17 February 2020

17 February

Raffaele ‘Raf’ Vallone – actor

Movie star who had four careers

Raffaele Vallone, the stage and screen actor who was born on this day in 1916 in Tropea, Calabria, was remarkable for having embarked on three starkly different career paths even before he made his acting debut.  Usually known as Raf, he grew up from the age of two in Turin, where his father, an ambitious young lawyer, had relocated to set up a legal practice.  A natural athlete, he was a fine footballer – so good, in fact, that at the age of 14 he was snapped up by Torino FC, who made him an apprentice professional.  Compared with the average working man, he was handsomely paid as a footballer, and he won a medal as part of the Torino team crowned Coppa Italia winners in 1936.  Yet he quickly became bored with football and enrolled at Turin University, where he studied Law and Philosophy with a view to joining his father’s firm.  Ultimately, he baulked at the idea of becoming a lawyer, too, and instead joined the staff of the left-wing daily newspaper L’Unità, where he rose quickly to be head of the culture pages, at the same time establishing himself as a drama and film critic for the Turin daily La Stampa.  Read more…


Giordano Bruno - 'martyr of science'

Dominican friar condemned as a heretic

Giordano Bruno, a Dominican friar, philosopher and cosmological theorist who challenged orthodox Christian beliefs in the 16th century, died on this day in 1600 when he was burned at the stake after being found guilty of heresy.  The principal crimes for which he was tried by the Roman Inquisition were the denial of several core Catholic doctrines.  Bruno challenged the divinity of Christ, the virginity of Mary, and the transubstantiation - the idea that Eucharistic offering of bread and wine in Mass becomes the body and blood of Christ.  He also questioned the idea of God as a holy trinity of divine persons - the Father, the Son (Jesus) and the Holy Spirit.  His own belief was closer to pantheism, which contends that a God is an all-encompassing divine presence rather than existing in some personal form with human traits.  This idea formed part of his cosmological theory, in which he supported the idea that everything in the universe is made of tiny particles (atoms) and that God exists in all of these particles.  Yet this was in contradiction of the established Catholic wisdom, as was his support for the idea advanced by the Renaissance astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus that Earth revolved around the sun, rather than the other way round.  Read more…


Arcangelo Corelli – musician

Baroque composer had a major influence on the development of music

Violinist and composer Arcangelo Corelli was born on this day in 1653 at Fusignano, a small town near Ravenna.   He is remembered for his influence on the development of violin style and for his use of the genres of sonata and concerto. Corelli’s 12 Concerti Grossi established the concerto grosso as a popular medium of composition.  Named Arcangelo after his father, who died a few weeks before his birth, he studied music with the curate of a neighbouring village before going to the nearby towns of Faenza and Lugo to learn musical theory.  Corelli later studied with Giovanni Benvenuti, who was a violinist at San Petronio in Bologna and in 1670 he started at the Philharmonic Academy in Bologna.  He moved on to Rome where to begin with he played the violin at a theatre. It is known that by 1677 he had written his first composition, a Sonata for Violin and Lute.  By 1675 Corelli was third violinist in the orchestra of the chapel of San Luigi dei Francesi and by the following year he had become second violinist.In 1681 his 12 Trio Sonatas for two violins and a cello were published and the following year he became first violinist in the San Luigi dei Francesi orchestra.  Read more…


Giovanni Pacini – opera composer

Works of overshadowed musician have enjoyed recent revival

Composer Giovanni Pacini, who wrote operas in the early part of the 19th century to suit the voices of the great singers of the period, was born on this day in 1796 in Catania in Sicily.  Pacini began his formal music studies at the age of 12, when he was sent by his father, the opera singer Luigi Pacini, to study voice in Bologna with castrato singer and composer, Luigi Marchesi.  He soon switched his focus to composing and wrote an opera, La sposa fedele - The Faithful Bride. It premiered in Venice in 1818 and, for its revival the following year, Pacini provided a new aria, to be sung specifically by the soprano Giuditta Pasta.  By the mid 1820s he had become a leading opera composer, having produced many successful serious and comic works.  Pacini’s 1824 work Alessandro nelle Indie - Alexander in the Indies - was a successful serious opera based on Andrea Leone Tottola’s updating of a text by librettist Pietro Metastasio.  But by the mid 1830s, Pacini had withdrawn from operatic activity after he found his operas eclipsed by those of Gaetano Donizetti and Vincenzo Bellini.  He settled in Tuscany, where his father had been born.  Read more…


