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

Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Marisa Pavan - actress

Twin sister of tragic star Pier Angeli


Marisa Pavan (left) with Anna  Magnani in The Rose Tattoo
Marisa Pavan (left) with Anna
Magnani in The Rose Tattoo
The actress Marisa Pavan, whose twin sister Pier Angeli was a Hollywood star in the 1950s and 1960s, was born on this day in 1932 as Maria Luisa Pierangeli in Cagliari, Sardinia.

Pavan’s career ran parallel with that of her sister, who was born 20 minutes before her, but she rejected the re-invention as an ultra-glamorous starlet that Pier Angeli underwent within the Hollywood studio system.

She turned roles down when she felt they did not have enough substance and did not hesitate to sack agents if she felt they were putting her forward for unsuitable parts.  She refused to sign up to any one studio.

Her biggest success was The Rose Tattoo, the 1955 film adaptation of a Tennessee Williams play in which she played the daughter of the central character, played by Anna Magnani, one of postwar Italian cinema’s most respected actresses.

Magnani won an Oscar for Best Actress for her portrayal of a Sicilian widow, with Pavan receiving a nomination for best supporting actress at the Academy Awards and although that award went to someone else she did have the substantial compensation of winning a Golden Globe for the role.

The Pierangeli family had left Sardinia for Rome when the twins were three years old as their father, Luigi, pursued his career as an architect. Life began to change for the family in 1948 when her sister, then still known by her real name, Anna Maria Pierangeli, was approached by the famous actor and director, Vittorio De Sica, while walking along fashionable Via Veneto, and asked if she might be interested in a part.

Pavan with her husband, the French actor Jean-Pierre Aumont, in 1965
Pavan with her husband, the French actor
Jean-Pierre Aumont, in 1965
She won an award at the Venice Film Festival for the role De Sica gave her and it was not long before the twins, their younger sister Patrizia and their mother were leaving for the United States to support Anna Maria’s new career in Hollywood. The only sadness was that they travelled without the girls’ father, Luigi, who had died a short time before they were due to leave.

Marisa, who had always been more studious than her sister, had no intention of becoming an actress herself, devoting herself to studying languages and journalism.  She nonetheless did follow Anna into the movie business, but only after claiming she was ‘tricked’ into an audition by the producer Albert Romolo ‘Cubby’ Broccoli.

Broccoli invited her to look round the Twentieth Century Fox studios and while visiting one set he gave her a costume to try on and asked her if she would like to show off her language skills by singing a song in French. Thinking it was just for fun she obliged.

The penny dropped only when she spotted an actress she recognised, Anne Bancroft, wearing the same costume. It turned out that among a small number of people on the set was the director John Ford, who hired her for a part in his 1952 comedy drama, What Price Glory, starring James Cagney and Corinne Calvet.

Although she agreed to have a shorter, catchier name for professional purposes - she chose Pavan after a Jewish soldier her family hid from the authorities during the Second World War - that was one of the few ways in her career resembled that of Pier Angeli.


Marisa Pavan has campaigned for  Alzheimer's research in recent years
Marisa Pavan has campaigned for
Alzheimer's research in recent years
Always keen to take parts that demanded something of her acting ability, she played a blind American woman in Down Three Dark Streets (1954), a Native American girl in Drum Beat (1954), the Italian noblewoman Catherine de’ Medici in Diane (1956), a French lady at the Court of Louis XVI in John Paul Jones (1959) and a Jewish woman in ancient Israel in Solomon and Sheba (1959).

Married in Santa Barbara in 1956 to the French actor Jean-Pierre Aumont, she raised two sons, Jean-Claude and Patrick, while continuing to act, diversifying into television in the 1960s and 1970s.

After the tragedy of Pier Angeli’s death from a barbiturates overdose in 1971, which continued to work, but increasingly in France, after she and her husband moved to Gassin, in the South of France.

Once her career was effectively over, she devoted much time to URMA (Unis pour la Recherche sur la Maladie d'Alzheimer), an organisation she created to support and finance research laboratories working to find treatments for Alzheimer’s.

She remained close to her sister Patrizia, also an actress, who worked in Paris dubbing movies. Her husband died in 2001.

