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.

23 January 2019

Salvatore Lima - politician

Christian Democrat MEP murdered by Mafia



Salvatore 'Salvo' Lima was the most  powerful Christian Democrat in Sicily
Salvatore 'Salvo' Lima was the most
powerful Christian Democrat in Sicily
Salvatore Lima, a politician strongly suspected of being the Sicilian Mafia’s ‘man in Rome’ until he was shot dead near his seaside villa in 1992, was born on this day in 1928 in Palermo.

The Christian Democrat MEP, usually known as Salvo, had long been suspected of corruption, from his days as Mayor of Palermo in the 1950s and 60s to his time as a member of the Chamber of Deputies, between 1968 and 1979, when he formed a close association with Giulio Andreotti, the three-times Italian prime minister whose rise to power was helped considerably by the support Lima was able to garner for him in Sicily.

Lima's links with the Mafia were established by a magistrates’ enquiry into his death when it was concluded that he was killed on the orders of the then all-powerful Mafia boss Salvatore ‘Toto’ Riina as an act of revenge following Lima’s failure through his connections in Rome to have sentences against 342 mafiosi accused in the so-called 'maxi-trial' of 1986-87 annulled or at least reduced.

He had allegedly promised his Cosa Nostra paymasters that he would see to it that a Supreme Court judge with a reputation for overturning sentences against suspected Mafia members was appointed prosecutor, but the position was handed instead to another judge.

Giulio Andreotti formed a close
alliance 
Riina ordered his murder, carried out by a gunman on a motorcycle outside Lima’s villa in Mondello, the seaside resort just outside Palermo, shortly after the verdicts were confirmed in 1992.  Later in the same year, Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, the two most prominent magistrates in the investigations that led to the maxi-trial, were also killed on Riina’s orders.

Much of the information about Lima’s involvement with the Mafia was provided by pentiti - supergrasses - such as Tommaso Buscetta and Leonardo Messina, former mafiosi who turned state’s evidence after finding themselves disenfranchised by the ruthless purge of rival clans carried out by Riina’s Corleonesi family in the Second Mafia War of the early 1980s.

Buscetta and Messina both confirmed that Lima’s father, Vincenzo, had been a member of the Mafia.

Despite this, Salvo Lima was elected Mayor of Palermo in 1958 and again in 1965, occupying the office for a total of eight years. It was revealed later that during the construction boom in Palermo in the 50s and 60s, Lima and his fellow Christian Democrat Vito Ciancimino, who was the city’s assessor for public works, awarded hundreds of lucrative contracts to Francesco Vassallo, a builder with powerful Mafia connections.

One of them, a mafioso called Angelo La Barbera, had supported Lima’s campaign for election.

Lima's body lay covered by a sheet as  police looked for clues to his killing
Lima's body lay covered by a sheet as
police looked for clues to his killing
It was also established that two Christian Democrat-supporting businessmen, Nino and Ignazio Salvo, to whom he awarded unusually generous terms to collect taxes on the island, were both cousins and Mafia members.  In return, they pledged their loyalty to Lima and Andreotti.

Lima’s election to the Chamber of Deputies in 1968 as a representative for Palermo came as a surprise, given that he was up against established politicians. It was of great benefit to Andreotti, who had much support in and around Rome but no national electoral base, that Lima was able through his influential contacts not only to place Andreotti-supporting candidates in the Sicily constituencies but also guarantee they would be elected, which gave Andreotti a much stronger powerbase in the Italian parliament than he had enjoyed previously.

When Andreotti became prime minister for the first time in 1972, it was not long before Lima had a position in government as Under-Secretary of the Budget.

He became the Member of the European Parliament for the Italian Islands in 1979 but the veneer of respectability that he took to the grave after he was murdered was seriously damaged in November 1992 when Buscetta testified before the Antimafia Commission about links between the Cosa Nostra, Lima and Andreotti.

Buscetta described Lima as “the politician to whom Cosa Nostra turned most often to resolve problems for the organisation whose solution lay in Rome."

Other witnesses, including another pentito, Gaspare Mutolo, confirmed that Lima had been ordered to "fix" the appeal of the maxi trial with Italy's Supreme Court of Cassation and had been killed because he was unable to do so.

According to Mutolo: "Lima was killed because he was the greatest symbol of that part of the political world which, after doing favours for Cosa Nostra in exchange for its votes, was no longer able to protect the interests of the organisation at the time of its most important trial."