16 February 2020

16 February

NEWAngelo Peruzzi - footballer

Italy international who was twice world's costliest goalkeeper

The footballer Angelo Peruzzi, who made 31 appearances for Italy’s national team and was a member of Marcello Lippi’s victorious squad at the 2006 World Cup as well as winning the Champions League with Juventus, was born on this day in 1970 in Blera, a hilltop town in the province of Viterbo, north of Rome.  Peruzzi defied his relatively short and stocky physique to become one of the best goalkeepers of his generation, renowned not only for his physical strength but also for his positional sense, anticipation and explosive reactions.  These qualities enabled him to compensate for his lack of height and earned him a reputation for efficiency rather than spectacular stops yet he was much coveted by clubs in Italy’s Serie A.  Twice he moved clubs for what was at the time a world record transfer fee for a goalkeeper.  In 1999 he joined Internazionale of Milan (Inter Milan) from Juventus for €14.461 million but stayed at the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza for only a year before switching to Lazio in a deal worth €20.658 million.  That record stood for 11 years until Manchester United bought David de Gea from Atletico Madrid for €22 million in 2011.  Read more…


Valentino Rossi - motorcycle world champion

Rider from Urbino among his sport's all-time greats

Valentino Rossi, the motorcycle racer whose seven 500cc or MotoGP world titles have established him as one of the sport's all-time greats, was born on this day in 1979 in Urbino.  Only his fellow Italian, Giacomo Agostini, the eight-times world champion, has more 500cc or MotoGP titles than Rossi, whose total of 88 race victories in the premier classification is the most by any rider.  Across all engine sizes, he has been a world champion nine times, behind only Agostini (15) and Spain's Ángel Nieto, who specialised in 50cc and 125cc classes.  Britain's Mike Hailwood and Italy's 1950s star Carlo Ubbiali also won nine world titles each.  Still competing at the highest level, Rossi has not won the world title since 2009 but continues to defy his age.  Rossi came from a motorcycling family, his father Graziano having competed on the grand prix circuit himself between 1977 and 1982. He won three races in the 250cc category in 1979, when he finished third in the overall classification.  When Valentino was still a child, the family moved to Tavullia, a small town between Urbino and Pesaro, on the Adriatic coast.  Read more…


Edda Dell’Orso – vocalist

Soprano was wordless voice of Morricone soundtracks

The singer Edda Dell’Orso, best known for the extraordinary range of wordless vocals that have featured in many of composer Ennio Morricone’s brilliant film soundtracks from the 1960s onwards, was born on this day in 1935 in Genoa.  Her collaboration with Morricone began when he was contracted in 1964 to provide the musical score for A Fistful of Dollars, the first of Sergio Leone’s so-called Spaghetti Western trilogy that was to make Clint Eastwood an international star.  Leone’s producers could only offer Morricone a small budget, which meant his access to a full orchestra was limited, forcing him to improvise and create sound effects in different ways. One idea he had was to replace instruments with human voices, which is where Dell’Orso, a distinctive soprano, came into her own.  Born Edda Sabatini, she had pursued her musical interests with the support of her father who, while not musical himself, could see that she had potential as a pianist.  The quality of her voice became clear when she enrolled at the National Academy of Santa Cecilia, the renowned music school in Rome, where she graduated in 1956 in singing and piano.  Read more…


Giambattista Bodoni - type designer

Celebrity printer whose name lives on in type

Typographer, printer and publisher Giambattista Bodoni was born on this day in 1740 in Saluzzo in the region of Piedmont.  At the height of his career he became internationally famous and was complimented by the Pope and paid a pension by Napoleon.  Bodoni designed a modern typeface that was named after him and is still in use today.  His father and grandfather were both printers and as a child he played with their leftover equipment. He learnt the printing trade at his father’s side and at the age of 17 travelled to Rome to further his career.  Bodoni served an apprenticeship at the press of the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith, the missionary arm of the Catholic Church.  In 1768 he was asked to assume management of the Duke of Parma’s Royal Press, where he produced Italian, Greek and Latin books.  He started using modern typefaces of his own design and came up with the typeface that retained the Bodoni name in 1790.  He became well known and important travellers visited his press to see him at work. Bodoni produced fine editions of the writings of Horace and Virgil in 1791 and 1793 respectively and Homer’s Iliad in 1808.  Read more…


