The biscione (Italian pronunciation: [biʃˈʃone]; in Milanese as the bissa), also known as the vipera ("viper"), is a heraldiccharge showing in argent an azure serpent in the act of consuming a human; usually a child and sometimes described as a Moor. It was the emblem of the House of Visconti from the 11th century, becoming 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 an augmentative of Italian 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 and, in a version where a flower replaces the child, by the mass media company Mediaset. A similar design is found in the seals of the Hungarian nobleman Nicholas I Garay, 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 (or regurgitated) by a serpent-like Leviathan, a sea creature of Hebrew myth.