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, 20 April 2018

Sant’Agnese of Montepulciano

Miraculous life and death of young nun

A traditional image of Sant'Agnese
A traditional image of Sant'Agnese
Dominican prioress Agnese Segni, who was reputed to have performed miracles, died on this day in 1317 in Montepulciano in Tuscany.

She was canonised by Pope Benedict XIII in 1726 and her feast day is celebrated every April 20 on the anniversary of her death.

Agnese was born into the noble Segni family in Gracciano, a frazione - parish - of Montepulciano.

At the age of nine she convinced her parents to allow her to enter a Franciscan sisterhood. She had to have the permission of the pope to be accepted into this life at such a young age, which normally would not be allowed under church law.

After a few years she was one of a group of nuns sent to start a new monastery near Orvieto. When she was just 20 years old she was chosen to be abbess of the community.

She gained a reputation for performing miracles, curing people of their ailments just by her presence. She was reported to have multiplied loaves, creating many from a few on several occasions.

The tomb of Sant'Agnes in the church of  Sant'Agnese in Montepulciano
The tomb of Sant'Agnes in the church of
Sant'Agnese in Montepulciano
In 1306 she was recalled to head the monastery in Montepulciano and she started to build a church, Santa Maria Novella, to honour Mary, the mother of Jesus, as she felt she had been commanded to do in a vision.

She was also inspired to lead her nuns to embrace the Rule of St Augustine as members of the Dominican order.

When her health began to decline she was recommended to visit the thermal springs at nearby Chianciano Terme to take a cure but she received no benefit from the springs and was carried back to the monastery on a stretcher. She died in 1317 at the age of 49.

When her body had to be moved years later, it was found to be incorrupt, having not decayed, and her tomb became a site for pilgrims.

Michelozzo's Palazzo Comunale
Michelozzo's Palazzo Comunale 
Travel tip:

Montepulciano is a medieval hill town some 70km (43 miles) southeast of  Siena, known worldwide for its wine. Connoisseurs consider Montepulciano’s Vino Nobile to be one of the best wines produced in Italy. Among the important buildings in the town are the Palazzo Comunale, designed by Michelozzo, the favoured Medici architect, in the tradition of the Palazzo della Signoria in Florence, and the Duomo, dedicated to Santa Maria Assunta, which contains a huge triptych, Assumption of the Virgin, by Taddeo di Bartolo.

A panorama of Chianciano Vecchia
A panorama of Chianciano Vecchia
Travel tip:

Situated a little over 10km (6 miles) from Montepulciano, the town of Chianciano Terme has two parts. Chianciano Vecchia (Old Chianciano) is situated on top of a hill, entered via the elegant Porta Rivellini, and is quite distinct from the modern community, which has grown around the thermal springs. It is considered among the finest health resorts in Italy with attractive parks, many hotels and a range of therapeutic waters said to be beneficial for the liver, the kidneys, the urinary tract and even for respiratory problem.

More reading:

Why thousands take to the streets of Catania to celebrate Saint Agatha of Sicily

The wisdom of Saint Thomas Aquinas, Dominican philosopher

The First World War nurse who was made a saint

Also on this day:

1949: The birth of former prime minister Massimo D'Alema

1951: The death of Ivanoe Bonomi, statesman who helped Italy's transition to peace after World War Two


Thursday, 19 April 2018

Sara Simeoni - high jumper

Held world record and won Olympic gold

Sara Simeoni won the Olympic gold medal in 1980 in Moscow
Sara Simeoni won the Olympic gold
medal in 1980 in Moscow
The high jumper Sara Simeoni, who is regarded as one of Italy’s greatest female athletes, was born on this day in 1953 in Rivoli Veronese, a village about 20km (12 miles) northwest of Verona.

Only the second woman to clear two metres, she won the gold medal in her event at the Moscow Olympics of 1980, setting a Games record in the process.

The Moscow Games was boycotted by 66 countries in protest at the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, yet Simeoni, who competed under the Olympic flag after Italy left the issue of participation up to individual athletes, still deserved applause as the only winner in the women’s track and field programme not from an Eastern Bloc country.