Achille Castiglioni - designer

Leading figure in post-war Italian style

The designer Achille Castiglioni, whose innovative ideas for lighting, furniture and items for the home put him at the forefront of Italy’s post-war design boom, was born on this day in 1918 in Milan.  Many of his designs, including the Arco floor lamp for which he is most famous, are still in production today, even 17 years after his death.  The Arco lamp, which he designed in 1962 in conjunction with his brother, Pier Giacomo, combined a heavy base in Carrara marble, a curved telescopic stainless steel arm and a polished aluminium reflector.  Designed so that the reflector could be suspended above a table or a chair, the Arco was conceived as an overhead lighting solution for apartments that removed the need for holes in the ceiling and wiring, yet as an object of simple chic beauty it came to be seen as a symbol of sophistication and good taste.  The Arco was commissioned by the Italian lighting company Flos, which still produces numerous other lamps designed by Castiglioni.  Achille’s father was the sculptor Giannino Castiglioni. His brothers Livio and Pier Giacomo, both older, were architects.  Read more… 


Angelo Peruzzi - footballer

Italy international who was twice world's costliest goalkeeper

Angelo Peruzzi won every major prize in club football during his years with Juventus
Angelo Peruzzi won every major prize in club
football during his years with Juventus
The footballer Angelo Peruzzi, who made 31 appearances for Italy’s national team and was a member of Marcello Lippi’s victorious squad at the 2006 World Cup, was born on this day in 1970 in Blera, a hilltop town in the province of Viterbo, north of Rome.

Peruzzi defied his relatively short and stocky physique to become one of the best goalkeepers of his generation, renowned not only for his physical strength but also for his positional sense, anticipation and explosive reactions.

These qualities enabled him to compensate for his lack of height and earned him a reputation for efficiency rather than spectacular stops yet he was much coveted by clubs in Italy’s Serie A. 

Twice he moved clubs for what was at the time a world record transfer fee for a goalkeeper.  In 1999 he joined Internazionale of Milan (Inter Milan) from Juventus for €14.461 million but stayed at the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza for only a year before switching to Lazio in a deal worth €20.658 million.

That record stood for 11 years until Manchester United bought David de Gea from Atletico Madrid for €22 million in 2011.

His value was based on his outstanding record over eight seasons with Juventus, with whom he won every major medal on offer to a club footballer in Italy, including three Serie A titles, the Coppa Italia and the Supercoppa (twice), as well as the Champions League, the UEFA Cup, the UEFA Super Cup and the Intercontinental Cup.

Peruzzi was twice the most expensive  goalkeeper in football history
Peruzzi was twice the most expensive
goalkeeper in football history
Yet before he joined Juventus in 1991 his career had been in danger of suffering a premature and ignominious end.

Even as a young player in the Roma youth system, Peruzzi struggled with his weight.  Former teammates recalled him keeping salami, sandwiches and sweets hidden in his locker to satisfy an enormous appetite.

Nonetheless, his qualities as a goalkeeper stood out. He made his Serie A debut in 1987 at the age of 17 and when Roma sent him on loan to Hellas Verona for the 1989-90 he returned with glowing reports.

However, his weight remained an issue and his decision to take an appetite suppressant in the hope of shedding some pounds quickly backfired on him spectacularly when a doping test produced a positive result for the banned substance Phentermine.

He was banned for a year and Roma were happy to let him go when Juventus offered him a contract. It proved to be the Turin club’s gain as Peruzzi soon replaced Stefano Tacconi as the club’s No 1 goalkeeper and became one of their most reliable performers, never more so than in the Champions League final of 1996 against Ajax, when his two saves in the penalty shoot-out ensured that the trophy went to Juventus.

