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The Golden Ages of Milan

Between the 13th and 16th century, Milan was ruled by families such as the Visconti and Sforza. Under their reign, the city was embellished with magnificent murals, extraordinary churches and other architectural delights. The Visconti, who reached the pinnacle of their power around 1395, commissioned the construction of architectural gems such as the Duomo and San Marco.

After the male branch of the Visconti family ended in 1447, they were replaced by the Sforza. Ludovico il Moro (1452) in particular was instrumental in the city’s cultural blossoming. For 20 years he employed Leonardo da Vinci who painted such masterpieces as The Last Supper under Ludovico’s reign. Thanks to Il Moro, today you can admire the famous murals by da Vinci in the Sala delle Asse room at the Sforza Castle. Standing under the ceiling fresco, you can see 18 willow trees with intertwining branches. This symbolises the marriage of Il Moro to his wife, both who came from powerful families.

The pointed arches of Santa Maria delle Grazie

A love of the Renaissance

Ludovico il Moro also ordered a redesign of the church Santa Maria delle Grazie. In 1492, he had the famous architect Donato Bramante break down the apse of the church and then rebuild it in Renaissance style. The 2 different styles are immediately apparent within the church: while it had originally been decorated with frescoes, Bramante preferred to keep his segment more sober.

Serpents throughout the city

When Matteo Visconti conquered the city in 1295, he incorporated the emblem of the serpent into his coat of arms. He realised that in addition to military power, he also needed a family legend to support his legitimacy. Visconti told the Milanese that one of his ancestors had liberated the city from a dragon while being protected by a snake he had wrapped around his body. The Visconti serpents can still be seen in many places. An example is above the entrance of the Certosa di Pavia south of Milan where Gian Galleazzo Visconti had a mausoleum built for his family.

“Matteo Visconti the Great convinced the residents of Milan that one of his ancestors freed the city from a dragon”

The Visconti family coat of arms

Alfa Milano

The Visconti could not have imagined that their coat of arms would one day be visible in streets all over the world – that is, on the logo of the car brand Alfa Romeo. The company was founded in Milan in 1910 as Anonima Lombarda Fabbrica Automobili, abbreviated to ALFA. As its logo, it used the Visconti coat of arms with the ring snake along with the red cross of the city banner of Milan. The car brand was initially even called Alfa Milano. When the Neapolitan Nicola Romeo took over the reins in 1915, he changed the name to Alfa Romeo. He was perhaps somewhat less enthusiastic about the Milanese origin of the brand.

Photo credits

  • The Visconti family coat of arms: Vytautas Kielaitis, Shutterstock