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.

Monday, 22 October 2018

Giovanni Martinelli – tenor

Singer made his fame abroad


Giovanni Martinelli was seen as the  successor to Enrico Caruso
Giovanni Martinelli was seen as the
successor to Enrico Caruso
One of the most famous tenors of the 20th century, Giovanni Martinelli, was born on this day in 1885 in Montagnana in the province of Padua in the Veneto.

Martinelli began his career playing the clarinet in a military band and then studied as a singer with Giuseppe Mandolini in Milan. He made his professional debut at the Teatro del Verme in Milan in the title role of Giuseppe Verdi's Ernani in 1910.

Martinelli became famous for singing the role of Dick Johnson in Giacomo Puccini's La Fanciulla del West, which he performed in Rome, Brescia, Naples, Genoa, Monte Carlo and also at La Scala in Milan.

He played Cavaradossi in Puccini's Tosca at the Royal Opera House in London and took on the same role for his first American engagement in 1913. That same year Martinelli portrayed Pantagruel in the world premiere of Jules Massenet’s Panurge in Paris.

He attracted favourable reviews when he played Rodolfo in Puccini's La Bohème at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. He went on to sing 36 different roles for the theatre over 32 seasons.

Martinelli on stage in a production of  Rossini's opera William Tell
Martinelli on stage in a production of
Rossini's opera William Tell
In 1937 Martinelli returned to London to sing opposite the English soprano Eva Turner at Covent Garden.

He retired from the stage in 1950, but gave one final performance in 1967 at the age of 82 as Emperor Altoum in Puccini's Turandot in Seattle.

At the peak of his career Martinelli had a strong high C and exceptional breath control.

In America he was regarded as Enrico Caruso’s successor, even though their voices were different.
He made a number of recordings for Edison and the Victor Talking Machine.

Martinelli was married to Adele Previtali with whom he had three children. He died in 1969 at Roosevelt Hospital in New York City.

Montagnana's walls are some of the best preserved in the whole of Europe
Montagnana's walls are some of the best
preserved in the whole of Europe
Travel tip: 

Montagnana, where Martinelli was born, is one of the borghi più belli d’talia - an association of the most beautiful small towns in Italy - because it has some of the best preserved medieval walls in Europe. The cathedral has a fresco that has recently been attributed to the artist Giorgione.

The Teatro del Verme in Milan, where Martinelli made his operatic debut in 1910
The Teatro del Verme in Milan, where Martinelli
made his operatic debut in 1910
Travel tip:

The Teatro del Verme in Milan, where Martinelli made his operatic debut, is in Via San Giovannni sul Muro and was built on the site of a previous theatre. It was used for plays and operas throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. Today the theatre is a venue for concert, plays and dance performances as well as exhibitions and conferences.

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Sunday, 21 October 2018

Prince Amedeo, Duke of Aosta

Cousin of Italy's wartime monarch died in a POW camp


As Governor-General, the Duke of Aosta led the East Africa Campaign
As Governor-General, the Duke of
Aosta led the East Africa Campaign
Prince Amedeo, Duke of Aosta, who died in a British prisoner-of-war camp after leading the defeated Italian Army in the East Africa Campaign of the Second World War, was born on this day in 1898 in Turin.

After distinguished military service in the First World War and seeing action as a pilot in the pacification of Italian Libya in the early 1930s, Amedeo had been appointed by Mussolini as Viceroy of Ethiopia and Governor-General of Italian East Africa in 1937, replacing the controversial Marshal Rodolfo Graziani.

Italy’s entry into the Second World War on the side of Germany in June 1940 meant the Duke of Aosta became the commander of the Italian forces against the British in what became known as the East African Campaign.

As such, he oversaw the Italian advances into the Sudan and Kenya and the Italian invasion of British Somaliland.

However, when the British launched a counter-invasion early the following year, the Italians were put on the defensive and after fighting desperately to protect their territory were beaten in the Battle of Keren. The rest of Eritrea, including the port of Massawa, fell soon afterwards.

Amedeo pictured with Umberto, Prince of Piedmont, the future King
Amedeo pictured with Umberto, Prince
of Piedmont, the future King
Amedeo attempted to save such resources as he still had by deploying his remaining troops to defend a number of strongholds, putting himself in charge of 7,000 Italians at the mountain fortress of Amba Alagi.

He was forced to surrender on May 18, his forces besieged by 9,000 British and Commonwealth troops and more than 20,000 Ethiopian irregulars, although their gallant resistance was noted by the British, who allowed them to lay down their arms with dignity.

The Duke was sent to a prison camp in Nairobi, Kenya but died there the following March, reportedly from complications caused by tuberculosis and malaria.

Born Amedeo Umberto Isabella Luigi Filippo Maria Giuseppe Giovanni di Savoia-Aosta, he was the third Duke of Aosta and a first cousin, once removed, of the King of Italy, Victor Emmanuel III.

His parents were Prince Emanuele Filiberto, second Duke of Aosta, and Princess Hélène, who was the daughter of Prince Philippe of Orléans. His great-grandfather was King Victor Emmanuel II of Italy, making him a member of the House of Savoy.

