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.

Sunday, 19 November 2017

Johnny Dundee – world champion boxer

Sicilian changed his name to sound non-Italian

The boxer Johnny Dundee, who was a child when his family emigrated to the United States, was born in Sciacca, a town on the southwest coast of Sicily, on this day in 1893.

Johnny Dundee contested more than 330 professional bouts
Johnny Dundee contested more than
330 professional bouts
Dundee, regarded by many boxing historians as the first of the great Italian-American fighters, had more than 330 fights in a 22-year career in the ring.

At the peak of his career, in the 1920s, Dundee won both the world featherweight and world junior-lightweight titles.

Dundee’s real name is thought to have been Giuseppe Curreri, although some boxing records have his second name as Carrora.  The large numbers of Italian immigrants arriving in New York at around the turn of the 20th century, few of whom spoke any English, sometimes overwhelmed officers at the city’s processing station on Ellis Island and mistakes in recording details were common.

There are variations, too, in accounts of how old Giuseppe was when his family uprooted him from his childhood home, with some saying he was just five but others suggesting he was nine.

What seems not in dispute is that his family joined other Italian families in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, a tough area of overcrowded slums where gang warfare was rife and young men such as Giuseppe needed to learn quickly how to look after themselves.

It was as a street kid that Giuseppe was noticed by the boxing promoter Scotty Monteith, who would scour the working class neighbourhoods looking for potential fighters.  He noted that, though smaller and younger than many gang members, Giuseppe would rarely be on the losing side in a scrap.

A young Dundee pictured early in his career
A young Dundee pictured early in his career
He approached the youngster and asked if he would be interested in taking his fighting talent into the ring.  Naturally, given how little money his family had, he jumped at the chance – even though he was told at the outset he would have to change his name, at least when he was in the ring.

Racial stereotyping and prejudices were rife in New York at that time. Italians, particularly Sicilians, were regarded with suspicion, with many other ethnicities believing them to be dishonest and cowardly.

Most of the professional fighters were from Irish stock and Monteith knew he would find it hard to sell tickets to watch an Italian.  The story goes that he proposed he called himself ‘Johnny’ because it was a popular name in the Irish community and ‘Dundee’ because that was the Scottish town from which his own family originated.

The name change earned him a nickname – ‘the Scotch Wop’ – that would be unthinkable in today’s politically correct times.

As Dundee he won his first fight and went on to enjoy a career that brought him almost 200 wins, including 17 by knock-out, despite the general view that he lacked punching power.  He suffered only two knock-outs himself in his whole career.

Dundee was renowned for his quick feet and skilful glovework
Dundee was renowned for his quick
feet and skilful glovework
Apart from his quick feet and canniness in the ring, Dundee’s other great quality was his patience.  His first attempt at a world title, against the world featherweight champion Johnny Kilbane, came in his 87th fight and ended in a draw.

He then had to wait eight more years, until fight number 265 in November 1921, for another opportunity.  This time, he was successful as opponent George ‘KO’ Chaney was disqualified, and Dundee was crowned world junior lightweight champion.

The following year the boxing board of New York recognised him as the world featherweight champion, when he beat Danny Frush by knockout.

Dundee successfully defended his junior lightweight crown three times in all and though he lost in to Jack Bernstein in 1923 he regained in a rematch with the same fighter later in the year.  Also in 1923, he unified the featherweight title by defeating Eugene Criqui.

Dundee lost both his titles in 1924 yet continued to box for another eight years before retiring in 1932 at the age of 38.  Only two professional fighters in history had contested more bouts and he is widely recognised as among the top five featherweights of all time.

Despite that, he fell on hard times in later life and was grateful for the generosity of his long-time supporter Ed Sullivan, the TV variety show host, whom he had befriended as a cub reporter and at whose wedding he was best man, in coming to his aid when he was almost destitute.

He died in New York in 1965 at the age of 71.

