Ross G. R. Caldwell wrote:
Re. Bernardino Corio, L'Historia di Milano (1503)
In sum, insofar as the existence of the sect and its fate survived in the Milanese imagination, it was in a legendary form (boilerplate sex scandal, a tactic used from antiquity to today) which bore almost no relation to the real events and that omitted every detail, including Maifreda herself, and no popess, while presenting a scandalous portrait of the sect.
Since this is now being referenced in this thread, and wrongly (e.g., Marco is citing it as actual history: “[Visconti] Duke who ordered the burning of the followers of the heretic Guglielma”), its relevance needs to be touched on: Guglielma still meant something to someone important enough in 1503 for a spurious history to have been concocted by someone. With a Visconti having been involved in Galeazzo’s assassination and the recent return to power of Massimiliano Sforza there was plenty of political uncertainty that would have lent itself to the type of negative propaganda that ended up in Corio’s work…but the bottom line is someone of importance was still connected to Guglielma at that late date.
Whether the Visconti actively supported Guglielma, at worst they turned a blind eye to her efforts from her base in the large Abbey of Chiaravalle on the outskirts of Milan, they were branded as supporters of Gugleilma/Maifreda in the records of their own heresy trials (carried out by the Dominicans).
But let’s move closer to the time of the creation of the PMB is this Wiki passage (which I am still in the process of verifying, i.e., the godfather claim noted below) for a Visconti/Sforza connection:
In 1430, at the age of six, Bianca Maria was betrothed to the condottiero Francesco I Sforza, a man twenty-four years older than she was. In that year the condotta (contract) between Milan and Sforza came to an end, and the betrothal was a move to keep the powerful general tied with Milan. It has also been suggested that Visconti enticed Sforza with the promise of appointing him as legitimate heir to the duchy. Sforza probably also accepted because of the rich dowry, which included territories in the areas of Cremona, Castellazzo and Bosco Frugarolo. The contract was signed on February 23, 1432, in the castle of Porta Giovia, the Visconti residence in Milan. Bianca Maria's official spokesperson was her godfather, Andrea Visconti, general of the Humiliates order. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bianca_Maria_Visconti
Again my premise, hardly unique, is that the PMB follows quickly upon Sforza’s taking of Milan in 1450. The Love/marriage card from the CY deck is retained here because it plays up to the notion of Sforza’s devotion to his Visconti bride and now we have a reason for why an Umiliati “Papess” was included: the cleric presiding over the all-important marriage contract was the Master General of the Umiliati Order. And why was he Bianca’s godfather to begin with unless Filippo had intimate connections to that order? Also note that nearby to Abbiategrasso, where Bianca was raised and seldom traveled from until she was married, was Morimondo Abbey, a Cistercian foundation, the same order at Chiaravalle where Guglielma had her base. If the Umiliati godfather (master of the order no less) connection to Bianca can be verified then a denial of a Visconti connection to the Umiliati and its most famous representative in Milan is on much shakier grounds.
Moving on to Robert O’Neil’s thesis: he does some literal white-washing in regard to the inconvenient facts of the nuns' habits:
The Poor Clares or Franciscans of the Second Order wore a dull brown tunic and mantle with a white bib and headpiece and a distinctive knotted cord about the waist. …In many images, the white headpiece is covered with a formal black veil but the rest of the habit fits the Visconti-Sforza Papess precisely. In some images, the black veil is missing. I do not know if the lack of the black veil on the Visconti-Sforza Papess indicates that the person was a postulate of the order who had not yet taken final vows, if the veil was replaced by the crown, or if the black veil was only used on certain occasions. The person may also have been a Franciscan Tertiary, members of the lay order, who did not wear the black veil (Kuhns 2003). But the absence of the black veil is a side issue.
First of all, the black veil was the distinctive mark of the order – St. Clare herself is always
shown with it on her head; the black veil is certainly not a “side issue” in identifying a nun as a Clare. Secondly, we are to believe a lay person has been elevated to representing “Mother Church”, crowned with the papal tiara, in the PMB “Papess” card??? That’s exactly what O’Neil comes up with.
O’Neil goes on to draw imprecise conclusions about the Umiliati habit:
Early chroniclers place them in communities in and around Milan and note that they wore no colored cloth (Brasher 2003).… An inventory of 1344 indicates that there were 27 houses in Milan and immediately surrounding towns (Bresher 2003)...The habit or dress of the Umiliati was white (Koslin 2002). In most cases, a white cape and scapular were worn over an ashen grey tunic....Clearly the habit of the Umiliati is not what is depicted on the Visconti-Sforza Papess card.
So which is it, “uncolored” or “ashen”…and what exactly would that have looked like? Undyed wool, especially after being worn and washed, can take on any numbers of hues (think of the dispute over what color the Confederate “gray” wool uniforms of the American Civil War were - they ranged from light brown to gray with “butternut” settled on). The tiny miniatures that O’Neil exclusively relies on can be found in this link (which also clearly shows the black veils of the Clares, which were the rule, not the exception): http://web.archive.org/web/200807051005 ... edaGallery
So its finally time to compare the Poor Clare habit to that of the Umiliati in this thread with images. The Clare image, which O’Neill failed to include in his list of images, is the most canonical of all as it is a fresco from the Poor Clare’s “headquarters” in their Chapel of San Damiano, Assisi, showing Saint Clare and the nuns of her Order. I have not been able to find the location/date/painter for the fresco of the Umiliati nuns (14th C?), but it is on the cover of one of O’Neil’s sources, Andrews, F. , The Early Humiliati
, Cambridge University Press, NY, 1999 (again, he failed to include this image in his list of images – in this case no doubt because it was so damning to his thesis).
Woman who art Thou?
