views updated May 14 2018


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) .


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


views updated May 17 2018


MANTUA , city and province in N. Italy, an important Jewish center in late medieval and modern times.


The first record of a Jewish settlement in Mantua dates from 1145, when Abraham *Ibn Ezra lived there for a while. A small Jewish community existed during the heyday of the city-republic. Sometime after the Gonzaga had become lords of Mantua, Jewish bankers were invited to start operations in the capital and province. Subsequently the Jewish population increased, reaching 3,000 by 1600. The merchant and artisan population soon outnumbered the bankers. Some 50 Jewish settlements of varying size flourished in the province, the major ones being *Bozzolo, *Sabbioneta, Luzzara, Guastalla, Viadana, Revere, Sermide, and Ostiano. The Jews were protected by a series of privileges granted them by popes, emperors, and the Gonzaga rulers. A Christian loan bank (*monte di pietà) was established in Mantua in 1486 to compete with Jewish banking, but initially at least had little success. Anti-Jewish riots took place at Mantua in the 15th century, fostered by the Church and aided and abetted by the business competitors of the Jews. There was also an isolated case of *blood libel in 1478. At the end of the 15th century the regulation imposing the Jewish *badge was introduced in Mantua. Rioting in 1495, after Duke Francesco Gonzaga's indecisive encounter with the French forces at Fornovo, resulted in the confiscation of the house of the leading Jewish banker in the city, Daniel *Norsa, and the erection of the Church of the Madonna della Vittoria on the site. David *Reuveni visited Mantua in 1530, but failed to obtain the support of either the ruler or the Jews. Two years later Solomon *Molcho was burned at the stake there.

The Counter-Reformation began to affect the Jews of Mantua adversely in the last quarter of the 16th century. Restrictive measures and anti-Jewish propaganda culminated in riots and murder. The worst outrage occurred in 1602, when seven Jews were hanged on a charge of blasphemy at the instigation of a Franciscan rabble-rouser. Some ten years later the Jews of Mantua were confined to a ghetto. The worst disaster in their history befell Mantuan Jewry in 1629–30, when they were despoiled of their possessions during the sack of the city by the German troops and then banished. A moving account of the disaster and of the return of the survivors is the contemporary Ha-Galut ve-ha-Pedut ("Exile and Deliverance") by Abraham Massarani (Venice, 1634). The events of 1630 decimated the Jewish community which never quite recovered its former importance. In 1708 the duchy of Mantua came under Austrian rule. In the last quarter of the 18th century Mantua became the chief center in the struggle for Jewish civil rights in Austrian Lombardy. On the Jewish side were ranged R. Jacob *Saraval of Mantua and Benedetto *Frizzi of Ostiano who had to contend with the lawyer G.B. Benedetti of Ferrara and G.B.G. d'Arco, a political economist. During the 18th century the Jewish population increased: In 1707, 1,723 Jews lived in Mantua and in 1764, 2,114. In 1754 the guild of silversmiths threatened the Jewish ghetto and the Jews were maltreated for a month in spite of the defense of ducal troops. When in 1797 the French revolutionary army captured Mantua the ghetto was abolished, its gates were torn down, and the ghetto square was renamed Piazza della Concordia. After its recapture by the Austrians in 1799, however, several Jewish "revolutionaries" were banished from Mantua, among them Issachar Ḥayyim Carpi of Revere, who described the events in his Toledot Yiẓḥak (1892). The French again ruled Mantua from 1801 to 1814 and R. Abraham Vita *Cologna of Mantua was among the foremost personalities in the Napoleonic *Sanhedrin. During the last period of Austrian rule in Mantua (1814–66) there occurred yet another blood libel (1824), and in 1842 anti-Jewish riots took place. A number of Jews from Mantua began to immigrate to Milan from the end of the 18th century mainly because of greater professional and socio-cultural activities.