The view from Piazza Scandaliato in Sciacca
The view from Piazza Scandaliato in Sciacca
Travel tip:

The town of Sciacca, in the province of Agrigento on the southwest coast of Sicily, has a large fishing port and despite the presence of thermal baths is not a notable tourist destination, although it has a rich history going back to the seventh century BC, when the island was under Greek control. Its medieval centre has changed little over the years, with many streets and alleys too narrow for cars.  At the edge of the centre, the broad Piazza Scandaliato offers panoramic views across the harbour.

The well-preserved Temple of Concordia in Agrigento
The well-preserved Temple of Concordia in Agrigento
Travel tip:

Around 62km (40 miles) along the coast southeast of Sciacca, the provincial capital Agrigento, a city of 55,000 inhabitants built on a plateau overlooking the sea, is regularly visited by tourists largely for the ruins of the Greek city Akragas, a UNESCO World Heritage Site generally known as the Valley of the Temples and, at 1,300 hectares, the largest archaeological site in the world.  Situated on a ridge rather than in a valley, the site features a series of temples, the most impressive of which is the Temple of Concordia, one of the largest and best preserved Doric temples in the world, with 13 rows of six columns, each 6m (20ft) high, still virtually intact.

Also on this day:

Saturday, 18 November 2017

Alfonso Ferrero La Marmora - military leader

General who became prime minister of Italy

Alfonso Ferrero La Marmora was an important figure in Italy's Risorgimento movement
Alfonso Ferrero La Marmora was an important
figure in Italy's Risorgimento movement
Alfonso Ferrero La Marmora, a general and statesman who became the sixth prime minister of Italy, was born on this day in 1804 in Turin.

A graduate of the Turin Military Academy, La Marmora went on to play an important part in the Risorgimento, the movement to create a united Italy.

One of his older brothers was Alessandro Ferrero La Marmora, who founded the Italian army’s famous Bersaglieri corps, which entered French-occupied Rome in 1870 through a breach in the wall at Porta Pia and completed the unification of Italy.

Alfonso La Marmora went into the army in 1823 and first distinguished himself in the Italian wars of independence against Austria.

In 1848, La Marmora rescued the Sardinian king, Charles Albert, from Milanese revolutionaries who had resented the king’s armistice with the Austrians. Afterwards he was promoted to general and briefly served as minister of war.

La Marmora suppressed an insurrection at Genoa in 1849 and commanded the Sardinian forces in the Crimean War in 1855.

A meeting between La Marmora (right) and Garibaldi, as depicted by an Italian magazine
A meeting between La Marmora (right) and
Garibaldi, as depicted by an Italian magazine
Later, while serving as minister of war again, he reorganised the Italian army.

He then served as premier of Piedmont, governor of Milan and as the king’s lieutenant in Naples.

He became the sixth prime minister of the new united Italy in 1864, succeeding Marco Minghetti, and concluded the country’s alliance with Prussia against Austria.

But La Marmora was held responsible for the overwhelming defeat of the Italians by the Austrians at Custoza in 1866 and was accused of hesitant conduct during the battle, despite the superior numbers of the Italian troops.

Scenes from the Italian side of the Battle of Custoza were recreated in the 1954 Luchino Visconti film, Senso.

La Marmora retired shortly afterwards but was appointed the king’s lieutenant in Rome after it was annexed to the Kingdom of Italy in 1870.

One of the books he wrote in retirement was entitled Un po’ di luce sugli eventi politici e militari dell’anno 1866 (A little light on the political and military events of the year 1866), which aimed to justify his actions at Custoza. 

Alfonso La Marmora died in 1878 in Florence.

The equestrian statue of La Marmora in Turin's Piazza Bodoni
The equestrian statue of La Marmora in
Turin's Piazza Bodoni
Travel tip:

In Turin, the Via Alfonso Lamarmora, an elegant residential street, commemorates the military general and sixth prime minister of Italy who was born in the city. The street links Corso Stati Uniti with Via Sebastiano Caboto, bisecting the busy Corso Luigi Einaudi.  There is an equestrian statue of Alfonso La Marmora in Via Giambattista Bodoni, not far from Turin's main railway station

Travel tip:

Custoza, where the Italians under Alfonso La Marmora were defeated in battle in 1866, is in the province of Verona in the Veneto, close to Lake Garda . The town is also famous for producing the prestigious wine, Bianco di Custoza, sometimes referred to as the white equivalent of the red wine Bardolino, which is produced nearby.

