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History

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Nicolas Sanson, Carte Nouvelle du Duchè de Mantoue da Nouveau Théâtre d’Italie,
Pierre Mortier, Amsterdam, 1704
(ANV, Raccolta Balzanelli, F1 II 42)

The Gonzaga family, captains of the people, marquises and later dukes, governed Mantua without interruption for almost four centuries (from 1328 to 1707); ordering all the aspects of city life, of their territory and of the institutional organization of the state, they progressively conditioned economic development, the regular and secular religious realities and the artistic and cultural environment, transforming the city into one of the richest and most avant-garde hubs of Italian and European Renaissance culture.

Since its inception, however, along with that of the Gonzaga of Mantua, the less known yet equally extraordinary adventure of the collateral branches developed, whose history documents the complex intertwining between the various family branches, the dense network of illustrious relatives and intricate political events of Casa Gonzaga that would have distinctive repercussions on the territorial settlement structure. Formed with Gianfrancesco Gonzaga (to whom Emperor Sigismondo had granted the title of Marquis, a feudal condition endowed with the privilege of primogeniture), this led to the division of territory and to the formation of those fiefdoms, improperly defined as "minor”, that were sometimes returned to the main house and at other times fragmented further, which developed in particular in the Mantuan territory and between the current provinces of Brescia, Cremona and Reggio Emilia. Small fiefdoms, always politically, diplomatically and economically influenced by the choices of the Gonzaga family of Mantua and formally autonomous but generally pro-Empire, which, particularly between the 15th and the 17th century, played a significant political role. This in turn, was embodied in prestigious noble achievements and significant, urban planning and construction interventions that profoundly impacted the territory's structure, defining material traces, still partially visible, which expressed the hierarchies, values and symbols of each court, with cultural, architectural and landscape differences between the various areas that entrenched their roots in different traditions and legends.

(taken from C. Bonora Previdi, Dimore e giardini dei Gonzaga: fasti e rappresentanza dei rami collaterali, in I giardini dei Gonzaga 2018, p. 59).

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