Castello Visconteo, Pavia
Alison Cornish

Lombardy (Milan and Pavia)

'Longobardia' had in the past indicated all the territory occupied by the Longobards, from the Alps to Benevento (near Naples).  But in the communal period (13th-14th centuries) 'Lombardia' described northern Italy from the Alps to the Tyrrhenian sea in the west. In Brunetto Latini's Tresor (ca. 1266), Lombardy was the entire region traversed by the Po river.  Boccaccio calls Bologna, 'nobilissima città di Lombardia' (Dec. 10.4). In France and England Italians in general, and usurers in particular, could be called Lombards (or 'Lombard dogs' as Burgundians are apt to think of Tuscan Cepparello, along with his housemates in the first novella of the Decameron). Their banking and trading activity gave their name to Lombard Street in the City of London. 'Lombardy' also had a political valence in the second half of the 12th century as the Lombard League of northern Italian city-states was formed to counter imperial claims of Frederick I Hohenstaufen (Barbarossa).  Late medieval Lombards thought of themselves in opposition to Longobards, those barbarian Germanic tribes from the north against whom the indigenous Lombards fought on the banks of the Reno in the sixth century, or so reports a 13th-century chronicler.

The Visconti of Milan, whose dynastic name comes from their role as imperial vicars  (vice comites), gained power in part due to the patronage of the emperor, in part to that of the pope, but ultimately through their willingness to form alliances of convenience as the times demanded.  By the time Petrarch was contemplating a return to Italy in 1352, Giovanni Visconti, the 'extremely powerful and feared signore messer arcivescovo,' controlled almost all of Northern Italy. It is hard therefore to believe the poet's claim that he never dreamed of such an invitation, though he certainly knew that accepting it would upset his Florentine friends for whom the Visconti were tyrants who threatened republican liberty. 

Petrarch served his hosts in a number of diplomatic, epistolary, and ceremonial occasions.  During his eight years in Milan (1353-1361), in addition to other works, he revised his collections of poetry and letters. He dedicated his 'Guide to the Holy Land' to the Visconti captain Giovanni Mandelli (son of one of Matteo's daughters).  The poet left the city during the outbreak of plague in 1361, but from 1363 to 1369 he was often in Pavia, whose glories he describes in a 1365 letter to Boccaccio. Galeazzo had a statue and a portrait made of the poet, and when asked in a hall full of noblemen to pick out the most illustrious, the young Gian Galeazzo is said to have gone up to Petrarch and taken his hand.

Petrarch speaks of neither the library nor the studium during his stay in Pavia. His legacy to that library was inadvertent, as the books he had left to the Da Carrara came there as booty after Gian Galeazzo's conquest of Padua in 1388.  Even then, other than a fragment of some lyric poems, the library in Pavia contained none of his vernacular works.  Moreover, the holdings of the famed library were quite traditional – with scholastic and encyclopedic works of the sort Petrarch so disdained alongside French romances that had infatuated Italy since the previous century. At the same time, some of the humanists who would later grace Gian Galeazzo's court in Pavia were old enough to remember Petrarch's sojourn in Milan.  His Latin volumes, repossessed by his earlier patrons, became important resources for those of the next generation.

We know much about this splendid library because of its 1426 inventory, a window onto literary tastes and book arts in 14th-century Lombardy.  Of the 988 titles in the consignatio librorum, 90 are in French. Some of these splendidly illuminated French books, many of which are extant and identifiable in European libraries today, are the direct result of Visconti marriages and alliances.  Some were commissioned and given as gifts; others were requested and brought from Paris.  While manuscript illumination in Italy was, like literature and fashion, influenced by the vogue for French things, in French inventories, a certain kind of illumination is referred to as ouvraige de lombardie. 

The sumptousness of the library did not correspond to support of local or contemporary literary movements. There are only 52 titles in Italian in the collection, none of which have been positively identified with extant manuscripts. Most of them are vernacularizations of fairly generic encyclopedic and hagiographical works, in addition to summaries and compilations of a few Roman authors. The moderns are represented only by the most famous Tuscans. There are no Italian works by Lombard authors, even those on the Visconti payroll.

Two famous literary visitors to Lombardy were Eustace Deschamps and Geoffrey Chaucer. Both had connections with the Visconti. Deschamps was from the region in Champagne of which Gian Galeazzo obtained the title of Count of Vertus through his marriage to Isabelle of Valois. Their daughter, Valentina, was married to Louis d'Orléans (younger brother of King Charles VI), whom Deschamps says he served from birth. Deschamps describes his visit to Gian Galeazzo's court at Pavia in 1391 in one of his ballads, and in another defends Valentina after she was exiled by her husband. Chaucer, whom Deschamps praises in one of his ballads as a great translator, was linked with the  Visconti through his 'first master', Lionel, duke of Clarence, who married Bernabò Visconti's daughter, Violante, in 1368. Chaucer may have gone on the journey with him. He certainly went to Genoa, and thence to Florence, in 1373 for trade negotiations with Italian merchants. From 1374 Chaucer had plenty of contact with Italians as customs controller in London.  In 1378, he accompanied Sir Edward de Berkeley to seek military aid against France from Bernabò and John Hawkwood, the English condottiere, known in Italy as Giovanni Acuto. Chaucer mentions Lombardy, Pavia, and Bernabò (‘God of delit and scourge of Lumbardye') in his works. It is a matter of speculation whether he went to Pavia – setting for the Merchant's Tale -- during his visit to Milan, but there are books in the inventory (and not common ones) that are sources of his works. Recent identification of two entries in the 1426 inventory as copies of the Teseida that were in the collection without title or author could explain Chaucer's encounter with it and also his reticence on Boccaccio.

Later, under Gian Galeazzo (1351-1402), the Pavia library was celebrated as the venue for conversation, study, and exchange among scholars. While Gian Galeazzo pursued his military expansion, wars of words were carried out. His stable of humanists argued that the constitution of Florence was the source of Italian troubles, an obstacle to peace and concord. In response, the chancellor of Florence Coluccio Salutati characterized Milan, which the Lombard historians liked to portray as last defense against barbarians, as instead the speartip of the Goths wedged into the Latin world. Thus as in the old opposition of the communal period, the northern despots were not Lombards arrayed against foreign domination, but Longobard tyrants strangling the liberty of the res publica necessary to culture and civilization.  The collection of magnificent books and modern-day Ciceros in the court of Pavia was the Visconti's public answer to this charge.