The Jews of Mantua, like their coreligionists elsewhere in Italy, took an active part in the Italian Risorgimento. Among them were Giuseppe *Finzi of Rivarolo, one of the "martyrs of Belfiore," and the writer Tullo *Massarani. When Mantua was incorporated in the Kingdom of Italy (1866) the last restrictions affecting the Jews were removed. At that time the Jewish population reached 2,795, its highest figure since 1603. Subsequently migration and assimilation reduced the community. In 1931 the community numbered only 669 Jews, mainly because of immigration to Milan and other Italian cities and also because of assimilation. The anti-Jewish measures of the Fascist regime (see *Italy) seriously affected the Jews of Mantua, coming to a climax under the German domination in 1943–45. A concentration camp was set up in Mantua. From the province of Mantua 44 Jews were deported to the death camps, and over 50 Mantuan Jews perished. Only some of the survivors returned to Mantua after the war. By 2000 fewer than 100 Jews lived in Mantua, but in spite of the number they maintained one of the former synagogues with services. Thanks to the active and economic support of the Mantua municipality and funds from the Italian State Ministry of Culture the Jews carried out cultural activities and were able to maintain their rich archive and library, inventoried and in part deposited at the City Hall Library of Mantua.

Cultural Life

During its heyday in the 16th and 17th centuries the community of Mantua made important contributions to the development of Jewish communal institutions in Italy. The assembly of all taxpayers elected a "large" council, which in turn elected a "small" or executive council of seven to ten members. Alongside these, several smaller executive committees functioned. The chief officers were two massari (ממונים). Communal regulations, especially those pertaining to taxation, were published in Hebrew at regular intervals, as were also sumptuary laws for the restriction of ostentation in clothing and festivities. The synagogues of Mantua included the Great Synagogue of the Italian rite, and several smaller synagogues of the Ashkenazi and Italian rites. The community maintained a public school system and welfare institutions, including medical services for the poor. The rabbinical court had extensive powers until the grant of Jewish emancipation. Its procedure was laid down in the Shuda de-Dayyanei ("Judges' Verdict") of 1677–78.

Mantua was an important Jewish cultural center during the Renaissance in Italy. Prominent scholars in the 15th century included Judah Messer *Leon, rabbi, physician, and philosopher; R. Joseph *Colon, the greatest rabbinical authority in Italy; Mordecai *Finzi, mathematician, astronomer, doctor, and banker; and Baruch de Peschiera, scholar and merchant. Abraham *Conat, a physician and talmudist, founded at Mantua about 1475 one of the first Hebrew printing presses; the first dated work issued was the Tur Oraḥ Ḥayyim (1476). His wife, Estellina, assisted him as a printer. Other Hebrew printers active at Mantua included Samuel Latif (1513–15), Joseph b. Jacob Shalit and Meir Sofer, both of Padua, Jacob ha-Kohen of Gazzuolo (1556–76), Samuel Norsa and his sons Isaac and Solomon (16th century); the Perugia and d'Italia families (17th and 18th centuries). The Hebrew press in Mantua was the second largest in Italy after Venice. Sixteenth-century scholars included Azariah de' *Rossi, author of Me'or Einayim; the versatile Abraham Yagel *Gallico; R. Azriel *Diena of Sabbioneta; the preacher Judah *Moscato; several members of the *Norsa (Norzi) family including Jedidiah Solomon Norsa, author of Minḥat Shai; the Provençal brothers *Moses, *David, and Judah, rabbis and scholars; Abraham Colorni, engineer and inventor; members of the *Finzi, *Cases, *Fano, *Rieti, and Sullam families; the *Portaleone family, physicians for three centuries; and Judah Leone b. Isaac *Sommo, playwright, poet, and author of the famous "Dialogues on the Theater." Mantua was the most important center of Jewish participation in the Renaissance theater. The community provided its own theater company, which put on comedies and other plays for court performances throughout the 16th and early 17th centuries. The Jews of Mantua were also active in music and the dance. The greatest Jewish composer in Mantua and the first composer of modern Jewish music was Salamone de' *Rossi, whose sister "Madama Europa" acted on the Mantuan stage. Other Jewish musicians, dancers, and actors at Mantua included Abramo Dall' *Arpa and his nephew Abramino; Isaac Massarani; Angelo de' Rossi; and Simone Basilea. In the 17th and 18th centuries there lived at Mantua the Basilea family of rabbis and scholars, including Solomon Aviad Sar-Shalom *Basilea; Judah Briel, rabbi and polemicist; Moses *Zacuto, mystic and poet; Samson Cohen Modon, rabbi and poet; Jacob Saraval, rabbi, polemicist, traveler, and preacher; the brothers Jacob and Immanuel *Frances, poets; the Cases family, rabbis, physicians, and scholars; and Samuel *Romanelli, poet and playwright. Outstanding modern Jewish personalities include Marco *Mortara, rabbi and bibliophile; Tullo Massarani, writer; and Vittore *Colorni, jurist and historian.