Head coach Marcello Lippi picked Peruzzi as his No 2 'keeper for the 2006 World Cup
Head coach Marcello Lippi picked Peruzzi
as his No 2 'keeper for the 2006 World Cup
Peruzzi never lost his stocky build, but where he was criticised for it as a young player, as an established player associated with success it became part of his persona, earning him a number of affectionate nicknames, including Tyson, after the heavyweight world boxing champion, il chingialone (“the boar”) and il orsone (“the big bear”).

Although his two big-money transfers were lucrative for Peruzzi personally in signing-on fees and contracts, he did not enjoy the success with Inter or Lazio that he had tasted with Juventus.  He made more than 200 appearances for Lazio over seven seasons but a Supercoppa Italiano medal in his first season and a Coppa Italia in 2004 were his only tangible honours.

Peruzzi earned his first call-up to the Italy national team under coach Arrigo Sacchi in 1995, having been a member of the Italy squad at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona. He was the first-choice stopper at Euro ‘96 in England, where Italy did not progress beyond the group stages, and would have gone to the World Cup in France in 1998 as number one goalkeeper had he not suffered an injury before the tournament.

By the time the next World Cup came around, Peruzzi had fallen behind Gianluigi Buffon and Francesco Toldo in the pecking order and was not considered for the 2002 finals.

It was only when Marcello Lippi, one of his former coaches at Juventus, took charge of the national team in 2004 that he came back into favour. He kept goal for two of the qualifying matches ahead of the 2006 World Cup in Germany and went to the finals as number two behind Buffon.  He never made it off the bench but nonetheless received a medal as a member of the winning squad after the azzurri defeated France on penalties in the final.

Three times awarded the Goalkeeper of the Year title in Serie A, Peruzzi retired as a player in 2008 and embarked on a career in coaching.  He immediately found a position among the technical staff at Italy’s national coaching centre at Coverciano before becoming assistant to Under-21 head coaches Ciro Ferrara and Pierluigi Casiraghi.

Ferrara gave him his first club job as assistant head coach at Sampdoria and he is now back in Rome as team co-ordinator with Lazio.

The town of Blera sits on top of a rocky ridge in northern Lazio, some 78km (48 miles) north of Rome
The town of Blera sits on top of a rocky ridge in northern
Lazio, some 78km (48 miles) north of Rome
Travel tip:

Angelo Peruzzi’s hometown of Blera, situated some 24km (15 miles) southwest of the city of Viterbo in northern Lazio and around 78km (48 miles) northwest of Rome, sits on a narrow tongue of rock between two deep gorges.  Its origins go back to Etruscan times, although its history suggests it was of little importance except for a stopping-off point on the Via Clodia, which linked the more important towns of Pitigliano and Sorano.  Some of the Etruscan settlement’s walls still remain intact.

The Stadio Olimpico in Rome is home to both Lazio and Roma and hosts many important football matches
The Stadio Olimpico in Rome is home to both Lazio and
Roma and hosts many important football matches
Travel tip:

Although the Stadio Olimpico, where both Lazio and Roma play their home games, was opened in 1937, it did not become the Olympic Stadium until Italy had won the right to stage the Games in 1960.  Originally, as part of Mussolini’s ambitious Foro Mussolini (later Foro Italico) complex, it was called the Stadio dei Cipressi.  When its capacity was increased to 100,000 in the 1950s, it became the Stadio dei Centomila.  Nowadays it has seats for 70,634 spectators and is owned by the Italian National Olympic Committee but is used primarily as a venue for football matches, having been refurbished for the 1990 World Cup finals.  It has been the venue for the European Cup and Champions League finals on four occasions.

Also on this day:

1740: The birth of type designer Giambattista Bodoni

1918: The birth of designer Achille Castigleoni

1935: The birth of vocalist Edda Dell'Orso

1979: The birth of motorcycling world champion Valentino Rossi


15 February 2020

15 February

Totò – comic actor

50 years on, remembered still as Italy’s funniest performer

The comic actor Antonio De Curtis, universally known as Totò and still winning polls as the most popular Italian comedian of all time a half-century after his death, was born on this day in 1898 in Naples.  Totò had a distinguished career in theatre, wrote poetry and sang, but is best remembered for the 97 films in which he appeared between 1937 and his death in 1967, many of which were made simply as a platform for his inimitable talent.  Although he worked in dramatic roles for some of Italy’s most respected directors, it was for his comedy that he was most appreciated.  His characters were typically eccentric, his acting style sometimes almost extravagantly expressive both physically and vocally.  In his humour, he drew on his body and his face to maximum effect but also possessed an inherent sense of timing in the way he delivered his lines. Often, at the peak of his screen career with his characters so well defined, he would dispense with much of his script and simply ad lib, giving free rein to the cynicism and irreverence that came naturally.  Such was his popularity that after his death from a heart attack at the age of 69 he was given funerals both in Rome, where he lived, and in his native Naples.  Read more…


