Portrait of Margherita Gonzaga (1564-1618), Duchess Consort of Ferrara, Modena, and Reggio (1579-1597), 1593
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. She did not, which partially led to the city of Ferrara's acquisition by the Papal States. 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. 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". 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. These entertainments were created with the choreography first, then the music, then the text. 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), Anna Guarini, and Livia d'Arco, at least in 1582 and 1583, as well as Vittoria Bentivoglio, a member of the first incarnation of the concerto. 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.
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