Like his father a prominent military commander, and like his mother Isabella d'Este a compulsive patron of artists, impelled by illusions of dynastic grandeur. He was godson to Cesare Borgia, and his childhood experiences included being a hostage at Pope Julius II's court for his father's loyalty (1510-13): here the indulgence of pope and cardinals replaced that of Isabella. A (lost) portrait of him in armour was painted by Raphael. He resisted Isabella's schemes for his marriage into the Palaeologo dynasty, and for years (to her disapproval) was associated with one Isabella Boschetti; in 1531, however, he married Maria Palaeologo and gained the succession to the duchy of Monferrato.
From 1524 Giulio Romano worked for him, and the Palazzo del Tè grew from extensive stables into what may have been an amorous retreat for Boschetti, and eventually into a palatial hostel for distinguished visitors (Charles V stayed there in 1530 and 1532). Federico was appointed Captain of the Church (1521) and led Imperial troops in the siege of Pavia and the defence of Parma against Lautrec (1521-22); subsequently divided in his loyalties when Clement VII promoted the League of Cognac (1526), he remained nominally papal captain but allowed the Imperialist commander Frundsberg to pass the Po. His prudence was rewarded by appointment as captain of Imperial troops in Italy (September 1529) and the title of duke (1530).
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