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.

Friday, 22 June 2018

Lucrezia Tornabuoni - political adviser

Medici wife one of most powerful women of the Renaissance

Domenico Ghirlandaio's portrait of Lucrezia Tornabuoni, painted in around 1475
Domenico Ghirlandaio's portrait of Lucrezia
Tornabuoni, painted in around 1475
Lucrezia Tornabuoni, who became one of the most influential and therefore powerful women in 15th century Italy through family connections and her own political and business acumen, was born on this day in 1427 in Florence.

Connected by birth to the powerful Tornabuoni family on her father’s side and the Guicciardinis through her mother, Lucrezia entered a third powerful family when she married Piero di Cosimo de’ Medici.

Yet she was an important figure in her own right, revealing politic skill and a talent for diplomacy during her husband’s time as de facto leader of Florence and when their son, Lorenzo, succeeded him.

She was also a successful property owner, buying houses, shops and farms in and around Pisa and Florence, which she would then lease out. She bought and renovated a hot spring, Bagno a Morba, turning it into a resort and spa for paying guests.

And she enhanced her popularity in Florence by supporting religious convents and working with them to help widows and orphans. She would draw on her own income to provide dowries for women from poor families so that they could marry and use her influence to help family members obtain good positions in the church or government.

Tornabuoni’s father was Francesco di Simone Tornabuoni, a wealthy banker and elected magistrate. Well read and educated to a high standard in Latin and Greek, she was introduced to Piero di Cosimo de’ Medici through her father’s friendship with Cosimo de’ Medici. Her dowry of 1200 florins helped to seal the alliance between the families.

Piero di Cosimo de' Medici, depicted in a  16th century painting by Bronzino
Piero di Cosimo de' Medici, depicted in a
16th century painting by Bronzino
She became adept in diplomacy and politics because her connections enabled her to build bridges between the Medici, who were essentially nouveau riche bankers, and the noble families of long-standing history.

When Piero took over the government in 1464, his health was poor and Lucrezia assumed an even greater role as his representative, helping him decide on important issues. She was also called on to mediate disputes, once ending a feud between two families that had gone on for 20 years.

Her prominence was not without pitfalls, however. In October 1467, she and her youngest son, Giuliano, were the targets of an assassination attempt linked to the rivalry between Piero and Luca Pitti. 

Lucrezia's influence increased still further in 1469 when Piero died and her son, Lorenzo, who would be known as Lorenzo the Magnificent, succeeded him as ruler of Florence, relying heavily on his mother’s advice and contacts.

In addition to her political and business interests, Lucrezia, who died in 1482, wrote religious stories, plays, and poetry and was a significant patron of the arts.

Around 1475, her brother Giovanni Tornabuoni, who was a papal ambassador and a banker, commissioned a portrait of her by Domenico Ghirlandaio, which is now in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. She is also thought to appear in various scenes in Ghirlandaio's frescoes in the Tornabuoni Chapel.

The Palazzo Corsi-Tornabuoni today
The Palazzo Corsi-Tornabuoni today
Travel tip:

The Palazzo Tornabuoni, the family home in Florence, was originally created for Giovanni Tornabuoni by merging a number of palaces in what is now the Via de’ Tornabuoni, connecting the Piazza Antinori with the Ponte Santa Trinità. Since the 16th century, when it was bought by the Corsi family, the palace has been known as the Palazzo Corsi-Tornabuoni.

The Gucci store in Via de' Tornabuoni
The Gucci store in Via de' Tornabuoni
Travel tip:

The Via de’ Tornabuoni of today is well known as Florence’s high-fashion shopping street, characterised by the presence of exclusive stores belonging to houses such as Gucci, Salvatore Ferragamo, Enrico Coveri, Roberto Cavalli, Emilio Pucci and others, and also jewellery boutiques such as Damiani, Bulgari and Buccellati.


Thursday, 21 June 2018

Pope Paul VI

Former pontiff is to be made a saint by Pope Francis

Cardinal Montini was elected Pope Paul VI on June 21, 1963
Cardinal Montini was elected Pope Paul VI
on June 21, 1963
Giovanni Battista Enrico Antonio Maria Montini was elected as Pope Paul VI on this day in 1963 in Rome.

He succeeded Pope John XXIII and immediately re-convened the Second Vatican Council which had automatically closed after Pope John’s death.

Pope Paul then implemented its various reforms and as a result had to deal with the conflicting expectations of different Catholic groups.