An exceptional tall man, standing at 6ft 6ins (1.98m), he towered over the king, who was barely 5ft 0ins (1.53m).

Prince Amedeo and Princess Anne of Orléans in the Piazza del Plebiscito in Naples on their wedding day
Prince Amedeo and Princess Anne of Orléans in the
Piazza del Plebiscito in Naples on their wedding day
Educated in England at St David's College, Reigate, Surrey - about 40km (25 miles) south of central London - he cultivated British mannerisms, spoke Oxford English, and even enjoyed the pastimes of fox hunting and polo.

He joined the Italian Royal Army after attending the Nunziatella military academy in Naples.  He travelled widely in Africa after leaving the army in 1921, which gave him knowledge of the area he would later govern.

Widely known and respected for the gentlemanly way in which he conducted himself, Amedeo became Duke of Aosta on the death of his father

Count Galeazzo Ciano, Italian Foreign Minister under his father-in-law Mussolini, said that with the Duke's death “the image of a Prince and an Italian - simple in his ways, broad in outlook, and humane in spirit - died with him."

Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia applauded the respect and care shown by the Duke to the exiled Emperor's personal property left behind in Addis Ababa.

Amedeo was married in November 1927 in Naples, to his first cousin HRH Princess Anne of Orléans (1906–1986).  They had two daughters and although both married royal princes - Margherita married Robert, Archduke of Austria-Este and Maria Cristina wed Prince Casimir of Bourbon-Two Sicilies - the lack of a male heir to Amedeo meant the title Duke of Aosta passed to his younger brother, Aimone.

The Nunziatella complex in the Pizzofalcone district if Naples, near the city centre
The Nunziatella complex in the Pizzofalcone
district if Naples, near the city centre
Travel tip:

The Nunziatella Military School of Naples, founded in November 1787 under the name of Royal Military Academy, is the oldest military school in the world among those still operating. Located in Via Generale Parisi in Pizzofalcone, it takes its name from the adjacent church of the Santissima Annunziata. In addition to Prince Amedeo and King Vittorio Emanuele III, the alumni include one former director of the European Union military committee, two chiefs of defence staff, four army chiefs of staff, two navy chiefs of staff, one air chief of staff, two commanders general of the Guardia di Finanza and two commanders general of the Carabinieri, as well as three prime ministers.

The beautiful Castello di Miramare near Trieste, where Prince Amedeo's daughter Maria Christina was born
The beautiful Castello di Miramare near Trieste, where
Prince Amedeo's daughter Maria Christina was born
Travel tip:

Prince Amedeo’s younger daughter, Maria Christina of Savoy-Aosta, was born at the Castello di Miramare, near Trieste, in 1933. Located on the end of a rocky spur jutting into Gulf of Trieste, about 8km (5 miles) from Trieste itself, the Hapsburg castle was built between 1856 and 1860 for Austrian Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian and his wife, Charlotte of Belgium, based on a design by Carl Junker.  The castle's grounds include an extensive cliff and seashore park of 22 hectares (54 acres) designed by the archduke, which features many tropical species of trees and plants.  Legend has it that Ferdinand chose the spot to build the castle after taking refuge from a storm in the gulf in the sheltered harbour of Grignano that sits behind the spur.

More reading:

Umberto II, the last King of Italy

King Victor Emmanuel III abdicates

Why Galeazzo Ciano died in front of a firing squad

Also on this day:

1581: The birth of the Baroque master Domenichino

1928: The birth of the anarchist Giuseppe Pinelli



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Saturday, 20 October 2018

Dado Moroni - jazz musician

Self-taught pianist recorded first album at 17


Dado Moroni has become a major figure in jazz music in Italy and internationally
Dado Moroni has become a major figure in jazz
music in Italy and internationally
The renowned jazz musician Edgardo ‘Dado’ Moroni was born on this day in 1962 in Genoa.

Moroni, who learned at the feet of some of the greats of American jazz music in Italian clubs in the 1980s and 90s, has recorded more than 25 albums, having released his first when he was only 17.

He has appeared as a guest on many more albums and built such a reputation as a pianist and composer that he was able to become part of the American jazz scene himself in the 1990s, when he lived in New York.

Moroni attributes his love of jazz music to his father’s passion for the genre, which meant that he grew up listening to the likes of Earl Hines, Fats Waller and Count Basie.

Using a piano his parents had bought for his sister, Monica, he taught himself to play many of the songs he heard on the record player, receiving his first informal tuition from his mother, who played the accordion.

Dado Moroni on stage with the guitarist Luigi Tessarollo
Dado Moroni on stage with the guitarist Luigi Tessarollo
Formal piano lessons were arranged for him with the Genoa jazz pianist Flavio Crivelli, who introduced him to the music of Charlie Parker, Bud Powell and Dizzy Gillespie and contemporary pianists like Bill Evans, Ahmad Jamal and Oscar Peterson.
Moroni progressed so rapidly he was able to play professionally in clubs from the age of 14.  The Italian jazz scene while he was growing up was popular but not wealthy.  Club owners were keen to hire famous artists but could not always afford to pay for support musicians.

