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 April 2019

23 April

Gaspara Stampa - poet 


Gaspara Stampa, the greatest female poet of the Italian Renaissance, died on this day in 1554 in Venice at the age of 31. She is regarded by many as the greatest Italian female poet of any age, despite having had such a brief life. Gaspara was born in Padua and lived in the city until she was eight years old. Her father, Bartolomeo, had been a jewel and gold merchant, but after he died, Gaspara’s mother, Cecilia, took her three children to live in Venice. They were accommodated in the house of Geronimo Morosini, who was descended from a noble Venetian family, in the parish of Santi Gervasio and Protasio, now known as San Trovaso.  Along with her sister, Cassandra, and brother, Baldassare, Gaspara was educated in literature, music, history and painting. She excelled at singing and playing the lute and her home became a cultural hub as it was visited by many Venetian writers, painters and musicians. Read more…

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Gianandrea Noseda - conductor


Milanese musician has achieved worldwide acclaim

Gianandrea Noseda, who is recognised as one of the leading orchestra conductors of his generation, was born on this day in 1964 in Milan.  He holds the title of Cavaliere Ufficiale al Merito della Repubblica Italiana for his contribution to the artistic life of Italy.  Noseda studied piano and composition in Milan and began studying conducting at the age of 27.  He made his debut as a conductor in 1994 with the Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano Giuseppe Verdi. Among several positions he has held, he became principal guest conductor at the Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg in 1997, principal conductor of the BBC Philharmonic in 2002 and chief conductor in 2006.  The London Symphony Orchestra announced the appointment of Noseda as its new principal guest conductor in 2016.  Read more…

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Stefano Bontade - Mafia supremo


Well-connected Cosa Nostra boss had links to ex-premier Andreotti

Stefano Bontade, one of the most powerful and well connected figures in the Sicilian Mafia in the 1960s and 1970s, was born on this day in 1939 in Palermo, where he was murdered exactly 42 years later in a birthday execution that sparked a two-year war between the island’s rival clans.  Known as Il Falco – the Falcon – he was said to have close links with a number of important politicians on Sicily and with the former Italian prime minister Giulio Andreotti.  He was strongly suspected of being a key figure in the 1962 murder of Enrico Mattei, the president of Italy’s state-owned oil and gas conglomerate ENI, and in the bogus kidnapping of Michele Sindona, the disgraced banker who used the Vatican Bank to launder the proceeds of Cosa Nostra heroin trafficking. Read more…

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Ruggero Leoncavallo – opera composer


Writer and musician created one of the most popular operas of all time

Ruggero Leoncavallo, the composer of the opera, Pagliacci, was born on this day in 1857 in Naples.  Pagliacci - which means 'clowns' - is one of the most popular operas ever written and is still regularly performed all over the world.  Leoncavallo also wrote the song, Mattinata, often performed by Enrico Caruso and still recorded by today’s tenors.  Leoncavallo was the son of a judge and moved with his father from Naples to live in the town of Montalto Uffugo in Calabria when he was a child.  He later returned to Naples to be educated and then studied literature at the University of Bologna under the poet Giosuè Carducci.  Leoncavallo initially worked as a piano teacher in Egypt but then moved to Paris where he found work as an accompanist for artists singing in cafes.  Read more...

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Gaspara Stampa – poet

Gaspara Stampa is seen by some as Italy's greatest female poet
Gaspara Stampa is seen by some
as Italy's greatest female poet

Beautiful sonnets were inspired by unrequited love


Gaspara Stampa, the greatest female poet of the Italian Renaissance, died on this day in 1554 in Venice at the age of 31.

She is regarded by many as the greatest Italian female poet of any age, despite having had such a brief life.

Gaspara was born in Padua and lived in the city until she was eight years old. Her father, Bartolomeo, had been a jewel and gold merchant, but after he died, Gaspara’s mother, Cecilia, took her three children to live in Venice. They were accommodated in the house of Geronimo Morosini, who was descended from a noble Venetian family, in the parish of Santi Gervasio and Protasio, now known as San Trovaso. 

Along with her sister, Cassandra, and brother, Baldassare, Gaspara was educated in literature, music, history and painting. She excelled at singing and playing the lute and her home became a cultural hub as it was visited by many Venetian writers, painters and musicians, among them Francesco Sansovino, a poet and writer who was the son of the great Florentine architect, Jacopo Sansovino.

Gaspara dedicated most of her poems to Count Collatino di Collalto of Treviso, with whom she had an affair.