The old town of Castello stands above modern Cagliari
The old town of Castello stands above modern Cagliari
Travel tip:

Cagliari is Sardinia’s main port and an industrial centre it is now also a popular tourist destination, with tree-lined boulevards and a charming historic centre, known as Castello, with limestone buildings that prompted DH Lawrence, whose first view of the city was from the sea as ‘a confusion of domes, palaces and ornamental facades seemingly piled on top of one another’, to call it 'the white Jerusalem'.

The tree-line Via Vittorio Veneto in Rome
The tree-line Via Vittorio Veneto in Rome
Travel tip:

Rome’s Via Vittorio Veneto, more often known simply as the Via Veneto, is traditionally one of the most famous, elegant, and exclusive streets in the city, the home of many expensive hotels and of chic cafes where the famous and those who wanted to be famous would hang out, particularly in the 1950s and 60s. Much of the action in Federico Fellini's classic 1960 film La Dolce Vita took place in the Via Veneto area.  The street was actually named to commemorate a the victory of Italian forces at the Battle of Vittorio Veneto towards the end of the First World War.

More reading:

The brilliance of Oscar winner Anna Magnani

How Fellini became Italy's most famous film director

Marcello Mastroianni - star who immortalised Rome's Trevi Fountain

Also on this day:

1918: The death in action of World War One fighter pilot Francesco Baracca

1932: The birth of Hollywood film star Pier Angeli

Home 

Monday, 18 June 2018

Bartolomeo Ammannati – sculptor and architect

Florentine artist created masterpieces for his home city


Bartolomeo Ammannati sculpted the  Fountain of Neptune in Florence
Bartolomeo Ammannati sculpted the
Fountain of Neptune in Florence
Bartolomeo Ammannati, whose buildings in Italy marked the transition from the Renaissance to the Baroque style, was born on this day in 1511 at Settignano near Florence.

Ammannati began his career as a sculptor, carving statues in a number of Italian cities during the 1530s.

He trained first under Baccio Bandinelli and then under Jacopo Sansovino in Venice, working with him on the Library of St Mark, the Biblioteca Marciana, in the Piazzetta.

Pope Julius III called Ammannati to Rome in 1550 on the advice of architect and art historian Giorgio Vasari. Ammannati then worked with Vasari and Giacomo da Vignola on the Villa Giulia, which belonged to the Pope.

In the same year, Ammannati married the poet Laura Battiferri and they spent the early years of their marriage in Rome.

Cosimo I de' Medici brought Ammannati back to Florence in 1555, and it was where he was to spend the rest of his career.

His first job was to finish the Laurentian Library begun by Michelangelo. He interpreted a clay model sent to him by Michelangelo to produce the impressive staircase leading from the vestibule into the library.

The garden entrance of the Ammannati Courtyard at the Palazzo Pitti in Florence
The garden entrance of the Ammannati Courtyard at the
Palazzo Pitti in Florence
Ammannati’s masterpiece in Florence is considered to be the Pitti Palace, where he enlarged Filippo Brunelleschi’s basic structure and designed a courtyard and facade opening on to the Boboli Gardens.

His other major works in Florence are the Bridge of Santa Trinità over the Arno and the Fountain of Neptune in the Piazza della Signoria. It is believed the sculptor modelled Neptune’s face on that of Cosimo I de' Medici.

As he became older Ammannati was influenced by the philosophy of the Jesuits and turned away from sculpting nude statues in order to create more austere buildings.

Ammannati’s wife, Laura, died in 1589 and he attempted to have a final anthology of her poetry compiled, but he died in Florence in 1592 before it was completed. He left all his possessions to the Jesuits and was buried in the same church as his wife, the Church of San Giovannino degli Scolopi in the San Lorenzo district of Florence, which he had himself designed for the Jesuits.

The view from Piazza Desiderio in the centre of Settignano
The view from Piazza Desiderio in the centre of Settignano
Travel tip:

Settignano, where Ammannati was born, is a hilltop village northeast of Florence with wonderful views that have attracted tourists for years. Three other Renaissance sculptors were born there, Desiderio da Settignano, Bernardo Rossellino and Antonio Rossellino. The young Michelangelo lived there for a time with a sculptor and his wife in a farmhouse, which is now known as Villa Michelangelo. Mark Twain and his wife stayed in Settignano in the 1890s and the writer wrote that their villa had the ‘most charming view to be found on this planet.’ Gabriele D’Annunzio bought a villa on the outskirts of Settignano in 1898 to be nearer to his lover, Eleonora Duse, who was living there.