This worked to the advantage of up-and-coming Italian musicians such as Moroni, who were more than happy to make up the numbers. Moroni found himself accompanying such internationally renowned names as Harry “Sweets” Edison, Freddie Hubbard, and even greats such as Peterson and Gillespie when they were on tour in Europe.

It was Gillespie, Moroni said, who persuaded him to back his own talent and pursue a career in music after doubts about his ability to make a living had led him to embark on studies for a law degree.

The cover of one of Moroni's early albums
The cover of one of Moroni's early albums
Moroni began a collaboration with two other Italian jazz musicians, Tullio de Piscopo and Franco Ambrosetti. At just 17 years old, he recorded an album with De Piscopo and the American bassist Julius Farmer and another with Ambrosetti and the Danish bass player Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen.

Through the 80s, he played at festivals and clubs across Europe, often with a trio led by Duke Ellington’s former bassist, Jimmy Woode.  In 1987, at the age of just 25, he was invited as the only European musician to be part of the jury of the Thelonious Monk international piano award held in Washington in 1987.

Moroni moved to the United States in 1991 and became part of the New York jazz scene, performing with several bands and contributing to the rich heritage of Italian musicians in America. He appeared at the most prestigious jazz clubs in the city, such as the Blue Note, Birdland, Bradley’s and the Village Vanguard.

In 1995 he returned to Italy to join the classical pianist Antonio Ballista in a project called “Two Pianos, One Soul”, which played some of Italy’s major theatres, among them the Teatro Comunale in Ferrara, the Teatro Regio in Turin, the Teatro Verdi in Florence and the Teatro Carlo Felice in his native Genoa. Moroni won the prestigious Umbria Jazz Award in the same year.

In 2007 he won the "Best Jazz Act" at the Italian Jazz Awards. He is now based permanently in Italy and continues to record and tour, while at the same time teaching jazz piano at the Como Conservatory of Music. 

The Palazzo Ducale in Genoa, taken from Piazza Matteotti
The Palazzo Ducale in Genoa, taken from Piazza Matteotti
Travel tip:

The port city of Genoa, where Moroni was born, is the capital of the Liguria region. It has a rich history as a powerful trading centre with considerable wealth built on its shipyards and steelworks, but also boasts many fine buildings, among them the 13th century Palazzo Ducale, the 16th century Royal Palace and the Romanesque-Renaissance style San Lorenzo Cathedral. The area around the restored harbour area offers a maze of fascinating alleys and squares, enhanced recently by the work of Genoa architect Renzo Piano, and a landmark aquarium, the largest in Italy.

The facade of Como's Gothic Duomo
The facade of Como's Gothic Duomo
Travel tip:

Como is a city with a population of just over 85,000 at the southern tip of Lake Como, a little under 60km (37 miles) north of Milan. It is notable for its Gothic Cathedral, the facade of which incorporates statues of the famous comaschi Pliny the Elder and Pliny the Younger. There is a spectacular scenic funicular railway linking Como with the village of Brunate and a number of museums, including the Museo Didattico della Seta, which traces the history of Como's silk industry, and the Tempio Voltiano, dedicated to Italian physicist Alessandro Volta. Just north of the city are the lakeside gardens of the palatial Villa Olmo, as well as other stately villas.

More reading:

Lucio Dalla - the jazz sax player and composer who wrote the haunting song Caruso

The band leader who became an Italian pioneer of jazz and swing

The wide-ranging talents of Tiziana 'Tosca' Donati

Also on this day:

1950: The birth of TV presenter Mara Venier

1951: The birth of football manager Claudio Ranieri


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Friday, 19 October 2018

Umberto Boccioni - painter

Artist who died tragically young was key figure in Futurism


Boccioni's 1905 self-portrait, which can be found in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City
Boccioni's 1905 self-portrait, which can be found in the
Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City
The painter Umberto Boccioni, who became arguably the leading artist of Italian Futurism before the First World War, was born on this day in 1882 in Reggio Calabria.

Futurism was an avant-garde artistic, social and political movement that was launched by the poet Filippo Tommaso Marinetti in 1909.  Its ethos was to embrace modernity and free Italy from what was perceived as a stifling obsession with the past.

The Futurists admired the speed and technological advancement of cars and aeroplanes and the new industrial cities, all of which they saw as demonstrating the triumph of humanity over nature through invention. Their work attempted to capture the dynamism of life in a modern city, creating images that convey a sense of the power and energy of industrial machinery and the passion and violence of social change.

Boccioni became part of the movement after meeting Marinetti in Milan early in 1910, after which he joined Giacomo Balla, Gino Severini, Carlo Carrà and Luigi Russolo in signing Il manifesto dei pittori futuristi - the Manifesto of Futurist Painters.

