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, 22 October 2017

Valeria Golino - actress

Neapolitan starred with Hoffman and Cruise in Rain Man

Valeria Golino has won multiple awards for films made for the Italian market
Valeria Golino has won multiple awards
for films made for the Italian market
The actress Valeria Golino, who found international fame when she played opposite Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise in the hugely successful movie Rain Man, was born on this day in 1965 in Naples.

Golino was cast as the girlfriend of Tom Cruise’s character, Charlie Babbitt, in Barry Levinson’s comedy, in which Babbitt’s estranged father dies and leaves most of his multi-million dollar estate to another son, an autistic savant named Raymond (Dustin Hoffman) whose existence Charlie knew nothing about.

The 1988 movie won four Oscars and grossed more than $350 dollars. Although Golino was not nominated for her performance in Rain Man, she has won a string of other awards over a career so far spanning almost 35 years.

She is one of only three stars to win Best Actress at the Venice Film Festival on two occasions, for the 1986 drama Storia d’amore (“A Tale of Love”), directed by Francesco Maselli, and for Giuseppe M Gaudino’s 2015 drama Per amor vostro (“For Your Love”).

Golino was close to being selected to star opposite Richard Gere in another massive US hit, Pretty Woman, making it to the final audition stage for the 1990 romantic comedy but eventually losing out to Julia Roberts.

In the same year, Roberts also pipped her to the lead female role in the science-fiction horror film Flatliners.

Golina has been acting for the big screen since making her debut in 1983
Golina has been acting for the big screen
since making her debut in 1983
Golino did have other success in America, again in the comedy field, with Big Top Pee-Wee, Hot Shots! and Hot Shots! Part Deux.

Back home in Italy, she was cast in meatier, dramatic roles, bringing her great respect. The winner of several Nastro d’Argento awards from Italian film journalists, she landed her first David di Donatello for Best Actress for La guerra di Mario (“Mario’s War”), Antonio Capuano’s film about the relationship between a mother, played by Golino, and her rebellious adopted son, a boy taken away from an abusive real mother.

Mario’s War also won her an Italian Golden Globe.  Her second David di Donatello was for Best Supporting Actress in Paolo Virzi’s 2013 film Il capitale umano (“Human Capital”).

Golino has revealed a talent for directing, too. Her first short film, Armandino e il Madre, for which she also wrote the script, received a favourable reaction and her first feature film as director, Miele (“Honey”), was screened at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival and won a commendation.

Miele, the story of a woman who works with an Italian hospital doctor in the illegal facilitating of assisted suicides, earned her a Nastro d’Argento as Best New Director as well as an Italian Golden Globe for Best First Feature.

Valeria Golino receives her award at the 2015 Venice Film Festival
Valeria Golino receives her award at the
2015 Venice Film Festival
Born in Naples into a middle-class background – her father was an academic specialising in German studies, her mother a Greek-born artist – her formative years were spent alternating between Athens and Sorrento after her parents split up.

Although her mother instilled in her a love of the cinema, she had no great ambition to act as she grew up.  In fact, after undergoing surgery to correct a curvature of the spine, she set her sights on the medical profession, dreaming of becoming a cardiologist.

For one reason or another, the opportunity to pursue a career in medicine never came about.  She took some modelling assignments, which she found unfulfilling.  Life changed for her at 17 years old when her uncle, the L’Espresso journalist Enzo Golino, recommended her to Lina Wertmüller, a film director whom he knew socially, for a part in her upcoming movie, Scherzo del destino (“A Joke of Destiny”), alongside the renowned Commedia all’italiana actor, Ugo Tognazzi.

Despite being hospitalised for five months after a car crash disturbed the metal rod implanted in her back to correct the weakness in her spine, her acting career took off at the age of 20 after she played a life-loving cleaning lady in Maselli’s Storia d’amore.

Although she tries to keep her private life out of the public eye, Golino has been a regular in Italian gossip magazines following a series of relationships with other well-known figures in the movie business, the most recent with Riccardo Scamarcio, an actor and director 14 years her junior whom she was with for 10 years.  Nowadays, she largely lives in Rome.

Beautiful views abound in Sorrento
Beautiful views abound in Sorrento
Travel tip:

From the age of five years, Golino’s Italian home was in Sorrento, the popular resort town that occupies a cliff-top position overlooking the Bay of Naples, about 48km (30 miles) along the coast from the city of Naples, heading south.  The journey takes about an hour using the Circumvesuviana railway or hydrofoil across the bay, but considerably longer by road because of the almost constant traffic.  Sorrento, which has Greek origins but was developed by the Romans, is a lively place to stay but with much charm and stunning views from numerous vantage points.

