- City of Lombardy in northern Italy, located on the Mincio River, with a population estimated at about 30,000 in the Renaissance. It was the capital of a duchy created in 1328 when Luigi Gonzaga established a hereditary principality that continued to be ruled by his dynasty until 1707. In 1433 the Emperor Sigismund raised Mantua to the status of a marquisate and a fief of the Holy Roman Empire. Located in territory coveted by powerful neighbors such as Venice and Milan, Mantua was frequently in danger of conquest but was saved by the careful diplomacy of the rulers, who created a powerful army and made themselves useful to other powers as mercenary captains (condottieri). From the late 15th century, the struggle between the French Valois and the Spanish Habsburg dynasties for control of northern Italy further complicated the effort to remain independent, but the Gonzaga allied themselves with the Emperor Charles V, who ultimately established Spanish hegemony over Italy.The marquises of Mantua also conducted an active cultural policy that made their state an important center of Renaissance art and learning. Gianfrancesco Gonzaga (1395-1444) brought the noted teacher Vittorino da Feltre to his court to establish a humanistic school for the education of the ruler's children and other local boys, and it soon attracted sons of prominent families from many parts of northern Italy. The Gonzaga also patronized the arts, attracting Antonio Pisanello, Andrea Mantegna, Leon Battista Alberti, and Giulio Romano to embellish their court at various periods of the 15th and 16th centuries. Especially in the time of Francesco Gonzaga (1466-1519) and his wife Isabella d'Este (1474-1539), the court of Mantua was recognized as one of the most splendid centers of literary and artistic life in Italy.
Historical Dictionary of Renaissance. Charles G. Nauert. 2004.