Galileo Galilei – astronomer and physicist

Scholar has been judged to be the founder of modern science 

Renaissance scientist Galileo Galilei was born on this day in 1564 in Pisa.  His astronomical observations confirmed the phases of Venus, discovered the four largest satellites of Jupiter and analysed sunspots. Also among his inventions was a military compass.  Galileo was educated at a monastery near Florence and considered entering the priesthood but he enrolled instead at the University of Pisa to study medicine.  In 1581 he noticed a swinging chandelier being moved to swing in larger and smaller arcs by air currents. He experimented with two swinging pendulums and found they kept time together although he started one with a large sweep and the other with a smaller sweep. It was almost 100 years before a swinging pendulum was used to create an accurate timepiece.  He talked his father into letting him study mathematics and natural philosophy instead of medicine and by 1589 had been appointed to the chair of Mathematics at Pisa.  He moved to the University of Padua where he taught geometry, mechanics and astronomy until 1610.  Galileo met with opposition from other astronomers and was investigated by the Roman Inquisition in 1615.  Read more…


Charlie Cairoli - circus clown

Milan-born performer who became a Blackpool legend

The circus clown Charlie Cairoli, who would at his peak set a world record by appearing at the Blackpool Tower Circus in England for 40 consecutive seasons, was born in Affori, now a suburb of Milan but then a town in its own right, on this day in 1910.  Cairoli performed at the Tower for the first time in 1939 and returned every year until 1979, quitting only when his health began to fail him.  The run was not broken even by the outbreak of the Second World War, which Britain entered soon after he arrived, or his own arrest as a suspected ‘enemy alien’. He was the Tower’s most popular attraction for almost all of those years.  Cairoli, though born in Italy, was actually from a French family, albeit one of Italian descent, who christened him Hubert Jean Charles Cairoli.  His father, Jean-Marie, was also a clown; his mother, Eugenie, came from another French circus family with Italian heritage, the Rocono. Charles - known as Carletto - and his brother Louis-Philippe became part of the show as young children. Carletto made his debut at the age of seven.   At that age, he was doing little more than fetching and carrying for his parents, who were the stars.  Read more…


Destruction of Monte Cassino Abbey

Historic monastery flattened in Allied bombing raid

The Abbey of Monte Cassino, established in 529 and the oldest Benedictine monastery in the world, was destroyed by Allied bombers on this day in 1944 in what is now acknowledged as one of the biggest strategic errors of the Second World War on the Allied side.  The Abbey was attacked despite an agreement signed by both sides with the Vatican that the historic building would be respected as occupying neutral territory.  But Allied commanders, who had seen their infantrymen suffer heavy casualties in trying to advance along the Liri valley, the route of the main highway between Naples and Rome, were convinced that the Germans were using the Abbey, which commands sweeping views of the valley, at least as a point from which to direct operations.  This perception was reinforced by a radio intercept, subsequently alleged to have been wrongly translated, which suggested a German battalion had been stationed in the Abbey, ignoring a 300-metre area around it that was supposed to be out of bounds to soldiers on both sides.   Knowing the outrage their action would prompt, military sources in Britain and the United States leaked details of their suspicions to the newspapers, who obligingly printed stories that seemed to justify the plan.   Read more…


