Bianca Maria Visconti, the illegitimate daughter of the last Visconti Duke of Milan, was born on March 31, 1425. Her 1441 marriage to Francesco Sforza helped the condottiere secure support and consolidate power in the region.
Bianca Maria’s daughter, Ippolita, praised her mother’s intelligence, noted her “zeal for doing good for all humankind,” and celebrated both her “great liberality” and the temples that she built for the “immortal gods.” (Quoted in King, 45) With her support both Santa Nicola and Santa Maria della Pace were constructed. In addition, her name is associated with the Ospedale, now the home of the University of Milan. Bianca Maria is also famous for sending the painter, Zanetto Bugatto, to Brussels to study with Rogier van der Weyden.
Letters written throughout her life show her nuanced understanding of the politics across the Italian peninsula. Fearing regional instability after Francesco’s death on March 8, 1466, Bianca Maria called Federico da Montefeltro to Milan to support her right to rule. Gary Ianziti emphasizes the central role that Bianca Maria played in the court. He argues that “the presence of the duke’s widow, Bianca Maria Sforza, tended to assure a certain continuity with the past. As the only daughter of Filippo Maria Visconti, the last of the long line of Visconti lords, she had always been a powerful stabilizing element for the Sforza cause. Even when her husband was alive, she had shouldered considerable responsibility, and had become a focal point of particular devotion for her Milanese subjects.” (131). She also, according to Pius II’s own Commentaries, committed 100 infantry to the Pope’s plan for a Crusade.
Bianca Maria was an advocate for education. She supported the training of her sons and daughters as well as her niece and nephew, Battista and Costanzo Sforza, who were educated at the Sforza court after their mother passed away.
References: Ianziti, Gary. Humanist Historiography under the Sforzas. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988; King, Margaret L. and Albert Rabil, Jr. Her Immaculate Hand: Selected Works by and About the Women Humanists of Quattrocento Italy. Binghamton, NY: Medieval and Renaissance texts and studies, 1983; Welch, Evelyn S. Art and Authority in Renaissance Milan. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1995; Welch, E. S., Sabine Eiche, and Janet Southorn. “Sforza family.” Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. Oxford University Press. https://doi.org/10.1093/gao/9781884446054.article.T077930
Bonifacio Bembo. Bianca Maria Visconti (c.1460) (Wikimedia Commons)
Further reading: Monica Azzolini, The Duke and the Stars: Astrology and Politics in Renaissance Milan. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 2013; Jane Black, Absolutism in Renaissance Milan. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009;