The Biscione (Italian pronunciation: [biʃˈʃone]; Italian for ‘large grass snake’), also known as the Vipera (‘viper’ or in Milanese as the Bissa), is a heraldic charge showing in Argent an Azure serpent in the act of consuming a human; usually a child and sometimes described as a Moor. It has been the emblem of the Italian Visconti family for around a thousand years. Its iconographic origins date back to paleochristian times, to the biblical story of Jonah and the Leviathan in the act of swallowing (and/or regurgitating) him, a common motif representing the resurrection. How that widely known image can be traced to the Visconti house is unknown; however, it has been claimed that it was taken from the coat of arms of a Saracen killed by Ottone Visconti during the Crusades"). Additionally, a man being swallowed by a serpent but being rescued features in a number of legends about Theoderic the Great, most prominently in the poem Virginal, where the city of Arona, which was owned by the Visconti, is featured.
The figure may also represent the circumpolar constellation Draco, from whose "mouth" emerges the brilliant star Vega, in constellation Lyra (symbolized as a falling vulture in Arabian astronomy; Lyra is near Cygnus, which is the "Chicken" in Arabian astronomy; Jonah may be related to both, because it means "Dove"), or also a symbol of the "coiling" path of the Moon towards the eclipse points.
The biscione appears also in the coats of arms of the House of Sforza, the city of Milan, the historical Duchy of Milan and Insubria, as well as the towns of Pruzhany (Belarus) and Sanok (Poland); the presence of Biscione in Poland and Belarus is due to queen Bona Sforza. It is also used as a symbol or logo by the football club Internazionale, by espresso machine manufacturer Bezzera, by Alfa Romeo and, in a version where a flower replaces the child, by Fininvest.
The biscione appears on the cover of an American paperback edition of the Thomas Harris novel Hannibal.
The biscione also appears on the right side of the logo for automaker Alfa Romeo.
Another version of the Biscione appears in the seals of the Hungarian nobleman Nicholas I Garay, palatine to the King of Hungary (1375–1385). The crowned snake instead of a man, it devoures a Sovereign's Orb.
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