Friday, 17 November 2017

Bronzino – master of Mannerism

Florentine became Medici court painter

Bronzino's portrait of Eleonora of Toledo, wife  of Cosimo I de' Medici, with her son, Giovanni
Bronzino's portrait of Eleonora of Toledo, wife
of Cosimo I de' Medici, with her son, Giovanni
The Mannerist painter Agnolo di Cosimo – better known as Il Bronzino or simply Bronzino – was born on this day in 1503, just outside Florence.

Bronzino is now recognised as the outstanding artist of what has become known as the second wave of Mannerism in the mid-16th century.  His style bears strong influences of Jacopo Pontormo, who was an important figure in the first wave and of  whom Bronzino was a pupil as a young man in Florence.

The Mannerist movement began in around 1520, probably in Florence but possibly in Rome. In the evolution of art it followed the High Renaissance period.

Typical of Mannerist painters is their use of elongated forms and a style influenced by the attention to detail allied to restrained realism that was characteristic of the Renaissance masters Raphael, Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci.

Bronzino became best known for his portraits, which were detailed and stylishly sophisticated, in which the subjects were superbly realistic but also tended to wear stoical, rather haughty expressions.

He also paid particular attention to fabric and clothing, his works often notable for his recreation of textures. He often used strong colours - sometimes cold blues, at other times warm reds – and created effects that were almost like theatrical lighting.

Cosimo I de' Medici in armour, as portrayed by Bronzino in 1545
Cosimo I de' Medici in armour, as portrayed by
Bronzino in 1545
He painted many religious works, in which the influence of Michelangelo could be seen in his use of dramatic body shapes, but his greatest contribution to the Mannerist period was his portraiture, particularly during his time in the Medici court, where his ability to give his subjects an air of elegant nobility made him very popular.

Born in Monticelli, then a small town just outside Florence but now essentially a neighbourhood of the Tuscan city, Bronzino became apprenticed to Pontorno in 1515, their relationship developing almost as that of father and son. Indeed, when plague swept the city in 1522, Pontorno took his pupil with him to stay in the relative seclusion of the Certosa di Galuzzo, a monastery.

When they returned, Pontorno’s trust in Bronzino – who is thought to have acquired his nickname mainly on account of a dark complexion, possibly due to a pigment disorder – was such that he enlisted his help in creating what is seen as his own masterpiece, the Deposition from the Cross, an altarpiece in the church of Santa Felicità in Florence, not far from the Ponte Vecchio, where they also worked together on a sidewall fresco, Annunciation.

Indeed, Bronzino became so adept as following his master’s methods that there has at times been fierce debate between experts over whether certain paintings were the work of Pontorno or his pupil.

Bronzino's Portrait of a Young Man, painted in around 1540, is seen as one of his finest works
Bronzino's Portrait of a Young Man, painted in
around 1540, is seen as one of his finest works
Bronzino left the city for a second time in 1530 when it came under siege from the armies of Spain and the Holy Roman Empire, who were seeking to overthrow the Florentine republic established in 1527 and restore the Medici family to power.

When he rejoined Pontorno in Florence some years later, he had revealed his talent for portraiture while in the employ of the Duke of Urbino and it was not long before he was appointed by the Medici court as official portraitist, a role he would keep until he died in 1572, at the age of 69.

Bronzino’s figures influenced portraiture in Europe for almost a century. His best-known works include portraits of the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Cosimo I de' Medici, and his wife, Eleonora, and other members of their court such as Bartolomeo Panciatichi and his wife Lucrezia.  He also painted idealized portraits of the poets Dante and Petrarch.

By the time of his death he had developed a relationship similar to that he had enjoyed with Pontorno with his own pupil, the late Mannerist painter Alessandro Allori.

