Francesco Gonzaga (1444–1483)

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Portrait of Francesco Gonzaga by Andrea Mantegna, c. 1461. Andrea Mantegna 111.jpg
Portrait of Francesco Gonzaga by Andrea Mantegna, c. 1461.

Francesco Gonzaga (15 March 1444, [1] Mantua, Italy – 21 October 1483, Bologna, Italy ) was an Italian bishop and a Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church during the reigns of Popes Pius II, Paul II and Sixtus IV.

Mantua Comune in Lombardy, Italy

Mantua is a city and comune in Lombardy, Italy, and capital of the province of the same name.

Bologna Comune in Emilia-Romagna, Italy

Bologna is the capital and largest city of the Emilia-Romagna Region in Northern Italy. It is the seventh most populous city in Italy, at the heart of a metropolitan area of about one million people.

Italy republic in Southern Europe

Italy, officially the Italian Republic, is a country in Southern Europe. Located in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, Italy shares open land borders with France, Switzerland, Austria, Slovenia and the enclaved microstates San Marino and Vatican City. Italy covers an area of 301,340 km2 (116,350 sq mi) and has a largely temperate seasonal and Mediterranean climate. With around 61 million inhabitants, it is the fourth-most populous EU member state and the most populous country in Southern Europe.



Born in Mantua on 15 March 1444, Francesco Gonzaga was the second son of Ludovico III Gonzaga, the second Marquis of Mantua, and his wife Barbara of Brandenburg. His mother was the daughter of John, Margrave of Brandenburg-Kulmbach, and the niece of Emperor Sigismund of the Holy Roman Empire. His first education was in the "Ca' Giocosa" under Iacopo da San Cassiano, Ognibene da Lonigo, and Bartolomeo Platina.

Ludovico III Gonzaga, Marquis of Mantua second margrave of Mantua

Ludovico III Gonzaga of Mantua, also spelled Lodovico was the ruler of the Italian city of Mantua from 1444 to his death in 1478.

John, Margrave of Brandenburg-Kulmbach Margrave of Brandenburg

John, nicknamed the Alchemist was a Margrave of Brandenburg-Kulmbach and served as the peace-loving Margrave of Brandenburg after the abdication of his father, Frederick I, the first member of the House of Hohenzollern to rule Brandenburg.

Sigismund, Holy Roman Emperor Monarch from the House Luxemburg, 1387 to 1437 King of Hungary, 1410 to 1437 King of Germany,  1419 to 1437 King of Bohemia and 1433 to 1437 Holy Roman Emperor

Sigismund of Luxembourg was Prince-elector of Brandenburg from 1378 until 1388 and from 1411 until 1415, King of Hungary and Croatia from 1387, King of Germany from 1411, King of Bohemia from 1419, King of Italy from 1431, and Holy Roman Emperor from 1433 until 1437, and the last male member of the House of Luxembourg. In 1396 he led the Crusade of Nicopolis, which attempted to liberate Bulgaria and save the Byzantine Empire and Constantinople from Ottoman rule. Afterwards, he founded the Order of the Dragon to fight the Turks. He was regarded as highly educated, spoke several languages and was an outgoing person who also took pleasure in the tournament. Sigismund was one of the driving forces behind the Council of Constance that ended the Papal Schism, but which also led to the Hussite Wars that dominated the later period of Sigismund's life.

After completing his studies at Padua, Francesco went to the University of Pisa. After he graduated, he was appointed by Pope Nicholas V to the offices of prothonotary apostolic in February 1454 and later of the Procurator of the Church for Mantua. Although he had chosen an ecclesiastical career, he led a mostly secular life. In 1477, when he had already been a Cardinal for eleven years, a certain Barbara [2] bore him an illegitimate son, Francesco ( † 1511 ), nicknamed "il Cardinalino [ The Little Cardinal ]".

Padua Comune in Veneto, Italy

Padua is a city and comune in Veneto, northern Italy. It is the capital of the province of Padua and the economic and communications hub of the area. Padua's population is 214,000. The city is sometimes included, with Venice and Treviso, in the Padua-Treviso-Venice Metropolitan Area (PATREVE) which has a population of c. 2,600,000.