The Fountain of Neptune in front of the Palazzo Vecchio in Piazza della Signoria
The Fountain of Neptune in front of the Palazzo Vecchio in
Piazza della Signoria
Travel tip:

The Fountain of Neptune in front of the Palazzo Vecchia in Piazza della Signoria in Florence is one of Ammannati’s most famous sculptures. Created in 1575, it features the Roman sea god Neptune surrounded by water nymphs and it was designed to commemorate Tuscan naval victories. The work was originally assigned to Baccio Bandinelli after Cosimo I de' Medici invited designs to be submitted in a competition, but Bandinelli died before he could start work and Ammannati was asked to complete the project.

More reading:

Filippo Bruneleschi - genius behind the dome of Florence Cathedral

How Benvenuto Cellini made his mark on Florence

The story of Michelangelo's David

Also on this day:

1943: The birth of singer and TV presenter Raffaella Carrà

1946: The birth of former England football manager Fabio Capello

Home

Sunday, 17 June 2018

Rinaldo ‘Dindo’ Capello - endurance racing driver

Three times winner of the Le Mans 24 Hours 


Rinaldo Capello was one of Italy's top drivers in endurance motor racing
Rinaldo Capello was one of Italy's top
drivers in endurance motor racing
Rinaldo ‘Dindo’ Capello, one of Italy’s most successful endurance racing drivers, was born on this day in 1964 in Asti, in Piedmont.

During a period between 1997 and 2008 in which there was an Italian winning driver in all bar two years, Capello won the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the most prestigious endurance race on the calendar, three times.

Only Emanuele Pirro, his sometimes Audi teammate and rival during that period, has more victories in the race among Italian drivers, with five. Pirro won in 2000, 2001, 2002, 2006 and 2007, Capello in 2003, 2004 and 2008.

Capello’s career record also includes two championship wins in the American Le Mans Series and five victories in the 12 Hours of Sebring. He is also record holder for most wins at Petit Le Mans, the race run annually at Atlanta, Georgia to Le Mans rules, with five.

Alongside teammates Tom Kristensen and Allan McNish, he was regarded as the quiet man of the all-conquering Audi sports car team, although his contribution was every bit as impressive.

Capello’s ambitions when he began his single-seater career were the same as other young drivers - to work his way up to Formula One.

The Bentley EXP "Speed Eight" that provided Capello with the first of his three 24 Hours of Le Mans wins
The Bentley EXP "Speed Eight" that provided Capello
with the first of his three 24 Hours of Le Mans wins
He raced in Formula Three from 1985 to 1990, winning the penultimate race of the 1987 Italian F3 championship. In 1988, when he was fourth in the Italian championship, he shone in the F3 support race at the Monaco Grand Prix, finding a way through the field in an accident-strewn race to finish fourth, having started from 19th on the grid.

But two years later, he abandoned single-seaters and soon began a relationship with the Volkswagen Audi Group that he would retain for the rest of his career.

Success came almost immediately in Italy’s national Group A saloon car series, Capello winning the title in a Volkswagen Golf. He stepped up to the Italian Super Touring Car championship, scored a first win for Audi in 1994 and was the series champion in 1996.

He made his Le Mans 24 hours debut in 1998. He had to pull out because of accident damage to his car but for the next seven years he never finished below fourth.

Capello at the wheel of his Audi R10 during the 1000km of Silverstone race in 2008
Capello at the wheel of his Audi R10 during the
1000km of Silverstone race in 2008 
He joined Audi Sport Team Joest in 1999 and won several races in the following year’s American Le Mans Series, helping co-driver McNish to clinch the title.  He had a similar season in 2002 when Kristensen won the title and Capello, as in 1999, was runner-up.

Two second-place finishes at Le Mans in 2001 and 2002 were followed by his first victory in 2003 when VAG decided to promote its Bentley brand at Le Mans and Capello shared a Bentley EXP "Speed Eight" with four-time winner Kristensen and Englishman Guy Smith.

It was the first time the Bentley marque had won the race for 73 years, recalling the dominance of Bentley sports cars at Le Mans between 1924 and 1930, when they won the race five times.

