5 June 2017

Ludovico III Gonzaga – Marquis of Mantua

Condottiero fought to improve the town of his birth

Ludovico Gonzaga in a detail from a  painting by Andrea Mantegna
Ludovico Gonzaga in a detail from a
painting by Andrea Mantegna
Ludovico Gonzaga, who ruled his native city for 34 years, was born on this day in 1412 in Mantua.

He grew up to fight as a condottiero - a military leader for hire - and in 1433 he married Barbara of Brandenburg, the niece of the Holy Roman Emperor, Sigismund.

After Ludovico entered the service of the Visconti family in Milan, he and his wife were exiled from Mantua by his father, Gianfrancesco I.

But father and son were later reconciled and Ludovico became Marquis of Mantua in 1444, inheriting territory that had been reduced in size and was impoverished after years of war.

He continued to serve as a condottiero, switching his allegiance between Milan, Florence, Venice and Naples, to gain territory and secure peace for Mantua.

The high point of his reign came when Pope Pius II held a Council in Mantua between 1459 and 1460 to plan a crusade against the Ottoman Turks. Although the Pope was unimpressed with Mantua and criticised the food and wine afterwards, the event earned prestige for Ludovico, whose son, Francesco, was made a Cardinal.

The Torre dell'Orologio Gonzaga built for Mantua
The Torre dell'Orologio Gonzaga built for Mantua
During Ludovico’s reign, he paved the streets of Mantua, built a clock tower and reorganised the city centre. He also appointed Andrea Mantegna to be court artist to the Gonzaga family.

Ludovico died in 1478 in Goito, to the north of Mantua, during an outbreak of plague and was subsequently buried in Mantua Cathedral.

Having fathered 14 legitimate children, Ludovico was succeeded by his eldest surviving son, who became Federico I of Mantua.

Travel tip:

Mantua is an atmospheric old city in Lombardy, to the south east 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 Gonzaga and his family. The beautiful backgrounds of imaginary cities and ruins reflect Mantegna’s love of classical architecture.

The Cathedral of St Peter in Mantua
The Cathedral of St Peter in Mantua
Travel tip:

Ludovico III was buried in the Cathedral of Saint Peter in Mantua, where his ancestor, Ludovico I, the founder of the Gonzaga family, is also buried. There was a church on the site from early Christian times, followed by a later building that was destroyed by fire. The current church was built between 1395 and 1401. It was given a baroque façade made from Carrara marble during the 18th century.

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