University of Pisa Italian public research university located in Pisa

The University of Pisa is an Italian public research university located in Pisa, Italy. It was founded in 1343 by an edict of Pope Clement VI. It is the 19th oldest extant university in the world and the 10th oldest in Italy. The university is ranked within the top 10 nationally and the top 400 in the world according to the ARWU and the QS. It houses the Orto botanico di Pisa, Europe's oldest academic botanical garden, which was founded in 1544.

Pope Nicholas V Pope of Catholic Church from 1447 until 1455

Pope Nicholas V, born Tommaso Parentucelli, was Pope from 6 March 1447 until his death. Pope Eugene made him a cardinal in 1446 after successful trips to Italy and Germany, and when Eugene died the next year Parentucelli was elected in his place. He took his name Nicholas in memory of his obligations to Niccolò Albergati.

The Cardinal

Under Pope Pius II

At the request of his cousin, Albert III, the Elector of Brandenburg, Francesco was elevated, on 18 December 1461, [3] at the age of seventeen to the rank of Cardinal by Pope Pius II after the Pope had been in Mantua for eight months for the council held in that city. The meeting between the father, Ludovico III, the Marchese di Mantova, and the son, the new Cardinale di Mantova, coming to his hometown for the consecration as a cardinal, was immortalized in one of the most famous paintings of the Italian Renaissance – the frescoes of Andrea Mantegna's Camera degli Sposi ( Italian, "Chamber of the Bride" ). Francesco was the first of the ten members of the House of Gonzaga to be given the red biretta of the cardinal and he was assigned to Santa Maria Nuova, [4] a church near the Via Sacra in Rome.

Council of Mantua (1459)

The Council of Mantua of 1459, or Congress of Mantua, was a religious meeting convoked by Pope Pius II, who had been elected to the Papacy in the previous year and was engaged in planning war against the Ottoman Turks, who had taken Constantinople in 1453. His call went out to the rulers of Europe, in an agonized plea to turn from internecine warfare to face Christendom's common enemy.

Consecration is the solemn dedication to a special purpose or service, usually religious. The word consecration literally means "association with the sacred". Persons, places, or things can be consecrated, and the term is used in various ways by different groups. The origin of the word comes from the Latin word consecrat, which means dedicated, devoted, and sacred. A synonym for to consecrate is to sanctify; a distinct antonym is to desecrate.

Italian Renaissance cultural movement

The Italian Renaissance was a period of Italian history that began in the 14th century (Trecento) and lasted until the 17th century (Seicento). It peaked during the 15th (Quattrocento) and 16th (Cinquecento) centuries, spreading across Europe and marking the transition from the Middle Ages to Modernity. The French word renaissance means "Rebirth" and defines the period as one of cultural revival and renewed interest in classical antiquity after the centuries labeled the Dark Ages by Renaissance humanists. The Renaissance author Giorgio Vasari used the term "Rebirth" in his Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects but the concept became widespread only in the 19th century, after the works of scholars such as Jules Michelet and Jacob Burckhardt.

Under Pope Paul II

Appointed as the 39th Prince-Bishop of Bressanone ( now Brixen ) on 12 August 1464, the Cardinal of Mantua participated in the conclave that elected in the same year Pope Paul II, whom he personally hosted a splendid banquet on 16 September to commemorate the occasion of taking possession of the Throne of St. Peter by the new Pope. [5]

Bishopric of Brixen former state in South Tyrol (1027–1803)

The Prince-Bishopric of Brixen is a former ecclesiastical state of the Holy Roman Empire in the present-day Italian province of South Tyrol. It should not be confused with the larger Catholic diocese, over which the prince-bishops exercised only the ecclesiastical authority of an ordinary bishop. The bishopric in the Eisack/Isarco valley was established in the 6th century and gradually received more secular powers. It gained imperial immediacy in 1027 and remained an Imperial Estate until 1803, when it was secularised to Tyrol. The diocese however existed until 1964, and is now part of the Diocese of Bolzano-Brixen.

Brixen Comune in Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol, Italy

Brixen is a town in South Tyrol in northern Italy, located about 40 kilometres (25 mi) north of Bolzano.