The Dane Kristensen, who is the most successful driver in the history of Le Mans, would be one of Capello’s co-drivers again when he scored his second victory the following year and won for a third time in 2008, the other co-drivers being Seiji Aja of Japan and McNish respectively.

With McNish again, Capello won the American Le Mans Series title in 2006 and 2007.

After winning his fifth 12 Hours of Sebring in Florida in 2012, Capello finished second at Le Mans, recording his 10th podium finish in endurance racing’s most famous race.

A month later, he announced his retirement from prototype racing, fulfilling his intention to finish at the top of his game, rather than allow advancing years to compromise his sharpness behind the wheel.

He has continued to appear as an ambassador for Audi and in 2016 was inducted into the Sebring Hall of Fame, having been an enormously popular figure around the Florida circuit.

The Torre Comentina is one of Asti's surviving medieval towers
The Torre Comentina is one of Asti's
surviving medieval towers
Travel tip:

Asti, a city of just over 75,000 inhabitants about 55 km (34 miles) east of Turin, offers many reminders in its historic centre of its years of prosperity in the 13th century when it occupied a strategic position on trade routes between Turin, Milan, and Genoa. The area between the centre and the cathedral is rich in medieval palaces and merchants’ houses, the owners of which would often compete with their  neighbours to build the tallest towers, which once saw Asti known as the City of 100 Towers. In fact there were 120, of which a number remain, including the Torre Comentina, the octagonal Torre de Regibus and Torre Troyana.

The Palio di Asti is held every September to celebrate a victory over the rival city of Alba in the Middle Ages
The Palio di Asti is held every September to celebrate
a victory over the rival city of Alba in the Middle Ages
Travel tip:

Asti has staged an annual horse race in the centre of the city for longer even than Siena. The Palio di Asti features horses representing the traditional town wards, called Rioni and Borghi, as well plus nearby towns in a bare-back race. The event apparently recalls a victory in battle over Asti’s rival city, Alba, during the Middle Ages, after which some of the victorious soldiers celebrated with a horse race around Alba's walls. The modern reconstruction takes place in the triangular Piazza Alfieri on the third Sunday of September, preceded by a medieval pageant through the historic centre.

More reading:

Giannino Marzotto, the double Mille Miglia winner who finished fifth at Le Mans

How Lella Lombardi defied the odds to race at the highest level

The longevity of Riccardo Patrese

Also on this day:

1691: The birth of Giovanni Paolo Panini, painter of Roman scenes

1952: The birth of auto executive Sergio Marchionne, the man who saved Fiat

Home

Saturday, 16 June 2018

Pietro Bracci - sculptor

Artist best known for Oceanus statue at Trevi Fountain


Pietro Bracci's statue, Oceanus, is the  centrepiece of the Trevi Fountain in Rome
Pietro Bracci's statue, Oceanus, is the
centrepiece of the Trevi Fountain in Rome
The sculptor Pietro Bracci, who left his mark on the architectural landscape of Rome with the colossal six-metre high statue Oceanus that towers over the Trevi Fountain, was born on this day in 1700 in Rome.

The monumental figure is shown standing on a chariot, in the form of a shell, pulled by two winged horses flanked by two tritons. Bracci worked from sketches by Giovanni Battista Maini, who died before he could execute the project.

He also completed work on the fountain itself, built in front of Luigi Vanvitelli’s Palazzo Poli. This was started by Bracci’s close friend Nicola Salvi, who had been commissioned by Pope Clement XII to realize plans drawn up by Gian Lorenzo Bernini that had been shelved in the previous century. Salvi died in 1751, before he could complete the work. Giuseppe Pannini was also involved for a while before Bracci took over in 1761.

The work confirmed Bracci as a major talent of his time in the field of sculpture, one of the greatest of the late Baroque period, continuing in the tradition established by Bernini in the previous century that gave the city of Rome so many wonderful monuments.

Bracci’s most significant works in addition to the Trevi are considered to be four monumental tombstones, two of which are in St Peter’s Basilica.

The monumental tomb of Maria Clementina Sobieski in St Peter's Basilica
The monumental tomb of Maria Clementina
Sobieski in St Peter's Basilica
The most beautiful, and arguably the one that provides the fullest expression of Bracci’s talent, is the one that commemorates Maria Clementina Sobieski (1742), descendant from the Polish king, who was the wife of the "Old Pretender", James Stuart, one of the Catholic Stuart claimants to the thrones of England, Scotland and Ireland. The sculpture is in polychrome with an image of Maria Clementina in mosaic held aloft by Charity.

