Francesco Canova da Milano was arguably the most important Italian composer of instrumental music from the Renaissance era. His works were widely published in his time, and his many admirers dubbed him "Il Divino." Exactly 124 of his compositions survive, most being ricercars, fantasies, and intabulations of various vocal pieces, the vast majority scored for lute or vihuela. Not surprisingly, Francesco Canova was generally considered the finest lutenist of his day as well.
Francesco was born in Italy, probably in Monza, a Milanese suburb, on August 19, 1497. He came from a family of talented musicians that included his father, Benedetto, and brother Bernardino. There is evidence that Francesco studied on the lute in Milan with Giovanni Angelo Testagrossa, probably in the period 1505-1510.
By 1514 Francesco was in the service of the Papal Court in Rome, and from 1516 until 1521 he was a lutenist in private service to Pope Leo X. He was joined in the latter endeavor for the first two years by his father. Francesco apparently remained in Rome in some sort of Papal musical post until at least 1526, when documents reveal he performed there before Pope Clement VII.
In 1528 Francesco was made a canon at the basilica of San Nazaro Maggiore in Milan. The following year his music began appearing in publications throughout Italy and Europe; moreover, by this time he was already regarded as the greatest living lutenist. From 1531-1535, he was in the service of Cardinal Ippolito de Medici, in Florence.
He returned to Rome in 1535, probably for various pre-arranged duties, one of which was to give lessons on the lute to Ottavio Farnese, Duke of Parma. The following year the composer surrendered his canonry in Milan to his brother Bernardino. By 1538 Francesco was in the service of Cardinal Alessandro Farnese in Rome.
Two years later, the now-wealthy composer married Clara Tizzoni, who brought considerable wealth of her own to the marriage. The couple briefly settled in Milan, but in 1539 records reveal that Francesco, along with his father, were back in Rome, serving in some capacity at the Papal Court. The final three or four years of Francesco's life are unclear, but it seems he died on January 2, 1543. He would remain a widely popular figure throughout Europe for the remainder of the sixteenth century and most of the seventeenth.