She confessed later that she suffered a panic attack just before the final in the Lenin Stadium and was physically sick, but then reminded herself that she was the world record holder and eventually beat the Polish jumper Urszula Kielan with a leap of 1.97m, an Olympic record.

A great friend of the late Pietro Mennea, another 1980 Olympic champion from who she drew inspiration, she had won the silver medal in Montreal in 1976 and did so again in Los Angeles in 1984.

Simeoni won nine other major international championships, including the European indoor title four times, and after clearing 2.01m in Brescia in 1978 held the Italian high jump record for 29 years.

Simeoni wanted to be a dancer but was told she was too tall
Simeoni wanted to be a dancer but was
told she was too tall
An advocate for the Fosbury Flop style of high jumping, in which the jumper approaches the bar on a curving run and jumps head first and legs last, with the back facing downwards, Simeoni took up athletics first of all as a way to spend time with her friends outside school.

She had wanted to be a dancer, but at 1.78m (5ft 10ins) and with size 41 shoes (UK equivalent size 8), she was physically better suited to other pursuits. When she began to practise the high jump aged 13, it was clear she had talent. She won the Italian national championships for the first time in 1970 and defended the title successfully for 10 years in a row before being beaten by Sandra Dini in 1981. Simeoni regained her crown in 1982 and had won it 14 times when she retired in 1986. She was also 10 times Italian indoor champion, as well as the national pentathlon champion in 1972.

Her first major international competition was the European outdoor championships in 1971 and she was sixth at the Munich Olympics in 1972 before winning her first medal, the bronze, at the Universiade in Moscow the following year.

Simeoni’s first gold medal at a major games came at the 1975 Mediterranean Games in Algiers, which she followed with Olympic silver in 1976, when she was beaten by the East German Rosie Ackermann, who would become one of her fiercest rivals.

In 1977, she began an extraordinary run of successes that brought her nine gold medals in the space of five seasons and established her as one of Italy’s greatest athletes, male or female.

Simeoni in 2013 at the funeral of her friend, the Italian sprint champion Pietro Mennea
Simeoni in 2013 at the funeral of her friend, the
Italian sprint champion Pietro Mennea
In that period, Simeoni was European indoor champion four times, won gold at the Universiade twice and took the Mediterranean title for a second time as well as becoming European outdoor champion in 1978 and fulfilling her Olympic dream in 1980.

Winning the European title in Prague in August 1978, she matched the world record mark of 2.01m she had set in Brescia only a few weeks earlier.

He silver medal at the 1984 Olympics was considered a personal triumph, even though she was beaten by West Germany’s Ulrike Meyfarth in the final.  Simeoni had struggled with tendon injuries over the preceding two years and was not expected to do particularly well.  The Italian Olympic Committee, recognising her career achievements, asked her to carry the Italian flag at the opening ceremony.

Once she began competing, however, the instincts that had enabled her to win so many medals kicked in and she pushed Meyfarth all the way, clearing two metres for the first time in six years.

Simeoni married her coach, Ermino Azzaro, and they have a son, Roberto, who is also a high jumper.

Since giving up competition, Simeoni has been a teacher at a middle school in Garda, on the lake of the same name, as well as an ambassador for young people and women’s rights.

A view over Rivoli Veronese
A view over Rivoli Veronese
Travel tip:

Rivoli Veronese, a village on a hill on the banks of the Adige river, is famous as the scene of the Battle of Rivoli in January 1797, in which Napoleon inflicted a decisive defeat upon the Austrians. The famous Paris street Rue de Rivoli, which extends from Place de la Concorde almost to Place de la Bastille, 3.8km (2.4 miles) to the southeast, passing the Jardin des Tuileries and the Louvre.   In military history, the area has always been seen as a formidable obstacle.