Mondello's beautiful sandy beach is largely free to use and attracts crowds of bathers in high season
Mondello's beautiful sandy beach is largely free to use and
attracts crowds of bathers in high season.
Travel tip:

Mondello, where Lima lived and was murdered, is a former fishing village about 10km (6 miles) north of Palermo that has become a popular beach resort. It has a sweeping bay enclosing turquoise water and a beach of fine sand in front of a promenade lined with beautiful villas, many built in Liberty style at the start of the 20th century as summer retreats for the wealthier residents of the city. The beach, which tends to be crowded during the summer with many stretches free of charge, also has many pastel-coloured changing cabins. The nature reserve of Capo Gallo, with its white rocks and clear water, is within walking distance of Mondello.

Palermo's magnificent cathedral has a classic Sicilian mix of  architectural influences from Europe and the Arab world
Palermo's magnificent cathedral has a classic Sicilian mix of
architectural influences from Europe and the Arab world.
Travel tip:

Although Palermo is widely seen by the rest of the world as a Mafia stronghold, visitors to the city would normally encounter nothing to suggest that the criminal underworld exerts any influence on daily life.  The Sicilian capital, on the northern coast of the island, is a vibrant city with a wealth of beautiful architecture bearing testament to a history of northern European and Arabian influences.  Typical is Palermo's majestic Cathedral of the Assumption of Virgin Mary, which includes Norman, Moorish, Gothic, Baroque and Neoclassical elements.

More reading:

Giulio Andreotti - Italy's great political survivor

The supergrass who put hundreds behind bars

Giovanni Falcone's crusade against the Mafia

Also on this day:

1752: The birth of 'father of the piano' Muzio Clementi

1881: The birth of socialite and muse Lusia Casati

1980: The death of car designer Giovanni Michelotti


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22 January 2019

Antonio Todde - supercentenarian

Sardinian shepherd holds record as oldest Italian in history


Antonio Todde attributed his longevity to long walks and a daily glass of local red wine
Antonio Todde attributed his longevity to long walks
and a daily glass of local red wine
Antonio Todde, who was the oldest living man in the world before he died at the age of 112 years 346 days in 2002 and remains the oldest Italian man in history, was born on this day in 1889 in Tiana, a mountain village in Sardinia.

There are 19 other Italians who have attained a higher age, but all are women. Maria Giuseppa Robucci, from Apulia, is still living at the age of 115 years 307 days but would need to survive a further year and 195 days to match Emma Morano, from Piedmont, who died in 2017 aged 117 years 137 days as the oldest Italian of all time.

Todde was the world’s most senior male centenarian from the death of the American John Painter on March 1, 2001 until his own death 10 months later.

He was born to a poor shepherd family in Tiana, about 140km (87 miles) north of Cagliari in the Gennargentu mountains, about 55km (34 miles) southwest of the provincial capital, Nuoro.

The area historically has a high number of centenarians and there was longevity in Todde’s family. His father Francesco lived to be 90 years old, and his mother Francesca 98. His sister Maria Agostina - one of 11 siblings - was still alive at the age of 97 at the time of his death and herself lived to be 102.

Emma Morano, pictured at 21, lived to be 117, as the oldest Italian in history
Emma Morano, pictured at 21, lived to be 117,
as the oldest Italian in history
Born the same year as the Eiffel Tower was completed, Todde believed that the secret of his long live was a daily glass of locally-produced red wine, made by his grandson on the same rocky hills on which, as a shepherd, he spent almost all his life.

He had a simple diet based on pasta, vegetable soup, red meat and cheese, took regular long walks and relaxed by playing cards with his friends.

He rarely suffered ill health and passed away in his sleep, just a few hours after complaining that he had no appetite.

Todde left Sardinia only to fight in the First World War, in which he suffered an injured shoulder as a result of a grenade explosion.

In 1920, he married Maria Antonia, then aged 25, and they had four daughters and a son. She died in 1990, aged 95.

Todde's life and those of his fellow islanders was the focus of a scientific project, called Akea, into ageing and longevity, which was prompted by the high number of Sardinia's 1.6 million population who become centenarians.

Some 135 people per million on the island live to see their 100th birthday, compared with the western average of 75.

Akea is an acronym for "A Kent'Annos" - a Sardinian traditional greeting which means "a hundred years". It grew from studies carried out since 1997 by the team of Professor Luca Deiana, head of the biochemistry clinic, University of Sassari. The study took into account genetic, dietary and lifestyle factors.

