At Italy On This Day you will read about events and festivals, about important moments in history, and about the people who have made Italy the country it is today, and where they came from. Italy is a country rich in art and music, fashion and design, food and wine, sporting achievement and political diversity. Italy On This Day provides fascinating insights to help you enjoy it all the more.

Tuesday, 17 July 2018

Michele Casadei Massari - chef and restaurateur

American dream from small beginnings

Michele Casadei Massari began his New York business with a coffee kiosk in Union Square
Michele Casadei Massari began his New York
business with a coffee kiosk in Union Square
The chef and businessman Michele Casadei Massari, who is the owner and founder of the Piccolo Cafe and the Lucciola restaurant in New York City, was born on this day in 1975 in Riccione, on the Adriatic coast of Emilia-Romagna.

Massari had planned to become a doctor but abandoned his studies in order to pursue his dream of cooking in his own restaurant.

After working as general manager and executive chef of a restaurant at a holiday resort in Sardinia, Massari and an old school friend decided to go it alone and chose to start a business in New York.

They began by selling coffee from a kiosk on Union Square in Manhattan before graduating to a cafe selling traditional Italian food as well as salads, panini and egg dishes.

Massari and his partner opened their first Piccolo Cafe in Third Avenue, a couple of blocks from Union Square in 2010. Now they have four branches of Piccolo Cafe and a restaurant, Lucciola, that specialises in the cuisine of Bologna and Emilia-Romagna.

The Piccolo Cafe in West 40th Street is one of four opened by Massari and his partners
The Piccolo Cafe in West 40th Street is one of four
opened by Massari and his partners
Only six years old when he saw the inside of a restaurant kitchen for the first time, Massari acquired his love of cooking from his grandfather, ‘Nonno Gigi’, a chef who had acquired an inventive flair during the Second World War, when ingredients were often scarce.

His education included foraging in the countryside around the family home and learning how even the simplest ingredients, properly prepared, could be turned into tasty and nutritious dishes.

He says he inherited his salesmanship skills from his mother, who had been a door-to-door saleswoman in the 1970s, persuading would-be clients to buy machines for heating hair curlers.

While studying at college, Massari worked in restaurants in Bologna but soon realised he was much more interested in food that becoming a doctor. He and school friend Alberto Ghezzi decided to move to Sardinia, where Alberto managed the restaurant while he worked in the kitchen. Soon they were joined by another friend from Bologna, chef Gianluca Capozzi.

The three still work together today, having teamed up again when Massari, craving a chance to ‘do something different’, came up with his idea of going to New York, even though he had only a few thousand euros to start a business.

Michele also has a dedicated  Bolognese restaurant in New York
Michele also has a dedicated
Bolognese restaurant in New York
To obtain a special visa for businesses and investors, he had to present a business plan. His coffee kiosk idea was rejected initially because he had no water supply but once he had solved that problem he was accepted.

The kiosk took off quickly, selling 70,000 cups of coffee alone in the first 30 days. They had been there little more than four weeks when a customer told them about an empty business premises on Third Street that would be ideal for opening a cafe.

Six months later, with the Piccolo Cafe booming, another client urged them to look at an empty premises opposite the New York Times building on West 40th Street. That became the second branch. Two more Piccolos have opened since, one on Madison Avenue, another not far from Central Park in the Upper West Side, which is where Lucciola is located.

Michele also runs the BiograFilm Food Academy and manages food and beverage operations for the film festival of the same name that takes place in Bologna each year

Trendy Via Ceccarini in Riccione
Trendy tree-lined Via Ceccarini in Riccione
Travel tip:

Riccione, where Massari was born, is sometimes called the ‘green pearl of the Adriatic’ on account of the elegant, tree-lined boulevards that carry echoes of the town’s tradition as a resort that was a cut above its brasher neighbours. These days, it is no less thronged in the high summer months than its big brother Rimini but the Via Ceccarini, with its elegant boutiques, attractive cafés and trendy night spots, is still one of the most famous streets on the whole Adriatic Riviera. Other attractions are the Museo del Territorio, with exhibits reflecting thousands of years of evolutionary history in the area, and the Castello degli Agolanti, once owned by the most powerful local family, now an exhibition and conference venue.