Boccioni's The City Rises is considered by many art historians to be the first true Futurist painting
Boccioni's The City Rises is considered by many art
historians to be the first true Futurist painting
In the same year, Boccioni completed one of his finest works, entitled La città che sale, which is translated as The City Rises. The painting, which many consider to be the first truly Futurist painting, combines static images of building construction as the background to the scene, but in which the dominant image is of men and horses melded together, the men desperately trying to harness control of the beasts, suggesting a primeval conflict between humanity and beasts in a changing, mechanised world.

Boccioni became the main theorist of the artistic movement but only after he and Severini and other Futurists traveled to Paris in around 1911 and witnessed the Cubism of Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso did the movement begin to take real shape.

The influence of this was visible in Boccioni’s La strada entra nella casa - The Street Enters the House - later in 1911, which had geometric elements and the perspectival distortion familiar in Cubism, as the artist sought to create the sensation of the noises and images of the street filling the house on the opening of a window.

The Farewells - part of Boccione's State of Mind series - can be viewed at the Museum of Modern Art, also in New York
The Farewells - part of Boccione's State of Mind series - can
be viewed at the Museum of Modern Art, also in New York
His series Stati d'animo - States of Mind - contained similar geometric features, while La risata - The Laugh - created a scene that is broken apart and distinctly abstracted by a loss of structural borders, in line with the Cubist and Futurist demand that audiences dissect the images seen in everyday life, and notice each piece and its contribution to the whole.

Boccioni also became interested in sculpture. In 1912 he published the Manifesto of Futurist Sculpture, in which he advocated the use in sculpture of non-traditional materials such as glass, wood, cement, cloth, and electric lights, and for different materials to be used in combination
in one piece of sculpture.

His most famous work, Unique Forms of Continuity in Space (1913), is one of the masterpieces of early modern sculpture. Cast in bronze some years after his death, the piece is seen as an expression of movement and fluidity. It is depicted on the Italian-issue 20 cent euro coin.

Boccione's Dynamism of a Cyclist (1913) is on display at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice
Boccione's Dynamism of a Cyclist (1913) is on display
at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice
Boccioni’s father was a government employee whose job required him to make frequent changes of location. Soon after Boccioni’s birth, the family relocated to the north and he and his older sister Amelia grew up largely in Forlì, Genoa and Padua. At the age of 15, in 1897, Boccioni moved with his father to Catania in Sicily, where he would finish school.

In around 1898, he moved to Rome and studied art at the Accademia di Belle Arti di Roma, where he met Gino Severini. Both he and Severini became students of Giacomo Balla, who introduced them to the modern Divisionist technique.

Boccioni’s style at the time leaned towards the neo-impressionist. It was around the time he was in Rome that he produced his 1905 self-portrait, which differs greatly from his Futurism.

After spending time in Paris and Russia, Boccioni moved to Milan in 1907.

Boccione's best-known sculpture is Unique Forms of Continuity in Space, completed in 2013
Boccione's best-known sculpture is Unique Forms
of Continuity in Space,
completed in 2013
In 1914, Boccioni published his book Futurist Painting and Sculpture, the most comprehensive account of Futurist artistic theory written by a founding member.

The following year, enthused by the possibility that the violence of the Great War in Europe would bring about some of the societal change that Futurists advocated, Boccioni - along with Marinetti, Russolo and other Futurists - signed up to fight as a volunteer.

The battalion he had joined disbanded in December 2015 and Boccioni returned to painting.  But in June 1916 he was conscripted to the Italian Army and stationed outside Verona with an artillery brigade.

During a training exercise in August, Boccioni was thrown from his horse and trampled, suffering injuries from which he died at the age of just 33. Many art historians say that with his death Italy’s Futurist movement was effectively at an end.

Piazza Duomo in Reggio Calabria, where Umberto Boccioni was born in 1882
Piazza Duomo in Reggio Calabria, the city where Umberto
Boccioni was born in 1882
Travel tip:

Reggio Calabria is the oldest city in Calabria, the most important in what became known as Magna Graecia - Great Greece - after settlers began to arrive in the 8th century BC.  A few years after Boccioni left the area, a huge earthquake destroyed large parts of Reggio Calabria, which had to be substantially rebuilt. It is notable now for its fine Liberty buildings and its linear plan.  The best of what could be salvaged of the Greek remains can be seen in the National Archaeological Museum of Magna Graecia, housed in Palazzo Piacentini.


Catania has many Roman ruins, including this amphitheatre in Piazza Stesicoro, which was buried by an earthquake in 1693
Catania has many Roman ruins, including this amphitheatre
in Piazza Stesicoro, which was buried by an earthquake in 1693
Travel tip:

The city of Catania, where Boccioni completed his education, is located on the east coast of Sicily facing the Ionian Sea. It is one of the 10  biggest cities in Italy, with a population including the environs of 1.12 million. Catania has been virtually destroyed by earthquakes twice, in 1169 as well as 1693, and regularly witnesses volcanic eruptions from nearby Mount Etna.  In the Renaissance, it was one of Italy's most important cultural, artistic and political centres and has enjoys a rich cultural legacy today, with numerous museums and churches, theatres and parks and many restaurants.

