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The biscione (Italian pronunciation: [biʃˈʃoːne]; Milanese: bissa [ˈbisa], plural: "biscioni"), also known as "the vipera" ([ˈviːpera]; "viper"), is a heraldic charge showing on argent an azure serpent in the act of consuming a human; usually a child and sometimes described as a Moor or an Ottoman Turk. The first mention of the biscione as emblem of the Visconti of Milan is in the book De magnalibus urbis Mediolani, written by Bonvesin da la Riva at the end of the 13th century. A possible origin of the biscione has been traced back at the beginning of the 11th century to the bronzed serpent brought to Milan from Constantinople by the archbishop Arnolf II of Arsago. It became associated with Milan as the Visconti gained control over the city in 1277. When the Visconti family died out in the 15th century, the emblem retained its association with the Duchy of Milan and became part of the coats of arms of the House of Sforza; the presence of biscione in Poland (Sanok) and Belarus (Pruzhany) is due to queen Bona Sforza.
The word "biscione" is a masculine augmentative of Italian feminine "biscia", "non-venomous snake"; "grass snake" (corrupted from "bistia", ultimately from Latin "bestia"). As the symbol of Milan, the biscione is also used by the football club Inter Milan, by car manufacturer Alfa Romeo (also known as the "Casa del biscione", Italian for "House of the biscione" or "Biscione['s] marque") and, in a version where a flower replaces the child (maybe due to possible interpretations as a racist symbol), by Silvio Berlusconi's companies Mediaset and Fininvest and his residential zones Milano Due and Milano Tre (a stylized biscione made from the number "5" is also the symbol of Berlusconi's Canale 5). A similar design is found in the seals of the Hungarian nobleman Nicholas I Garai, palatine to the King of Hungary (1375–1385). Here the crowned snake devours a sovereign's orb, rather than a human.
Comparable to the biscione are some depictions of the Hindu deity Matsya. While his form is referred to as anthropomorphically having a humanoid upper half, and his lower half as that of a fish, some depictions show him with his upper body emerging from the mouth of a fish. In early Christian art of the catacombs, the Old Testament prophet Jonah is depicted as a man being swallowed by a serpent-like Leviathan, a sea creature of Hebrew myth.
Coats of arms, flags and symbols bearing the biscione
The coat of arms of the House of Visconti.
The blason of the House of Visconti and early coat of arms of the Duchy of Milan.
The flag of the Duchy of Milan, also featuring two biscioni and two Imperial Eagles.
Bona Sforza's seal, bearing similarities to the other Sforza symbols.
The arms of Ortensio Visconti, Bishop of Lodi.
The coat of arms (the flag is very similar) of Sanok, bearing the biscione and the Reichsadler due to Bona Sforza.
The official seal of Pruzany (also featured in its flag), also bearing the biscione due to Bona.
- Reina (2018), p. 68
- Reina (2018), p. 69–70,185–186
- Fox-Davies, Arthur Charles (1909). A Complete Guide to Heraldry: Illustrated by Nine Plates and Nearly 800 Other Designs. London: T.C. & E.C. Jack. ISBN 0-517-26643-1. LCCN 09023803. Page 257
- Csaba, Veress D. (2007). István, Hermann (ed.). Ugod. Száz magyar falu könyvesháza (One Hundred Hungarian Villages) (in Hungarian). Budapest.: magyar állam millenniumára. Elektronikus megjelenítés: NKÖEOK Szerkesztőség.
- Reina, Gabriele (2018). Le imprese araldiche dei Visconti e degli Sforza (1277-1535): Storia, storia dell’arte, repertorio [The heraldic achievements of the Visconti and the Sforza (1277-1535): History, artistic change, and inventory] (PDF) (in Italian). Lausanne: Université de Lausanne, Faculté des lettres, Section d'histoire de l'art.
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