One corner of Bologna's central Piazza Maggiore
One corner of Bologna's central Piazza Maggiore
Travel tip:

Bologna, which Massari considers to be his home town, boasts what is probably the best maintained and preserved medieval centre in the whole of Italy, a testament in many ways to one of the country’s least corrupt local administrations. The city was for a long time the stronghold of the Italian Communist Party and street names such as Via Stalingrado and Via Lenin say much about the political heroes of some of its former municipal leaders. Yet despite being the cradle of progressive socialism, the city retains one of the best standards of living in Italy and a policy of ‘active preservation’ established in the 1970s, whereby old houses in the city centre were renovated for public housing rather than being demolished, has helped the city maintain its character.

More reading:

How daytime TV made chef Simone Rugiati famous

Much-loved celebrity chef and restaurateur Antonio Carluccio

Gennaro Contaldo's passion for the cooking of Amalfi

Also on this day:

1824: The British aristocrat and travel writer Lady Blessington arrives in Naples

1976: The birth of celebrity chef Gino D'Acampo


Monday, 16 July 2018

Andrea del Sarto – painter

The brief career of an artist ‘senza errori’

Andrea del Sarto, captured here in a self- portrait. lived in Florence all his life
Andrea del Sarto, captured here in a self-
portrait. lived in Florence all his life
Renaissance artist Andrea del Sarto was born Andrea d’Agnolo di Francesco di Luca di Paolo del Migliore on this day in 1486 in Florence.

He had a brilliant career but died at the age of 43 during an outbreak of plague and afterwards his achievements were eclipsed by the talents of Da Vinci, Michelangelo and Raphael.

Andrea’s father, Agnolo, was a tailor and therefore the child became known as del Sarto, meaning son of the tailor.

As a young boy del Sarto was apprenticed to a goldsmith and then a woodcarver before being sent to learn to be an artist.

He decided to open a joint studio with an older friend, Franciabigio, and from 1509 onwards they were employed to paint a series of frescoes at Basilica della Santissima Annunziata in Florence. Del Sarto also painted a Procession of the Magi, in which he included a self-portrait, and a Nativity of the Virgin for the entrance to the church.

He married Lucrezia del Fede, a widow, in 1512 and often used her as a model for his paintings of the Madonna.

Part of Del Sarto's fresco series at the Villa Medici at Poggio a Caiano, near Florence
Part of Del Sarto's fresco series at the Villa Medici at
Poggio a Caiano, near Florence
After spending a year as court painter to Francis I of France in 1518, del Sarto returned home to his wife and was offered a major commission by the Medici family, to decorate the Villa Medici at Poggio a Caiano near Florence. The work was offered to him by Pope Leo X but the project ended when the Pope died in 1521.

Del Sarto’s fresco at the villa, Tribute to Caesar, is a fragment now incorporated into a much later decorative scheme.

His most important work is considered to be a series of frescoes on the life of St John the Baptist in the Chiostro dello Scalzo in Florence. He started the series in 1511 and it was not completed until 1526, so the work spans a large part of his career and most of the paintings are by his own hand.

Del Sarto's Nativity of the Virgin at the Basilica della Santissima Annunziata in Florence.
Del Sarto's Nativity of the Virgin at the Basilica
della Santissima Annunziata in Florence.
His artistic style reflected his interest in colour and atmosphere and showed natural expressions of emotion. Del Sarto had a reputation for integrity and professionalism and was regarded by his peers as an artist ‘senza errori’ - faultless.

Del Sarto had a house built for himself in Florence, which was modified by other painters who lived there later. He died at his home after plague swept the city in 1530. The exact date of his death is unknown but he was buried in the Basilica of Santissima Annunziata on September 29, 1530.

A play, Andrea del Sarto, by Alfred de Musset, was premiered in Paris in 1848. The 1968 opera Andrea del Sarto by the French composer Jean-Yves Daniel-Lesur was based on de Musset’s play.

The Basilica della Santissima Annunziata in Florence
The Basilica della Santissima Annunziata in Florence
Travel tip:

The Basilica della Santissima Annunziata, where Andrea del Sarto is buried, is in the Piazza della Santissima Annunziata in the San Marco district of Florence. The church was founded by the Servite order in 1250 and later rebuilt by Michelozzo between 1444 and 1481. Del Sarto’s frescoes can be seen in the atrium of the church. Newly wed couples traditionally visit the church to present a bouquet of flowers to a painting of the Virgin by a 13th century monk, where they pray for a long and fruitful marriage.