Bracci also sculpted the figures for the tomb of Benedict XIII (1734) in Santa Maria sopra Minerva, Rome, which was designed by the architect Carlo Marchionni, and for the tomb of Benedict XIV (1763–1770) in St Peter’s Basilica, completed with the help of his pupil Gaspare Sibilia, as well as the polychromatic tomb of Cardinal Giuseppe Renato Imperiali (1741) in Sant'Agostino in Rome.

The son of a wood sculptor, Bracci was an apprentice in the workshop of the sculptor Camillo Rusconi for six years. He became a member of L’Accademia dell’Arcadia in Rome and of L’Accademia di San Luca and opened his own workshop in the Piazza Trinità dei Monti in 1725.

He married Faustina Mancini, the daughter of the painter Francesco Mancini. They had a son, Virginio, who grew up to be a sculptor and architect, who was heavily involved with the construction of the town of Servigliano in the Marche, and gave much help and advice to the young Antonio Canova.

Bracci died in Rome in Rome in 1773 and was buried in the Pantheon, where his son had commissioned a bust of his father by Vincenzo Pacetti. 

The Trevi Fountain stands in front of the Palazzo Poli. It is  one of Rome's most visited tourist sites.
The Trevi Fountain stands in front of the Palazzo Poli. It is
one of Rome's most visited tourist sites.
Travel tip:

The Trevi Fountain takes its name from its location in the Trevi district of Rome. An earlier fountain on the site was demolished in the 17th century. Nicola Salvi’s design was chosen after entries were invited to a competition. The idea of incorporating the fountain as part of the front of the Palazzo Poli came from a project by Pietro da Cortona, but the central triumphal arch with its mythological and allegorical figures, natural rock formations, and gushing water was Salvi’s idea. The immense fountain stands some 85 ft (26m) high and is approximately 160 ft (49m) wide. Its water, from the ancient aqueduct called Acqua Vergine, was long considered Rome’s softest and best tasting. The water today is not considered fit for drinking. The coins that are thrown into the fountain are collected daily and donated to charity.

The Piazza di Spagna and the Via Condotti seen from the Piazza Trinità dei Monti, above the Spanish Steps
The Piazza di Spagna and the Via Condotti seen from the
Piazza Trinità dei Monti, above the Spanish Steps
Travel tip:

The Piazza Trinità dei Monti, where Bracci opened his first workshop, is a square in central Rome adjoining the Renaissance church of the Santissima Trinità dei Monti, at the top of the Scalinata di Trinità dei Monti, better known as the Spanish Steps. During Springtime, just before the anniversary of the foundation of Rome, April 21, part of the steps are covered by pots of azaleas. Recently, the Spanish Steps have included a small cut-flower market. The steps are not a place for eating lunch, being forbidden by Roman urban regulations, but they are usually crowded with people.

More reading:

How Nicola Salvi's designs were chosen for the Trevi Fountain

Gian Lorenzo Bernini - the architect, more than any, who conceived the look of Rome

The consecration of St Peter's Basilica

Also on this day:

1942: The birth of 15-times world motorcycling champion Giacomo Agostini

2008: The death of Mario Rigoni Stern, war hero who became bestselling novelist

Home


Friday, 15 June 2018

Carlo Cattaneo - philosopher and writer

Intellectual who became a key figure in Milan uprising


Carlo Cattaneo was an intellectual who led the Five Days of Milan uprising
Carlo Cattaneo was an intellectual who
led the Five Days of Milan uprising
Carlo Cattaneo, the philosopher and political writer who emerged as a leader in the so-called Five Days of Milan, the 1848 rebellion against the harsh rule of Austria, was born on this day in 1801 in Milan.

An influential figure in academic and intellectual circles in Milan, whose ideas helped shape the Risorgimento, Cattaneo was fundamentally against violence as a means to achieve change.

Yet when large-scale rioting broke out in the city in March 1848 he joined other intellectuals bringing organisation to the insurrection and succeeded in driving out Austrian’s occupying army, at least temporarily.

The uprising happened against a backcloth of social reform in other parts of the peninsula, in Rome and further south in Salerno, Naples and Sicily. 