The waterfront at Garda on Lake Garda
The waterfront at Garda on Lake Garda
Travel tip:

The popular resort of Garda is one of the main resorts on the southern end of the lake that bears its name. Garda shows traces of habitation over many centuries, from the Venetian merchants' villas to rock etchings in the hills above the town.  Santa Maria Assunta, the parish church, originally dates from the 6th-7th century but was not completed until 1764. A rebuilding project in 1530 was abandoned due to lack of funds.

More reading:

Pietro Mennea - the Italian won became one of the world's best sprinters

The long-distance feats of Alberto Cova

How Raimondo d'Inzeo competed in eight consecutive Olympics

Also on this day:

1798: The death of the brilliant Venetian painter Canaletto

1937: The birth of chef Antonio Carluccio



Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Ippolita Maria Sforza – noble woman

Learned lady sacrificed happiness for a political alliance

Ippolita Maria Sforza's marriage helped  forge a strong link between Naples and Milan
Ippolita Maria Sforza's marriage helped
forge a strong link between Naples and Milan
Ippolita Maria Sforza, a cultured young noblewoman who wrote poetry, letters and documents in Latin, was born on this day in 1446 in Cremona.

She was married to Alfonso, Duke of Calabria, who later became King Alfonso II of Naples, because it was a politically advantageous alliance, but she did not live long enough to become his Queen consort.

Ippolita was the eldest daughter of Francesco I Sforza, Duke of Milan, and Bianca Maria Visconti.

She was tutored along with her six younger brothers and one younger sister by a Greek scholar who taught her philosophy and Greek.

When she was 14 years old she composed a Latin address for Pope Pius II, which became well known after it was circulated in manuscript form.

She wrote many letters, which were published in Italy in one volume in 1893. She also wrote poetry and a Latin eulogy for her father, Francesco.

Ippolita was married at the age of 19 to Alfonso, the eldest son of King Ferdinand I of Naples. The marriage created a powerful alliance between the Kingdom of Naples and the Duchy of Milan.

A copy of a 1472 bust by Francesco Laurana thought to be of Ippolita Maria Sforza
A copy of a 1472 bust by Francesco Laurana thought to
be of Ippolita Maria Sforza
But her husband, perhaps threatened by her high level of education, treated her with a lack of respect throughout their marriage.

Ippolita’s letters from this period display the adroit diplomacy she used to strengthen the alliance between Milan and Naples amid crises, such as her brother’s assassination in Milan and the Turkish invasion of Otranto.

The couple had three children. Their eldest son, Ferdinand, became King of Naples, their daughter, Isabella, married Gian Galeazzo, Duke of Milan, and their youngest son, Piero, died of an infection after surgery.

Ippolita died at the age of 38 in 1484 in Naples. Her husband then married his long-standing mistress by whom he already had two illegitimate children.

Soon after Ippolita’s death, the Naples-Milan alliance collapsed.

Cremona's bell tower, Il Torrazzo
Cremona's bell tower, Il Torrazzo
Travel tip:

Cremona is famous for having the tallest bell tower in Italy, il Torrazzo, which measures more than 112 metres in height. As well as the manufacture of violins, Cremona is also famous for producing confectionery. Negozio Sperlari in Via Solferino specialises in the city’s famous torrone (nougat). The concoction of almonds, honey and egg whites was created in the city to mark the marriage of Bianca Maria Visconti to Francesco Sforza in 1441, when Cremona was given to the bride as part of her dowry.

The Palazzo Reale was one of the residences of the  Kings of Naples
The Palazzo Reale was one of the residences of the
Kings of Naples

Travel tip:

In the area around Piazza del Plebiscito in Naples you can see buildings with royal connections. The impressive Palazzo Reale at the eastern end of the piazza was one of the residences of the Kings of Naples at the time the city was capital of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. The palace is home to a 30-room museum and the largest library in southern Italy, both now open to the public. Close to the royal palace is one of the oldest opera houses in the world, built for a Bourbon King of Naples. Teatro di San Carlo was officially opened on 4 November 1737, way ahead of La Scala in Milan and La Fenice in Venice. In the magnificent auditorium, the focal point is the royal box surmounted by the crown of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies.