The Chiostro dello Scalzo in Via Cavour
The Chiostro dello Scalzo in Via Cavour
Travel tip:

The Chiostro dello Scalzo, where del Sarto painted his fresco cycle featuring the life of St John the Baptist, is in Via Cavour in the San Marco area near the Basilica della Santissima Annunziata. The cloister used to be the entrance to the chapel of the Confraternity of St John the Baptist, which was founded in 1376 and lasted until 1786. Thankfully the frescoes were preserved and can be viewed free of charge in the cloister every Monday and Thursday and on some Saturdays and Sundays each month.

More reading:

The precocious genius of Raphael

Michelangelo 'the greatest of all time'

The multiple talents of Leonardo da Vinci

Also on this day:

1194: The birth of Saint Clare of Assisi

1852: The birth of Neapolitan sculptor Vincenzo Gemito


Sunday, 15 July 2018

Guido Crepax - cartoonist

Erotic character Valentina captured spirit of 1960s Italy

Erotic imagery was central to the success of Crepax's most famous character, Valentina
Erotic imagery was central to the success of Crepax's
most famous character, Valentina
The cartoonist Guido Crepax, whose character Valentina became a heroine of the 1960s generation in Italy and beyond, was born on this day in 1933 in Milan.

Valentina first appeared in May 1965 as a secondary character in another cartoon, the photographer girlfriend of an art critic and amateur sleuth.

But the sinuous, sensual female depicted by Crepax, her hair cut in a glossy bob, soon acquired fans both male and female.

In an era when Italian society was beginning to experience a sense of sexual liberation for the first time, Valentina’s eroticism naturally attracted a legion of male fans. But her assertive individuality struck a chord with many modern Italian women, too, even if her readiness to shed her clothes caused outrage among others.

Soon, Valentina left behind her fictional boyfriend and starred in a series of her own adventures, which Crepax continued to produce for three decades. She was outspoken in her left-wing political views, while her uninhibited fantasies increasingly reflected the world of dreams and psychoanalysis that fascinated her creator.  Her style even influenced the Milan fashion world.

Guido Crepax created his most  famous character in 1965
Guido Crepax created his most
famous character in 1965
Crepax was born Guido Crepas, the son of Gilberto Crepas, a musician from Venice who had moved to Milan to play at Teatro alla Scala, where he eventually became first cellist under the direction of Arturo Toscanini

The family home in Milan was virtually destroyed during a bombing raid in the Second World War but Guido survived to study architecture at Milan University. He graduated in 1958, by which time he had already begun  working as a graphic artist with some success.

His design work included advertising posters, record sleeves - among them Domenico Modugno's hit Nel blu, dipinto di blu (aka Volare) - and magazine and book covers.

His publicity campaign for Shell Oil won him the Palme d'Or for advertising in 1957. The following year he began a long-running collaboration with Tempo Medico, the first Italian medical journal, for which he designed every cover for 22 years.

Then came his first experience of drawing cartoons, with which he had been involved only two years when Valentina appeared for the first time in Linus magazine, in a series in which the main character was her boyfriend Philip Rembrandt, an art critic in his day job who led a double life as the crime fighter Neutron, helped by having the power to freeze people with a penetrating gaze.

Crepax created a back story for Valentina that in many ways reflected his own.

Guido Crepax designed the sleeve for Domenico  Modugno's hit, Nel blu, dipinto di blu
Guido Crepax designed the sleeve for Domenico
 Modugno's hit, Nel blu, dipinto di blu
He named her Valentina Rosselli after the resistance heroes Nello and Carlo Rosselli, whose courage he admired. He gave her an address in Milan's Via De Amicis, where he lived, and filled her apartment with the books that he and his intellectual circle were inspired and informed by.

She was modelled, in part, on the silent movie actress Louise Brooks, who favoured the archetypal ‘flapper’ look with the short bob, and on Crepax's own wife, Luisa.

Valentina was far from Crepax’s only character. He created several other female heroines, such as Belinda, Bianca and Anita, for whom the inspiration was Anita Ekberg, the star of Federico Fellinis La Dolce Vita.

He also drew cartoons based on works of literature, such as Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the scandalous novels of the Marquis de Sade, the Gothic novels of Edgar Allan Poe and Franz Kafka’s The Trial.

