One of the historic Italian families, lords of Milan and Lombardy from the second half of the thirteenth century. The Visconti family was without any doubt the most powerful in northern Italy.
Very early names in the family were Ottone, who was Archbishop of Milan, and Giovanni (died 1354) who was also Archbishop and brought Genoa and Bologna within his jurisdiction. From 1395 they were hereditary Dukes of Milan, and one of the clan – Gian Galeazzo – was at one stage able to threaten the whole of the Italian peninsula. He succeeded his father, another Galeazzo, along with his uncle Bernabó, whom he killed in 1385 in order to rule alone.
Gian Galeazzo made himself lord of north Italy, bringing many independent cities into one state, and orchestrating marriage alliances with England, France, Austria and Bavaria. He also found time to become an important patron of the arts.
One of the arranged marriages was the joining of Violante Visconti with Lionel of Antwerp, Duke of Clarence being the oldest surviving son of none other than Edward III of England. This king’s first-born son died while still Prince of Wales. There would therefore have been Visconti blood in the reigning English dynasty were it not for the fact that, as far as I can discover, Violante, who was Lionel’s second wife, had no surviving children by him.
The male line in Italy disappeared in 1547 and power passed eventually to another powerful family, the Sforza (q.v.). A twentieth century Visconti famous for directing films not for power-broking (though he did a bit of that too) was Luchino. He was responsible for record-breaking movies like Senso, Rocco and his Brothers, The Leopard and the extraordinary Death in Venice. He also made some awful films, and enjoyed directing grand opera. He was quite rich, but was famous for never using a penny of his personal fortune in the financing of films. ‘That,’ he said, ‘is the job of the producer.’