Two years later, on 18 July 1466, the Bishop of Mantua, Galeazzo Cavriani, died and Francesco was appointed a month later, on 20 August, to succeed him. His great grandfather's first cousin, Sagramoso Gonzaga ( 1360 – 1405 ), had been the Bishop of Mantua for four years ( 1386 – 1390 ). But Francesco's own title was the Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Mantua. He would keep it until his death [6] but he was never raised to the rank of Bishop. He would be succeeded by five consecutive members of his family. The first two were Apostolic Administrators but the third, Ercole Cardinal Gonzaga, Francesco's grandnephew, was the first to be Bishop. [6]

Roman Catholic Diocese of Mantua diocese of the Catholic Church

The Diocese of Mantua is a see of the Catholic Church in Italy. It was erected in 804, and is a suffragan of the Archdiocese of Milan. The diocese has produced one Pope and (Latin) Patriarch of Constantinople, and two cardinals.

Ercole Gonzaga Catholic cardinal

Ercole Gonzaga was an Italian Cardinal.

Francesco participated in the secret consistories of 7 January 1467 and 30 June 1470. During the consistory celebrated at the basilica of St. Mark on 18 February 1471, Pope Paul II appointed him the Papal legate a latere [ Latin, “from the [ Pope's] side" ] to Bologna and at the same time Francesco was appointed Apostolic Commissioner for the Paternal States [ commissario apostolico per gli stati paterni ], with the authority to persuade their dioceses in favor of a crusade against the Turks, which was, however, not accomplished at that time. During his stay in Rome, where he had by then made his home, Francesco, with Marco Cardinal Barbo, welcomed the new Duke of Ferrara, Borso d'Este. He left Rome for Bologna on 5 July 1471 and arrived in Emilia on 21 July.

Under Pope Sixtus IV

Portrait of Francesco Cardinal Gonzaga from the Camera degli Sposi , a fresco by Andrea Mantegna. Andrea Mantegna 082 detail.jpg
Portrait of Francesco Cardinal Gonzaga from the Camera degli Sposi , a fresco by Andrea Mantegna.

Francesco then returned to Rome on 4 August of that year to participate in the conclave of 1471 that elected Francesco della Rovere as Pope Sixtus IV. For his legation in Bologna, Gonzaga was confirmed by the new Pope and received commendam also the Abbey of San Gregorio at Mantua but he renounced it on 18 March 1472 for the commendam of San Tommaso Maggiore at Verona. On 2 May 1472, during his stay in Bologna, he received at his palace Johannes Cardinal Bessarion, who was passing on his way to France to negotiate peace between the King of France, Louis XI, and the Duke of Burgundy, Charles the Bold.

In the spring of 1472, Francesco was appointed as the Apostolic Administrator of the Metropolitan See of Lund in Sweden when Tuve Nielsen Juul, the Archbishop of Lund, died on 7 April. For a while, it appeared that Gonzaga was about to be promoted to the rank of Archbishop but Jens Brostrup, who had already been elected by the Cathedral Chapter of Lund, managed to buy him out. Nevertheless, Francesco kept his position until 1474. But he took the time to arrange and host a banquet in Bologna for the French ambassadors sent by King Louis XI to Pope Sixtus IV. In 1472 he obtained the commendam of the monastery of Sant'Andrea in Mantua before he returned to Rome on 24 November 1473. In April 1474 he was given the responsibility for welcoming to Rome, with proper honors, King Christian I of Denmark and Norway at the Papal Court. As the reward for the excellence of his services, the Cardinal of Mantua was granted in 1475 by the Pope the commendam of the deaconry of Sant'Agata dei Goti, a church on Via Mazzarino in Rome.