None, however, brought him the acclaim of Valentina, who was published in France, Brazil, Spain, Germany, Japan, the United States, Finland and Greece as well as Italy.

Valentina was twice adapted for the screen: in the 1973 Franco-Italian production Baba Yaga, and as a television series, starring the American actor Demetra Hampton. Both were a disappointment for her author.

A long-time sufferer from multiple sclerosis, Crepax died in Milan in 2003, at the age of 69.

Via Edmondo de Amicis, where Guido Crepax lived
Via Edmondo de Amicis, where Guido Crepax lived
Travel tip:

The Via Edmondo de Amicis, where Crepax lived and where he placed the fictional apartment of his comic book heroine Valentina, is in central Milan, between the Carrobbio and San Vittore neighbourhoods to the southwest of the city centre. A pleasant urban boulevard, it is a short distance from the Basilica of Sant’Ambrogio, one of the most ancient churches in the city, the original structure of which was built in the 4th century. The Baroque church that stands there today was completed in the 11th century.

The Teatro alla Scala, where Crepax's father was a musician, has become of the world's premier opera houses
The Teatro alla Scala, where Crepax's father was a musician,
has become of the world's premier opera houses
Travel tip:

The Teatro alla Scala - usually referred to by its abbreviated name La Scala - was built in the late 18th century as a replacement for the Teatro Regio Ducale, which was destroyed in a fire in 1776.  The project was financed by some 90 wealthy Milanese and built on the site of the church of Santa Maria alla Scala, from which it takes its name. The theatre has come to be regarded as the premier opera venue in Italy and one of the most important venues for opera and ballet in the world, with ambitious young singers and dancers from every corner of the globe clamouring for places at La Scala Theatre Academy.

More reading:

Hugo Pratt - the Rimini-born artist behind the adventurer Corto Maltese

How Franco Bonvicini's characters mocked the Nazis

The cinematic legacy of Fellini

Also on this day:

1823: Ancient Roman basilica badly damaged by fire

1850: The birth of Frances Xavier Cabrini - America's first saint


Saturday, 14 July 2018

Camillus de Lellis - saint

Reformed gambler who became devoted to caring for sick

Camillus de Lellis, depicted in a French church, was a reformed gambler
Camillus de Lellis, depicted in a French
church, was a reformed gambler
Camillo de Lellis, a gambler and streetfighter who reformed his life and eventually set up a religious order to tend the wounds of soldiers on the battlefield, died on this day in 1614 in Rome.

He was made Saint Camillus de Lellis by Pope Benedict XIV in 1746. Nowadays he is recognised as the patron saint of the sick, hospitals, nurses and physicians. Sometimes his assistance is also invoked by individuals with gambling problems.

The Order of Clerks Regular, Ministers of the Infirm (M.I), better known as the Camillians, is seen as the original Red Cross on account of an incident during the Battle of Canizza in 1601, when a tent containing all of the Camillians’ equipment and supplies was destroyed in a fire.

Among the ashes, the red cross from the back of a religious habit belonging to one of the Camillians was found to have survived. It became known as the Red Cross of Camillus.

The Order’s activities eventually extended to caring for the sick generally, particularly during outbreaks of Bubonic plague. They established a presence in hospitals in Naples and Milan and in time the Camillians ran hospitals of their own.

Images of Saint Camillus often show him caring for the sick
Images of Saint Camillus often
show him caring for the sick
It was on an inspection tour of hospitals around Italy that he fell ill and died. He had suffered periods of illness most of his adult life, mainly on account of a leg wound suffered while serving in the Venetian army, which he had joined as a young man.

Born in 1550 in Bucchianico, a small town in Abruzzo, about 30km (19 miles) inland from what is now the coastal resort of Pescara, De Lellis had a difficult upbringing. His father, an officer in both the Neapolitan and French armies, was seldom at home, and his mother found his violent tempers hard to control.

After she died in 1562 he was looked after by relatives but received little affection and his violent nature led him into many street fights. He was tall for his age and at the age of 16 he decided to follow his father’s lead and take up military service.

Fighting for Venice in a war against the Turks provided him with an outlet for his aggression, but not for his parallel fixation, with gambling. On his discharge from the Venetian army at the age of 25 he had nothing, having gambled away his savings, the weapons he owned and virtually every other possession, save for the shirt on his back.