Much of Gaspara Stampa's best work came after she had suffered a break-up with her lover
Much of Gaspara Stampa's best work came after she
had suffered a break-up with her lover 
When he broke off the relationship she was devastated and suffered from depression, but she wrote some of her most beautiful poems at this time, creating for herself a lasting literary reputation.

Only three of her poems were published during her lifetime although many were circulated among her literary friends in Venice.

Gaspara went to live in Florence for some time because of poor health, hoping that the milder climate might help her. But on her return to Venice in 1554 she became ill with a fever and died after 15 days on April 23. The parish register recorded the cause of her death as ‘fever, colic and mal di mare', which today would be understood as 'seasickness', although the theory has also been put forward that it could have been a suicide.

The first edition of Gaspara Stampa’s poetry, Rime di Madonna Gaspara Stampa, was published in Venice six months after her death.

Gaspara’s 311 poems are considered to be the most important collection of female poetry of the 16th century. They were edited by Gaspara’s sister, Cassandra, and the edition was dedicated to the Florentine poet and writer, Giovanni della Casa.

The 19th century German poet, Rainer Maria Rilke, refers to Gaspara Stampa in the first of his Duino Elegies, which were written while he was staying at Duino Castle on the Adriatic coast near Trieste. The Duino Elegies are now considered his greatest work.

Giotto's extraordinary decoration of the Scrovegni Chapel. which is one of the highlights of a visit to Padua
Giotto's extraordinary decoration of the Scrovegni Chapel.
which is one of the highlights of a visit to Padua
Travel tip:

The city of Padua in the Veneto, where Gaspara Stampa was born, is one of the most important centres for art in Italy. Padua has become acknowledged as the birthplace of modern art because of the Scrovegni Chapel, the inside of which is covered with frescoes by Giotto, an artistic genius who was the first to paint people with realistic facial expressions showing emotion. His scenes depicting the lives of Mary and Joseph, painted between 1303 and 1305, are considered his greatest achievement and one of the world’s most important works of art.

The two facades of the Chiesa di San Trovaso, the  centrepiece of the neighbourhood of the same name
The two facades of the Chiesa di San Trovaso, the
centrepiece of the neighbourhood of the same name
Travel tip:

San Trovaso is a neighbourhood within the Dorsoduro sestiere of Venice, just across the Accademia Bridge from the bustle of San Marco. At its heart is the Chiesa di San Trovaso, a church dedicated to the saints Gervasio and Protasio, rebuilt in 1584 on the site of a former church built in the 11th century. The church contains works of art by Domenico Tintoretto as well as his father, Jacopo, and by Michele Giambono and Palma il Giovane. The church is unusual in that it has two facades, one looking out across the Rio de San Trovaso canal, the other facing the Rio del Ognisanti. San Trovaso is also home to Venice’s oldest working gondola yard, the 17th-century Squero di San Trovaso, one of only two surviving squeri in Venice.

More reading:

Giovanni della Casa - the 16th century advocate of etiquette and good manners

Petrarch - the Renaissance poet whose work helped shape the modern Italian language

The death in Florence of English poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Also on this day:

1857: The birth in Naples of opera composer Ruggero Leoncavallo

1939: The birth of Stefano Bontade, a Sicilian Mafia boss with links to ex-PM Giulio Andreotti

1964: The birth of orchestral conductor Gianandrea Noseda


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22 April 2019

22 April

Vittorio Jano - motor racing engineer


Genius behind the success of Alfa Romeo, Lancia and Ferrari

Born on this day in 1891, Vittorio Jano was among the greatest engine designers in motor racing history.  Jano's engines powered cars for Fiat, Alfa Romeo, Lancia and Ferrari during a career that spanned four decades, winning numerous Grand Prix races.  The legendary Argentinian Juan Manuel Fangio won the fourth of his five Formula One world championships in Jano's Lancia-Ferrari D50, in 1956.  Almost 30 years earlier, Jano's Alfa Romeo P2 won the very first Grand Prix world championship in 1925, while its successor, the P3, scored a staggering 46 race wins between 1932 and 1935.  He worked for Ferrari from the mid-50s onwards, where his greatest legacy was the V-8 Dino engine, which was the staple of Ferrari cars on the track and the road between 1966 and 2004. Read more…

