The House of Gonzaga

SEE ALSO Borgias Home Page I Powerful Renaissance Families I Historical Characters I Discussion Forum I Mantua



The House of Gonzaga

from the period 1433 - 1631




Gonzaga is the name of an historical family that ruled Mantua and Montferrato.

Mantua is the ancestral city where the male line of the Gonzaga dynasty ruled, first as Captain-Generals then marquesses, and after 1540 as dukes. As dukes, they ruled as vassals of the Holy Roman Empire. Monferrato, on the eastern side of Piedmont,was a duchy since 1574 and an imperial fief since the eleventh or twelfth century.

After the fall of the Roman Empire, Mantua was invaded by Byzantines, Lombards, and Franks. The city was ruled by Bonifacio Canossa, then became a free commune in resistance of the Holy Roman Empire, until finally came under the rule of Bonacolsi. A revolt to oust Bonacolsi resulted in Ludovico I taking control as Captain-General of the people in 1328.The Gonzaga family ruled Mantua in Northern Italy from 1328 to 1708.

In 1433 the lord of Mantua, Gianfrancesco I (1395 - 1444) assumed the lordship of Mantua when he was only twelve years old. He was created the first marquis of Mantua in 1433 by the Emperor Sigismund. He built on the already strong foundations of the city, improved civil and public works infrastructure and invited famed artists, such as Pisanello, and humanist scholars to court.


Patrons of the Early Renaissance

Ludovico was the son of Gianfrancesco I Gonzaga and Paola Malatesta. He married Barbara of Brandenburg in 1433. Barbara was a paternal great-grandaughter of Duke Frederick of Bavaria-Landshut, and a maternal grandaughter of Duke Rudolf III of Saxe-Wittenberg. Ludovico II was a successful condottiero in the service of the Visconti of Milan, later for the Republic of Venice, then Milan, and eventually for Naples. Such was the state of warring factions and ruling families during the quattrocento. During his rule, the Council of Mantua held in 1459 was called by Pope Pius II to gather support for a crusade against the Ottoman Turks. In 1460, Ludovico appointed Mantuan artist Andrea Mantegna as principal artist of the court.


Ludovico II Gonzaga
Ludovico II Gonzaga
(1412 - 1478)
Barbara of Brandenburg
Barbara of Brandenburg
(1422 - 1481)


Ludovico II Gonzaga commissioned the series of frescoes (walnut oil) called the Camera Picta
or Camera degli Sposi. These famous murals are located in the Ducal Palace complex, inside the Castello San Giorgio. They show the ruling family lounging, conversing and enjoying such leisure activites afforded by wealth and prosperity. The paintings are an early form of the Renaissance practice of using artistic patronage to enhance their prestige in neighboring provinces and foreign courts. The image below is known as "the meeting scene," and expertly incorporates the architectural vaults and stone carvings.


Camera degli Sposi, Palazzo Ducale, Mantua
Ludovico Gonzaga meets Cardinal Francesco Gonzaga, his son (Andrea Mantegna, 1465-74)
The House of Gonzaga - THE  BORGIAS   wiki
Detail, "the court scene" depicting a maiden and matron of the family.



The Court of Ludovico II Gonzaga
The Court of Ludovico II Gonzaga, camera degli Sposi (Andrea Mantegna, 1465-74)


The Rise of the Condottiere


Federico I Gonzaga, son of Ludovico II and Barbara, ruled Mantua from 1478 until his death in 1484. He fought as military contractor for the rising House of Sforza, ruled by the de facto duke Ludovico Maria Sforza.

Francesco II Gonzaga, son of Federico I and Margaret of Bavaria ruled Mantua from 1484 until his death. He had a career as a condottiero acting as Venice's commander from 1489 to 1498. He was the commander-in-chief of the army of the Italian league in the Battle of Fornovo, although under the tutorage of his more experienced uncle Ridolfo Gonzaga. Although inconclusive, the battle had at least the effect to push Charles VIII's army back to the Alps. Later he was rival of the Venetians, as leader of the Holy League formed by Pope Julius II against them. In that occasion he was captured by the Venetians, who held him as hostage for several months and humiliated him: this caused his perpetual hostility towards that city, and he refused any subsequent request to return to command its army. During his absences, Mantua was governed by his wife Isabella d'Este, whom he had married on February 12, 1490. Under their reign, Mantua knew a great age of cultural splendour, with the presence in the city of artists such as Andrea Mantegna and Jacopo Bonascolsi. Francesco had the Palace of St. Sebastian built, where later Mantegna's Triumph of Caesar was placed. Isabella's studiolo, which housed manuscripts, custom-printed editions of Aldine Press classics, paintings and sculpture by the finest artists in Italy, was one of the most famed in its day.

Francesco Gonzaga and Lucrezia Borgia corresponded frequently, and there persists the rumour that they were lovers. Recent scholarship and analysis (in general) points away from this idea, as there is no real evidence and their affair was likely of the platonic variety. On his death from syphilis he was succeeded by his son Federico with Isabella acting as regent. His other son Ferrante Gonzaga originated the branch of the Counts of Guastalla.


The Dukes of Mantua

In 1531, the family acquired the neighboring Duchy of Monferrato through Federico II's marriage - receiving it in dowry from Margarita Paleologia. Through Margarita's ancestors, the Gonzagas inherited the Byzantine ancestry of the Paleologi, the earlier ruling family of Monferatto. In 1530 Federico received the title of Duke of Mantua from the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V.

A cadet branch of the Mantua Gonzagas became Dukes of Nevers and Rethel in France when Luigi (Louis) di Gonzaga, a younger son of Duke Federico II and Margerita Paleologa, married the heiress. The Gonzaga-Nevers later came to rule Mantua again, when Louis' son Charles (Carlo) inherited Mantua and Montferrat, triggering the War of the Mantuan Succession.














Coat of Arms - Gonzaga

Coat of Arms
House of Gonzaga



Francesci I Gonzaga, 4th Captain-General of Mantua

Francesco I Gonzaga
4th Captain-General of Mantua
(1366 - 1407)

The portrait copies are from the Collezione di Ambras, Castle of Ambras, Innsbruck



Gianfrancesco I Gonzaga

Gianfrancesco I Gonzaga
First Marquis of Mantua (1395 - 1444)


Ludovico II Gonzaga

Ludovico II Gonzaga
(1412 - 1478)



Federico I Gonzaga
Federico I Gonzaga
(1441 - 1484)


Francesco II Gonzaga

Francesco II Gonzaga
(1466 - 1519)


Federico II Gonzaga


Federico II Gonzaga, 1st duke of Mantua
(1500 - 1540)


The House of Gonzaga - THE  BORGIAS   wiki

Francesco III Gonzaga
(1533 - 1550)



Guglielmo Gonzaga

Guglielmo Gonzaga
(1538 - 1587)

More pages