So we have a headdress that is of an Umiliate and a knotted cord that is Franciscan. Is it too much to fathom a nun that was painted to represent both orders? O’Neil himself suggests that answer in noting “close ties of the ducal family to both orders.” One encounters cross-order links such as in the figure of Cardinal Guglielmo Fieschi who was both the Protector of the Order of the Umiliati in 1253 and also founded in Chiavari a convent of Franciscan nuns. But’s let’s return to Newman’s salient points here:
• The prophetic ideas of the ex-Cistercian Joachim of Fiore (d. 1202), the basis of St. Guglielma’s teachings, were embraced by Franciscan order’s “Spirituals”.
• If Guglielma was a daughter Queen Constance of Hungary, as Newman posits, then she was a first cousin of St. Elizabeth of Hungary, one of the first members of the newly founded Third Order of St. Francis, and would have also been a full sister of St. Agnes of Prague, a Franciscan abbess.
• When the Dominican inquisitors returned to Milan in the summer of 1300, both the local Franciscans and the abbot of Chiaravalle, where Guglielma was based, rejected the Dominican’s claims papal authority to conduct inquisitions in Milan.
• Newman: “Seen in their historical context, the Guglielmites may stand closest to the persecuted Spiritual Franciscans and their lay affiliates, the beguines of southern France, who shared with them an attraction to Joachite prophecy.”
• The white-washed hagiographic vita of St. Guglielma of c. 1425 was written by a Franciscan
That which connects the Franciscans and Umiliate (whose most vocal mouthpiece in Milan ended up being Manfreda),was Joachim of Fiore’s Holy Ghost movement. The Holy Ghost dove image comes to the fore with Filippo Visconti, selecting that stemma from among the many Visconti options with which to display on himself (e.g., Pisanello’s medal) and features in the second half of the Visconti Hours he had completed (the fourth to last illuminated page in that work, LF 163 Hannah Blessed by Eli, features a large radiant dove in the upper border that Hirsch comments is not simply the Visconti emblem but also has a halo identifyings it as the Holy Spiri, so both meaning conjoined; the radiant dove hovers over the Lamb of the Apocalypse, lying as it does on the bible, with halo and holding Christ’s banner; the Holy Ghost announcing the End Times is precisely the essence of the Age of the Holy Ghost movement). The Holy Ghost movement allowed secular powers to marshal and control the religious focus in their non-Papal state domains; besides Cola Rienzi, we have a comparable example of this with the Angevins in Sicily who saw themselves as apocalyptic soldiers realizing the Age of the Holy Ghost (Alexandra Suda in Florence at the Dawn of the Renaissance: Painting and Illumination
, 2012: 203-206). When the Visconti expressed themselves religiously, particularly Filippo, they did so with the symbol of the Holy Ghost labeled with their motto, “with good right”, thus aligning their worldly power as God-given, hardly a unique aspect in medieval courts, but the close focus on the dove/Holy Ghost was fairly particular to them.
Even Petrarch, the putative inventor of the Visconti motto, leads us directly to the Holy Ghost movement via his support of Cola Rienzi: [Rienzi before the Emperor] “till now, God the father and Son have reigned in the world; but for the future it will be the Holy Ghost” ; [He then goes on to offer his prophecy in which if sent to the pope he will be burned and then] “raised again the third day by the power of the Holy Ghost. The people of Avignon will take up arms, and kill the pope and the cardinals; and they will elect an Italian pope, who will transport the holy see to Rome. That pope will crown you king of Sicily, and of Calabria, with a crown of gold; and he will crown me king of Rome, and all Italy, with a crown of silver” (Dobson, Life of Petrarch
, Book IV: 325). After Rienzi was sent to Avignon. Petrarch’s response per a letter was “This tribune, formerly so powerful, so dreaded, now the most unhappy of men, has been brought here as a prisoner. I praised and I advised him. I loved his virtue, and I admired his courage. I thought Rome was going to resume under him the empire she formerly held; and that, in exciting the emulation of Rienzi, I should participate his glory. Ah! If he had continued as he began, he would have been praised and admired by all the world.” (Dobson, 326).
I believe the source for Petrarch’s writing of the Visconti motto was apparently via Francesco di Vannozzo, a court poet who had a vision of Petrarch stating as much (from Storia di Milano):
Il sole e l'azur fino
che tengon in sua brancha
quella uccelletta bianca
qual “A bon droyt” in dolce becco tene
che la sentenza mia tutta contiene.
Note the link of the motto to Judgement (sentenza
). Even Petrarch’s Triumph of Eternity could be envisioned as centered on the Holy Ghost: here the dove above an orb (= worldly power), centered between Christ and God, with both holding the orb upon which the dove alights (image uploaded to Wiki by Michael Hurst): http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File: ... ernity.jpg
To reiterate, whether true or not, the Visconti were branded in the heretical proceedings as followers of the Age of the Holy Ghost movement and one aspect of their guilt could be seen everywhere in the form of the radiant dove = Holy ghost. It would have been clear to anyone that the Visconti were wearing the emblem of the Holy Ghost so how could one separate them from Joachim’s Holy Ghost movement? But as Ross rightly asked, did any of this matter by 1450?
All that might have publicly persisted was the legend of a Visconti-backed nun who taught the Holy Ghost and Visconti’s devotion to that aspect of the trinity via their dove symbol. The third and final Age of the Holy Ghost need not mean anything more in 1450 than the End Time to come, always suspected as “soon” by each medieval generation, and that was something already represented in the Judgment tarot card. The Visconti would have cast themselves as virtuously helping drive the world towards that day as the most just and religious rulers. Sforza probably just wanted to be cast as a God-fearing leader but threw a symbolic nod to the faith of Bianca and her Visconti family in the form of the “Papess.”