More reading:

Bianca Maria Visconti - powerful woman who ran Milan

How the despotic Ferdinand I of the Two Sicilies ruled for 65 years

Ludovico III Gonzaga - 15th century ruler of Mantua

Also on this day:

1480: The birth of the notorious beauty Lucrezia Borgia

1911: The birth of car maker Ilario Bandini


Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Riccardo Patrese - racing driver

Former Williams ace was first in Formula One to start 250 races

Riccardo Patrese was considered brash and  impetuous at the start of his career
Riccardo Patrese was considered brash and
impetuous at the start of his career
The racing driver Riccardo Patrese, who for 15 years was the only Formula One driver to have started more than 250 Grand Prix races, was born on this day in 1954 in Padua.

The former Williams driver reached the milestone in the German Grand Prix of 1993, having three years earlier been the first to make 200 starts.

Patrese retired at the end of the 1993 season with his total on 256 and his  record of longevity was not surpassed until 2008, when the Brazilian driver Rubens Barrichello made his 257th start at the Turkish Grand Prix.

Ferrari ace Michael Schumacher passed 250 two years later and Patrese’s total has now been exceeded by six drivers, Jenson Button, Fernando Alonso, Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa having all joined the 250 club.

Patrese also became famous for an unwanted record, having gone more than six years between his second Grand Prix victory in Formula One, in the 1983 South African GP, and his third, in the San Marino GP of 1990.

He enjoyed his most successful years while driving for Williams between 1987 and 1992, finishing third in the drivers’ championship in 1989 and 1991 and runner-up in 1992, albeit a long way behind that season’s champion, his Williams team-mate Nigel Mansell.

Patrese scored four of his six Grand Prix wins during that period, when he was also runner-up no fewer than 12 times.

Patrese became a key figure in the  successful years of the Williams team
Patrese became a key figure in the
successful years of the Williams team
A former world karting champion - he has started in karting at the age of nine - Patrese began his motor racing career in 1975.  Impetuous and brash, characteristics that did not endear him to some of his rivals and colleagues, he nonetheless had exceptional talent and was a dual Formula Three champion in only his second season on the track, winning both the Italian and European titles.

He made his debut at the 1977 Monaco Grand Prix with the Shadow racing team, switching later in the year to Arrows, for whom he almost won the 1978 South African Grand Prix, which he was leading when an engine failure forced him to retire 15 laps from the end.

But his early career was overshadowed by controversy following the death of the Swedish driver Ronnie Peterson following a pile-up soon after the start of the Italian Grand Prix later in the 1978 season, when the cars driven by Peterson and James Hunt came together, sending Peterson’s car into the barriers, where it broke in two and caught fire.

Peterson appeared to have escaped serious injury but while he was in hospital recovering from surgery on a broken leg he developed a blood clot and died. Hunt blamed Patrese, whose car had gone off onto the grass and rejoined the race moments before the collision.

Together with a race official, Patrese stood trial in 1981 over Peterson’s death but was found not guilty.

Patrese scored his first Grand Prix wins after joining Brabham, although his maiden success at the 1982 Monaco Grand Prix was somewhat fortuitous. He spun off while in the lead just two laps from the finish, which seemed to have put paid to his chance, but then three cars in front of him sensationally dropped out, one from engine failure, a second in a crash and a third, his fellow Italian Andrea de Cesaris, because he ran out of fuel.

Riccardo Patrese won four of his six Grand Prix while with the Williams team, finishing championship runner-up in 1992
Riccardo Patrese won four of his six Grand Prix while with the
Williams team, finishing championship runner-up in 1992
His second victory came in the South African Grand Prix in 1983, when his Brabham teammate Nelson Piquet, who needed only to finish in the top four to be confirmed as world champion, cautiously dropped his pace in the closing stages.

Then came the long wait for a third success as two seasons with Alfa Romeo and two more with Brabham yielded nothing but frustration. His move to Williams to be Nigel Mansell’s teammate in 1988 surprised the motor racing world but proved to be the break Patrese needed.