Antonio Todde worked as a shepherd in the rugged Gennargentu mountains of central Sardinia
Antonio Todde worked as a shepherd in the rugged
Gennargentu mountains of central Sardinia
Travel tip:

The village of Tiana is located on the western slopes of the Gennargentu massif, almost at the geographical centre of Sardinia, surrounded by mountains climbing to more than 1,000m (3,280ft). The village traditionally produced a woolen fabric called orbace, obtained from spinning wool and used to make winter clothes. Narrow streets, houses huddled together and passages covered by arches characterize the historical centre of the village.  A museum of industrial archaeology in the locality of Gusagu includes Sa Cracchera de tziu Bellu, the last active fulling-mill on the island, and one of only a few in Europe. Fulling is a process aimed at eliminating oil, dirt and other impurities from wool and making it thicker.

Nuoro is a city of narrow streets and traditional stone houses
Nuoro is a city of narrow streets and
traditional stone houses
Travel tip:

Nuoro is a city in eastern central Sardinia of about 36,000 people, the sixth largest on the island, characterised by cobbled streets lined with traditional stone houses.  Situated on the slopes of Monte Ortobene, it is the birthplace of several renowned writers, poets, painters, and sculptors, including Grazia Deledda, the only Italian woman to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, whose birthplace is one of the city’s many museums. As a cultural centre, Nuoro is sometimes called the Athens of Sardinia.

More reading:

Maria Radaelli - the Inter fan who for 10 months was the oldest living person in Europe

Lazzaro Ponticelli, the First World War veteran who became world's oldest living Italian

Francesco Chiarello: fought in two world wars, lived to be 109

Also on this day:

1506: The founding of the Papal Swiss Guard

1893: The birth of gang boss Francesco Ioele, also known as Frankie Yale

2005: The death of First World War veteran Carlo Orelli, aged 110


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21 January 2019

Antonio Janigro - conductor and cellist

Musician who found ‘accidental’ fame in Yugoslavia


Antonio Janigro spent much of his career in Yugoslavia after being trapped there on holiday
Antonio Janigro spent much of his career in
Yugoslavia after being trapped there on holiday
The conductor and cellist Antonio Janigro, who spent more than two decades as an orchestra leader in Zagreb, Yugoslavia, was born on this day in 1918 in Milan.

An accomplished cello soloist in Italy, his adventure in Yugoslavia happened by accident, in a way.  He was on holiday there in 1939 when the Second World War began, leaving him stranded with no prospect of returning home.

Happily, Zagreb Conservatory offered Janigro a job as professor of cello and chamber music. This turned out to be a providential turn of fate and he was to remain in Yugoslavia for much of his life.

He founded the school of modern cello playing in Yugoslavia, formed the exemplary chamber orchestra I Solisti di Zagreb with Dragutin Hrdjok in 1954 and for 10 years led the Radio Zagreb symphony orchestra.

Raised in a house on the Via Guido d’Arezzo in Milan, Janigro was born in a musical family, although his father’s dream of becoming a concert pianist had to be abandoned, sadly, when he lost his arm after being shot in the First World War. 

Janigro himself studied piano from the age of six, and then began playing the cello in 1926, when he was eight years old. In less than a year he had progressed enough to be admitted to the Milan Conservatory.

Janigro was admitted to the Milan Conservatory at the age of nine
Janigro was admitted to the Milan
Conservatory at the age of nine
At the age of 11, through the efforts of his mother Nicola, he found the opportunity to play for Pablo Casals, the world renowned  Spanish cellist, who gave him a recommendation to study at the École Normale in Paris, describing him as “a brilliant instrumentalist with a fine sense of style.”

Janigro moved to Paris in 1934, when he was 16, coming into contact there with other great cellists and musicians, including the violinist Jacques Thibaud, the composers Paul Dukas and Igor Stravinsky and the conductor Nadia Boulanger. The pianist Dinu Lipatti and the violinst Genette Neveu were fellow students.

He began a solo career immediately after graduating, playing in recitals with Lipatti and Paul Badura-Skoda, another gifted pianist. He often travelled between Milan and Paris on the railway, seeking out empty compartments in which to practice his cello.

