The second and ablest son of Francesco Sforza, he has been described as 'the perfect type of the despot' (Burckhardt), though Machiavelli had disparaged him for misjudgments which lost him the duchy of Milan. No contemporary or modern biography exists of this enigmatic figure, in spite of his major role in the calamitous French invasious of Italy, and as a patron. Known as 'il Moro', either because he was dark or because his second name was Mauro, he had a humanist education and made some attempts himself at writing (he composcd lives of illustrious men, including his own father). Excluded from power after the murder of his brother Duke Galeazzo Maria (1476), Lodovico defied his sister-in-law Bona of Savoy and took over the government of her son Giangaleazzo; after the latter's death (1494) he assumed the title of Duke of Milan, relying on his good relations with the Emperor Maximilian, to whom he had married his niece Bianca Maria.
Lodovico's foreign policy just before Charles VIII's invasion was dominated by hostility to Naples and the influence there of Giangalcazzo's wife; in 1493 he overturned traditional Sforza diplomacy by allying with Venice and the Pope against Naples and Florence, and encouraged Charles VIII's expedition in spite of the Orléanist claim to Milan. After Charles had successfully reached Naples, however, Lodovico was a prime mover in forming the Italian League (April 1495), though he took no active part himself in the military operations which ensured Charles's evacuation of Italy. In 1496 he encouraged Maximilian's inconsequential expedition to assist Pisa against Florence, tied to its French alliance; in 1499, inadequately prepared, he faced the attack of Louis XII allied with Venice. After a brief return from exile (February 1500) he was again defeated. He died, a French prisoner, at Loches, near Tours.
In his government of Milan Lodovico used trusted professionals and careerists rather than the local patriciate; though efficient, it was criticized for overtaxation. His character, descriptions suggest, was laconic and secretive. He married in 1491 Beatrice d'Este (aged 15,5); if her boisterous nature appealed to him, it did not distract him altogether from his mistresses, though after her death in childbirth (January 1497) he was remorseful; his subsequent religous benefactions to ensure his own salvation were at the expense of his own best interests as ruler.
Lodovico's pleasure in the distractions of music, verbal wit and visually exciting theatrical effects probably most account for the favour he showed Leonardo da Vinci; they also had scientific interests in common. Lodovico was, however, well provided with other engineers and artists of all kinds; Leonardo received relatively few major commissions (e.g. as a painter, the Last Supper for Lodovico's favoured Dominicans at S. Maria delle Grazie, and some room decorations in the Castle). He was a distinguished building patron, among his main projects being the completion of the Certosa and the founding of a new cathedral at Pavia; many religious foundations benefited by new buildings, above all S. Maria delle Grazie and S. Ambrogio, where the works were designed by Bramante. Lodovico's outstanding reputation as a munificent and well-informed patron is attested by many literary courtiers (e.g. Castiglione) who bemoaned their dispersal after 1499.
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