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Mantua

MANTUA

MANTUA. Surrounded on three sides by lakes formed by the Mincio River, the city of Mantua was almost impregnable militarily. The duchy of Mantua spread across the fertile Lombard plain. The prosperity of the city came from textile manufacturing, that of the countryside from agriculture. The city, which had a vibrant Jewish community, had about 40,000 people in 1550, which declined to 31,000 in 1600. Plague and siege between 1627 and 1630 devastated the city, whose population only recovered to 14,000 in 1650, then rose to between 21,000 and 24,000 in the eighteenth century. The duchy as a whole had some 300,000 people in 1600, but fewer after 1630.

The Gonzaga family, rulers of Mantua from 1328 to 1707, intermarried with other princely families of Italy. They also produced several cardinals and one saint, the Jesuit Aloysius Gonzaga (15681591). In the 1530s the Gonzaga acquired through marriage the marquisate of Montferrat in Piedmont, not contiguous with the duchy of Mantua. This included the town and fortress of Casale Monferrato, a coveted military position some 120 miles west of the city of Mantua. The Gonzaga family supported the Habsburgs in the dynastic struggles of sixteenth-century Europe, and individual Gonzagas served them as military commanders and administrators.

Mantua had one of the most splendid courts of Italy and Europe in the fifteenth, sixteenth, and early seventeenth centuries. As many as eight hundred personswriters, artists, musicians, and even a troop of commedia dell'arte actorsenjoyed Gonzaga patronage in the early seventeenth century. Peter Paul Rubens (15771640) came to paint. Mantua also played a key role in the development of opera; Claudio Monteverdi (15671643) lived there from about 1590 to 1612, and his Orfeo (1607) and other works were first presented there. In 1625 Duke Ferdinando (15891626; ruled 16131626) founded the University of Mantua, where Jesuits taught humanities and philosophy, while laymen taught law and medicine. In order to pay for their splendid court, Gonzaga dukes sold assets. In 1627 Duke Vincenzo II (15941627; ruled 16261627) sold the family collection of Renaissance paintings (works of Titian, Andrea Mantegna, Correggio, Raphael, and others) to Charles I of England.

Gonzaga dukes seldom lived long, and they produced few heirs. On the death of Vincenzo II on 26 December 1627 without an heir, rival claimants to the duchy appeared. Carlo I Gonzaga-Nevers (15801637; ruled 16281637) of the French branch, with strong support from the French crown, slipped into Mantua to claim the title ahead of the leader of a branch of Italian Gonzagas, who accepted the traditional alliance with the Habsburgs. The French held the fortress towns of Mantua and Casale Monferrato, key military positions threatening Habsburg control of northern Italy. The Habsburgs sent an army to take back Mantua, and the War of the Mantuan and Montferrat Succession (16281631), an episode of the Thirty Years' War (16181648), began.

Unfortunately, the foreignersmost likely the imperial armybrought the bubonic plague with them. Because bad harvests had already weakened the duchy's population, the plague of 16291631 killed one quarter to one third. The historical novel I promessi sposi (18251827; The betrothed) of Alessandro Manzoni (17851873) described the devastation and social dislocation in northern Italy as well as any historian could. The Habsburg army overwhelmed the duchy in October 1629 and blockaded the city of Mantua. After a long siege, the army sacked and looted the city on 1820 July 1630. At least two-thirds of the city's inhabitants died as a result of plague, lack of food, and violence. The university closed, and the city and duchy never recovered their former glory. Carlo I and his heirs retained the duchy, now shorn of Casale Monferrato, as minor Habsburg clients.

In 1707 the Habsburgs exiled Ferdinando Carlo (16521708; ruled 16651708), the last Gonzaga duke, for helping the French in the War of the Spanish Succession (17011714) and incorporated duchy and city into the Austrian Empire. The Austrian government of Empress Maria Theresa (17171780; ruled 17401780) instituted governmental reforms and supported Mantuan learning and the arts to some extent. After the Austrians were driven out of northern Italy, the duchy of Mantua joined the kingdom of Italy in 1866.

See also Habsburg Dynasty: Austria ; Plague ; Spanish Succession, War of the (17011714) ; Thirty Years' War (16181648) .

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Faccioli, Emilio, ed. Mantova: Le lettere. 3 vols. Mantua, 19591963.

Mozzarelli, Cesare. Mantova e i Gonzaga dal 1382 al 1707. Turin, 1987.

Paul F. Grendler

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Mantua

Mantua

An influential city in the Renaissance that came under the control of the Gonzaga family, among Italy's leading patrons of writers, artists, and scholars. Mantua dates to well before the time of Rome, and was best known in the Middle Ages as the birthplace of the Roman poet Virgil. The city was an independent commune from the eleventh century but was seized by a member of the Bonacolsi family in 1273. The reign of this dynasty brought the city prosperity until a revolt occurred in 1328, led by Luigi Gonzaga, a city official, and his three sons. Mantua went through a century of turmoil until Ludovico Gonzaga seized power and his descendant, Gianfresco Gonzaga, was named as the marquess of Mantua by the Holy Roman Emperor through his marriage to the emperor's daughter Barbara of Brandenburg. In 1530, Federigo Gonzaga was given the title of Duke by Emperor Charles V, and it was under Federigo's reign that Mantua reached its full glory as a center of art, architecture, and music. Federigo commissioned the lavish Palazzo Te and improved the city with new gardens, roads, and monuments. The Gonzaga dynasty came to an end in 1627, after which it came under the control of a related French clan, the Nevers. A war soon broke out over the contested duchy, and a siege of the city by the emperor's forces in 1630 brought hunger, destruction, and the plague. Prominent citizens and artists fled the city and Mantua entered a long period of neglect and decline. The dukes were overthrown and the city finally seized by the Habsburg dynasty in 1708.

See Also: Gonzaga, House of; Tasso, Torquato

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Mantua

Mantua (măn´chōōə, –tōōə), Ital. Mantova, city (1991 pop. 53,065), capital of Mantova prov., Lombardy, N Italy, bordered on three sides by lakes formed by the Mincio River. It is an agricultural, industrial, and tourist center. Manufactures include machinery, metals, furniture, and refined petroleum. Originally an Etruscan settlement, Mantua was later a Roman town and afterward a free commune (12th–13th cent.). It flourished under the Gonzaga family (1328–1708), who were magnificent patrons of the arts. Mantua passed to Austria in 1708, was taken by Napoleon I in 1797, was retaken by Austria in 1815, and was returned to Italy in 1866. The Gonzaga palace (13th–18th cent.), among the largest and finest in Europe, has frescoes by Mantegna and Giulio Romano and numerous other works of art. Other landmarks include the Palazzo del Te (1525–35); the Church of Sant' Andrea (15th–18th cent.), designed by Alberti, where Mantegna is buried; and the law courts (13th cent.).

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