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Alida Valli - actress


Scandal dogged star admired by Mussolini

The actress Alida Valli, who was descendant from Austrian nobility and once described by Benito Mussolini as the most beautiful woman in the world after Greta Garbo, died on this day in 2006 at the age of 84.  One of the biggest stars in Italian cinema in the late 1930s and 40s, when she starred in numerous romantic dramas and comedies, she was best known outside Italy for playing Anna Schmidt, the actress girlfriend of Harry Lime in Carol Reed’s Oscar-winning 1949 classic The Third Man.  She was cast in the role by the producer David O Selznick, who shared the Fascist leader’s appreciation for her looks, and who billed her simply as Valli, hoping it would create for her a Garboesque enigmatic allure.  Later, however, she complained that having one name made her “feel silly”.  Her life was dogged first by accusations of an affair with one of Hitler's major Nazi accomplices and later by links with a 1950s murder scandal. Read more…

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Fiorenza Cossotto - operatic mezzo-soprano


Career overshadowed by story of ‘row’ with Maria Callas

Fiorenza Cossotto, a singer considered one of the greatest mezzo-sopranos of the 20th century, was born on this day in 1935 in Crescentino in Piedmont.  Cossotto was hailed for her interpretations of the major mezzo and contralto roles from mid-19th-century Italian operas, particularly those of Giuseppe Verdi such as Aida, Il trovatore and Don Carlos, but also Gaetano Donizetti, Amilcare Ponchielli, Vincenzo Bellini and the other important composers of the day.  Yet she is often remembered for a supposed spat with Maria Callas that led the Greek-American soprano to walk off the stage during her final performance at the Opéra in Paris of her signature role in Bellini’s Norma in 1965.  Read more…

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21 April 2019

21 April

Cosimo I de' Medici


The grand designs of a powerful archduke

The second duke of Florence and first grand duke of Tuscany, Cosimo I de' Medici,  died on this day in 1574 at the Villa di Castello near Florence.  Cosimo had proved to be both shrewd and unscrupulous, bringing Florence under his despotic control and increasing its territories.  He was the first to have the idea of uniting all public services in a single building. He commissioned the Uffizi, which meant Offices, a beautiful building that is now an art gallery in the centre of Florence.  Cosimo was the great-great-grandson of Lorenzo the Elder, whose brother was Cosimo the Elder but played no part in politics until he heard of the assassination of his distant cousin, Alessandro.  He immediately travelled to Florence and was elected head of the republic in 1537 with the approval of the city’s senate, assembly and council.  Read more...

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The birth of Rome


City said to have been founded on April 21, 753BC

Three days of celebrations begin in Rome today to mark the annual Natale di Roma Festival, which commemorates the founding of the city 2,772 years ago.  The traditional celebrations take place largely in the large open public space of Circus Maximus, which hosts many historical re-enactments, and where the main event – a costumed parade around the city, featuring more than 2,000 gladiators, senators, vestal virgins and priestesses – begins and ends. City museums offer free entry today and many of the city’s restaurants have special Natale di Roma menus.  After dark, many public places will be lit up, torches will illuminate the Aventine Hill, and firework displays will take place by the Tiber river.  According to legend, Romulus and his twin brother, Remus, founded Rome on the site where they were suckled by a she-wolf as orphaned infants. Read more...

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Silvana Mangano - actress


Star who married the producer Dino De Laurentiis

The actress Silvana Mangano, who was decried as a mere sex symbol and later hailed as a fine character actress during a quite restricted career, was born on this day in 1930 in Rome.  She found fame through Giuseppe De Santis’s neorealist film Bitter Rice, in which she played a female worker in the rice fields in the Po Valley who becomes involved with a petty criminal Walter, played by Vittorio Gassman.  Mangano’s character was a sensual, lustful young woman and the actress, a former beauty queen, carried it off so well she was hailed by one critic as “Ingrid Bergmann with a Latin disposition” and likened also to the American glamour queen Rita Hayworth.  She went on to work with many of Italy's leading directors, including Alberto Lattuada, Vittorio De Sica, Pier Paolo Pasolini and Luchino Visconti, but she made only 30 films. Read more...

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20 April 2019

20 April

Ivanoe Bonomi – statesman


Liberal socialist was a major figure in transition to peace in 1945

The anti-Fascist politician Ivanoe Bonomi, who served as prime minister of Italy both before and after the dictator Benito Mussolini was in power, died on this day in 1951.  He was 77 but still involved with Italian political life as the first president of the Senate in the new republic, an office he had held since 1948.  Bonomi had briefly been head of a coalition government in 1921, during which time he was a member of one of Italy’s socialist parties, but his major influence as an Italian statesman came during Italy’s transition to peace after the Second World War.  Having stepped away from politics in 1922 following Mussolini’s March on Rome, he resurfaced almost two decades later when he became a leading figure in an anti-Fascist movement in 1942.  Read more…