14 February 2020

14 February

Valentina Vezzali – fencer

Police officer is Italy’s most successful female athlete

The fencer Valentina Vezzali, whose three Olympic and six World Championship individual gold medals make her Italy’s most decorated female athlete of all time, was born on this day in 1974 in the town of Iesi in Marche.  A police officer who sat in the Italian Chamber of Deputies as a representative for Marche until 2018, Vezzali retired from competition after the 2016 World Championships.  Her haul of six Olympics golds in total – three individual and three from the team event – has not been bettered by any Italian athlete, male or female.  Two other Italian fencers from different eras – Edoardo Mangiarotti and Nedo Nadi – also finished their careers with six golds. Fencing has far and away been Italy’s most successful Olympic discipline, accruing 49 gold medals and 125 medals in total, more than twice the number for any other sport.  Alongside the German shooter Ralf Schumann, the Slovak slalom canoeist Michal Martikán and the Japanese judo player Ryoko Tani, Vezzali is one of only four athletes in the history of the Summer Olympics to have won five medals in the same individual event.  Read more…


The Feast of the Lovers

A day for flowers, chocolates and padlocks

Today is called La festa degli innamorati (The Feast of the Lovers) in Italy when couples celebrate their love for each other.  Italian lovers give each other flowers and chocolates and celebrate with romantic dinners just like the rest of the world.  Chocolatiers Perugina make a special version of their Baci chocolate for the occasion in a shiny, red wrapper with a red cherry in the centre rather than the traditional hazelnut.  Florence and Venice are traditionally considered to be the most romantic places in Italy, but Verona, the city of Romeo and Juliet, puts on several days of celebration for the festival each year, featuring a programme of poetry, music and events, including a Romeo and Juliet half-marathon.  The streets around Piazza Bra and Juliet’s house and balcony are illuminated along with the tallest building in the city, the Lamberti tower.  The recent fashion for locking padlocks - lucchetti dell’amore - to bridges, railings and lamp posts to demonstrate never-ending love was started in Italy after the publication of the novel Ho voglio di te (I want you) by Federico Moccia in 2006.  Read more…


Otto e mezzo - Fellini's masterpiece

Creative crisis spawned director's tour de force

The film Otto e mezzo (8½), regarded by some critics as the director Federico Fellini's greatest work, was released in Italy on this day in 1963.  It was categorised as an avant-garde comedy drama but the description hardly does it justice given its extraordinary individuality, evolving from conception to completion as an interweaving of fantasy and reality in which life not so much imitates art as becomes one and the same thing.  By the early 60s, Fellini was already a three-times Oscar winner following the success of La Strada, Nights in Cabiria and La Dolce Vita, the last-named having also won the Palme d'Or at Cannes.  La Dolce Vita had signalled Fellini's move away from the neo-realism that characterised cinema in Italy in the immediate post-war years towards the surreal interpretations of life and human nature that became popular with later directors and came to define Fellini's art.  While that movie was generating millions of dollars at the box office and turning Marcello Mastroianni and Anita Ekberg into international stars, Fellini was under pressure from his producers to come up with a sequel.   Read more…


San Valentino and Sant’Antonino

Celebrations for two different Italian saints

Saint Valentine, a third century Roman martyr, is commemorated with a feast day on this day every year.  His name has become associated with the tradition of courtly love but all that is really known about him is that he was martyred and buried at a cemetery on the Via Flaminia in Rome on 14 February.  His feast day was first established in 496 by a Pope who revered him. It is thought he was imprisoned and tortured and then hastily buried, but that his disciples later retrieved his body.  During the Middle Ages it was believed that birds paired in mid-February and this is probably why Saint Valentine’s Day became associated with romance.  But while lovers all over the world raise a glass to Saint Valentine on this day, residents and visitors in Sorrento celebrate the festival of Sant’Antonino, the city’s patron saint.  Sant’Antonino Abate died on 14 February, 626. He is credited with saving the life of a child swallowed by a whale and also protecting Sorrento against plague and invasion.  Each year on the anniversary of his death, a silver statue of Sant’Antonino is carried in a procession through the streets of Sorrento.  Read more…