Janigro’s relocation to Yugoslavia may have been an accident, but he would remain there continuously until 1968. At the same time, he maintained his solo career, travelling as far away as South America and the Far East. In 1959, he was Hungarian conductor Fritz Reiner's soloist in a renowned Chicago Symphony Orchestra recording of Richard Strauss's Don Quixote.

He returned to Milan after the break-up of I Solisti di Zagreb but then devoted himself increasingly to teaching, with positions at the Düsseldorf Conservatory, the Salzburg Mozarteum, and the Stuttgart Conservatory attracting students from all over the globe.

Among his many students who would themselves excel were the Swiss cellist Thomas Demenga, the Brazilian Antonio Meneses and the Italian Mario Brunello, the latter two bringing him prestige by winning the International Tchaikovsky Competition.

He died in 1989, having spent his final years in Zagreb.

The Parco Guido Vergani is a park established on former industrial land in the heart of Milan
The Parco Guido Vergani is a park established on former
industrial land in the heart of Milan
Travel tip:

Janigro’s childhood home in Via Guido d’Arezzo in Milan is close to Parco Guido Vergani,  also known as Parco Pallavicino, an area of reclaimed land that used to be occupied until the mid-1930s by railway sidings and the small Sempione Airport. The park, inaugurated in the sixties, covers an area of ​​approximately 88,000 square metres. The park is rich in tree varieties, a fountain and areas for games and dog walking. Like most of the green areas in Milan, it was named after famous personalities - in this case, the Milanese journalist and writer Guido Vergani.

Janigro was a precociously talented child musician who was admitted to Milan Conservatory (above) at nine years old
Janigro was a precociously talented child musician who was
admitted to Milan Conservatory (above) at nine years old
Travel tip:

The Milan Conservatory - also known as Conservatorio di musica “Giuseppe Verdi” di Milano - was established by a royal decree of 1807 in Milan, capital of the Napoleonic Kingdom of Italy. It opened the following year with premises in the cloisters of the Baroque church of Santa Maria della Passione in Via Conservatorio. The largest institute of musical education in Italy, its alumni include Giacomo Puccini, Amilcare Ponchielli, Arrigo Boito, Pietro Mascagni, Riccardo Muti and Ludovico Einaudi.

More reading:

How Luigi Boccherini popularised cello music in the 18th century

The double bass virtuoso Giovanni Bottesini

Alfredo Casella - composer from a family of cellists

Also on this day:

1916: The birth of World Cup-winning footballer Pietro Rava

1926: The birth of Nobel Prize-winning neuroscientist Camillo Golgi

1949: The birth of chef Gennaro Contaldo


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20 January 2019

Rafael Bombelli – mathematician

First person to explain algebra in simple language



The front cover of the 1579 edition of Bombelli's text, published in Bologna
The front cover of the 1579 edition of
Bombelli's text, published in Bologna
Rafael Bombelli, the mathematician regarded as the inventor of complex numbers, was baptised and was also probably born on this day in 1526 near Bologna.

He wrote a book about algebra in simple language that could be understood by everyone, giving a comprehensive account of what was known about the subject at the time. The first three volumes, published in 1572, were the first European texts to explain how to perform computations with negative numbers.

Rafael Bombelli was the eldest son of Antonio Mazzoli, a wool merchant, who had changed his name to Bombelli to disassociate himself from the reputation of his family. His grandfather had taken part in a failed attempt to seize Bologna on behalf of the Bentivoglio family but had been caught and executed. Antonio Mazzoli was able to return to Bologna only after changing his name to Bombelli.

It is thought that Rafael Bombelli did not attend university but was taught by an engineer-architect named Pier Francesco Clementi.

He followed Clementi into the profession and acquired a patron, Alessandro Rufini. His patron was given the right to reclaim marsh land in the Val di Chiana by the Pope and Bombelli worked on this project until 1555 when there was an interruption to the reclamation work.

Bombelli wrote his algebra book while staying in his patron's villa in Frascati, outside Rome
Bombelli wrote his algebra book while staying in
his patron's villa in Frascati, outside Rome
While he was waiting for the project to start again he decided to write an algebra book, while living in the comfortable surroundings of his patron’s villa just outside Rome in Frascati.

He felt that the reason for arguments between mathematicians was the lack of a careful exposition of the subject. The only books about algebra were not accessible to people without a thorough grasp of mathematics and he deliberately used simple language to make the book available to people who had not received higher education.

He died in Rome in 1572, soon after the first three volumes of the book were published. The unfinished manuscript of the other two volumes was discovered in a library in Bologna in 1923 and published in 1929.