He travelled south to Manfredonia, on the coast of Apulia, 35km (22 miles) north of Foggia, where he was taken on as a labourer at a Capuchin friary. His temper still frequently got the better of him, and he continued to gamble, but the guardian of the friary eventually persuaded him to mend his ways.

The church of St Mary Magdalene in Rome
The church of St Mary Magdalene in Rome
De Lellis hoped to become a friar himself but was denied admission to the order of Capuchin friars because of his leg wound, which was deemed incurable. He decided to move to Rome, where he entered the San Giacomo Hospital, which cared for incurable diseases, at first as a patient, and then as a carer.

Feeling that the care given to the sick in the hospital was generally inadequate, he invited a group of pious men to express their faith by caring for patients at the hospital and determined that he would establish his own religious community in order to follow what he now felt was his calling in life. To do so, he took up seminary studies so that he could seek Holy Orders and was ordained as a priest in 1584.

Thus he was able to establish the Camillians, who were granted the status of Congregation in 1586 and as an Order in 1591, assigned to the church of St Mary Magdalene in Rome, where his remains were entombed after his death. 

His name is today honoured around the world in churches, hospitals, care facilities and charitable groups.

Church of San Camillo de Lellis in Rome
Travel tip:

The church of San Camillo de Lellis is on Via Sallustiana in Rome, a short distance from Via Vittorio Veneto. It was built under Pope Pius X, with construction under the architect Tullio Passarelli beginning in 1906. It was consecrated and made a parochial church in 1910. In 1965, Pope Paul VI elevated the church to the status of minor basilica. 

The hilltop town of Bucchianico in Abruzzo
The hilltop town of Bucchianico in Abruzzo
Travel tip:

Bucchianico, where De Lellis was born, is typical of many charming small towns in the Abruzzo region. Located on top of a hill, it offers offers a beautiful panorama that stretches from the mountain peaks of the Majella to the coast line of the Adriatic Sea. Not well known among tourists, it is a medieval town that represents an ideal retreat from the chaos and traffic associated with bigger, bustling urban centers of the area. It is well known for the annual celebrations of the Festa dei Banderesi, a historical commemoration of the victory against the Invasion of Teate, a nearby city today known as Chieti.

More reading:

Alberto Marvelli - the Good Samaritan of wartime Rimini

Why Padre Pio is one of the most popular saints in history

The nurse who was made a saint after being stabbed to death by a patient

Also in this day:

1902: The dramatic collapse of St Mark's Campanile

1948: The leader of Italy's Communists shot and wounded in Rome


Friday, 13 July 2018

Tommaso Buscetta - Mafia ‘pentito’

Sicilian gangster’s testimony put hundreds behind bars

Buscetta's testimony led to hundreds of Mafia-related arrests
Buscetta's testimony led to hundreds
of Mafia-related arrests
The Sicilian mobster Tommaso Buscetta, who was the first major Mafia figure to break the code of omertá and pass details of organised criminal activity to the authorities, was born on this day in 1928 in Palermo.

His evidence to the celebrated anti-Mafia judge Giovanni Falcone paved the way for the so-called Maxi Trial, a process lasting six years that led to the conviction and jailing of 350 mafiosi.

Buscetta’s testimony in the Pizza Connection Trial in New York State at around the same time in the mid-1980s led to the conviction of several hundred more mobsters both in Italy and the United States, including the powerful Sicilian Mafia boss Gaetano Badalamenti.

Arguably the most shocking information he passed on to the authorities concerned Italy’s three-times former prime minister, the late Giulio Andreotti, whose links with the Cosa Nostra he exposed shortly after Falcone was murdered in May 1992, killed by a massive bomb placed under the motorway linking Palermo with the city’s international airport.

Buscetta arriving at the court in Palermo during the Maxi Trial
Buscetta arriving at the court in
Palermo during the Maxi Trial
Andreotti was found guilty of complicity in the Mafia assassination of a journalist and sentenced to 24 years in jail, although he never went to prison and was acquitted after a number of appeals. His links with the Mafia were considered proven, although by the time that verdict was reached too much time had elapsed under Italian law and the judgment was cancelled.

The route to Buscetta becoming the Mafia’s first ‘pentito’ began in Palermo, where he was the youngest of 17 children fathered by a poorly-paid worker in a glass factory.