13 February 2020

13 February

Benvenuto Cellini – sculptor and goldsmith

Creator of the famous Perseus bronze had a dark history

The colourful life of the Renaissance artist Benvenuto Cellini ended on this day in 1571 with his death in Florence at the age of 70.  A contemporary of Michelangelo, the Mannerist Cellini was most famous for his bronze sculpture of Perseus with the Head of Medusa, which still stands where it was erected in 1554 in the Loggia dei Lanzi of the Piazza della Signoria in Florence, and for the table sculpture in gold he created as a salieri - salt cellar - for Francis I of France.  The Cellini Salt Cellar, as it is generally known, measuring 26cm (10ins) by 33.5cm (13.2ins), is now kept at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, with an insurance value of $60 million.  His works apart, Cellini was also known for an eventful personal life, in which his violent behaviour frequently landed him in trouble. He killed at least two people while working in Rome as a young man and claimed also to have shot dead Charles III, Duke of Bourbon, during the 1527 Siege of Rome by mutinous soldiers of the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V.  Cellini was also imprisoned for alleged embezzlement of the gems from the tiara of Pope Clement VII.  Read more…


Pierluigi Collina - football referee

Italian arbiter seen as the best in game's history

Pierluigi Collina, arguably the best and certainly the most recognisable football referee in the history of the game, was born on this day in 1960 in Bologna.  Collina, who was in charge of the 1999 Champions League final and the 2002 World Cup final, was named FIFA's referee of the year for six consecutive seasons.  He was renowned for his athleticism, his knowledge of the laws of the game and for applying them with even-handedness and respect for the players, while using his distinctive appearance to reinforce his authority on the field.  Standing 1.88m (6ft 2ins) tall and with piercing blue eyes, Collina is also completely hairless as a result of suffering a severe form of alopecia in his early 20s, giving him an intimidating presence on the field.  Growing up in Bologna, the son of a civil servant and a schoolteacher, Collina shared the dream of many Italian boys in that he wanted to become a professional footballer.  In reality, he was not quite good enough, although he was a decent central defender who played amateur football to a good standard.   When he was 17 and at college, he was persuaded to take a referee's course and displayed a natural aptitude.  Read more…


Fire at Teatro di San Carlo

Royal theatre reopens quickly after blaze 

Fire broke out during a dress rehearsal for a ballet at Teatro di San Carlo in Naples on this day in 1816.  The flames spread quickly, destroying a large part of the building in less than an hour.  The external walls were the only things left standing, but on the orders of Ferdinand IV, King of Naples, the prestigious theatre was rebuilt at once.  It was reconstructed following designs drawn up by architect Antonio Niccolini for a horseshoe-shaped auditorium with 1,444 seats. A stunning fresco was painted in the centre of the ceiling above the auditorium depicting a classical subject, Apollo presenting to Minerva the greatest poets of the world.  The rebuilding work took just ten months to complete and the theatre reopened to the public in January 1817.  Teatro di San Carlo had opened for the first time in 1737, way ahead of Teatro alla Scala in Milan and La Fenice in Venice.  Built in Via San Carlo close to Piazza Plebiscito, the main square in Naples, Teatro di San Carlo had quickly become one of the most important opera houses in Europe, known for its excellent productions.  The original theatre was designed by Giovanni Antonio Medrano for the Bourbon King of Naples, Charles I, and took only eight months to build.  Read more…


Isabella d’Este – Marchioness of Mantua

‘The First Lady of the world’

Isabella d’Este, who was a leading cultural and political figure during the Renaissance, died on this day in 1539 in Mantua.  She had been a patron of the arts, a leader of fashion, a politically astute ruler and a diplomat. Such was her influence that she was once described as ‘the First Lady of the world’.  Her life is documented by her correspondence, which is still archived in Mantua. She received about 28,000 letters and wrote about 12,000. More than 2000 of her letters have survived.  Isabella grew up in a cultured family in the city of Ferrara. Her father was Ercole I d’Este, Duke of Ferrara, and her mother was Eleanor of Naples.  She received a classical education and had opportunities to meet famous scholars and artists. She was reputed to have frequently discussed the classics and affairs of state with ambassadors who came to the court.  When Isabella was just six years old she was betrothed to Francesco, the heir to the Marquess of Mantua.  At the age of 15 she married him by proxy. He had succeeded his father and become Francesco II and she became his Marchioness.   In 1493 Isabella gave birth to a daughter, Eleonora, the first of her eight children.  Read more…