Despite the delay in publication, Bombelli’s Algebra was a very influential work and was praised by later mathematicians because his analysis of the subject showed him to be far ahead of his time.

A crater on the moon has been named the Bombelli crater in honour of him.

The church of Santa Maria Assunta in Borgo Panigale
Travel tip:

Bombelli’s family lived in Borgo Panigale, a small town to the north of Bologna, which was annexed to the city by the Fascist government in 1937. It is now home to Bologna’s Guglielmo Marconi airport and the motorbike manufacturer Ducati. The Bologna artist Elisabetta Sirani painted an altarpiece for the parish church of Borgo Panigale. It is thought the name stems in part from the land around the site of the town, which was formerly used for the cultivation of the foxtail millet cereal called panìco in Italian.

The facade of the Villa Falconieri in Frascati, where Bombelli stayed
The facade of the Villa Falconieri in
Frascati, where Bombelli stayed
Travel tip:

The Villa Falconieri in Frascati, to the south of Rome, was originally called Villa Rufina, having been built for Alessandro Rufini in 1546. It was while staying in this villa that Bombelli wrote his famous work on Algebra, which he dedicated to his patron, Rufini. The villa, which was renovated by the leading Roman Baroque architect Francesco Borromini after it was sold in 1628, houses many beautiful frescoes and is surrounded by splendid Italian gardens with a small lake bordered by cypresses. Now the headquarters of the Vivarium Novum Latin and Humanities Academy, it is open to the public from 10am to 1pm each Sunday.

More reading:

The mathematician who turned down Peter the Great of Russia

The maths professor who won the equivalent of a Nobel Prize at just 34

The mathematician and scientist who discovered the secret of embalming

Also on this day:

1920: The birth of filmmaker Federico Fellini

1950: The birth of former Vogue editor Franca Sozzani

1987: The birth of motorcycle racer Marco Simoncelli


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19 January 2019

Giuseppe Bonomi - architect

Roman who became famous for English country houses


Joseph Bonomi the Elder: a painting by John
Francis Rigaud (Royal Academy of Arts, London) 
The architect Giuseppe Bonomi, who became better known by his Anglicised name Joseph Bonomi after spending much of his working life in England, was born on this day in 1739 in Rome.

Records nowadays refer to him as Joseph Bonomi the Elder, to distinguish him from his son of the same name, who became a sculptor, artist and Egyptologist of some standing and tends to be described as Joseph Bonomi the Younger.

Joseph Bonomi the Elder is known primarily for designing a number of English country houses in the last two decades of the 18th century and the early years of the 19th.

Among these are Lambton Castle in County Durham, Barrells Hall in Warwickshire, Longford Hall in Shropshire and Laverstoke House in Hampshire.

He also designed the saloon the in grand house of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu in Portman Square in London, sadly destroyed during the Blitz in the Second World War.

A painting of Lambton Castle in County Durham, one of  several country houses in England designed by Bonomi
A painting of Lambton Castle in County Durham, one of
several country houses in England designed by Bonomi
Bonomi’s father hailed from the Veneto and was an agent to members of the Roman aristocracy. Giuseppe was educated at the Collegio Romano, the Jesuit school in Rome that taught pupils from elementary school to university age.

Giuseppe was said by his son Ignatius to have been a pupil of the architect Antonio Asprucci, although other sources suggest his pupillage was with the nobleman and amateur architect, Girolamo Teodoli (or Theodoli), famed as the designer of the Teatro Argentina and the belltower of the church of Santa Maria dei Miracoli, both in Rome.

Bonomi worked in Rome initially and acquired a good enough reputation that a meeting in Rome in with Robert and James Adam, the Scottish architects and furniture designers who developed the Adam Style, led to an invitation to work for the brothers in London, who employed him as a draughtsman from 1768.

He continued in their London office until 1781 but became frustrated at not receiving any large commissions of his own.

Barrells House in Warwickshire featured the deep portico that became one of Bonomi's trademarks
Barrells House in Warwickshire featured the deep portico
that became one of Bonomi's trademarks
In the meantime, he had become a close friend of the Swiss painter Angelica Kauffman and married her cousin, Rosa Florini. In 1783 Kauffman persuaded Bonomi to move back to Rome, where he returned with his wife and children. He became a member of the Clementine Academy in Bologna and the Academy of St Luke in Rome, which pointed to the move being permanent.