He got on well with the Renault engine and after a string of podium finishes in 1989 he ended his long drought by winning in San Marino in 1990. He collected more wins in Mexico and Portugal in 1991 and scored his final success in 1992 in Japan, before concluding his career alongside Schumacher at Benetton.

Patrese’s later successes largely repaired the reputation damaged by the Peterson incident, although BBC television viewers became used to Hunt routinely referring to the controversy and what he thought of the Italian whenever he commentated on a Patrese race.

After retiring from F1 Patrese drove in the Le Mans 24 Hours race in 1997 and finished third in a Grand Prix Masters race in 2005, again coming in behind Nigel Mansell.

A former schoolboy swimming champion and successful skier, Patrese remains involved with sport. One of his twin daughters, Beatrice, is an international class equestrian and his youngest son, Lorenzo, has followed his father into karting, with ambitions to become a Formula One driver.

Patrese himself now rides and has a stable of horses. He still lives with his family in Padua.

Frescoes by Giotto at the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua
Frescoes by Giotto at the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua
Travel tip:

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

Monza's 14th century Duomo
Monza's 14th century Duomo
Travel tip:

Monza, the Lombardy city best known for its motor racing circuit, has been the home of the Italian Formula One Grand Prix every year bar one since 1950.  The city has other attractions, including a 14th century Duomo, built in Romanesque-Gothic style with a black and white marble facade, and the church of Santa Maria in Strada, also built in the 14th century, which has a facade in terracotta. The Royal Villa, on the banks of the Lambro river, dates back to the 18th century, when Monza was part of the Austrian Empire.

More reading:

Alberto Ascari, one of Italy's Formula One pioneers

Flavio Briatore, the entrepreneur behind the Benetton team

Lella Lombardi, the only woman to win points in a Formula One Grand Prix

Also on this day:

1598: The birth of astronomer Giovanni Riccioli

1927: The birth of the vivacious operatic soprano Graziella Sciutti


Monday, 16 April 2018

Fortunino Matania - artist and illustrator

War artist famous also for images of British history

Fortunino Matania was one of the leading 20th century magazine artists
Fortunino Matania was one of the leading
20th century magazine artists
Chevalier Fortunino Matania, a prodigiously talented artist who became known as one of the greatest magazine illustrators in publishing history, was born on this day in 1881 in Naples.

Matania made his name largely in England, where in 1904 he joined the staff of The Sphere, the illustrated news magazine that was founded in London in 1900 in competition with The Graphic and the Illustrated London News.

The use of photography on a commercial scale was in its infancy and artists who could work under deadline pressure to produce high-quality, realistic images to accompany news stories were in big demand.

Never short of work, he was commissioned by magazines across Europe, including many in his native Italy.

Matania’s best known work was from the battlegrounds of the First World War but he also covered every major event - marriages, christenings, funerals and state occasions - from the coronation of Edward VII in 1902 to that of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953.  He produced illustrations of the Sinking of the Titanic for The Sphere.

He was also in demand to design advertising posters, such as those inviting travellers on the LNER and other railways to visit Blackpool or Southport. He created posters, too, for Ovaltine and Burberry, the sports outfitter.

Matania was the war artist for the London magazine The Sphere
Matania was the war artist for the
London magazine The Sphere
Later in his career, he drew voluptuous women, often nude, for the women’s magazine Britannia and Eve, and was one of the first illustrators hired to work on the ground-breaking children’s magazine, Look and Learn.

Fascinated with British royalty and the Empire, Matania wrote as well as illustrated historical stories and in the years up to his death in 1963 produced a series of paintings for the Look and Learn publisher Leonard Matthews called a Pageant of Kings, which began with William the Conqueror and the Battle of Hastings.

He was working on a painting entitled Richard II and His Child Bride when he died in London at the age of 81.

Matania’s prolific output also included illustrations to be used in Hollywood movies.

His talent was plainly in his genes, to a certain extent. His father was Eduardo Matania, an artist who became an illustrator for magazines in Italy in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

He studied at his father's studio, designing a soap advertisement at the age of nine and exhibiting his first work at Naples Academy by the times he was 11.