Following his famous predecessor Saint Ambrose of Milan, Pope Paul named Mary as the Mother of the Church.

He described himself as ‘a humble servant for a suffering humanity’ and demanded changes from the rich in North America and Europe in favour of the poor in the third world.

Pope Paul had been born in Concesio near Brescia in 1897 and was ordained a priest in Brescia in 1920. He took a doctorate in Canon Law in Milan and afterwards studied at various universities, therefore never working as a parish priest.

He had one foreign posting, to the office of the papal nuncio in Poland.

After the outbreak of the Second World War, he created an information office for prisoners of war and refugees, producing more than 11 million replies to enquiries about missing persons.

He was attacked by Mussolini’s government several times for allegedly meddling in politics.

Pope Paul VI pleaded with the Red Brigades to release the kidnapped former PM Aldo Moro
Pope Paul VI pleaded with the Red Brigades to
release the kidnapped former PM Aldo Moro
Pope Pius XII made him archbishop of Milan in 1954 and Pope John XXIII made him Cardinal Priest of SS Silvestro e Martino ai Monti in 1958.

After Pope John XXIII died of stomach cancer in 1963, Cardinal Montini was elected as his successor on the sixth ballot.

He later wrote in his journal: ‘The position is unique. It brings great solitude. I was solitary before, but now my solitude becomes complete and awesome.’

Pope Paul VI became the first pope to visit six continents, earning the nickname ‘the Pilgrim Pope.’

A man tried to attack him with a knife after he had arrived at Manila in the Philippines in 1970 but one of his aides managed to push the aggressor away.

Pope Paul wrote a personal letter to the terrorist group the Red Brigades in 1978 pleading with them to free the politician Aldo Moro, who had been his friend when they were both students.

After the bullet-ridden body of Moro was found in Rome, Pope Paul personally conducted his funeral mass.

Later in 1978 Pope Paul VI died at his summer residence in Castel Gandolfo after suffering a massive heart attack. According to the terms of his will he was buried beneath the floor in St Peter’s Basilica and not in an ornate sarcophagus.

Pope Paul VI has already been declared Venerable and has been Beatified, and it has recently been confirmed by the Vatican that he will be made a Saint in October this year.

The house in Concesio where Pope Paul VI was born
The house in Concesio where Pope Paul VI was born
Travel tip:

Concesio, where Pope Paul VI was born, is a town in Lombardy about 8km (5 miles) to the north of Brescia. The town is in the lower Val Trompia at the foot of Monte Spina. The footballer Mario Balotelli was placed in foster care at the age of three with Silvia and Francesco Balotelli who lived in Concesio. Eventually he was permanently fostered by the couple and took their surname.

The pontifical palace in Castel Gandolfo, with the two domes of the Vatican observatory
The pontifical palace in Castel Gandolfo, with the two
domes of the Vatican observatory
Travel tip:

Castel Gandolfo, where Pope Paul VI died, overlooks Lake Albano from its wonderful position in the hills south of Rome. The Pope spends every summer in the Apostolic Palace there. Although his villa lies within the town’s boundaries, it is one of the properties of the Holy See. The palace is not under Italian jurisdiction and is policed by the Swiss Guard. The whole area is part of the regional park of Castelli Romani, which has many places of historic and artistic interest to visit.

Also on this day:

1891: The death of architect and structural engineer Pier Luigi Nervi

1919: The birth of the architect Paolo Soleri


Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Luigi de Magistris - politician

Popular and progressive Mayor of Naples

Luigi de Magistris has been Mayor  of Naples since 2011
Luigi de Magistris has been Mayor
of Naples since 2011
Luigi de Magistris, who has been Mayor of Naples since a shock win in the 2011 local elections, was born on this day in 1967.

A former public prosecutor with a reputation for standing up against corruption and organised crime, De Magistris was the Member of the European Parliament for Southern Italy between 2009 and 2011, when he ran for Italy of Values, the centre-left party founded by another former magistrate, Antonio di Pietro.

He stood in the 2011 mayoral elections in Naples with the support of minor parties on the left and the right and won in the second round of voting with 65 per cent of the vote, defeating Gianni Lettieri, the candidate for a centre right coalition led by Silvio Berlusconi’s People of Freedom party.

In office, De Magistris has faced difficult times because of the city’s precarious financial situation, which at times has seen local transport suspended because fuel bills were not paid and rubbish piling up in the streets because of continuing problems with the disposal of domestic refuse that had reached a peak in 2008.

