COLLEONI, BARTOLOMMEO (1400-1475), Italian soldier of fortune, was born at Bergamo. While he was still a child his father was attacked and murdered in his castle of Trezzo by Filippo Maria Visconti, duke of Milan. After wandering about Italy he entered the service of various condottieri, such as Braccio da Montone and Carmagnola. At the age of thirty-two he was serving the Venetian republic, and although Francesco Maria Gonzaga was commander-in-chief, Colleoni was the life and soul of the army. He recaptured many towns and districts for Venice from the Milanese, and when Gonzaga went over to the enemy he continued to serve the Venetians under Erasmo da Narni (known as Gattamelata) and Francesco A. Sforza, winning battles at Brescia, Verona and on the lake of Garda. When peace was made between Milan and Venice in 1441 Colleoni went over to the Milanese, together with Sforza in 1443. But although well treated at first, he soon fell under the suspicion of the treacherous Visconti and was imprisoned at Monza, where he remained until the duke's death in 1447. Milan then fell under the lordship of Sforza, whom Colleoni served for a time, but in 1448 he took leave of Sforza and returned to the Venetians. Disgusted at not having been elected captain-general, he went over to Sforza once more, but Venice could not do without him and by offering him increased emoluments induced him to return, and in 1455 he was appointed captain-general of the republic for life. Although he occasionally fought on his own account, when Venice was at peace, he remained at the disposal of the republic in time of war until his death.
Colleoni was perhaps the most respectable of all the Italian condottieri, and although he often changed sides, no act of treachery is imputed to him, nor did he subject the territories he passed through to the rapine and exactions practised by other soldiers of fortune. When not fighting he devoted his time to introducing agricultural improvements on the vast estates with which the Venetians had endowed him, and to charitable works. At his death in 1475 he left a large sum to the republic for the Turkish war, with a request that an equestrian statue of himself should be erected in the Piazza San Marco. The statue was made by Verrocchio, but as no monument was permitted in the famous Piazza it was placed opposite the hospital of St Mark by way of compromise.
See G. M. Bonomi, Il Castello di Cavernago e i conti Martinengo Colleoni (Bergamo, 1884); for an account of his wars see S. Romanin, Storia documentata di Venezia, vol. iv. (Venice, 1855), and other histories of Venice. (L. V.*)
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)