The church of Santa Felicità in Florence
Travel tip:

The church of Santa Felicità is described as the oldest religious building in Florence, apart from the Basilica of San Lorenzo.  Although the current structure was built in 1739, it is thought that the first church on the site was probably built in the late fourth century.  As well as Pontorno’s painting, assisted by Bronzino, the church is famous for the fact that the Vasari Corridor, the enclosed passage built by the Medici to link the Palazzo Vecchio in Piazza della Signoria with the Medici’s family residence, the Palazzo Pitti, passes through the façade.

Piero della Francesco's Flagellation
Travel tip:

The town of Urbino in Le Marche has long been associated with art, most famously as the birthplace of Raffaello Sanzio – better known by the anglicised name, Raphael.  Its Galleria Nazionale delle Marche houses many fine works, including Raphael’s La Muta, several paintings by Titian and Paolo Uccello and Piero della Francesco’s Flagellation, measuring 59cm by 82cm and once described as ‘the greatest small painting in the world’.

Also on this day: 

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Tazio Nuvolari – racing driver

Man from Mantua seen as greatest of all time

Tazio Nuvolari is seen by some as Italy's greatest racing driver
Tazio Nuvolari is seen by some as
Italy's greatest racing driver
Tazio Nuvolari, the driver many regard as the greatest in the history not only of Italian motor racing but perhaps of motorsport in general, was born on this day in 1892 in Castel d’Ario, a small town in Lombardy, about 15km (9 miles) east of the historic city of Mantua.

Known for his extraordinary daring as well as for his skill behind the wheel, Nuvolari was the dominant driver of the inter-war years, winning no fewer than 72 major races including 24 Grands Prix.  He was nicknamed Il Mantovano Volante - the Flying Mantuan.

From the start of his career in the 1920s, Nuvolari won more than 150 races all told and would have clocked up more had the Second World War not put motor racing in hibernation.  As it happens, Nuvolari’s last big victory came on September 3, 1939, the day the conflict began, in the Belgrade Grand Prix.

His popularity was such that when he died in 1953 from a stroke, aged only 60, his funeral in his adopted home city of Mantua attracted at least 25,000 people and possibly as many as 55,000 – more than the city’s recorded population.

His coffin was placed on a car chassis pushed by legendary drivers Alberto Ascari, Luigi Villoresi and Juan Manuel Fangio, at the head of a mile-long procession.

Today, his name lives on as the name of a motor racing channel on Italian subscription television.

Tazio Nuvolari at the wheel of the Alfa Romeo car in  which he won the 1935 German Grand Prix
Tazio Nuvolari at the wheel of the Alfa Romeo car in
which he won the 1935 German Grand Prix
Nuvolari was not only a brilliant driver but one who willingly risked his life on the track in order to satisfy his lust for victory.

The performances that have gone down in Italian motor racing folklore include his incredible performance against his rival Achille Varzi in the Mille Miglia endurance event of 1930.

A significant distance behind Varzi as the race entered its night-time phase between Perugia and Bologna, Nuvolari took the strategic decision to switch off his headlights despite reaching speeds of more than 150kph (93mph).

Unable to see Nuvolari in his mirrors, Varzi was fooled into thinking he had the race sewn up and eased back on the throttle only for Nuvolari to appear alongside him with three kilometres remaining, at which point he switched his lights on, gave Varzi a cheery wave and accelerated ahead.

More than once, after serious accidents, he defied doctors’ orders to get behind the wheel again while still heavily bandaged, returning to action within days when he was supposed to rest for at least a month.

How the start of a Grand Prix looked in 1935
How the start of a Grand Prix looked in 1935
His greatest performance, after which he was hailed as a national hero, came in the 1935 German Grand Prix at the Nurburgring, which had been set up by the Nazi propaganda machine as an opportunity to demonstrate the might of both the German drivers and their Mercedes and Auto Union cars.

Nuvolari had tried to join the Auto Union team only to be rebuffed and was obliged to tackle the race in an outdated and underpowered Alfa Romeo for Enzo Ferrari’s team, an arrangement brokered by none other than Italy’s Fascist leader Benito Mussolini.

