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BIANCA MARIA VISCONTI

Jacobo Filippo Foresti da Bergamo (1434-1520).
De claris mulieribus.
Ferrara: Laurentius de Rubeis, de Valentia, 29 April 1497.

Bianca Maria Visconti (1425–1468), Duchess of Milan, was the eldest daughter of Filipo Maria Visconti (d. 1447), Duke of Milan, who had no male heir. In 1441 the teenaged Bianca Maria was married to the famous general Francesco Sforza (1401–1466), a union that revitalized the Milanese Duchy. She was the mother of eight children, including the next two Dukes of Milan, Galeazzo Maria Sforza (1444–1476) and Ludovico “Il Moro” Sforza (1452–1508). The Duchess served as an effective regent during her husband’s military campaigns, even donning armor to engage in battle during the defense of Cremona. She was also well educated and undertook many public works, including the foundation of hospitals and charities.

The exhibited woodcut depicting Bianca Maria Visconti is based on a famous portrait painted by Bonifacio Bembo, still preserved at the Pinacoteca di Brera in Milan. It is one of fifty-six different portraits included in Foresti da Bergamo’s biographies of “Famous Women,” the first book printed with authentic portraits of living women. The seven contemporary figures also included Bianca Maria Visconti’s granddaughter Catarina Sforza (1462–1509) and her husband’s niece, Ginevra Sforza (ca. 1440–1507).