A strong advocate of public ownership of essential services and the managing of natural and cultural resources for collective benefit rather than profit, De Magistris claims year-on-year improvements in refuse collection as one of his success stories.

Others include the taking into public ownership of the previously privately-owned Naples Water Company, the purchase of new vehicles for the city transport network, including 10 new Metro trains, the pedestrianisation of the waterfront and the reopening of suspended restoration projects on a number of monuments and historic buildings.

De Magistris is an advocate of bringing essential services and resources into public ownership
De Magistris is an advocate of bringing essential
services and resources into public ownership
By cracking down on tax evasion, De Magistris was able to introduce a minimum monthly income of approximately €600 for residents of Naples of working age with an income below the poverty threshold, provided that they agree to work or take part in socially useful activities.

He has also campaigned for powers to be granted to city mayors to direct the police force, following the model adopted by many cities in the United States, believing it to be the best way to reduce crime. Naples, of course, is the home of the Mafia-style Camorra organisation.

One commentator wrote about De Magistris, who won a second mayoral election in 2016, as a figure seen by many citizens as a last chance “to save whatever is left of the glorious capital of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies”, adding that “Neapolitan disenchantment with politics and total distrust of politicians started with the unification of Italy and has basically persisted to this day.”

Born in Naples, De Magistris attended the Adolfo Pansini High School in the Vomero district of Naples before going on to study law at the University of Naples. In 1993 he began a career as a magistrate, following in the footsteps of his father, his grandfather and great-grandfather.

From 1998 to 2002 he worked at the Public Prosecutor's Office of Naples and then moved to be Deputy Public Prosecutor to the Court of Catanzaro.

He presided over a number of high-profile corruption investigations involving business and politics, although he was controversially removed from a couple of cases over “procedural irregularities” after the names of top politicians began to emerge.

De Magistris has clashed with the Rome government over immigration and refugees
De Magistris has clashed with the Rome
government over immigration and refugees
De Magistris has also had a period of suspension imposed on him during his office as mayor, although he resisted calls for him to resign and the suspension was subsequently annulled and he was acquitted. He has since written about “obstacles placed in my way and attacks on me and my profession” by his political opponents.

A fiercely outspoken advocate of Italy giving refuge to immigrants from Africa and the Middle East fleeing war and persecution, he clashed recently with Matteo Salvini, the anti-immigration politician who is Italy’s current Minister of the Interior, over his refusal to allow the Aquarius, carrying 600 refugees, to dock at an Italian port.

In 2017, De Magistris was given the Valarioti-Impastato Award for "having fought crime and corruption for more than 20 years as magistrate and politician, for breaking the relationship between the mafia and politics in the political-administrative management of the city of Naples and for having contributed to the moral redemption of Naples and removed the Camorra breaking the system of waste and eco-mafia".

A fervent fan of SSC Napoli, the city's Serie A football club, De Magistris is also the author of several books, the most recent of which is La città ribelle: il caso di Napoli (Naples: Rebel City).

Vomero's lofty position offers spectacular views over Naples
Vomero's lofty position offers spectacular views over Naples
Travel tip:

Close to centre of Naples, Vomero is a hilly residential area popular with the wealthy middle class. It has grown rapidly since the beginning of the 20th century with numerous houses and apartment built around Villa Floridiana, Castel Sant'Elmo and San Martino, including villas in the late Art Nouveau style and large apartment houses. The oldest and most popular neighbourhood in Vomero is Antignano, in which can be found some historic buildings as well as plush apartments and gated villas, such as the Villa del Pontano and an old building of the Bourbon customs office.

The City Hall of Naples overlooks Piazza Municipio
The City Hall of Naples overlooks Piazza Municipio
Travel tip:

Naples City Hall, where Luigi de Magistris has his office, is located on Piazza Municipio, not far from the medieval Castel Nuovo, a 13th-century castle known to locals as the Maschio Angioino (Angevin Keep). The castle is home to fragments of frescoes by Giotto and Roman ruins under the glass-floored Sala dell'Armeria (Armoury Hall). The castle's upper floors house a collection of mostly 17th- to early-20th-century Neapolitan paintings.

More reading:

Antonio di Pietro - former policeman who led mani pulite corruption probe

How the fiery Lega Nord leader Umberto Bossi laid foundations to move right-wing politics into Italy's mainstream

Why Veneto politician Luca Zaia is tipped as a future prime minister

Also on this day:

1891: The birth of Neapolitan opera soprano Giannina Arangi-Lombardi


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


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


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


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