More reading:

How Carlo Carrà was applauded for capturing the violence at an anarchist's funeral

Luigi Russolo and the phenomenon of 'noise music'

The Futurist behind the famous conical Campari soda bottles

Also on this day:

1956: The birth of micro-biologist Carlo Urbani, who uncovered the SARS virus

2012: The death of three-times Giro d'Italia winner Fiorenzo Magni


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Thursday, 18 October 2018

Cristoforo Benigno Crespi - entrepreneur

Textile boss created industrial village of Crespi d’Adda


Cristoforo Benigno Crespi built a community from scratch around his textile factory
Cristoforo Benigno Crespi built a community
from scratch around his textile factory
The entrepreneur Cristoforo Benigno Crespi, who became famous for creating a company-owned village around his textile factory in Lombardy, was born on this day in 1833 in Busto Arsizio, about 34km (21 miles) northwest of Milan.

A textile manufacturer, in 1869 Crespi bought an area of land close to where the Brembo and Adda rivers converge, about 40km (25 miles) northeast of Milan, with the intention of building a cotton mill on the banks of the Adda.

The factory he built was substantial, with room for 10,000 spindles, but as well the capacity to produce textiles on a large scale, Crespi recognised that it was essential to his plans to have a contented workforce. Consequently, following the lead of other manufacturers in the textile industry outside Italy, he set about providing on site everything to meet the daily needs of his employees.

In addition to the factory premises, he built homes for his workers, a school, a wash-house, a hospital, a church and a grocery store.

Houses were built in English-style parallel rows, with gardens and vegetable plots, and the streets were the first in Italy to have modern electric lighting. The church was a replica of the shrine of Santa Maria di Piazza in Crespi’s home town of Busto Arsizio. The school was fully equipped with every requirement for the education of the children of the village; the Crespi family even paid the salaries of the teachers.

Crespi d'Adda had houses for the workers, a school, a church and a hospital in addition to a large factory
Crespi d'Adda had houses for the workers, a school, a church
and a hospital in addition to a large factory
Crespi built a large castle-like house for himself and was very much lord of the manor. But his benign governance of the town meant that the factory was able to avoid the strikes and social unrest that affected other parts of Italy.

Today, Crespi d’Adda, as the village became known, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, recognised as one of the best-preserved workers’ villages in Europe.  The factory is still intact, although largely unused, and the houses are occupied for the most part by the descendants of the workers’ families for whom they were originally built.

Cristoforo Crespi was from the third generation of the family to be involved with the textile industry, starting with his grandfather, Benigno, in the early 1800s.

His initial ambition was to become a priest but he began to help his father, Antonio, in the family business from an early age and eventually abandoned his spiritual leanings to study law at the University of Pavia.

Crespi d'Adda had its own school, built for the children of the workers in Cristoforo Crespi's factory
Crespi d'Adda had its own school, built for the children
of the workers in Cristoforo Crespi's factory
The death of Benigno, the family patriarch, combined with difficult trading conditions in the mid-19th century, brought another change of direction. In order to help support the family and the business, Cristoforo took a job in a bank and then in the offices of a cotton manufacturer in Busto Arsizio, while at the same time taking lessons in book-keeping

He left his job there after asking for a pay rise, hoping to save enough money to marry his girlfriend, Pia Travelli, the daughter of a lawyer, and for a time his future was uncertain.

But he made some money from speculating on the raw cotton market, persuaded his father to move from trading in textiles to producing them and a factory they leased at Vaprio d’Adda quickly became profitable.

Cristoforo arrived at Crespi d’Adda through a series of events, which ended with him deciding to break from his family and go it alone. The factory at Vaprio was lost after the owners decided to sell it at auction, and though the disappointment was eased when another at Vigevano brought more success, Cristoforo fell out with his brother, Giuseppe, over plans for expansion and left.

Crespi and his family lives in a castellated villa built for him by the architect Angelo Colla
Crespi and his family lives in a castellated villa built
for him by the architect Angelo Colla
His next step was to buy a paper mill in conjunction with two other brothers, Carlo and Pasquale, at Ghemme in the province of Novara. Again, as Italy enjoyed a period of sustained economic growth from the 1870s onwards, the venture was highly profitable. Yet ultimately Cristoforo decided he would rather be in sole charge.

It was at that stage that he found his plot by the Adda and Brembo rivers, about 20km (12 miles) southwest of Bergamo, built a canal to generate hydraulic energy and set about creating his dream.

In addition to his home at Crespi d’Adda, where the cemetery also housed the family mausoleum, Crespi engaged the architect Angelo Colla, who built most of the industrial village, to restore a mansion in Via Borgonuovo in the centre of Milan and build a villa on the shore of Lake Orta in Piedmont.  He began an art collection that included works by Titian, Canaletto and Rubens.

His son, Silvio - one of four children he had with Pia, to whom he was married in 1866  - became an important figure in his own right.  After taking over the running of Crespi d’Adda from his father, he invested in building Italy’s first motorways as well as in the race track at Monza.  He came to be regarded as such a significant figure in Italy that he was asked to be a signatory at the Treaty of Versailles following the end of the First World War.