He followed the usual route out of poverty by becoming involved with crime. He was only 17 when he joined the mob in 1945. In the years that followed he became a fully-fledged member of the Porta Nuova Family, mainly working in cigarette smuggling.

Buscetta was part of the  Mafia from a young age
Buscetta was part of the
Mafia from a young age
In 1963 Buscetta fled to the United States, shortly after the Ciaculli Massacre, which was part of an internal Mafia conflict known as the First Mafia War. His connections enabled him to join the Gambino crime family in New York, who gave him a front of legitimacy in a pizza business. In 1968, he was convicted in his absence of double murder by an Italian court.

Two years later he was arrested by police in New York who were aware of his conviction but released after Italian authorities failed to request his extradition.  After his later arrest in Brazil, however, he was returned to Italy and began his life sentence.

Eight years later, on day release from prison, he escaped and went back to Brazil, desperate to escape the so-called Second Mafia War, fearing for his life after several of his allies and family members had been eliminated by the ruthless boss, Toto Riina, including his close associate and friend, Stefano Bontade. It was Riina who arranged the murder of Falcone, as well as that of his fellow magistrate, Paolo Borsellino.

When Buscetta was arrested and sent back to Italy again he was so fearful of Riina that he attempted to kill himself in prison before deciding he would seek revenge on Riina by other means. He asked to talk to Falcone, and began his life as an informant - a ‘pentito’.

The judge Giovanni Falcone, to whom Buscetta disclosed his secrets
The judge Giovanni Falcone, to whom
Buscetta disclosed his secrets
The irony was that Buscetta was never more than a footsoldier in the Mafia hierarchy, yet always seemed to have a glamorous girlfriend and dressed as if he was wealthy. He became well connected both in Sicily and the United States.

He was therefore able to provide information about the structure, the recruitment techniques and the functions of the Cosa Nostra, providing the authorities with an understanding of the Mafia phenomenon about which they could previously only speculate.

He was the first to reveal the existence and the inner workings of the Cupola - the Mafia commission that governed the organisation and ordered the elimination of its erring members.

Buscetta’s reward was to be given special police protection, a generous income and a new identity in the United States, where he died in 2000 at the age of 71.

There are now several hundred Mafia turncoats helping Italian justice to fight organised crime.

Palermo's imposing monumental arch at Porta Nuova
Palermo's imposing monumental
arch at Porta Nuova
Travel tip:

One might imagine that an area that lends its name to a Mafia family to be poor and down at heel but the Porta Nuova is anything but. A giant monumental arch built in the 15th century and rebuilt in the 16th century, it opens into what was the Cassaro, the city’s most ancient street, which runs from the Norman Palace next to the Villa Bonanno park in a straight course right down to the harbour. The street has been renamed Via Vittorio Emanuele but many local people still refer to it as Cassaro.

The magnificent Teatro Massimo is seen as a symbol of Palermo's rebellion against the grip of the Mafia
The magnificent Teatro Massimo is seen as a symbol of
Palermo's rebellion against the grip of the Mafia
Travel tip:

Palermo’s Renaissance-style Teatro Massimo, opened in 1897, has become a symbol of the city’s fight back against the grip of the Mafia. The largest opera house in Italy and the third biggest in Europe after the Opéra National de Paris and the K. K. Hof-Opernhaus in Vienna, originally designed with an auditorium for 3,000 people, it was closed for supposedly minor refurbishments in 1974. But at a time when local government was at its most corrupt and when the Mafia controlled almost everything in the city there was little money in the public purse and the theatre, which once attracted all the great stars from the opera world, would remain dark for 23 years. However, after the Falcone murder, the city turned against the mob as never before and the reopening in 1997, with a concert by the Berlin Philharmonic conducted by the esteemed maestro Claudio Abbado, was seen as a motif for Palermo’s rebirth. 

