Ferdinando Gonzaga (Mantua, 26 April 1587 - Mantua, 29 October 1626) was VI Duke of Mantua and Duca del Monferrato from 1612 to 1626.
Second-born son of Vincenzo I and Eleonora de 'Medici, destined for an ecclesiastical career, received the purple cardinal in December 1607, at the age of twenty, with the title of cardinal deacon of Santa Maria in Domnica. Two years later he opted for the title of Santa Maria in Portico Octaviae. Despite the nomination he distinguished himself, like his father, for his restless character, as well as for his love for luxury and pomp.
After the death of his brother Francesco, which occurred in 1612, Ferdinando stopped the purple and on 6 January 1616 he went to the government of the Duchy of Mantua, despite the opposition of Charles Emmanuel I of Savoy, who had plans on Monferrato, governed by the Gonzagas. For this reason the Duke of Savoy opened a diplomatic crisis, in which the contender was the only formally Gonzaga; in reality the conflict was wider and involved Spain and France, who for different reasons supported the Gonzaga against the Savoyard claims.
In the years of government Ferdinando, a man of great culture and intellect, but not endowed with the human and political depth that had made his forefathers great, was not distinguished by particular positive factors. He hosted to his court famous artists, among them Domenico Fetti (called Il Mantovano), Carlo Saraceni and the Flemish Antoon van Dyck. Architect of court was Nicolò Sebregondi, who built between 1613 and 1624 the magnificent country residence Villa La Favorita.
On February 19, 1616, in the presence of his faithful advisor and abbot Gregorio Carbonelli, he faked a fake marriage with a young Monferrato contina from whom he had fallen in love, Camilla Faà di Bruno, who gave him a natural son, Giacinto. At the same time he treated for the true wedding with Caterina de 'Medici, daughter of the Grand Duke of Tuscany Ferdinando I de' Medici, who in fact married in Florence on February 7, 1617. Weddings soon turned out to be sterile, which aggravated the problem of dynastic succession, given that the only successor in the main line of the family was the younger brother Vincenzo. He had married in 1616 a joint of much older than him, Isabella Gonzaga of Novellara, a marriage that was however opposed by Ferdinand, who did everything possible to make him cancel.
The story dragged on for years, so much so that Ferdinand could not conclude the political moves to obtain the annulment of his brother's marriage, because he died, at the age of only 39, October 29, 1626. A short time before he died, Ferdinando , to try to at least partially repay a disastrous debt situation, he had initiated contacts for the sale of a part of the famous collection of works of art accumulated over the years by the family. The sale was then concluded for a derisory sum by his successors, his brother Vincenzo II and his cousin Carlo I Gonzaga-Nevers.
Ferdinando Gonzaga created the knightly order of the Immaculate Conception to which nobles coming from all the Catholic nations could join. The project, which was attended by Charles I of Gonzaga-Nevers and Count Alfonso d'Altan d'Alemagna, took shape on 8 December 1619 and the Order was established in Mantua in 1623. It was sanctioned ecclesiastically by Pope Gregory XV in 1623 and confirmed by Pope Urban VIII in 1625.