By the age of 14, he was good enough to take on some of his father’s workload for books and magazines and earned a commission in his own right to produce weekly illustrations for the periodical L'Illustrazione Italiania.

Matania was also in demand to create advertising posters, this one extolling the virtues of winter in Southport
Matania was also in demand to create advertising posters,
this one extolling the virtues of winter in Southport
He took the bold step to move to Paris in 1901 to work for Illustration Francaise. It was an invitation to cover the Coronation of Edward VII for The Graphic in 1902 that took him to London, where he quickly became in such demand that he stayed.

It was his coverage of the Great War that made it clear he was possessed of extraordinary talent. Not only was he able to work at great speed, he was able to recreate scenes as if he was using a camera, noting small details of the way people stood or moved and the expressions on their faces and bringing them together in vivid scenes so natural as if he had captured a moment in time exactly as it was when he saw it.

Although he spared readers the worst elements of what he had seen, his illustrations as much as anything in the news coverage of the conflict brought home to readers the full horrors of the conflict.

Naples, looking from Mergellina towards Santa Lucia
Naples, looking from Mergellina towards Santa Lucia
Travel tip:

Eduardo Matania produced many paintings depicting the life of fishermen and their families on the Bay of Naples, particularly in the Santa Lucia area, a neighbourhood clustered around the Castel dell’Ovo and only a short distance from the Royal Palace. Today, the area is a good place to eat, with many restaurants setting up around the harbour.

The Brera district has many restaurants
The Brera district has many restaurants
Travel tip:

The publishing centre of Milan was traditionally in the Brera district, an area just to the north of the city centre which once had the Bohemian atmosphere of a kind of Italian Montmartre.  Nowadays, it is the home of the Pinacoteca di Brera, one of the city’s major art galleries, and also of many fine restaurants, and retains its chic reputation.

More reading:

Felice Beato, the Venetian who may have been the world's first war photographer

How war injuries suffered in Italy inspired the great writer Ernest Hemingway

The First World War nurse who was made a saint

Also on this day:

1118: The death of Adelaide del Vasto, Countess of Sicily

1839: The birth of Antonio Starabba, twice Italy's prime minister


Sunday, 15 April 2018

Jacopo Riccati – mathematician

Venetian nobleman who was fascinated by Maths

Jacopo Francesco Riccati turned down several important posts to remain with his family
Jacopo Francesco Riccati turned down several
important posts to remain with his family

Respected mathematician, Jacopo Francesco Riccati, who had an equation named after him, died on this day in 1754 in Treviso.

He had devoted his life to the study of mathematical analysis, turning down many prestigious academic posts offered to him. He is chiefly remembered for the Riccati differential equation, which he spent many years studying.

Riccati was born in 1676 in Venice. His father, Conte Montino Riccati, was from a noble family of land owners and his mother was from the powerful Colonna family. His father died when Riccati was only ten years old, leaving him a large estate at Castelfranco Veneto.

Riccati was educated first at the Jesuit school for the nobility in Brescia and in 1693 went to the University of Padua to study law.

After receiving a doctorate in law in 1696 be began to study mathematical analysis.

He was invited to Russia by Peter the Great to be president of the St Petersburg Academy of Sciences, also to Vienna to be an imperial councillor, and he was offered a professorship at the University of Padua, but he declined them all, preferring to remain on his estate with his family studying on his own.

Riccati's works were published in four volumes
Riccati's works were published in four volumes
Mathematician Maria Gaetani Agnesi included some of his work on multinomials in the book on integral calculus within her work, Analytical Institutions.

Riccati married Elisabetta dei Conti d’Onigo and they had 18 children. Nine died during infancy, but nine survived. The two most famous were Vincenzo Riccati, who made important contributions to mathematical physics and Giordano Riccati, who carried out scientific experiments.

After his wife died in 1749, Riccati moved to live at his house in Treviso. He died there in 1754 and was buried in Treviso’s Duomo, where the Riccati family had their own chapel.

Riccati’s Opere - Works - were published in four volumes in 1765, edited by his son, Giordano.

