Margherita Gonzaga, Duchess of Ferrara

Margherita Gonzaga d'Este, Duchess of Ferrara (27 May 1564 – 6 January 1618) was an Italian noblewoman, the daughter of William I, Duke of Mantua (Guglielmo Gonzaga) and Eleonora of Austria, and the sister of Vincent I, Duke of Mantua and Anna Caterina Gonzaga. She was the wife of Alfonso II d'Este, Duke of Ferrara and Modena, whom she married in February 1579. This was the duke's third marriage, and it was hoped that she would produce a male heir.[1] She did not, which partially led to the city of Ferrara's acquisition by the Papal States.

Margherita Gonzaga
Duchess consort of Ferrara, Modena, and Reggio
Born27 May 1564
Died6 January 1618(1618-01-06) (aged 53)
Noble familyHouse of Gonzaga (by birth)
House of Este (by marriage)
Spouse(s)Alfonso II d'Este, Duke of Ferrara
FatherWilliam I, Duke of Mantua
MotherEleonora of Austria

Margherita was born and raised in her father's court in Mantua. Alfonso's concerto delle donne was formed in part to please her, and all of the members were on the court rolls as her ladies in waiting, and the concerts were frequently held in her apartments.[2] When she married she used her influence at Mantua to convince her father to allow Livia d'Arco, a Mantuan, to join the Ferrarese court as one of her ladies in waiting, so that she could participate in the concerto delle donne.[3]

A great number of madrigals and anthologies of madrigals were dedicated to her, either singly or to both herself and her husband. These include a number of madrigals by the maestro di capella of the Duke's brother, Cardinal Luigi d'Este, Luca Marenzio, including "Lucida perla", to a text by Giovanni Battista Guarini for her wedding; "O verdi selvi" with text by Torquato Tasso, as well as a number of madrigals with texts by Tasso dedicated to "her" dwarf or nana, Isabella, such as "Là dove sono i pargoletti Amori".[4]

Balletto delle donne

Margherita was the sponsor of the groundbreaking balletto delle donne, an entertainment including dance, madrigal, and instrumental music, performed at Carnival as well as for important visitors to the court.[5] These entertainments were created with the choreography first, then the music, then the text.[6] All of the members of the balletto were women, and some were also in the concerto delle donne, including Laura Peverara (who cross dressed in at least one instance),[7] Anna Guarini, and Livia d'Arco, at least in 1582 and 1583,[8] as well as Vittoria Bentivoglio, a member of the first incarnation of the concerto.[7]

Instead of the balletto being a spontaneous dance among the courtiers, as it had been up until 1579, it became an elaborate and well-rehearsed entertainment.[9] These entertainments frequently included the women cross-dressing, which was often commented on by contemporary chroniclers. Alfonso assisted in these entertainments by helping to keep the floor cleared and other small favors, however he was not as personally involved in them as Margherita, who danced in them herself, nor was he as involved with them as he was with the concerto delle donne.[10] One ballet was composed and performed in honor of the marriage, on 22 February 1581, of Laura Peverara, who was very highly esteemed.

Programs for the balletti were made, however these may have been handwritten rather than printed, and none survive. Alfonso kept the entertainments at his court highly secret, and one contemporary correspondent wrote that the entertainments were so "private" that a program could not be obtained, not even to be sent to Cardinal Luigi d'Este. Luzzasco Luzzaschi and Ippolito Fiorini wrote music for the balletto, and Giovanni Battista Guarini wrote texts, however these do not survive. This entertainment probably continued until the end of the Este court in 1597, when Alfonso died and the city was taken over by the papacy.[11]



  1. Nutter, 149
  2. Newcomb 20, 106
  3. Newcomb 11, 183
  4. Nutter 149
  5. Newcomb, 35, 40
  6. Newcomb, 44
  7. Newcomb, 37
  8. Newcomb, 35
  9. Newcomb, 36
  10. Newcomb, 38
  11. Newcomb, 42


  • Newcomb, Anthony (1980). The Madrigal at Ferrara, 1579-1597. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-09125-0.
  • Nutter, David (September 1985). "Il sesto libro de' madrigali a sei voci (1595)". Notes: Quarterly Journal of the Music Library Association. 42 (1): 149–151. ISSN 1534-150X.
Margherita Gonzaga
Born: 27 May 1564 Died: 6 January 1618
Royal titles
Title last held by
Barbara of Austria
Duchess consort of Ferrara, Modena, and Reggio
24 February 1579 – 27 October 1597
Succeeded by
Virginia de' Medici
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