By contrast, the Austrians, who ruled most of northern Italy, sought to strengthen their grip by imposing harsh tax increases on the citizens and sent out tax collectors, supported by the army, to ensure that everybody paid.

Cattaneo, who published his philosophical and political ideas in a journal entitled Il Politecnico, considered negotiation was the best way to represent the grievances of Milanese citizens and obtained some concessions from Austria’s deputy governer in the city.

Cattaneo was a republican who refused to swear an oath to the monarchy
Cattaneo was a republican who refused
to swear an oath to the monarchy
But when these were immediately cancelled by Josef Radetzky, the veteran general and highly accomplished military leader in charge of the Milan garrison, he changed his mind, realising that it was unlikely that any dialogue could take place with the Lombard nobility or the Vienna court.

So when trouble erupted on March 18, Cattaneo joined with Enrico Cernuschi, Giulio Terzaghi and Giorgio Clerici, who were three political progressives of his acquaintance, in forming a council of war.

Based at the Palazzo Taverna in Via Bigli, they organised the insurgents to fight tactical battles and harnessed the passion of the Milanese so effectively, persuading even priests to join the street battles and mobilising farmers from the surrounding countryside to come to the city to give their support, that the Austrians, weakened after Radetzky was forced to send some of his troops to Vienna, to quell a simultaneous revolt there, sought an armistice.

Cattaneo rejected the request, and in the evening of March 22, after five days of fighting, Radetzky decided to minimise his losses and began a withdrawal to the Quadrilatero, an area between Milan and Venice protected by four fortresses.

Despite King Charles Albert, whom Cattaneo disliked, sending his Piedmontese army to war with the Austrians the following day at the start of the First Italian War of Independence, Radetzky marched back into Milan within five months and Cattaneo, who had been at the head of a temporary government in Milan, fled to Switzerland.

The monument to Carlo Cattaneo in Via Santa Margherita in Milan
The monument to Carlo Cattaneo in
Via Santa Margherita in Milan
He settled in Lugano, where he wrote his Storia della Rivoluzione del 1848 (History of the 1848 Revolution) and other historical works. In 1860, he relaunched Politecnico, in which he expressed his vision of Italy as a progressive federalist republic.

He opposed Cavour for his unitarian views and when Garibaldi invited him to be part of the government of the Neapolitan provinces, he would not agree to the union with Piedmont. In the unified Italy he was frequently asked to stand for parliament, but always ruled himself out because he felt he could not swear an oath of allegiance to the monarchy.

He died in Castagnolo, a village on the north shore of Lake Lugano.


The plaque outside Cattaneo's headquarters in Via Bigli
The plaque outside Cattaneo's headquarters in Via Bigli
Travel tip:

Palazzo Taverna in Via Bigli in Milan, which acquired its name after it passed into the possession of Count Francesco Taverna in 1502, is celebrated for its role in the Five Days of Milan, when it became the headquarters of the insurgents after they were forced to abandon the nearby Palazzo Vidiserti. There is a plaque on the facade of the building bearing the inscription: “In this house while the people combated in the five days of March 1848 the central committee of the insurrection rejected the armistice offered by General Radetzky."

The Castelvecchio in Verona was one of the fortresses in the Quadrilatero
The Castelvecchio in Verona was one
of the fortresses in the Quadrilatero
Travel tip:

The Quadrilatero, often called the Quadrilateral Fortresses in English, is the traditional name of a defensive system of the Austrian Empire in the Lombardy-Venetia region of Italy, which was defended by the fortresses of Peschiera, Mantua, Legnago and Verona, between the Mincio, the Po and Adige Rivers, all of which are well preserved.

More reading:

The Five Days of Milan

Venice 1849: History's first air raid

Camillo Benso, Count of Cavour - Italy's first prime minister

Also on this day:

1479: The birth of Lisa del Giocondo, Da Vinci's 'Mona Lisa'

1927: The birth of comic book artist Hugo Pratt

Home







Thursday, 14 June 2018

Salvatore Quasimodo - Nobel Prize winner

Civil engineer wrote poetry in his spare time


Salvatore Quasimodo is one of six Italians to win the Nobel Prize in Literature
Salvatore Quasimodo is one of six Italians to win
the Nobel Prize in Literature
Salvatore Quasimodo, who was one of six Italians to have won a Nobel Prize in Literature, died on this day in 1968 in Naples.