However, the following year he returned to London, probably to work on the design of Dale Park, a country house at Madehurst in Sussex. He was to remain in London for the rest of his life.

An innovative designer whose style has been described as modernised Roman, he added touches that became associated with his designs, such as porticoes that were deep enough to provide a shelter for carriages.

He became a favourite of the English nobility, his clients including John Lamboton, Earl of Durham, for whom he built the now Grade II listed Lambton Castle, near Chester-le-Street, and Heneage Finch, the Earl of Aylesford for whom he built the gallery at Packington Hall in Warwickshire. Bonomi also built St James’s Church, within the estate.

His fame was such that he was mentioned in Jane Austen's novel Sense and Sensibility.

In 1804, Bonomi was appointed architect of St. Peter's at Rome, although this was apparently an honorary position only. He died in London in March 1808, aged 69, and was buried in the Marylebone Cemetery.  Another of his sons, Ignatius, followed in his father’s footsteps by becoming an important architect in England, where he was active in particular in the northeast.

The Teatro Argentina in Rome was built over the site of the curia of the Theatre of Pompey, where Julius Caesar was killed
The Teatro Argentina in Rome was built over the site of the
curia of the Theatre of Pompey, where Julius Caesar was killed
Travel tip:

The Teatro Argentina, now an opera house and theatre located in Largo di Torre Argentina, is one of the oldest theatres in Rome, constructed in 1731. Commissioned by the Sforza-Cesarini family and designed by the architect Gerolamo Theodoli, it is built over part of the curia section of the Theatre of Pompey, the location of the assassination of Julius Caesar. Duke Francesco Sforza-Cesarini, who ran the Teatro Argentina Theatre from 1807 to 1815, was a theatre fanatic who reportedly ran up huge debts in pursuit of his passion. Rossini’s The Barber of Seville was given its premiere there in February 1816, just after Duke Francesco's death.

Piazza del Collegio Romano in the Pigna district of Rome, with the college building on the left
Piazza del Collegio Romano in the Pigna district of Rome,
with the college building on the left
Travel tip:

The Collegio Romano was a school established by St. Ignatius of Loyola in 1551, just 17 years after he founded the Society of Jesus. It has occupied several locations, regularly moving to accommodate an increasing number of students, the final one being in the historic Pigna district of the city, on what is today called Piazza del Collegio Romano. Renamed the Gregorian University in 1584 after its benefactor, Pope Gregory XIII, it remained at that location until 1870, when the fall of Rome completed Italian unification. The Gregorian University moved to another location after the building was taken over by the Italian government. Today, its eastern wing houses the headquarters of the Ministry of Heritage and Culture.

More reading:

Luigi Vanvitelli - the 18th century's most famous architect

Rossini's Barber of Seville makes its debut in Rome

Francesco Zuccarelli - the landscape painter who appealed to English tastes

Also on this day:

1853: Verdi's Il Trovatore is performed for the first time

1935: The birth of Assunta ‘Pupetta’ Maresca – camorrista

1940: The birth of anti-Mafia judge Paolo Borsellino


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18 January 2019

Katia Ricciarelli - operatic soprano

Star whose peak years were in ‘70s and ‘80s


Katia Ricciarelli was at her peak
for about two decades
The opera singer Katia Ricciarelli, who at her peak was seen as soprano who combined a voice of sweet timbre with engaging stage presence, was born on this day in 1946 at Rovigo in the Veneto.

She rose to fame quickly after making her professional debut as Mimi in Giacomo Puccini’s La Bohème in Mantua in 1969 and in the 1970s was in demand for the major soprano roles.

Between 1972 and 1975, Ricciarelli sang at all the major European and American opera houses, including Lyric Opera of Chicago (1972), Teatro alla Scala in Milan (1973), the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden (1974) and the Metropolitan Opera (1975).

In 1981, she began an association with the Rossini Opera Festival in Pesaro that she maintained throughout the ‘80s.

In addition to her opera performances, Ricciarelli also appeared in a number of films.

Ricciarelli performed at most of Europe and America's major opera houses
Ricciarelli performed at most of Europe and
America's major opera houses
She was Desdemona in Franco Zeffirelli's film version of Giuseppe Verdi's Otello in 1986, alongside Plácido Domingo. In 2005 she won the best actress prize Nastro d'Argento, awarded by the Italian film journalists, for her role in Pupi Avati's La seconda notte di nozze (2005).