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Sant’Agnese of Montepulciano


Miraculous life and death of young nun

Dominican prioress Agnese Segni, who was reputed to have performed miracles, died on this day in 1317 in Montepulciano in Tuscany.  She was canonised by Pope Benedict XIII in 1726 and her feast day is celebrated every April 20 on the anniversary of her death.  Agnese was born into the noble Segni family in Gracciano, a frazione - parish - of Montepulciano.  At the age of nine she convinced her parents to allow her to enter a Franciscan sisterhood. She had to have the permission of the pope to be accepted into this life at such a young age, which normally would not be allowed under church law.  After a few years she was one of a group of nuns sent to start a new monastery near Orvieto. When she was just 20 years old she was chosen to be abbess of the community.  Read more...

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Massimo D’Alema – prime minister


Journalist and politician first Communist to lead Italy

Massimo D’Alema, who was prime minister of Italy from 1998 to 2000, was born on this day in 1949 in Rome.  He was the first prime minister in the history of Italy, and the first leader of any of the NATO countries, to have been a Communist Party member.  After studying Philosophy at the University of Pisa, D’Alema became a journalist by profession. He joined the Italian Young Communists’ Federation in 1963, becoming its general secretary in 1975.  D’Alema became a member of the Italian Communist Party (PCI), part of which, in 1991, gave origin to the Democratic Party of the Left (PDS), and, in 1998, to the Democrats of the Left (DS).  Read more…

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19 April 2019

19 April

Paolo Veronese – painter


Artist with a talent for using colour and painting people

A leading figure of the 16th century Venetian school of painting, the artist Paolo Veronese died on this day in 1588 in Venice.  Veronese left a legacy of huge, colourful, paintings full of figures, which depicted allegorical, biblical or historical subjects. His most famous works in include Wedding at Cana and Feast in the House of Levi. Much of his work remains in Venice to this day.  A dominant figure during the Renaissance, Veronese has continued to inspire and be appreciated by many of the great artists who came after him, in particular Rubens, Watteau, Tiepolo and Renoir.  Veronese was born in 1528, taking his grandfather’s surname of Caliari, but later adopting the surname Veronese, referencing his birthplace of Verona. Read more...

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Antonio Carluccio - chef and restaurateur


TV personality and author began his career as a wine merchant

The chef, restaurateur and author Antonio Carluccio was born on this day in 1937 in Vietri-sul-Mare in Campania.  An instantly recognisable figure due to his many television appearances, Carluccio lived in London from 1975 until his death in 2017 and built up a successful chain of restaurants bearing his name.  He was the author of 21 books about Italian food, as well as his autobiography, A Recipe for Life, which was published in 2012.  Although born in Vietri, a seaside town between Amalfi and Salerno famous for ceramics, Carluccio spent most of his childhood in the north, in Borgofranco d'Ivrea in Piedmont.  Carluccio would join his father in foraging for mushrooms and wild rocket in the mountainous countryside near their home and it was from those outings that his interest in food began to develop. Read more…

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Canaletto - Venetian painter


Brilliant artist known for beautiful views of Venice

The Venetian artist Giovanni Antonio Canal – better known as Canaletto – died on this day in 1798 in the apartment in Venice in which he had lived for most of his life.  He was 70 years old and according to art historian William George Constable he had been suffering from a fever caused by a bladder infection.  His death certificate dated April 20 indicated that he died la notte scorsa all’ore 7 circa – ‘last night at about seven o'clock’. He was buried in the nearby church of San Lio in the Castello district, not far from the Rialto bridge.  Canaletto was famous largely for the views he painted of his native city, although he also spent time in Rome and the best part of 10 years working in London.  His work was popular with English visitors to Venice, in particular. In the days before photographs, paintings were the only souvenirs that tourists could take home to remind them of the city’s beauty. Read more…

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Sara Simeoni - high jumper


Held world record and won Olympic gold

The high jumper Sara Simeoni, who is regarded as one of Italy’s greatest female athletes, was born on this day in 1953 in Rivoli Veronese, a village about 20km (12 miles) northwest of Verona.  Only the second woman to clear two metres, she won the gold medal in her event at the Moscow Olympics of 1980, setting a Games record in the process.  The Moscow Games was boycotted by 66 countries in protest at the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, yet Simeoni, who competed under the Olympic flag after Italy left the issue of participation up to individual athletes, still deserved applause as the only winner in the women’s track and field programme not from an Eastern Bloc country.  She eventually beat the Polish jumper Urszula Kielan with a leap of 1.97m, an Olympic record.  Read more...

