Federico II Gonzaga distinguished himself in two spheres: political and cul­tural. Successive military commands led to his becoming the first duke of Man­tua, while his patronage of leading Italian artists bequeathed to posterity imposing architectural masterpieces and decorative achievements.
Born in Mantua, Italy, Federico II—the heir of Francesco II, the marquis of Mantua, and Isabella d'Este*—spent his formative years at the court of Pope Julius II* as a guarantor for his father's loyalty. In 1515 Federico went to Milan to pay his respects to Francois I,* who invited Federico to France for a visit. Federico remained in France for two years. Upon Federico's return from France in 1517, his parents arranged a marriage contract with Maria Paleologa. When Maria died in September 1530, negotiations for the marriage of Federico II and Maria's younger sister, Margherita, went forward. The couple wed on 3 October 1531.
During the Italian Wars (1494-1559), as the French house of Valois competed with the Spanish house of Habsburg for control of Italy, Federico's political alliances initially appointed him captain of the church on 1 July 1521; however, Federico knew that Holy Roman Emperor Charles V* would decide the future of Mantua. While still papal captain, Federico permitted imperial forces to pass through his realm. Charles V rewarded Federico's loyalty, appointing him as captain general of the imperial forces in Italy on 21 September 1529 and ele­vating him to a dukedom in 1530. From Margherita, Federico inherited the duchy of Monferrato in 1536.
Along with enhancing the Gonzagas' dynastic fortunes, Federico added to the cultural preeminence of Mantua. His patronage of Giulio Romano* resulted in two impressive architectural monuments, The Palazzo del Te and the Apparta-mento di Troia. Possibly intended as a retreat for Federico and his mistress, Isabella Boschetti, The Palazzo del Te's building history (c. 1527—34) com­menced when Romano began improvements to existing structures on a piece of land west of Mantua. Giorgio Vasari's* account of the building describes the classical orders of the facade and its elegant rooms, ornamented with mytho­logical decorations. Duke Federico personally supervised the addition of a new suite of rooms, called the Appartamento di Troia (c. 1536—38), to the ducal palace. Each of the rooms had a decorative theme. One of them, known as the Cabinet of the Caesars, for which Duke Federico commissioned Titian* to paint a series of Roman emperors, reflects Federico's passion for imperial themes.
The scope of Duke Federico's artistic patronage remains without parallel. Unfortunately, an eighteenth-century fire in Spain consumed Titian's paintings of the emperors. When King Charles I of England purchased the Gonzaga treas­ures around 1628, the collection was broken up, although fortunately many pieces have survived. In addition, the tapestry factory that Duke Federico es­tablished (c. 1539), headed by Nicholas Karcher, was destined to provide a wealth of decorative designs for posterity.
C. M. Brown, G. Delmarcel, and A. M. Lorenzoni, Tapestries for the Courts ofFederico II, Ercole, and Ferrante Gonzaga, 1522-63, 1996.
D. Chambers and J. Martineau, eds., Splendours of the Gonzaga, exhibition catalog, 4 November 1981—31 January 1982, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 1981.
E. Verheyen, The Palazzo del Te in Mantua: Images ofLove and Politics, 1977.
Debbie Barrett-Graves

Renaissance and Reformation 1500-1620: A Biographical Dictionary. . 2001.

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