Maria Gabriella di Savoia was the third child of the Prince and Princess of Piedmont, born in Naples, Italy in 1940. Her older siblings were Princess Maria Pia and Prince Vittorio Emanuele. Her parents, married since 1930, were unhappy together, as her mother confessed in an interview many years later (On n'a jamais été heureux, "We were never happy"), and separated after the Italian monarchy was abolished by referendum on 2 June 1946. Exiled, the family gathered briefly in Portugal, and she and her three siblings (including Princess Maria Beatrice "Titti", born three years after her) soon went with their mother to Switzerland while their father remained in Portugal. Being devout Catholics, her parents never divorced.
Maria Gabriella was educated in languages and is a noted historian, especially on Italian issues. She has authored a number of books, including Jewellery of the House of Savoy (2007), written with Stefano Papi.
In the 1950s, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, Shah of Iran, then divorced from his second wife, indicated his interest in marrying Princess Maria Gabriella. Pope John XXIII reportedly vetoed the suggestion. In an editorial about the rumors surrounding the marriage of "a Muslim sovereign and a Catholic princess", the Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, considered the match "a grave danger," especially considering that under the 1917 Code of Canon Law a Roman Catholic who attempted to contract a marriage with a divorced person could incur the penalty of excommunication.
She married Robert Zellinger de Balkany (4 August 1931 in Ichlod, Romania - 19 September 2015 in Geneva, Switzerland) on 12 February 1969 in Sainte-Mesme. The religious wedding was celebrated later on 21 June 1969 at Eze-sur-Mer. The couple separated in 1976 and divorced in November 1990. They had one child:
Marie Elizabeth Zellinger de Balkany (born 2 March 1972), married Olivier Janssens (born 1964) on 31 October 2002 and has three children:
Gabriella Luise Maria Janssens (born 7 March 2004);