The former civil engineer, who working for the Italian government in Reggio Calabria when he published his first collection of poems and won the coveted and historic Nobel Prize in 1959, suffered a cerebral haemorrhage in Amalfi, in Campania, where he had gone to preside over a poetry prize.

He was taken by car to Naples but died in hospital a few hours later, at the age of 66.  He had suffered a heart attack previously during a visit to the Soviet Union.

The committee of the Swedish Academy, who meet to decide each year’s Nobel laureates, cited Quasimodo’s “lyrical poetics, which with ardent classicism expresses the tragic experiences of the life of our times".

The formative experiences that shaped his literary life began when he was a child when his father, a station master in Modica, the small city in the province of Ragusa in Sicily, where Salvatore was born in 1901, was transferred in January 1909 to Messina, at the tip of the island closest to the mainland, to supervise the reorganisation of train services in the wake of the devastating earthquake of December 1908.

Much of the city had been destroyed in the quake, as had Reggio Calabria, just across the Straits of Messina, and Quasimodo’s family lived in a freight wagon in an abandoned station. The physical devastation all around them had a profound effect on Salvatore, as did his daily contact with survivors in their struggle to come to terms with the destruction of their surroundings and the catastrophic loss of human lives, with perhaps as many as 120,000 killed in the areas worst hit.

Quasimodo worked as a civil engineer before turning to writing full time
Quasimodo worked as a civil engineer before
turning to writing full time
Quasimodo attended college in Palermo and, later, the rebuilt Messina, where he was able to publish his poetry for the first time in a journal he founded with a couple of fellow students.

He graduated in maths and physics and moved to Rome, hoping to continue his studies with a view to becoming an engineer.  But he had little money and had to abandon his studies in order to earn a living, taking a number of short-term jobs. In time he moved to Florence, where he got to know a number of poets and developed an interest in the hermetic movement, a form of poetry in which the sounds of the words are as important as their meaning.

Eventually in 1926 he handed a position with the Ministry of Public Works in Reggio Calabria, working with civil engineers as a surveyor.  He continued to write and to study Greek and Latin, making friends both in literary and political circles, including an anti-fascist group in the city. He also married for the first time. His published his first collection of poetry, called Acque e terre (Waters and Lands) in 1930.

He was transferred a number of times with his job, to Imperia, Genoa and Milan, before he quit to write full time from 1938.  In 1941 he was appointed professor of Italian literature at the "Giuseppe Verdi" Conservatory of Music in Milan, a position he held until his death.

After the Second World War, in which he was an outspoken critic of Mussolini but did not join the Italian resistance movement, his poetry shifted from the hermetic movement to a style that reflected his increasing engagement with social criticism.

The area of the Sicilian town of Modica in which  Salvatore Quasimodo was born in 1901
The area of the Sicilian town of Modica in which
Salvatore Quasimodo was born in 1901
Among his best-known volumes were Giorno dopo giorno (Day After Day), La vita non è sogno (Life Is Not a Dream), Il falso e il vero verde (The False and True Green) and La terra impareggiabile (The Incomparable Land).

He won numerous prizes in addition to the Nobel Prize, in which he joined Giosuè Carducci (1906), Grazia Deledda (1926) and Luigi Pirandello (1934) as Italian winners of the Literature award. Eugenio Montale (1975) and Dario Fo (1997) followed him.

After his first wife had died in 1948, he was married for a second time to the film actress and dancer, Maria Cumani, with whom he had a tumultuous relationship that produced a son, Alessandro, before they were legally separated in 1960.

After his death in Naples, he was buried in the Monumental Cemetery in Milan in the Famedio - a place reserved for the tombs of famous people - alongside another great writer, novelist, poet and playwright, Alessando Manzoni.

Modica's spectacular cathedral of San Giorgio
Modica's spectacular cathedral of San Giorgio
Travel tip:

Built amid the dramatic landscape of the Monti Iblei, with its hills and deep valleys, the steep streets and stairways of the medieval centre combined with many examples of more recent Baroque architecture, including a spectacular cathedral, make UNESCO-listed Modica is one of southern Sicily's most atmospheric towns, with numerous things to see in its two parts, Modica Alta, the older, upper town, and Modica Bassa, which is the more modern but still historic lower town. Famous in Sicily for its chocolate, it has the reputation of a warm and welcoming city with an authentic Sicilian character.