It looked a hopeless cause.  Nuvolari had a poor start and lost more time through a refuelling delay, yet managed somehow to battle through the field to be second by the start of the final lap, on which he caught and passed the German Manfred von Brauchitsch to claim what some still believe to be the greatest motor racing triumph of all time.

The eight cars immediately in Nuvolari’s wake were all German.  As the Nazi hierarchy fumed, Mussolini seized the chance to score a propaganda success of his own.  As it happened, Nuvolari eventually got his wish to drive for Auto Union and his last three big wins – in the Italian and British Grands Prix of 1938 and the Belgrade event in 1939 – were under their flag.

A garlanded Nuvolari after winning the  French Grand Prix in 1932
A garlanded Nuvolari after winning the
French Grand Prix in 1932
Nuvolari’s daring was evident from a young age.  As a boy, he designed a parachute made from various pieces of material he had gathered up around the family home and decided to test it by jumping off the roof of the house.  He suffered serious injuries but survived to tell the tale.

In the First World War, despite his tender years, he persuaded the Italian army to take him on as an ambulance driver only to be deemed too dangerous behind the wheel to be entrusted with wounded personnel.

After the Second World War, Nuvolari did return to racing but his health began to decline in his 50s. He began to develop breathing problems attributed to years of breathing in dangerous fumes and suffered the first of his two strokes in 1952.

Dubbed "the greatest driver of the past, present and future" by Ferdinand Porsche, founder of the company which shares his name, in addition to his Grands Prix successes, Nuvolari also won five Coppa Cianos, two Mille Miglias, two Targa Florios, two RAC Tourist Trophies, a Le Mans 24-hour race, and the European Grand Prix Championship.

The son of a farmer, Arturo Nuvolari, Tazio had grown up with speed.  His father and brother, Giuseppe, both enjoyed success on two wheels. Indeed, Giuseppe was a multiple winner of the Italian national motorcycling championship.

Nuvolari was married to Carolina Perina, with whom he had two sons, Giorgio and Alberto, both of whom sadly died before they had reached the age of 20.

Mantua is surrounded by water on three sides
Mantua is surrounded by water on three sides
Travel tip:

Mantua has scarcely altered in size since the 12th century thanks to the decision taken to surround it on three sides by artificial lakes as a defence system. The lakes are fed by the Mincio river, which descends from Lake Garda, and it is largely as a result of the restrictions on expansion imposed by their presence that the city’s population has remained unchanged at around 48,000 for several centuries.  The city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is the 2017 European Capital of Gastronomy, famous for its pumpkin ravioli (Tortelli di zucca alla Mantovana), its pike in tangy parsley and caper sauce (Luccio in salsa) and its pasta with sardines (Bigoli con le sardelle alla Mantovana).

The monument to Tazio Nuvolari in Castel d'Ario
The monument to Tazio Nuvolari in Castel d'Ario
Travel tip:

The life of Tazio Nuvolari is commemorated in several ways around Mantua and Castel d’Ario.  He is buried in the family tomb in the Cimitero Degli Angeli, on the road from Mantua to Cremona, and his home on Via Giulia Romano how houses a museum dedicated to his achievements.  In Castel d'Ario there is a bronze statue of Nuvolari reclining against the bonnet of a Bugatti racing car in an open space behind the town hall as well as a square named after him.

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Roberto Cavalli – fashion designer

Florentine who conceived the sand-blasted look for jeans

Roberto Cavalli
Roberto Cavalli
The designer Roberto Cavalli was born on this day in 1940 in Florence.

Cavalli has become well-known in high-end Italian fashion for his exotic prints and for creating the sand-blasted look for jeans.

From an artistic family, Cavalli has a grandfather, Giuseppe Rossi, who was a talented painter whose work is on show in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.

As a student, Cavalli attended an art institute where he learnt about printing textiles and in the early 1970s he invented and patented a printing process for leather and began creating patchworks of different materials.

When he took samples of his work to Paris he received commissions from such fashion houses as Hermes and Pierre Cardin.

At the age of 32, Cavalli presented the first collection in his name in Paris and then showed it in Florence and Milan.

He opened his first boutique in Saint Tropez in 1972 and added further boutiques in Italy and other parts of France.

