Galeazzo Maria Sforza

Duke of Milan

1444-1476

Procession of the Magi con’t.

This young man of fifteen portrayed in the procession at a place of honor next to the Medici family, his expression giving no hint of the arrogance beneath the surface.  The son of Francesco Sforza, ally of Cosimo de’Medici; upon his father’s death in 1466, Galeazzo returned home from a military expedition in France to rule Milan jointly with his mother, Bianca Maria of Milan.  Tiring quickly of her interference, his resentment grew to the point he dispatched her with poison, leaving him free to rule as he chose.

“The most vicious kind of tyrant,” Bishop Creighton wrote of Galeazzo, “there was a superfluity of naughtiness in the insolence with which he disregarded all restraints in gratifying his appetites and punishing those whom he suspected.”  Finding a poacher on his land, he had the man executed by forcing him to swallow an entire hare, with fur intact.  A priest who had predicted his reign would be short was imprisoned and starved to death, while another man was nailed alive to his coffin.  Sforza was particularly fond of his beautiful hands and long tapered fingers, which he cared for by keeping them obsessively gloved.

Galeazzo Maria Sforza by Piero Pollaiuolo

Known as a notorious womanizer, he reputedly passed his conquests onto courtiers once he tired of them.  Betrothed to the eldest daughter of the Marquis of Mantua in a typical arrangement of alliances, the engagement was cancelled due to a family deformity of the spine.  Desperate to maintain the agreement, the Marquis persuaded the Duke to marry another daughter, Dorotea, but she died within a year from fever.  Galeazzo was then free to marry the sister-in-law of his powerful French ally, Louis XI; Bona of Savoy rewarded him with four children.  Lucrezia Londriani, his mistress, gave him four children, among them Caterina Sforza.  Lucia Marliani, another conquest, whom he later appointed Countess of Melzo, gave him two children.

Caterina Sforza

A patron of art, letters and music, the court of the Duke of Milan enjoyed sumptuous musical festivities, some with sets and stage machines designed by Leonardo da Vinci. Through financial backing and encouragement, his chapel grew into one of the most famous and historically significant musical ensembles in Europe.  Composers associated with the Sforza chapel include Alexander Agricola, Johannes Martini, Loyset Compere and Gaspar van Weerbeke.  At his death, the Duke’s court dispersed throughout Europe, resulting in a rise of artistic and musical standards in other cities through the Italiante Renaissance style, consequently ensuring a legacy that was the result of Galeazzo’s patronage and influence.

Sforza Court 1464

His life cut short at the mere age of thirty-two, the Duke of Milan was assassinated at the church of Santo Stefano on Christmas day by three men; Carlo Visconti, whose sister the Duke had violated, Gerolamo Olgiati, a republican idealist, and Giovanni Andrea Lampugnani, with whom the Duke had a land dispute.  The conspirators stabbed Sforza numerous times on his arrival at mass and he was dead within a matter of seconds.  Lampugnani, unable to escape during the ensuing confusion, became entangled in some of the church’s cloth, and was killed by the mob.  His fellow conspirators apprehended within days of the event were executed publicly, their corpses displayed as a warning to others.

Before his execution, records of the event recall Oligiati as saying, “Death is bitter, but glory is eternal, the memory of my deed will endure!”

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