During her peak years, Desdemona was one of her signature roles, while she was also lauded for her Giulietta in Vincenzo Bellini’s I Capuleti e i Montecchi and for her interpretations of Gaetano Donizetti’s Anna Bolena.

Ricciarelli’s most well received Rossini roles were Bianca in Bianca e Falliero, Elena in La donna del lago and and Amenaide in Tancredi.

As her career progressed, however, critics felt her voice became weaker and without some of its former lustre, which some have attributed to her being pushed into heavy, highly dramatic roles, such as Puccini’s Tosca or Verdi’s Aida, which were not suited to her voice.

Ricciarelli often performed alongside José
Carreras, with whom she enjoyed a romance
Some opera audiences are notoriously unforgiving. Her Aida at the Royal Opera House in 1983 was greeted with whistles, while in 1986 in Trieste her debut as Bellini’s Norma provoked a similar reaction.

Her career as a singer at the top level ended in the early 1990s. She made her last appearance at the Metropolitan Opera in 1990 alongside Domingo in Otello.

Born Catiuscia Mariastella Ricciarelli to a poor family in Rovigo, she was brought up by her mother after her father died while she was very young.

She loved singing as a child and, once she was old enough to work, began to save money so that she could enrol at the Benedetto Marcello Conservatory of Venice, where she had the opportunity to study with the soprano Iris Adami Corradetti.

Essentially a lyric soprano, following her operatic debut in 1969 she won the Voci Verdiane competition, organised by Italy’s national broadcaster Rai, and established herself as a superb Verdi singer, hailed as the “new Tebaldi” after Renata Tebaldi, a soprano popular in the postwar years who, coincidentally, had made her stage debut in Rovigo in 1944, two years before Ricciarelli was born.

Katia Ricciarelli has appeared regularly on Italian TV since she ended her career in opera
Katia Ricciarelli has appeared regularly on Italian TV
since she ended her career in opera
Although her operatic prowess began to wane, Ricciarelli’s career did not. She took up the position of artistic director of the Teatro Politeama di Lecce in 1998 and in the first decade of the new century turned increasingly to acting and appeared in television dramas such as Don Matteo alongside Terence Hill.

In 2005, after being nominated artistic director of the Sferisterio Opera Festival in Macerata, she began her professional relationship with the director Pupi Avati, who would later cast her in his film The Friends of the Margherita Bar (2009).

The following years brought a brief flirtation with politics as a centre-left candidate for the municipal council elections in Rodi Garganico, a beach resort near Foggia where she spent many summer holidays, more television work, an autobiography published in 2008 and a performance at La Fenice in Venice to mark her 40 years in music, in which she performed duets with pop singers Massimo Ranieri and Michael Bolton, among others.

A regular guest on variety and talk shows on Italian television, in 2006 she participated in the reality show La fattoria (Italian version of The Farm) on Canale 5.

Ricciarelli was married for 18 years to the TV presenter Pippo Baudo, the couple divorcing in 2004. She had previously had a relationship with her fellow opera star José Carreras that spanned 13 years.


Piazza Vittorio Emanuele is Rovigo's main square
Travel tip:

Rovigo is a town of around 52,000 people in the Veneto, which stands on the plain between the Po and the Adige rivers, about 80km (50 miles) southwest of Venice and 40km (25 miles) northeast of Ferrara, on the Adigetto Canal.  The architecture of the town has both Venetian and Ferrarese influences. The main sights include a Duomo dedicated to the  Martyr Pope Steven I, originally built before the 11th century, but rebuilt in 1461 and again in 1696, and the Madonna del Soccorso, a church best known as La Rotonda, built between 1594 and 1606 by Francesco Zamberlan of Bassano, a pupil of Palladio, to an octagonal plan, and with a  campanile, standing at 57m (187ft), that was built according to plans by Baldassarre Longhena (1655–1673). The walls of the interior of the church are covered by 17th centuries paintings by prominent provincial and Venetian artists, including Francesco Maffei, Domenico Stella, Pietro Liberi, Antonio Zanchi and Andrea Celesti. There are the ruins of a 10th century castle, of which two towers remain.

