage. Taking into account the dispersion of the texts and the absence of modern editions, the point of departure will be the already mentioned bibliography, which will be used to gather data of different nature: firstly, information about the texts’ tradition, of great relevance to weight the intentions motivating the texts and their impact; secondly, information concerning the authors, verifying their relation with the court. At this point it will be possible to describe the most important historical and literary themes and motives, present in Lombardy and in Veneto, which constituted the basin of reference for courtly culture.

Political Space and Knowledge Culture

Visual Construction of Identity under Visconti and Sforza Rule, 1300-1500

At the center of the project is the question of the development of a Lombard cultural identity under the Visconti during the Trecento and under the Sforza during the Quattrocento. For the investigation of this cultural identity, the interactions between art, authority, and knowledge are fundamental. The objective is to combine art historical notions of political iconography with cultural science’s recent research on authority and space as well as the concept of knowledge culture in the history of science. The approach thus implies a bipartite structure: firstly, it will investigate the interrelations between art and authority, and, secondly, the relation between art and knowledge, in 14th and 15th century Lombardy. Both of the project components shall meet in a hypothesis about the construction of a specific Lombard cultural identity, deliberately promoted and visually communicated by the Visconti and Sforza.

Subproject Website

Shifts of Identity

Lombardy and France, and the Duchy’s End

Our project is based on the hypothesis that the cultural identity, while forged under Ludovico Sforza as a reaction to the Burgundian model, is only truly crystallized during the French domination, which was not accompanied by an artistic colonization, but on the contrary by a phenomenon of cultural appropriation. It therefore seems fundamental to take up the question of identity in the frame of cultural exchange between the duchy of Milan and the kingdom of France on the one hand, and on the other hand, in a wider period which, from the advent of the Sforza (1450) to the definitive departure of the French (1521), imposes two distinct but nevertheless complementary parts.

Subproject Website

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Sinergia Project Manager