At Italy On This Day you will read about events and festivals, about important moments in history, and about the people who have made Italy the country it is today, and where they came from. Italy is a country rich in art and music, fashion and design, food and wine, sporting achievement and political diversity. Italy On This Day provides fascinating insights to help you enjoy it all the more.

Thursday, 17 May 2018

Federico II Gonzaga – Duke of Mantua

Ruler received a valuable education at the papal court


Federico Gonzaga, aged about 10, painted by Francesco Francia
Federico Gonzaga, aged about 10, painted
by Francesco Francia
Federico Gonzaga, who became the ruler of Mantua and Montferrat, was born on this day in 1500 in Mantua.

He spent his childhood living as a political hostage, first at the court of Pope Julius II in Rome and then at the court of Francis I of France.

It wasn’t perhaps an ideal start in life, but historians believe the political, social and cultural education he received in the company of popes, cardinals, and kings helped shape him as a future ruler.

Federico was the son of Francesco II Gonzaga and Isabella d’Este. His godfather was Cesare Borgia, Machiavelli’s model for the ideal Renaissance Prince.

His father, Francesco, was captured by the Venetians during battle and held hostage for several months. While he was absent, his wife, Isabella, ruled Mantua.

Francesco managed to secure his own release only by agreeing to send his son, Federico, to be a hostage at the papal court.

After the death of Pope Julius II in 1513, Federico was sent to the court of the new King of France, Francis I, where he became a favourite, as he had interests in common with the King.

Titian's 1525 portrait of Federico as an adult can be seen at the Prado museum in Madrid
Titian's 1525 portrait of Federico as an adult
can be seen at the Prado museum in Madrid
After the death of his father in 1519, Federico returned to rule Mantua and established Isabella Boschetti as his mistress there.

He was later created Duke of Mantua by the Emperor Charles V and did not intervene when the Imperial Troops passed through his territory in 1527 on their way to lay siege to Rome.

He married Margaret of Montferrat in 1531 and when the last male heir to Montferrat died, Federico became Marquess of Montferrat, a title his descendants held until the 18th century.

He commissioned Palazzo Te to be built as a summer palace just outside Mantua.

Federico had long suffered from syphilis and died of the disease in 1540.

His son, Francesco, briefly held the title of Duke of Mantua before dying while still a teenager. His second son, Guglielmo, became Duke of Mantua and Marquess of Montferrat and carried on the line.

The Palazzo Ducale was the seat of the Gonzaga family
The Palazzo Ducale was the seat of the Gonzaga family
Travel tip:

Mantua is an atmospheric old city in Lombardy, to the southeast of Milan, famous for its Renaissance Palazzo Ducale, the seat of the Gonzaga family between 1328 and 1707. The Camera degli Sposi is decorated with frescoes by Andrea Mantegna, depicting the life of Ludovico III Gonzaga and his family, who ruled Mantua for 34 years in the 15th century. The beautiful backgrounds of imaginary cities and ruins reflect Mantegna’s love of classical architecture.

The Palazzo Te was designed for Federico as a summer residence just outside the walls of Mantua
The Palazzo Te was designed for Federico as a summer
residence just outside the walls of Mantua
Travel tip:

Palazzo Te, designed for Federico as a summer residence, is a fine example of the Mannerist school of architecture and is the masterpiece of the architect Giulio Romano. The name for the palace came about because the location chosen had been the site of the Gonzaga family stables at Isola del Te on the edge of the marshes just outside Mantua’s city walls. After the building was completed a team of plasterers, carvers and painters worked on the interior for ten years until all the rooms were decorated with beautiful frescoes.

Also on this day:

1510: The death of Renaissance artist Sandro Botticelli

1963: The birth of motorcycle world champion Luca Cadalora

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