6 September 2017

Francesco I d’Este – Duke of Modena

Military leader left legacy of fine architecture

Diego Valásquez's portrait of Francesco I
Diego Valásquez's portrait of Francesco I
Francesco I, Duke of Modena, who was to be immortalised in a bust by the sculptor, Bernini, was born on this day in 1610 in Modena in Emilia-Romagna.

He is remembered as a skilful military commander, who enriched Modena with the building of the Ducal Palace.

Francesco was the eldest son of Alfonso III d’Este and Isabella of Savoy and became Duke of Modena in 1629 after the death of his mother had prompted his grieving father to abdicate in order to take religious vows and become a Capuchin Friar in Merano.

During the next two years about 70 per cent of the inhabitants of Modena were killed by the plague.

The Duke’s father, now known as Fra’ Giambattista da Modena, tried to help the dying and went about preaching during the outbreak of plague, before retiring to a convent built by Francesco for him in Castelnuovo in Garfagnana.

After the outbreak of the Thirty Years War, Francesco sided with Spain and invaded the Duchy of Parma, but when he went to Spain to claim his reward he was able to acquire only Correggio, for a payment of 230,000 florins.

Francesco then sided with Venice, Florence and Parma against Pope Urban VIII and tried unsuccessfully to conquer Ferrara.

Gian Lorenzo Bernini's 1651 bust of Francesco I d'Este
Gian Lorenzo Bernini's 1651 bust of Francesco I d'Este
Francesco had married Maria Caterina Farnese, but after she died in 1646, he married her sister, Vittoria, who died in 1649.

Modena then became the ally of France, through the intercession of Cardinal Mazarin, but Francesco later made an agreement with Spain because they seemed to be on the winning side in the Thirty Years War.

He married off his son and heir, Alfonso, to Laura Martinozzi, Mazarin’s niece.

Francesco’s third and final marriage was to Lucrezia Barberini, the daughter of Taddeo Barberini, who his troops had at one stage fought against during the Thirty Years War. He had 11 children in total and two of them, Alfonso and Rinaldo, later became Dukes of Modena.

He fought alongside France and Savoy in 1656, conquering Alessandria and Valenza. In 1658 he conquered Mortara, but he became ill with malaria and died in Santhia in Vercelli in the Piedmont region.

Francesco I is remembered for his good character and religious ideals and for improving and enriching Modena.

Balsamic vinegar is big  business in Modena
Balsamic vinegar is big
business in Modena
Travel tip:

Modena is a city on the south side of the Po Valley in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy. It is known for its car industry, as Ferrari, De Tomaso, Lamborghini, Pagani and Maserati have all been located there. The city is also well known for producing balsamic vinegar. Operatic tenor Luciano Pavarotti and soprano Mirella Freni were both born in Modena.

The Ducal Palace is a dominant feature of the Modena skyline
The Ducal Palace is a dominant feature of the Modena skyline
Travel tip:

One of the main sights in Modena is the huge, baroque Ducal Palace, which was begun by Francesco I on the site of a former castle in 1635. His architect, Luigi Bartolomeo Avanzini, created a home for him that few European princes could match at the time. The palace is now home to the Italian national military academy. In the Galleria Estense, on the upper floor of the Palazzo dei Musei in Modena, the one-metre high bust of Francesco I d’Este, Duke of Modena, by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, still seems to be commanding the city.

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