More reading:

The anti-Mafia crusade of Giovanni Falcone

Stefano Bontade - Mafia boss with close ties to ex-PM Giulio Andreotti

How Carlo Gambino became one of the world's most powerful crime bosses

Also on this day:

1478: The birth of Giulio d'Este di Ferrara, nobleman who spent half his life in jail

1814: The founding of the Carabinieri military police force


Thursday, 12 July 2018

Agostino Codazzi - soldier and map-maker

Italian who mapped first route for Panama Canal

Agostino Codazzi became a national hero in Venezuela after fighting for Napoleon
Agostino Codazzi became a national hero
in Venezuela after fighting for Napoleon
Agostino Codazzi, a soldier, scientist, geographer and cartographer who became a national hero in Venezuela and plotted the route for the Panama Canal on behalf of the British government, was born on this day in 1793 in the town of Lugo in Emilia-Romagna.

When the canal was eventually built by United States engineers, they followed the precise route that Codazzi had recommended, although the Italian has not been credited in the history of the project.

Known in Latin America as Agustín Codazzi, he was born Giovanni Battista Agostino Codazzi.

As a young man, he was excited about the French Revolution and the idea of the ruling classes being overthrown by the people in pursuit of a more equitable society.  After attending the Scuola di Artiglieria military academy in Pavia, he joined Napoleon’s army and served with them until the Napoleonic empire collapsed in 1815.

It was then that he decided to travel further afield, finally settling in Venezuela, where he offered his military knowledge to another revolutionary, Simón Bolívar - known as El Libertador - who played a leading role in the establishment of Venezuela, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Panama as sovereign states, independent of Spanish rule.

Codazzi produced extensive and detailed maps of Venezuela
Codazzi produced extensive and detailed maps of Venezuela
Apart from military duties, in which he was elevated to the rank of colonel, he gave Venezuela the benefit of his expertise in geography and cartography, mapping the the borders between Venezuela, Colombia and Ecuador.

His creation of an Atlas of Venezuela led to him being awarded the Legion of Honor by the King of France in 1842, on behalf of the French Academy of Science.

Venezuela, on whose behalf he quelled many revolts during the establishment of the republic, honoured him with citizenship, and the president, José Antonio Páez, made him Governor of Barinas, a region of southwestern Venezuela.

The monument to Codazzi in Colonia Tovar
The monument to Codazzi
in Colonia Tovar
When a military insurrection led to the fall of Páez, Codazzi fled to Colombia, where he continued his geographic and mapping activity and took on military duties for the Colombian government.  In was in 1852, commissioned by the British government, that he studied the geography of Panama and outlined the route he felt would be most suitable for a canal through the territory.

Codazzi died of malaria in February 1859 in the small town of Espíritu Santo in the Colombian mountains, which was subsequently renamed Aldea Codazzi.

Venezuela honored the memory of Agustín Codazzi by placing his remains inside the National Pantheon of Venezuela in 1942, which is reserved for those considered national heroes.

He is also honoured with a monument in Colonia Tovar, a small German settlement in the Venezuelan central mountains that he helped establish and which still exists today.

The Este Castle in Lugo di Romagna
The Este Castle in Lugo di Romagna
Travel tip:

Lugo di Romagna is a town of 32,000 people about 30km (19 miles) west of Ravenna and 18km (8 miles) north of Faenza in Emilia-Romagna. It was overrun by Napoleonic forces while Codazzi was a child. Its most famous monument, the Rocca Estense (Este Castle), was partially rebuilt during the French occupation. The interior houses portraits of famous lughesi and a lunette attributed to Mino da Fiesole. Also of note is the 19th century covered market hall known as Il Paviglione and the restored 18th century Teatro Rossini. Apart from Codazzi, famous lughesi include the First World War fighter pilot Francesco Baracca.

The Duomo and Baptistery in Parma, one of several great medieval cities in Emilia-Romagna
The Duomo and Baptistery in Parma, one of several great
medieval cities in Emilia-Romagna
Travel tip:

The Emilia-Romagna region in northern Italy, which borders Apennine mountains to the south and the Po river in the north, has something for everyone, from its wealth of medieval cities, such as Parma, Modena, Reggio Emilia, Ferrara and Ravenna, to lively seaside resorts such as Rimini, Riccione and Cattolica. The capital, Bologna, is a vibrant city with an 11th-century university, and arched porticoes lining the streets and squares of its medieval centre. The area is famed for its gastronomy, producing many of Italy’s most famous foods, such as grana parmigiano cheese, balsamic vinegar and prosciutto di parma.