Cristoforo, whose faculties were badly impaired after a stroke in 1906, died in 1920 at the age of 86. After the Great Depression took its toll on the Italian economy, Crespi d’Adda was sold in 1929.


Crespi had his Villa Pia, on the shore of Lake Orta, built in a Moorish style
Crespi had his Villa Pia, on the shore of
Lake Orta, built in a Moorish style
Travel tip:

Crespi’s Moorish-style summer residence on Lake Orta, the smaller lake to the west of Lake Maggiore, was named Villa Pia in honour of his wife. Nowadays, renamed Villa Crespi, it is an exclusive hotel owned by the chef and TV presenter Antonino Cannavacciuolo, and includes a restaurant with two Michelin stars.  It attracted poets, industrialists and even members of the aristocracy, including King Umberto I of Savoy, to live there during the 1930s after the Crespi family sold it. The architect Angelo Colla included features admired by Cristoforo Crespi in Middle Eastern architecture, including stuccoed walls and ceilings, while the building is topped by an immense minaret.  Colla also incorporated columns made from precious marble imported from a number of places in Italy and beyond.

The Museum of the Risorgimento is in the Palazzo Moriggia in Via Borgonuovo
The Museum of the Risorgimento is in the
Palazzo Moriggia in Via Borgonuovo
Travel tip:

Crespi’s mansion in Milan at No 18 Via Borgonuova, a stone’s throw from the high fashion stores on the Via Montenapoleone, is almost opposite the Palazzo Moriggia, which houses Milan’s Museum of the Risorgimento, a collection of objects and artworks which illustrate the history of Italian unification from Napoleon's first Italian campaign of 1796 to the annexation of Rome in 1870. The city of Milan played a key role in the unification process, most notably through the 1848 uprising against the Austrians known as the Five Days of Milan. The exhibits follow the chronological order of events of the Risorgimento, leading the visitor through 15 rooms. For more information, visit http://www.museodelrisorgimento.mi.it/

(Photo credits: View over Crespi d'Adda by Dario Crespi; Crespi School and Castellated Villa in Crespi d'Adda by blackcat; Villa Crespi by Torsade de Pointes; Museum of the Risorgimento by G.dallorto)

More reading:

How Karl Zuegg turned his family farm into a major business enterprise

The biscuit manufacturer who created Italy's Autogrill motorway services

Humble beginnings of the Ferrero chocolate empire

Also on this day:

La Festa di San Luca

1634: The birth of artist Luca Giordano


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Wednesday, 17 October 2018

Giovanni Matteo Mario - operatic tenor

Disgraced nobleman became the toast of London and Paris


Giovanni Matteo Mario became a singer  after fleeing to France
Giovanni Matteo Mario became a singer
after fleeing to France
The operatic tenor Giovanni Matteo Mario, a Sardinian nobleman who deserted from the army and began singing only to earn a living after fleeing to Paris, was born on this day in 1810 in Cagliari.

He was baptised Giovanni Matteo de Candia, born into an aristocratic family belonging to Savoyard-Sardinian nobility. Some of his relatives were members of the Royal Court of Turin. His father, Don Stefano de Candia of Alghero, held the rank of general in the Royal Sardinian Army and was aide-de-camp to the Savoy king Charles Felix of Sardinia.

He became Giovanni Mario or Mario de Candia only after he had begun his stage career at the age of 28. He was entitled to call himself Cavaliere (Knight), Nobile (Nobleman) and Don (Sir) in accordance with his inherited titles, yet on his first professional contract, he signed himself simply ‘Mario’ out of respect for his father, who considered singing a lowly career.

Although he was one of the most celebrated tenors of the 18th century, Italy never heard Mario sing. Instead, the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden in London and the Théâtre Italien in Paris witnessed most of his triumphs.

He often sang with his lifelong partner, the soprano Giulia Grisi, with whom he lived in Paris and London before Mario bought a villa just outside Florence in around 1849.

An illustration showing Giulia Grisi and
Giovanni Mario in Bellini's I puritani
The young De Candia was expected to have a military career. From the age of 12 he attended the Military College of Turin, where his fellow students included the future prime minister of Italy, Camillo Benso di Cavour When he was transferred to Genoa at the age of 19 with the rank of second lieutenant, however, he met the young revolutionaries Giuseppe Mazzini and Jacopo Ruffini and became sympathetic to the republican ideals.

It was not long before his military career abruptly ended. Some stories suggest De Candia was expelled from the army on suspicion of subversive activity, others that he deserted in fear of arrest. Either way, having left Genoa in a fishing boat, he landed in Marseille before moving on to Paris, where he found a growing community of Italian political refugees.

He was drawn towards the city’s musical and literary culture, meeting among others the composers Chopin, Liszt, Rossini and Bellini, as well as the writers Balzac, George Sand, and Dumas father and son.

Yet he was penniless and needed to make a living. He tried giving riding and fencing lessons and at one time attempted to join the British army.