Part of the dramatic cityscape of Ragusa
Part of the dramatic cityscape of Ragusa
Travel tip:

Nearby Ragusa, the principal city of the province and just 15km (9 miles) from Modica, is arguably even more picturesque. Set in the same rugged landscape with a similar mix of medieval and Baroque architecture. again it has two parts - Ragusa Ibla, a town on top of a hill rebuilt on the site of the original settlement destroyed in a major earthquake in 1693, and Ragusa Superiore, which was built on flatter ground nearby in the wake of the earthquake.  A spectacular sight in its own right and affording wonderful views as well, Ragusa Ibla may seem familiar to viewers of the TV detective series Inspector Montalbano as the dramatic hillside city in the title sequence. The city streets also feature regular in location filming for the series, based on the books of Andrea Camilleri.

More reading:

Giosuè Carducci - Italy's first winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature

Dario Fo - the outspoken genius whose work put spotlight on corruption

The playwright born in a village called Chaos

Also on this day:

1800: Napoleon defeats the Austrians at the Battle of Marengo

1837: The death of the poet and philosopher Giacomo Leopardi

Home




Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Giovanni Antonio Magini – astronomer and cartographer

Scientist laboured to produce a comprehensive atlas of Italy


The cover of Magini's great work, which was published by his son in 1620
The cover of Magini's great work, which
was published by his son in 1620
Giovanni Antonio Magini, who dedicated his life to producing a detailed atlas of Italy, was born on this day in 1555 in Padua.

He also devised his own planetary theory consisting of 11 rotating spheres and invented calculating devices to help him work on the geometry of the sphere.

Magini was born in Padua and went to study philosophy in Bologna, receiving his doctorate in 1579. He then dedicated himself to astronomy and in 1582 wrote his Ephemerides coelestium motuum, a major treatise on the subject, which was translated into Italian the following year.

In 1588 Magini joined in the competition for the chair of mathematics at Bologna University and was chosen over Galileo because he was older and had more moderate views. He held the position for the rest of his life.

But his greatest achievement was the preparation of Italia, or the Atlante geografico d’Italia, which was printed posthumously by Magini’s son in 1620.

Although Italy as a state has existed only since 1861, the name Italia, referring to the southern part of the peninsula, may go back to the ancient Greeks. It appeared on coins thought to have been produced in the 1st century BC and was eventually applied to the whole of the peninsula. Magini’s atlas set out to include maps of every Italian region with exact names and historical notes.

Giovanni Antonio Magini
Giovanni Antonio Magini
It proved expensive to produce and Magini took on extra posts in order to fund it. These included working as mathematics tutor to the sons of Vincenzo I of Gonzaga, Duke of Mantua.

The atlas is dedicated to the duke, who assisted him with the project by arranging for maps of the many states of Italy to be brought to Magini.

The governments of Messina and Genoa also assisted him financially to help him produce the atlas.

Magini died in Bologna in 1617 and the lunar crater maginus was later named after him.

Giotto's brilliant frescoes cover the walls of the Scrovegni Chapel, one of the Italy's great artistic treasures
Giotto's brilliant frescoes cover the walls of the Scrovegni
Chapel, one of the Italy's great artistic treasures
Travel tip:

Padua in the Veneto, where Magini was born, is one of the most important centres for art in Italy and home to the country’s second oldest university. 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. At Palazzo Bo in the centre of the city, where Padua’s university was founded in 1222, you can still see the original lectern used by Galileo and the world’s first anatomy theatre, where dissections were secretly carried out from 1594.

The courtyard of the Archiginnasio, the oldest surviving building of the University of Bologna
The courtyard of the Archiginnasio, the oldest surviving
building of the University of Bologna
Travel tip:

Bologna University, where Magini occupied the chair in Mathematics, was founded in 1088 and is the oldest university in the world. The oldest surviving building, the Archiginnasio, is now a library and is open Monday to Friday from 9 am to 7 pm, and on Saturdays from 9 am to 2 pm. It is a short walk away from Piazza Maggiore and the Basilica di San Petronio in the centre of the city.

Also on this day:

The feast of St Anthony of Padua

2000: Mehmet Ali Agca, the gunman who tried to kill Pope John Paul II, is granted a state pardon by the Italian government

Home