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18 April 2019

Paolo Veronese – painter

Artist with a talent for using colour and painting people


Paolo Veronese: a self-portrait, reckoned to be painted between 1558 and 1563.
Paolo Veronese: a self-portrait, reckoned to
be painted between 1558 and 1563.
A leading figure of the 16th century Venetian school of painting, the artist Paolo Veronese died on this day in 1588 in Venice.

Veronese left a legacy of huge, colourful, paintings full of figures, which depicted allegorical, biblical or historical subjects. Much of his work remains in Venice to this day.

A dominant figure during the Renaissance, Veronese has continued to inspire and be appreciated by many of the great artists who came after him, in particular Rubens, Watteau, Tiepolo and Renoir.

Veronese was born in 1528, taking his grandfather’s surname of Caliari, but later adopting the surname Veronese, referencing his birthplace of Verona.

He began training as an artist at the age of 14 with Antonio Badile, whose daughter, Elena, he later married. One of his early works, Temptation of St Anthony, painted in 1552 for the Cathedral in Mantua, shows the influence of Michelangelo.

In 1553 he began working for the Venetian authorities on the decoration of the Palazzo Ducale. His skilful work on the ceiling of the Hall of the Council of Ten makes the figures appear to be actually floating in space above the viewer.

Veronese's painting, Wedding at Cana, full of figures and with beautiful colours, is one of his most famous works
Veronese's painting, Wedding at Cana, full of figures and
with beautiful colours, is one of his most famous works
His painting of a History of Esther for the ceiling of the Church of San Sebastiano in 1556 in Venice and his paintings for the ceiling of the Marciano Library in 1557 were awarded a prize, after being judged by Titian and Sansovino, establishing him as a master among his Venetian contemporaries.

Among his many triumphs are his decorations in the late 1550s for the Villa Barbaro in Maser, which was a newly-finished building by Andrea Palladio. These employed complex perspective and trompe l’oeil.

His famous work, Wedding at Cana, painted in 1562, was commissioned by the Benedictine monks for the San Giorgio Maggiore monastery across the lagoon from St Mark’s Square.   Veronese was contracted to cover 66 square metres and include as many figures as possible. The painting is now in the Louvre in Paris.

In 1573 Veronese completed his commission for his Feast in the House of Levi, although the painting for the rear wall of the refectory at the Basilica di Santi Giovannni e Paolo was intended to be a Last Supper.

Veronese's painting, The Feast in the House of Levi, was
originally commissioned as a Last Supper
Veronese’s banquet scene featured drunken German soldiers, dwarves and animals. The painting attracted the attention of the Inquisition who perceived it as heretical. The investigation later found there was no heresy, but the artist was ordered to change its title. Veronese chose The Feast in the House of Levi, which is still an episode from the Gospels, but one in which the Gospels specified "sinners" as being present.

In his biography of Veronese, Carlo Ridolfi said that The Feast in the House of Levi ‘gave reign to joy, made beauty majestic and made laughter, itself, more festive.’

In 1860, the art critic Theophile Gautier wrote that Veronese was ‘the greatest colourist who ever lived’.

Veronese died in Venice after contracting a fever in April 1588, when he was in his 60th year.  His brother and sons had him buried in the Church of San Sebastiano, which he had spent many years decorating, and they had a bust placed over his grave.

The Chiesa di San Sebastiano,
where Veronese painted for 15 years
Travel tip:

Veronese spent three periods between 1555 and 1570 decorating the interior of Chiesa di San Sebastiano in Venice. His last work for the church was the painting behind the high altar, Madonna in Glory with St Sebastian and other Saints, completed in 1570. Veronese’s tomb is to the left of the sanctuary. The church is in Campazzo San Sebastiano, a short walk from Ponte dell’Accademia, the Accademia bridge.

The entrance to the Gallerie dell'
Accademia, in Campo della Carità
Travel tip:

Veronese’s masterpiece, The Feast in the House of Levi, originally painted for the refectory at the Basilica di Santi Giovanni e Paolo, is now in Venice’s Gallerie dell’Accademia, an art gallery in Campo della Carita close to the Grand Canal, after which the wooden bridge, Ponte dell’Accademia is named.

More reading:

Titian - the giant of Renaissance art

How Sansovino left his mark on Venice

What made Palladio the world's favourite architect

Also on this day:

1798: The death of supremely gifted painter of Venetian scenes, Canaletto

1937: The birth of chef and restaurateur Antonio Carluccio

1953: The birth of Olympic champion Sara Simeon


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