The impressive walls of Castelfranco Veneto
The impressive walls of Castelfranco Veneto
Travel tip:

Castelfranco Veneto, where Riccati had his estate, is an ancient walled town in the Veneto region of Italy. It is also famous for being the birthplace of the Renaissance artist, Giorgione. The Duomo, which is inside the walls, contains one of his finest works, Madonna with St Francis and Liberalis, which was painted in 1504.

Treviso is famed for its picturesque canals
Treviso is famed for its picturesque canals
Travel tip:

Treviso, where Riccati lived towards the end of his life, is an historic, walled city in the Veneto region, with picturesque canals and water wheels. It is the headquarters of the clothing firm, Benetton, and is famous for producing Prosecco wine and the vegetable, radicchio.

More reading:

Tullio Levi-Civita, the mathematician who influenced Einstein

How Vincenzo Viviani was a friend of Galileo and studied the surface of the moon

Francesca Porcellato - inspiring paralympian from Castelfranco Veneto

Also on this day:

1446: The death of architect Filippo Brunelleschi

1452: The birth of the great painter and inventor Leonardo da Vinci


Saturday, 14 April 2018

Gasparo da Salò – violin maker

Founder of the Brescian school of stringed instrument craftsmen

The bust of Gasparo da Salò in Salò
The bust of Gasparo da Salò in Salò
One of Italy’s earliest violin makers, Gasparo da Salò, died on this day in 1609 in Brescia.

He developed the art of string making to a high level and his surviving instruments are still admired and revered.

Da Salò was born Gasparo Bertolotti in Salò, a resort on Lake Garda in 1542.

His father and uncle were violinists and composers and his cousin, Bernardino, was a violinist at the Este court in Ferrara and at the Gonzaga court in Mantua.

Bertolotti received a good musical education and was referred to as ‘a talented violone player’ in a 1604 document about the music at the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in Bergamo.

Bertolotti moved to Brescia on the death of his father and set up shop in an area where there were other instrument makers.

He became known as Gasparo da Salò and his workshop quickly became one of the most important in Europe for the production of every type of stringed instrument that was played at the time.

An example of a Gasparo violin
An example of a
Gasparo violin
His business was so successful that he was able to acquire land and property and provide financial assistance to members of his family.

It is not known whether da Salò was the first craftsman to produce a violin in its modern form. But he built violins that conform to the measurements of the modern violin and developed instruments with a powerful tone that decades later were studied by Antonio Stradivari. He built violas of different sizes as well as cellos and double basses.

About 80 of his instruments are known to have survived to the present day and are in museums. One of his most famous double basses is in the Basilica of San Marco in Venice.

After his death on 14 April 1609, Gasparo da Salò was recorded as buried at a cemetery in Brescia, but the exact location of his grave is unknown.

Travel tip:

Salò, where Gasparo Bertolotti was born, is on the western shore of Lake Garda. Mussolini formed a short-lived republic there in 1943, but the resort recovered after the World War II to become a popular tourist destination and now has a museum commemorating the resistance against Fascism.
Brescia's elegant Piazza della Loggia
Brescia's elegant Piazza della Loggia

Travel tip:

Brescia in Lombardy, where Gasparo da Salò worked and died, is of artistic and architectural importance. Brescia became a Roman colony before the birth of Christ and you can see remains from the forum, theatre and a temple. The town came under the protection of Venice in the 15th century and there is a Venetian influence in the architecture of the Piazza della Loggia, an elegant square, which has a clock tower similar to the one in Saint Mark’s square. Next to the 17th century Duomo is an older cathedral, the unusually shaped Duomo Vecchio, also known as la Rotonda.

More reading:

Antonio Stradivari - maker of the world's most valuable violins

How the Amati family helped make Cremona famous for violins

Muzio Clementi - father of the piano

Also on this day:

1488: The assassination of Girolamo Riario, papal military leader

1920: The birth of Lamberto Dalla Costa, the fighter pilot who became Italy's first Olympic bobsleigh champion