Mario in the role of Don Giovanni in Mozart's opera of the same name
Mario in the role of Don Giovanni in
Mozart's opera of the same name
The chance to sing on stage came after the German composer Giacomo Meyerbeer heard him entertaining friends and persuaded him to take lessons. He made his debut at the Opéra in November 1838 as the hero of Meyerbeer's Robert le diable. He wrote to his mother to explain that he was calling himself Mario and promised he would never perform in Italy.

Mario quickly became a star in demand. In 1839 he made a triumphant debut in London as Gennaro in Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucrezia Borgia opposite Grisi, and made his debut at the Théâtre-Italien in Paris as Nemorino in Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore. For the next 30 years he sang all the important romantic leads in Paris and London, also appearing in St. Petersburg (Russia), New York City, and Madrid.

Nemorino and Gennaro were among his most admired roles, along with Ernesto in Donizetti's Don Pasquale - a part written for him. Later he was acclaimed for his Almaviva in Rossini’s Barbiere di Siviglia, which he sang more than 100 times in London.

In 1871 he gave his farewell performance as Fernando in Donizetti’s La favorita at Covent Garden in London.

Grisi and Mario married in the late 1840s and, after an amnesty was extended to many sentenced for political crimes, removing Mario’s fear he would be arrested, they returned to Italy to live at the Villa Salviati outside Florence, where they brought up six daughters and regularly entertained guests, including many of the central figures of the Italian Risorgimento, with whom Mario had formed lasting friendships.

The revolutionary activist Giuseppe Mazzini was a lifelong friend of Giovanni Mario
The revolutionary activist Giuseppe Mazzini
was a lifelong friend of Giovanni Mario
In fact, in 1850 Mario had organised a concert to help Italian political refugees following the failed 1848 uprisings. He and Grisi gave shelter to the Venetian patriot Daniele Manin during his exile to Paris and for a time Mazzini co-ordinated his revolutionary activities from Mulgrave House, their home in London. It was there that one of their daughters - Cecilia De Candia - later recalled her parents entertaining several hundred red-shirted English Garibaldians in their garden, giving their voices to patriotic songs.

Tragically, Grisi died in 1869 after the train on which she was travelling to St Petersburg suffered an accident passing through Germany. Mario sold Villa Salviati shortly afterwards.

Following his Covent Garden farewell, Mario embarked on a brief concert tour of the United States before retiring to Rome. A man of extravagant habits, he soon found his fortunes in decline. Friends organised a benefit concert for him in London, which raised enough money - about £4,000 - to provide him with a pension.

He died in Rome in 1883 and was buried in the family mortuary chapel that he had arranged to be built in the Bonaria cemetery in Cagliari. Later a street in Castello - the historic old quarter of the Sardinian capital - was named after him.

Cagliari's medieval old town, Castello
Cagliari's medieval old town, Castello
Travel tip:

Cagliari’s charming historic centre, known as Castello, where Mario bought a house for his mother, is notable for its limestone buildings, which 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'.  This hilltop citadel, once home to the city's aristocracy, is Cagliari’s most iconic image. Inside its walls, the university, cathedral and several museums and palaces - plus many bars and restaurants - are squeezed into a network of narrow alleys.

The Villa Salviati, just outside Florence, was Mario's  home for more than 20 years
The Villa Salviati, just outside Florence, was Mario's
home for more than 20 years
Travel tip:

The Villa Salviati, Mario and Grisi’s spectacular home in Florence, was built on the site of the Castle of Montegonzi about 7km (4.5 miles) north of the centre of the city, by Cardinal Alamanno Salviati, who in turn gave it to Jacopo Salviati, the son-in-law of Lorenzo de’ Medici (Lorenzo the Magnificent). It changed hands a number of times before being purchased by Mario from an Englishman, Arturo Vansittard.  In 2000 it was bought by the Italian government and now houses the historical archives of the European Union.

(Photo credits: Castello by Martin Kraft; Villa Salviati by Sailko)

More reading:

Giulia Grisi - the officer's daughter who became a star on three continents

Mazzini and the drive for Unification

How Donizetti grew up in a Bergamo basement

Also on this day:

1473: The birth of sculptor Bartolommeo Bandinelli

1797: Venice loses its independence


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Tuesday, 16 October 2018

Dino Buzzati - author

Novelist likened to Camus whose short stories remain popular


Dino Buzzati was a journalist, author and painter in an extraordinary career
Dino Buzzati was a journalist, author and
painter in an extraordinary career
The multi-talented author Dino Buzzati, whose output included five novels, several theatre and radio plays, a children’s novel, five opera libretti, some poetry, a comic book in which he also drew the illustrations, and several books of short stories, was born on this day in 1906 in Belluno.

Buzzati’s most famous novel, Il deserto dei Tartari (1940), titled The Tartar Steppe in the English translation, saw Buzzati compared to Albert Camus and Franz Kafka as a work of existentialist style, but it is for his short stories that he still wins acclaim.