Francesco fled from Rome on 10 June 1476 because of the outbreak of the plague at the Papal Court. A month later, on 18 July, the Bishop of Bologna, Filippo Calandrini, died. He was replaced eight days later, on 26 July, by the Cardinal of Mantua as the Apostolic Administrator [7] but, in March 1477, he was still in Rome. He did not go to Bologna for the actual possession until 18 July 1478, two years late. On 20 March 1479, anti-Papal riots erupted in Bologna but Gonzaga was able to restore order. However, he was never made the Bishop of Bologna; that title went after his death to Giuliano Cardinal della Rovere, the future Pope Julius II. [7]

Francesco had already resigned his office of the Abbot of the Monastery of San Dionigi ( Saint Dionysius ) in Milan on 18 January 1478, seven months before he left for Bologna, and he also resigned the commendam of the Monastery of Santa Maria alla Gironda at Cremona on 18 June 1479. It was given to his brother, Lodovico. On 28 December 1480 the Cardinal returned to Rome from his mission and was re-appointed as the Papal legate a latere to Bologna on 15 December 1482. But, before he could return to Bologna, he decided to go to Ferrara to encourage its residents to fight against the Republic of Venice, earning a reputation as a great orator. Although he was a Prince of the Church, he was very generous with the poor and deeply devoted to Blessed Virgin Mary.

The Church of San Francesco in Mantua, the burial place of Cardinal Gonzaga. Mantova.jpg
The Church of San Francesco in Mantua, the burial place of Cardinal Gonzaga.

From 1479 to 1480 Francesco hosted Angelo Poliziano at his court in Mantua, where the scholar poet wrote the Fabula of Orpheus ( Italian : Fabula di Orfeo ). Like other members of the family, [8] Francesco collected antiquities, including pieces of the treasures that belonged to Pope Paul II, himself a collector of gems. [9]

Besides painting Francesco in the Camera deli Sposi, Andrea Mantegna also did the Portrait of Francesco Gonzaga , one of the first portraits he had ever done at the Court of Mantua after he moved there in 1460. This painting is now at the National Museum of Capodimonte ( Italian : Museo di Capodimonte ) in Naples, Italy.


He died from intoxication on 21 October 1483 at the Palazzo della Signoria in Bologna. In the original document attesting to his death, it was stated that the cause of death was per disordini; percioché bevendo l'acqua della Porretta non servò la guardia conveniente [ Of disorders; because drinking the water of the Porretta, he did not observe the necessary care ]. [10] His body was transported to Mantua and buried in the family mausoleum at the Church of San Francesco. The funeral oration was delivered by Giovanni Lucido Cataneo. [11]

See also

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  1. Lazzarini, "GONZAGA, Francesco", Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani.
  2. Mantovani, Il castello di Castel d'Ario, no page given.
  3. (in English) "Francesco Cardinal Gonzaga †", Catholic Hierarchy, retrieved 21 January 2014.
  4. The titular church of Santa Maria Nuova was suppressed on 18 August 1661 by Pope Alexander VII, who replaced it with the new Church of Santa Maria della Scala.
  5. (in English) "Diocese of Bolzano-Bressanone { Bozen-Brixen }", Catholic Hierarchy, retrieved 21 January 2014.
  6. 1 2 (in English) "Diocese of Mantova", Catholic Hierarchy, retrieved 21 January 2014.
  7. 1 2 (in English) "Diocese of Bologna", Catholic Hierarchy, retrieved 21 January 2014. The Diocese of Bologna did not become the Archdiocese of Bologna until 1582.
  8. (in Italian) Francesco Rapaccioni, "Il Cammeo Gonzaga. Arti preziose alla corte di Mantova [ The Gonzaga Room. Precious Arts at the Court of Mantua ]", posted 31 October 2008, : Le Rubriche : Mostre Arte [ : Categories : Art Exhibitions ], retrieved 21 January 2014.
  9. (in Italian) " Il Cammeo Gonzaga. Arti preziose alla corte di Mantova [ permanent dead link ]", press release archived online, retrieved 21 January 2014.
  10. The sulphurous waters of Porretta Terme produces an important healing effect for skin problems, from which the Cardinal probably suffered, but they must be taken with caution because of the minerals contained in the waters.
  11. This Giovanni Lucido Cataneo ( 1462 – 1505 ), the archdeacon and ambassador from Mantua at the Papal Court, should not be confused with the later Giovanni Lucido Cataneo ( 1613 – 1685 ), the 46th Bishop of Mantua ( 1673 – 1685 ).