Roberto Cavalli with his wide Eva Duringer pictured in Vienna in 2013
Roberto Cavalli with his wide Eva Duringer pictured
in Vienna in 2013
In 1994 he showed the first sand-blasted jeans in his autumn/winter collection and then worked with Lycra to invent stretch jeans in 1995.

In 2001 he opened his first café store in Florence and this was followed by the opening in Milan of the Just Cavalli café and another boutique on the fashionable Via della Spiga.

His clothes, menswear, jewellery and perfumes now sell all over the world.

Cavalli has two children from his first marriage and three from his second marriage. He met his second wife, Eva Duringer, when he was a judge at the 1977 Miss Universe contest, where she was representing Austria.

Leading female pop singers such as Christina Aguilera and Jennifer Lopez have asked Cavalli to create costumes for them and he also created the wardrobe worn by the Spice Girls on their reunion tour.

Catwalk stars such as Jessica Stam, Eva Riccobono and Laetitia Casta are among the models who have helped promote his designs. 

In 2011 he told Vogue Magazine that he was reluctant to retire, saying ‘…fashion is a part of my DNA. I could never live without it.’

The Piazzale degli Uffizi Gallery in Florence
The Piazzale degli Uffizi Gallery in Florence
Travel tip:

Work on the Uffizi began in 1560 in order to create a suite of offices (uffici) for the new administration of Cosimo I. The architect, Vasari, created a wall of windows on the upper storey and from about 1580, the Medici began to use this well-lit space to display their art treasures, which was the start of one of the oldest and most famous art galleries in the world. The present day Uffizi Gallery, in Piazzale degli Uffizi, is open from 8.15 am to 6.50 pm from Tuesday to Sunday.

Chic Via della Spiga in Milan
Chic Via della Spiga in Milan
Travel tip:

The Via della Spiga, where Cavalli opened a boutique, is one of Milan’s top shopping streets, forming the north-east boundary of the city’s fashion quarter, of which Via Manzoni, Via Monte Napoleone and Corso Venezia form the other borders. Details of the other shops in Via della Spiga can be found at the Amici di Via della Spiga website.

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Maria Cristina of Savoy

Pious princess was beatified by Pope Francis

Maria Cristina of Savoy
Maria Cristina of Savoy
Princess Maria Cristina Carlotta Giuseppina Gaetana Elisa of Savoy was born on this day in 1812 in Cagliari on the island of Sardinia.

She was the youngest child of King Victor Emmanuel I of Piedmont-Sardinia and his wife Queen Maria Teresa of Austria-Este.

Maria Cristina was described as beautiful, but she was also modest and pious and in 2014 she was beatified by the current Pope, Francis.

As a Savoy princess she had been expected to make an advantageous marriage alliance and when she was just 20 years of age she was married to Ferdinand II of the Two Sicilies, in an attempt to keep southern Italy on friendly terms, at a ceremony in Genoa.

Modest and reserved, she was never comfortable at the royal court in Naples and she was unhappy with Ferdinand. But she was said to be loved by the ordinary people of the Two Sicilies, who were charmed by her beauty and kindness.

Maria Cristina died only five days after giving birth to her son, Francis
Maria Cristina died only five days after giving
birth to her son, Francis
She had always been a devout Catholic and her commitment to God and the Church along with her beauty caused people to regard her as an angelic figure.

She gave birth to her only child, who would grow up to become Francis II of the Two Sicilies, in January 1836. Five days later she died as a result of childbirth complications. The King married again in less than a year.

After her son, Francis II, had lost his throne and was living in exile he began to push for the Church to take up his late mother’s cause for beatification.

Nearly 40 years later in 1872 she was declared to be a Servant of God by Pope Pius IX. In May 1937 she was declared to be a Venerable Servant of God by Pope Pius XI and in May 2013 Pope Francis authorised a decree recognising a miracle due to her intercession, a further stage on her progress to beatification. The beatification ceremony was conducted by the current Pope in January 2014 at the Basilica of Santa Chiara in Naples, where the now Blessed Maria Cristina is buried.