A new collection entitled Catastrophe and Other Stories, which showcases Buzzati’s talent for weaving nightmarish fantasy into ordinary situations, was published earlier this year.

Buzzati, who worked as journalist for the whole of his adult life and also painted prolifically, was the second of four children born to Giulio Cesare Buzzati, a distinguished professor of international law, and Alba Mantovani, a veterinarian born in Venice.

The family’s main home was in Milan but they had a summer villa in San Pellegrino, a village just outside Belluno in the foothills of the Dolomites, which was where Dino was born.

Dino Buzzati, pictured in his studio, was almost as prolific as a painter as he was a writer
Dino Buzzati, pictured in his studio, was almost as
prolific as a painter as he was a writer
After studying at high school in the Brera district of Milan, Buzzati enrolled in the law faculty at the University of Milan in respect for his father, who had died when he was only 14. After graduating, he joined the Milan newspaper Corriere della Sera, beginning a relationship that would be maintained until his death in 1972.

At different times he was a war correspondent, embedded with the Italian navy, editor, essayist, foreign correspondent, crime reporter and art critic.

He began to write fiction in the early 1930s with two novels set in the mountains, inspired by the landscapes around Belluno. Barnabò delle montagne (Barnabus of the Mountains, 1933) and Il segreto del bosco vecchio (The Secret of the Ancient Wood, 1935), both of which were made into films in the 1990s, introduced the Kafkaesque surrealism, symbolism, and absurdity that was a characteristic of all his writing.

Buzzati pictured near the offices of Corriere della Sera on Via Solferino in Milan
Buzzati pictured near the offices of Corriere
della Sera
on Via Solferino in Milan
The novel generally considered his finest, Il deserto dei Tartari, a tale of garrison troops at a frontier military post, poised in expectancy for an enemy who never comes and unable to go forward or retreat, drew comparisons with Camus’s philosophical essay The Myth of Sysyphus.

The novel was turned into a movie in 1976 under the direction of Valerio Zurlini and starring Vittorio Gassman and Giuliano Gemma, with a soundtrack by Ennio Morricone.

Buzzati’s collections of short stories include Sessanta racconti (Sixty Tales, 1958), while other novels include Il grande ritratto (Larger Than Life, 1960), a science fiction novel, and Un amore (A Love Affair, 1963). 

Of his plays, which were hugely popular, the most important is Un caso clinico (A Clinical Case, 1953), a Kafkaesque horror story in which medical specialists and machinery freakishly kill a perfectly healthy man. His children’s novel, La famosa invasione degli orsi in Sicilia (The Bears' Famous Invasion of Sicily, 1945) is still a favourite today.

Buzzati’s paintings ranged from his early landscapes, depicting his beloved mountains, to the Italian black comic art and the pop art that dominated his work in the 1960s.  His most famous painting is probably his Piazza del Duomo (1952), in which Milan cathedral’s distinctive grid of pinnacles and spires becomes a jagged Dolomite mountain, surrounded by green pastures.

He was also a devotee of the opera, writing the libretto for four operas for which the music was composed by his friend, Luciano Chailly.  Away from his extraordinary productivity in words and pictures, he would spend every September in the mountains around Belluno, climbing difficult routes in the company of mountain guides.

Buzzati, who did not marry until he was almost 60 years old, died in 1972 after developing pancreatic cancer. His ashes were scattered on Croda di Lago, a mountain in the Dolomites near Cortina d’Ampezzo.

Piazza dei Martiri is one of the central squares in the beautiful town of Belluno in northern Veneto
Piazza dei Martiri is one of the central squares in the
beautiful town of Belluno in northern Veneto
Travel tip:

Belluno, in the Veneto region, is a beautiful town in the Dolomites, situated just over 100km (62 miles) north of Venice, more than 325km (200 miles) from Milan. It occupies an elevated position above the Piave river surrounded by rocky slopes and dense woods that make for an outstanding scenic background. The architecture of the historic centre has echoes of the town's Roman and medieval past. Around the picturesque Piazza Duomo can be found several fine buildings, such as the Palazzo dei Rettori, the Cathedral of Belluno and Palazzo dei Giuristi, which contains the Civic Museum.

The Villa Buzzati is now available for guests to stay in  bed and breakfast accommodation
The Villa Buzzati is now available for guests to stay in
bed and breakfast accommodation
Travel tip:

Visitors to Belluno can stay at Buzzati’s family villa in Via Visome, about 4km (2.5 miles) from the centre of the town. It is managed by Valentina Morassutti, whose grandmother was Dino Buzzati’s sister.  The Villa Buzzati has two rooms that are available all year round for guests wishing to stay on a bed and breakfast basis. On the first Sunday of each month from April to October, Morassutti can arrange small-group visits to the Villa and the places that were dear to Buzzati.

More reading:

Why Alberto Moravia is remembered as a major literary figure

The brilliance of Strega Prize winning novelist Corrado Alvaro

What made Vittorio Gassman one of Italy's finest actors

Also on this day:

1885: The birth of athlete Dorando Pietri, famous for being disqualified

1978: The election of Pope John Paul II


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