12 February 2020

12 February

Franco Zeffirelli – film director

Shakespeare adaptations made director a household name

The film, opera and television director Franco Zeffirelli was born on this day in Florence in 1923.  He was best known for his adaptations of Shakespeare plays for the big screen, notably The Taming of the Shrew (1967), with Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, Romeo and Juliet (1968) and Hamlet (1990) with Mel Gibson.   Boldly, he cast two teenagers in the title roles of Romeo and Juliet and filmed the tragedy against the backdrop of 15th century buildings in Serravalle in the Veneto region. His film became the standard adaptation of the play and has been shown to thousands of students over the years.  His later films included Jane Eyre (1996) and Tea with Mussolini (1999), while he directed several adaptations of operas for the cinema, including I Pagliacci (1981), Cavalleria rusticana (1982), Otello (1986), and La bohème (2008).  Because he was the product of an affair between two people already married, Zeffirelli's name was an invention, and a misspelled one. His mother intended him to be registered as Zeffiretti - the Italian for 'little breezes' - in a reference to a line in Mozart's opera, Isomeneo. However, it was misspelled in the register.  Read more…


Michelangelo Cerquozzi – painter

Battle scenes brought fame and riches to Baroque artist

Michelangelo Cerquozzi, the Baroque painter, was born on this day in 1602 in Rome.  He was to become famous for his paintings of battles, earning himself the nickname of Michelangelo delle Battaglie - Michelangelo of the Battles.  Cerquozzi was born into a well-off family as his father was a successful leather merchant. He started his artistic training at the age of 12 in the studio of Giuseppe Cesari, a history painter, with whom the young Caravaggio trained when he first arrived in Rome.  Not much is known about Cerquozzi’s early work, although he is thought to have been influenced by the Flemish and Dutch artists active in Rome at the time. As well as battles, Cerquozzi painted small, religious and mythological works and some still life scenes.  Cerquozzi joined the Accademia di San Luca in 1634 and, although he did not follow their strict rules, he started gradually gaining recognition for his work.  He secured commissions from prominent Roman patrons, including representatives of the Barberini and Colonna families.  His only public commission in Rome was for a lunette depicting the Miracle of Saint Francis of Paolo in the cloister of the Church of Sant’Andrea delle Fratte, which has sadly been lost.  Read more…


Claudia Mori - actress and singer

Film star who married pop icon Adriano Celentano

The actress, singer and later television producer Claudia Mori, married for more than half a century to Italy’s all-time biggest-selling recording artist, Adriano Celentano, was born on this day in 1944 in Rome.  She and Celentano met in 1963 on the set of Uno strano tipo (A Strange Type) a comedy film in which they were both starring. The two were married the following year at the Church of San Francesco in Grosseto in Tuscany, having kept their intentions secret to avoid publicity.  Mori was only 20 when she and Celentano - six years her senior - were married but she had already made several films.  Born Claudia Moroni, she made her film debut in Raffaello Matarazzo’s romantic comedy Cerasella at the age of just 15 in 1959, featuring as the title character opposite Mario Girotti, the actor who would later change his name to Terence Hill and become famous as the parish priest Don Matteo in the long-running television series of the same name.  The following year she had a supporting part a laundry worker colleague of Alain Delon in Luchino Visconti’s Rocco e i suoi fratelli (Rocco and His Brothers)Read more…


Lazzaro Spallanzani – priest and scientist

18th century biologist who pioneered artificial insemination 

Lazzaro Spallanzani, the first scientist to interpret the process of digestion and the first to carry out a successful artificial insemination, died on this day in 1799 in Pavia.  Spallanzani made important contributions to the experimental study of bodily functions and animal reproduction. His investigations into the development of microscopic life in nutrient culture solutions paved the way for the later research of Louis Pasteur.  Born in Scandiano in the province of Reggio Emilia, the son of a wealthy lawyer, Spallanzani attended a Jesuit college and was ordained as a priest but then went to Bologna to study law.  Influenced by the eminent Laura Bassi, a professor of physics at the University, Spallanzani became interested in science.  In 1754 Spallanzani was appointed professor of logic, metaphysics and Greek at a college in Reggio and he later became a professor of physics at the University of Modena.  Spallanzani experimented in transplantation, successfully transplanting the head of one snail on to the body of another.  After a series of experiments on digestion, he obtained evidence that digestive juices contain special chemicals that are suited to particular foods.  Read more…