S. Simonsohn, Toledot ha-Yehudim be-Dukkasut Mantovah, 2 vols. (1962–64); Milano, Bibliotheca, index, s.v.Mantova; Milano, Italia, index, s.v.Mantova; M. Mortara, Indice Alfabetico dei Rabbini… (1886), passim; Roth, Italy, index; idem, Jews in the Renaissance (1959), index; D.W. Amram, Makers of Hebrew Books in Italy (1909), 30ff., 323ff.; M. Steinschneider and D. Cassel, Juedische Typographie (1938), 14, 23, 26ff.; H.D. Friedberg, Toledot ha-Defus ha-Ivri be-Italyah (19562), 15ff. add. bibliography: P. Bernardini, La sfida dell'uguaglianza. Gli ebrei a Mantova nell'età della rivoluzione francese (1997).

[Shlomo Simonsohn /

Federica Francesconi (2nd ed.)]


views updated May 17 2018


The following definition of mantua was published in a book that recorded symbols for coats of arms and was compiled in 1688 by Randle Holme, a third-generation craftsman in that field. It is the earliest known definition of the style:

A Mantua is a kind of loose Coat without any stays in it, the body part and sleeves are of as many fashions as I have mentioned in the Gown Body; but the skirt is sometime no longer than the Knees, others have them down to the Heels. The short skirt is open before, and behind to the middle: this is called a Semmer, or Semare: have a loose Body, and four side laps or skirts; which extend to the knee, the sleeves short not to the Elbow turned up and faced.

The mantua style was introduced in the 1670s and remained fashionable until the beginning of the eighteenth century. Distinctive features of the mantua are its loose-fitting unboned bodice and the fact that it was cut in one length instead of cutting the bodice and skirt as two separate pieces. The loose-fitting over robe with a train was draped up and pulled back to reveal the petticoat. It was unboned but worn with a corset. The mantua is thought to have originated as informal dress to provide relief from the heavily boned bodices of the grand habit that was the style at court. The mantua had a kimono-like construction inspired by imported Indian robes worn as dressing gowns in Europe. In its earliest form, the mantua was constructed of two long pieces of fabric that ran from the front hem over the shoulders and down the back to the hem of the train. The textile was cut only minimally—at the neck and under the arm to the waist. It was recognized that styles would change and it was advantageous to have as much fabric available to convert it to the new style. Its one-piece construction formed the basis of much of women's clothing in the eighteenth century. Sack gowns of the early eighteenth century directly evolved from the mantua style.

Its loose fit and reference to dressing gowns gave the mantua an air of undress that Louis XIV considered too informal to be worn at French court functions. The mantua was supposed to be worn only in one's own chamber or at specific country residences of the court. Despite royal disapproval of the style, the mantua was the height of fashion in town and became the dominant fashionable garment for women through the beginning of the eighteenth century. Another important distinction from the grand habit of the court was that the mantua covered the shoulders. Ladies appreciated the warmer, more comfortable style over the off-the-shoulder cut of the grand habit which had to be worn no matter what the temperature.

As the mantua evolved it became more formalized and was accepted at court. The loose folds of the bodice were stitched down into pleats for a closer-fitting shape. Eventually it was allowed for all but the most formal occasions at court, and even crystalized in varied forms as court dress in England through the eighteenth century.

