Ruling family of Mantua, Italy. It was a century and a half after the family arrived in Mantua that Luigi was
elected captain general of the city (1328). This was the beginning of almost 400 years of Gonzaga rule there: the years 1328 to 1407 were marked by four Gonzaga captains general; the years 1407 to 1587 were a brilliant period in which the family produced rulers of ability; and the years 1587 to 1707 were a period of decline. Mantua's very location demanded vigilance and often involved the city in war, yet the rulers built palaces and churches and made Mantua a cultural center.
Gianfrancesco (ruled 1407–44) was the first marquis in the family (under Emperor sigismund) and was also the first ruler to bring an eminent personage to Mantua, namely the educator vittorino da feltre. Ludovico (1444–78) brought Leone Battista Alberti and Andrea Mantegna; Federigo II (1519–40), Giulio Romano; Vincenzo I (1587–1612), Peter Paul Rubens. Francesco (1484–1519) and Isabella d'Este were the parents of three able sons: the above-mentioned Federigo II, Cardinal Ercole (see below), and Ferrante (d. 1557), who became viceroy of Naples and governor of Milan. Federigo II, who became the first Gonzaga duke in 1530, added Montferrat to the family domain. It was under his second son, Guglielmo (1550–87), that Mantua had its greatest prosperity. Competition in industry from other states and the extravagance of Vincenzo I precipitated the decline of the family. After the reigns of Vincenzo's three sons, the main branch ended in 1627. One evidence of the family's status was the sale of paintings from the Gonzaga gallery in that same year. The Gonzaga-Nevers or French branch ruled from 1627 to 1707, when the last duke went into exile and Austria annexed Mantua.
Rivalry between Ludovico and his brother Carlo just prior to 1444 resulted in the practice—common in noble families—of having the second son and sometimes other younger sons seek careers in the Church. Hence, in four of six consecutive reigns the second son became a cardinal; in the other two reigns there was a valid reason for the exceptions. In all, while the family ruled, there were ten cardinals (the first date given being that of their cardinalate); Francesco (1461, d. 1483), son of Ludovico, served as bishop of Mantua and as legate in Bologna and Ferrara. He has been criticized for his worldly ways and for his friendship with Angelo Poliziano. His nephew Sigismondo (1505, d. 1525) was bishop of Mantua and legate in the Marches and Bologna. Sigismondo's nephew Ercole (1527, d. 1563) was appointed bishop of Mantua in 1521. He spent the next three years studying at the University of Bologna. After 1527 he held appointments in four minor cities and was legate to Emperor charles v when he came to Italy in 1530. The ideas of two friends, Gasparo contarini and Gian Matteo giberti, Bishop of Verona, guided Cardinal Ercole in reforming the Diocese of Mantua: e.g., before the decrees of the Council of Trent, Ercole ordered a careful visitation of churches in his diocese and repeated the visitation at intervals to ensure that proposed improvements had been made. When Duke Federigo died, the cardinal was the chief regent for his two nephews (1540–56). He governed the duchy well, improving the city, promoting industry, curbing extravagance, and systematizing weights and measures. His last appointment was as legate and president of the Council of trent (1561–63), but he died before it closed. Esteemed by his contemporaries and historians for his administration of diocese and duchy, he has also been praised for less public actions. He paid for the education of young men who were not his relatives. In his will he left money for the montes pietatis. Pirro (1527, d. 1529) became bishop of Modena. Francesco (1561, d. 1566) and Gianvincenzo (1578, d. 1591) were the sons of Ferrante and nephews of Cardinal Ercole. Francesco was bishop of Mantua. Duke Guglielmo valued particularly the advice of Gianvincenzo. Federico (1563, d. 1565) became bishop of Mantua. Ferdinando (1607, d. 1626) and Vincenzo (1615, d. 1627) were sons of Vincenzo I, and they renounced their cardinalates to become the last two dukes of the main branch of the Gonzaga family.
Scipione (1587, d. 1593) was the son of the marquis of Gazzolo, a collateral branch. Well educated and generous with his time, Scipione advised several writers, among them Torquato Tasso. He supported the entrance of his nephew aloysius gonzaga into the jesuits. His brother Annibale (Francesco) was the minister general of the Franciscan Observants (1579–87; d. 1620) who wrote the De origine Seraphicae religionis et progressibus (Rome 1587).
Bibliography: p. litta, Famiglie celebri italiane, 14 v. (Milan 1819–1923) v.7. g. moroni, Dizionario de erudizione storico0ecclesiastica, 103 v. in 53 (Venice 1840–61) 31:282–288. l. pastor, The History of the Popes From the Close of the Middle Ages, 40 v. (London-St. Louis 1938–61): v.11 (3d ed.) 11:505–508. a. luzio, La Galleria dei Gonzaga … (Milan 1913). s. j. c. brinton, The Gonzaga—Lords of Mantua (London 1927). g. fochessati, I Gonzaga di Mantova e l'ultimo duca (rev. ed. Milan 1930).
[m. l. shay]