The Castello is the historic centre of Cagliari
The Castello is the historic centre of Cagliari
Travel tip:

Maria Cristina was born in Cagliari in Sardinia while the Savoy family were living there in exile, having been forced to leave their palace in Turin in Piedmont because the city was under French occupation. Although 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.

The tomb of Maria Cristina of Savoy in the Basilica of Santa Chiara in Naples
The tomb of Maria Cristina of Savoy in the Basilica
of Santa Chiara in Naples
Travel tip:

Maria Cristina was buried in the Church of Santa Chiara in Via Benedetto Croce, part of Spaccanapoli in Naples. The church is part of a religious complex, which also includes a monastery and an archaeological museum. Maria Cristina’s tomb is in a side chapel along with the tomb of Salvo d’Acquisto, a carabiniere who sacrificed his life to save the lives of 22 civilian hostages during the Nazi occupation of Italy. Outside is the famous majolica Cloister, which was decorated in 1742 with brightly-coloured majolica tiles by Domenico Antonio Vaccaro.

Monday, 13 November 2017

Alberto Lattuada – film director

Versatility and eye for talent made him leading figure

Alberto Lattuada helped launch many careers in Italian cinema
Alberto Lattuada helped launch many
careers in Italian cinema
A leading figure in the Italian cinema, Alberto Lattuada was born on this day in 1914 in Vaprio d’Adda in Lombardy.

Lattuada was the son of the composer Felice Lattuada, who made him complete his studies as an architect before allowing him to enter the film business.

As a student, Lattuada was a member of the editorial staff of the antifascist publication Camminare and also of Corrente di Vita, an independent newspaper. Corrente di Vita was closed by the Fascist regime just before Italy entered the Second World War.

Lattuada, who is said to have detested fascism, helped to organise a screening of a banned anti-war film at about this time, which got him into trouble with the police.

In 1940 Lattuada started his cinema career as a screenwriter and assistant director on Mario Soldati’s Piccolo mondo antico (Old-Fashioned World).

He directed his own first movie, Giacomo l’idealista (Giacomo the Idealist) in 1942.

Lattuada with Federico Fellini (left) on the set of the latter's first movie in 1950
Lattuada with Federico Fellini (left) on the set of the
latter's first movie in 1950
In 1950 he co-directed Luci del Varietà with Federico Fellini. This was the first film directed by Fellini.

In the 1960s his best film is considered to be Il Mafioso, in which he helped Alberto Sordi give one of his best performances as a miserable desk clerk who in return for a family favour finds himself obliged to become a hit man for a mafia killing in New York.

Lattuada’s film La Steppa, made in 1962, was entered at the 12th Berlin International Film Festival. And in 1970 he was a member of the jury at the 20th Berlin International Film Festival.

His work as a director spanned almost every genre and he helped launch the careers of many film stars, whose talent he had recognised.

Lattuada married the actress Carla del Poggio in 1945 and they had two sons, Francesco and Alessandro. The couple were still together when he died in 2005 at the age of 90. He is buried in the Cimitero Monumentale in Milan.

The ferry boast designed by Leonardo da Vinci
The ferry boast designed by Leonardo da Vinci
Travel tip:

Vaprio d’Adda, where Alberto Lattuada was born is about 30km (18 miles) northeast of Milan in Lombardy. One of the main sights is the Villa Melzi, where Leonardo da Vinci stayed when studying channelling of waters in the area. The villa has a fresco of the Madonna with Child that has been attributed to him or his school. A ferry boat designed by Da Vinci still operates on the river, linking Villa d'Adda with Imbersago.

Lake Como was formed by the waters of the Adda
Lake Como was formed by the waters of the Adda
Travel tip:

The Adda river, which rises in the Alps close to the Swiss border, initially flows from east to west, which is unusual for a river in Italy, before turning south to join the Po river just upstream from Cremona.  Some 313km (194 miles) in length, it passes through several important towns and cities such as Bormio, Sondrio, Lecco and Lodi, as well as some smaller historic towns such as Trezzo, Crespina and Cassano.  The waters from the Adda were responsible for forming Lake Como.