A noble family of northern Italy who ruled the duchy of Milan and whose members were important patrons of the early Renaissance in that important city. In the twelfth century the clan was granted the title of viscount, which they adopted as the family name. Oddone Visconti, the archbishop of Milan, became ruler of the city by ousting the rival Della Torre clan in 1277. His successor, Matteo I Visconti, controlled Milan with the backing of the Holy Roman Emperor, but the opposition of the Guelph (papal) faction forced him to surrender his title in favor of his son Galeazzo I Visconti in 1322. Luchino Visconti (1292–1349) added Tuscany, Piedmont, and a small canton of Switzerland to the Visconti domains. The rapidly growing power and territory of the Visconti aroused opposition in northern Italy, and the Visconti lands came under frequent attack by rivals fearing the establishment of a Visconti kingdom stretching across northern Italy.
Galeazzo II (1320–1378), the son of Stefano Visconti, fought with his brother Bernabo against the d'Este and Gonzaga clans, defeating his rivals at the Battle of Casorate. He shared the Visconti realm with Bernabo after the death of Matteo II Visconti. A patron of artists and writers, notably Petrarch, he founded the University of Pavia and extended his family's influence by marrying his daughter Violante to a prince of England and his son Gian Galeazzo to Isabella, the daughter of the king of France. In 1362, he moved to Pavia, allowing his brother Bernabo to rule in Milan, where he contended with the powerful cities of Florence and Venice as well as with the pope.
Gian Galeazzo Visconti (1351–1402) combined the Pavia and Milan realms under his authority and brought the Visconti domain to the height of its wealth, power, and prestige. He added the March of Treviso to the realm in 1387 and also conquered Pisa, Siena, Bologna, and the duchy of Umbria, employing skilled mercenary captains as well as his own skillful diplomacy to avoid open warfare with the coalitions that were constantly forming against him. Through the payment of a large sum of money, he was invested as hereditary ruler of Milan by the Holy Roman Empire, an event that brought about the independence of northern Italy from control by the emperors. Gian Galeazzo's dream of founding a hereditary Visconti kingdom was cut short by his death from the plague. After his death the Visconti territories passed to Giovanni Maria Visconti, whose rule was so violent and corrupt that he was assassinated in 1412. The last Visconti duke, Filippo Maria Visconti, died in 1447, after which Milan came under the rule of his son-in-law, Francesco Sforza.
See Also: Petrarch; Sforza dynasty