The overall appearance, textile, trimmings, and accessories of a mantua were far more important than the fineness of its construction. The largest portion of the cost of any new garment in that period was the fabric. Careful consideration was given to the cutting of the textile and placement of dominant motifs, but the inside stitching was sometimes quite coarse and uneven. Distinctive brocaded silk damasks now known as bizarre silks, fashionable from circa 1695 to 1720, were often used for the mantua. Characterized by elongated, asymmetrical patterns that combined natural and abstract motifs, bizarre silks used bold color combinations and textured gold and silver metallic threads. The combination of textures and colors of these textiles created spectacular effects in a mantua's flowing appearance. The surface of gold and silk threads change with movement, casting light and dark within the free folds of the draped train.

The interest in scientific and technical experimentation, and the influence of exoticism from imported goods from the East, coupled with the increasing demand for luxury and change of the late seventeenth century, came together to create free and dazzling bizarre silk designs. The vertical lines of the mantua complemented the long, flowing lines and large repeats of the bizarre silks. An average vertical repeat of a bizarre silk at the height of the movement was nearly 27 inches, 10 across (69 centimeters and 26 centimeters across). Commonly, the design repeated across the width of the textile twice.

Mantua makers used a combination of flat cutting and draping. First, the pieces of the garment were cut from the fabric according to measurements taken from the client. Second, the long center back seam was sewn with close stitches in the bodice, and long loose stitches below the waist. The bodice area that fits more closely and takes more stress with movement than the lower parts requires closer stitching. Side gore pieces would have been added to the sides of the main panel to make the dress wider below the waist. These seams were sewn in two different ways depending on whether the mantua was of the lined or unlined style. If the mantua was lined, the seams were sewn in the conventional manner of placing the right sides together leaving the outside with a clean finish. If the robe was unlined these seams would have been sewn wrong sides together so that the seam allowances were on the outside of the dress. The draping back of the front edge of the mantua positions the inside of the mantua to the outside in this area. Fabrics that were attractive on both sides were joined with special mantua-makers seams giving both sides a clean finish for the draped arrangement of the skirt of the mantua.

See alsoCoat; Europe and America, History of Dress (400–1900 c.e.) .


De Marly, Diana. Louis XIV and Versailles. New York: Holmes and Meier Publishers, Inc., 1988.

Dennita Sewell


views updated May 09 2018


During the Renaissance, the fortunes of the northern Italian city of Mantua often reflected the history of one family, the House of Gonzaga. Members of this family ruled Mantua from 1328—when they first seized control of the government—to 1707. In the 1300s and 1400s, Mantua faced threats from the neighboring cities of Venice and Milan. The Gonzaga, especially Ludovico II (1412–1478), managed to steer Mantua through this difficult period and to maintain the city's independence with well-timed alliances and military assistance.

During the late 1400s and the 1500s, Mantua became involved in a struggle between competing European interests. Two powerful families, the Habsburgs of Austria and Spain and the Valois of France, fought for control of northern Italy. In 1495 Francisco II Gonzaga (1466–1519) helped drive the French from Italy. Under another Gonzaga ruler, Frederico II (1500–1540), Mantua established close ties with the Habsburgs.

Mantua became an important cultural center during the Renaissance, and the Gonzaga invited many scholars and artists to the city. The humanist* Vittorino da Feltre (1378–1446) established a school in Mantua that became a model for later humanist schools. Antonio Pisanello and Andrea Mantegna were among the numerous artists who worked in the city. The Gonzaga also asked the Italian architect Leon Battista Alberti to design two churches, including San Sebastiano.

Mantua played a significant role in Renaissance religious history as well. Many members of the Gonzaga family served as bishops and cardinals in the Roman Catholic Church, and during their long involvement they had considerable influence on papal* policies. In 1562–1563 Cardinal Ercole Gonzaga acted as president and papal representative at an important meeting of Catholic leaders, the Council of Trent.

(See alsoItaly. )

* humanist

Renaissance expert in the humanities (the languages, literature, history, and speech and writing techniques of ancient Greece and Rome)

* papal

referring to the office and authority of the pope


views updated May 14 2018


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