The beach at Roci Garganico is famed for  its soft sand and shallow waters
The beach at Roci Garganico is famed for
its soft sand and shallow waters
Travel tip:

Rodi Garganico is a seaside resort in the Apulia region, a 100km (62 miles) drive northeast from Foggia on a promontory east of the Lago di Varano lagoon. It part of the Gargano National Park.  It has for centuries been a major centre for the production of citrus fruits such us Arance del Gargano (Gargano Oranges) and the Limone Femminiello del Gargano (Gargano Lemons), both with DOP (Protected Designation of Origin) status under European Union regulations.  As well as its many kilometres of sandy beaches, Rodi Garganico attracts visitors for the local cuisine, which features orange salad, salad with wild onions, many fish dishes and a good variety of local wines.

More reading:

Alessandro Safina - the pop-opera star who made his stage debut alongside Katia Ricciarelli

Why Renata Tebaldi was said to have 'the voice of an angel'



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17 January 2019

Antonio del Pollaiuolo – artist

Paintings of muscular men show knowledge of anatomy


The portrait of Antonio del Pollaiuolo that appeared in Giorgio Vasari's Lives of the Artists
The portrait of Antonio del Pollaiuolo that
appeared in Giorgio Vasari's Lives of the Artists
Renaissance painter, sculptor, engraver and goldsmith Antonio del Pollaiuolo was born on this day in 1433 in Florence.

He was also known as Antonio di Jacopo Pollaiuolo and sometimes as Antonio del Pollaiolo. The last name came from the trade of his father who sold poultry.

Antonio’s brother, Piero, was also an artist and they frequently worked together. Their work showed classical influences and an interest in human anatomy. It was reported that the brothers carried out dissections to improve their knowledge of the subject.

Antonio worked for a time in the Florence workshop of Bartoluccio di Michele where Lorenzo Ghiberti - creator of the bronze doors of the Florence Baptistery - also received his training.

Some of Antonio’s paintings show brutality, such as his depiction of Saint Sebastian, which he painted for the Church of Santissima Annunziata in Florence and presents muscular men in action. His paintings of women show more calmness and display his meticulous attention to fashion details.

Del Pollaiuolo's Hercules and the Hydra was an example of his painting of muscular men
Del Pollaiuolo's Hercules and the Hydra was
an example of his painting of muscular men
Antonio was also successful as a sculptor and a metal worker and although he produced only one engraving, The Battle of the Nude Men, it became one of the most famous prints of the Renaissance.

In 1484 he went to Rome where he was commissioned to build a tomb for Pope Sixtus IV. In 1494 he returned to Florence to put the finishing touches to a work he had already started in the sacristy of the Church of Santo Spirito.

When he died in Rome in 1498, he was a rich man, having just finished a mausoleum for Pope Innocent VIII.

Antonio del Pollaiuolo was buried in the Church of San Pietro in Vincoli.

The 14th century Palazzo Vecchio towers over the Piazza della Signoria in Florence
The 14th century Palazzo Vecchio towers
over the Piazza della Signoria in Florence
Travel tip:

Piazza della Signoria in the centre of Antonio del Pollaiuolo’s native Florence is an L-shaped square, important as the location of the 14th century Palazzo Vecchio, the focal point for government in the city. Citizens gathered here for public meetings and the religious leader Girolamo Savonarola was burned at the stake in the square in 1498. The piazza is a unique outdoor sculpture gallery filled with statues, some of them copies, commemorating major events in the city’s history. The Galleria dell’Accademia in Florence has become famous as the home of Michelangelo’s statue of David. It is the second most visited museum in Italy, after the Uffizi, the main art gallery in Florence. The Galleria dell’Accademia was established in 1784 in Via Ricasoli in Florence.

Inside the beautiful church of San Pietro  in Vincoli in Rome
Inside the beautiful church of San Pietro
 in Vincoli in Rome
Travel tip:

The Church of San Pietro in Vincoli - St Peter in Chains - where Antonio del Pollaiuolo was buried, is near the Colosseum in Rome. The Church is a shrine for the chains that are believed to have bound St Peter during his imprisonment. It is also the home of Michelangelo’s famous statue of Moses, which was completed in 1515.

More reading:

Lorenzo Ghiberti, the sculptor and goldsmith who created, in the words of Michelangelo, the 'gates of heaven' in Florence.

When Pope Sixtus IV commissioned Michelangelo to paint the Sistine Chapel ceiling

Simonetta Vespucci - Renaissance beauty

Also on this day:

1377: Pope Gregory XI returns the papacy to Rome

1472: The birth of Guidobaldo I, Duke of Urbino

1834: The birth of Antonio Moscheni, painter of chapel frescoes in India


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