More reading:

The first comprehensive map of Italy

When Napoleon became King of Italy

The story of Lugo's famed flying ace Francesco Baracca

Also on this day:

1664: The death of Stefano della Bella, sketch-maker to the Medici

1884: The birth of tragic artist Amadeo Modigliani


Wednesday, 11 July 2018

Giuseppe Arcimboldo – painter

Portraits were considered unique in the history of art

Giuseppe Arcimboldo's portrait, in fruit and  vegetables, of Holy Roman Emperor Rudolph II
Giuseppe Arcimboldo's portrait, in fruit and
vegetables, of Holy Roman Emperor Rudolph II
The artist Giuseppe Arcimboldo, who created imaginative portrait heads made up entirely of objects such as fruit, vegetables, flowers and fish, died on this day in 1593 in Milan.

Unique at the time, Arcimboldo’s work was greatly admired in the 20th century by artists such as Salvador Dali and his fellow Surrealist painters.

Giuseppe’s father, Biagio Arcimboldo, was also an artist and Giuseppe followed in his footsteps designing stained glass and frescoes for churches.

Arcimboldo (sometimes also known as Arcimboldi) at first painted entirely in the style of the time. His beautiful fresco of the Tree of Jesse can still be seen in the Duomo of Monza.

But in 1562 he abruptly changed his style after moving to Prague to become court painter to the erudite King Rudolph II.

Giuseppe Arcimboldo's self-portrait, now
in the National Gallery in Prague
He began to create human heads, which could be considered as portraits, made up of pieces of fruit and vegetable and other objects, which were chosen for the meaning attributed to the image.

Arcimboldo also painted settings for the court theatre in Prague and he became an expert in illusionist trickery. His paintings contained allegorical meanings, puns and jokes that were appreciated by his contemporaries, but were lost upon later audiences.

His eccentric vision is epitomised in his portraits of Summer and Winter in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna.

In his painting of The Librarian, painted in about 1566, he was criticising wealthy people who collected books just to own them rather than to read them.

By using everyday objects such as the curtains that created individual study rooms in a library and the animal tails that were used as dusters, it was both a portrait and a still life painting at the same time. It is now in a museum in Stockholm.

Given the Renaissance fascination with puzzles, riddles and the bizarre, it is thought Arcimboldo was catering to the tastes of his time.

Arcimboldo's 1566 painting, The Librarian
Arcimboldo's 1566 painting, The Librarian
His portrait of Rudolph II was taken from the King’s castle in Prague by an invading Swedish army in 1648 and, along with other pieces of Arcimboldo’s work, is now in Sweden. Some of his work has since been completely lost, but Arcimboldo’s remaining paintings in Italy can be found in galleries in Cremona, Brescia and Florence.

The artist came back to live in Milan after retiring from working at the royal court and leaving Prague. He died in his home city in 1593.

It was not until 1885 that an art critic published a monograph on Arcimboldo’s role as a portrait painter.

With the arrival of surrealism in the 20th century, many articles and books were published referring to his work.

Arcimboldo-style fruit people have appeared in books, films and video games subsequently. There is a series of audiobooks with a portrait of William Shakespeare made out of books, similar to Arcimboldo’s Librarian, being used as the logo for the front cover.

Arcimboldo designed stained glass windows for the Milan Duomo
Travel tip:

Milan, where Giuseppe Arcimboldo was born and died, is the capital city of Lombardy. Arcimboldo worked on the Duomo with his father when he was a young man, designing pictures for the stained glass windows, including the one depicting Santa Caterina d’Alessandria. Construction of the Duomo, in Piazza Duomo in the centre of Milan, began in 1386, but the building took almost six centuries to complete. It is the largest church in Italy and the third largest church in the world.

The Pinacoteca Tosio Martinengo in Brescia
The Pinacoteca Tosio Martinengo in Brescia
Travel tip:

Giuseppe Arcimboldo’s painting of Spring, painted in 1580, can be seen in the collection of the Pinacoteca Tosio Martinengo in Brescia in Lombardy. The gallery in Piazza Moretto in the centre of the town has paintings by many other artists from the region, dating from the 13th to the 18th centuries.

More reading:

Giorgio de Chirico, Surrealist artist who founded the scuola metafisica

Simonetta Vespucci, the Renaissance beauty every artist wanted to paint

The Futurist art of Luigi Russolo

Also on this day:

1934: The death of fashion designer Giorgio Armani

1576: The death by strangulation of Medici wife Eleonora di Garzia di Toledo