Pictures of Piazza del Plebiscito accompanied the  opening credits for Marriage, Italian Style
Pictures of Piazza del Plebiscito accompanied the
opening credits for Marriage, Italian Style
Travel tips:

Naples has a connection with the film industry going back to the early years of the 20th century, when movie makers had already seen its potential for offering a spectacular or atmospheric backdrop.  In later years, Roberto Rossellini, Eduardo de Filippo, Vittorio de Sica and Francesco Rosi set many of their great films in the city.  The actress Sophia Loren, whose Neapolitan movies included Marriage, Italian Style and Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow, in both of which she co-starred with Marcello Mastroianni, was born in Rome but grew up in Naples and nearby Pozzuoli and regards herself as a Neapolitan.


Saturday, 21 October 2017

Domenichino - Baroque master

Artist whose talents rivalled Raphael

Domenichino's picture St John the Evangelist sold for £9.2 million in 2009
Domenichino's picture St John the Evangelist
sold for £9.2 million in 2009
The painter Domenico Zampieri, in his era spoken of in the same breath as Raphael, was born on this day in 1581 in Bologna.

Better known as Domenichino (“Little Domenico”), the nickname he picked up early in his career on account of his small stature, he painted in classical and later Baroque styles in Rome, Bologna and Naples.

Noted for the subtle, almost serene lighting and understated colours of his compositions, he painted portraits, landscapes, religious and mythological scenes and had a prolific output. Among his most notable works were significant frescoes commissioned by Cardinal Alessandro Farnese for the Badia (monastery) at Grottaferrata, outside Rome, and for Cardinal Pietro Aldobrandini at the Villa Belvedere (also known as the Villa Aldobrandini) in nearby Frascati, as well as Scenes from the Life of Saint Cecilia at the church of San Luigi dei Francesi, not far from Piazza Navona, in Rome itself.

Domenichino’s paintings can be seen in art galleries in many countries, with the largest single collection held by the Louvre in Paris.

One of his most celebrated paintings, the depiction of St John the Evangelist that he worked on between 1621 and 1629 and which has been described as a “masterpiece epitomising the grandeur and nobility of Roman Baroque", sold for £9.2 million at auction in London in December 2009 only to be the subject of an intervention by the British government to keep it from leaving the United Kingdom.

Domenichino's talent put him not far behind Raphael among the Italian greats
Domenichino's talent put him not far behind
Raphael among the Italian greats
The painting had been on a wall at the Glyndebourne Opera House in Sussex for more than 100 years, having been bought by the owners of the house for 70 guineas in 1899. Put up for sale at Christie’s it was bound for the United States before the culture minister, Margaret Hodge, imposed an export bar. It was sold eventually to a British buyer on condition that it was on public display for at least three months each year.

The son of a shoemaker, Domenichino studied in Bologna, first in a local studio and then joining Lodovico Carracci’s Accademia degli Incamminati.

He left Bologna for Rome in 1602 to work under Annibale Carracci and became one of the most talented apprentices to emerge from Carracci's supervision.

Following Annibale Carracci's death in 1609, his Bolognese pupils, the best of whom were Domenichino, Francesco Albani, Guido Reni and Giovanni Lanfranco, became the leading painters in Rome, upstaging even the followers of Caravaggio, who had left Rome in 1606.

Domenichino's masterpiece, his frescoes of Scenes of the Life of Saint Cecilia in the Polet Chapel of San Luigi dei Francesi, was commissioned in 1612 and completed in 1615.

At the same time he was painting his most celebrated altarpiece, The Last Communion of Saint Jerome, for the church of San Girolamo della Carità, noted for the accuracy of facial expressions, which would subsequently be compared with Raphael's great Transfiguration and was at one time hailed as "the best picture in the world".

Domenichino's River Landscape with Boatmen and Fishermen demonstrates qualities that influenced many landscape painters
Domenichino's River Landscape with Boatmen and Fishermen
demonstrates qualities that influenced many landscape painters 
He would later move away from the rigid classicism of his early work towards a broader, less conventional Baroque style, evident in the last works he produced in Rome and in his fresco cycle, Scenes from the Life of San Gennaro (1631–41), which he painted for the Cappella del Tesoro di San Gennaro, in the Duomo in Naples.

Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries Domenichino’s paintings were regarded as second only to those of Raphael.

His work fell from favour in the mid-19th century but his importance to the evolution of Baroque classicism was recognized again in the 20th century.

Domenichino also occupies an important place in the history of landscape painting, his work known to have had a deep influence on the classical landscapists Nicolas Poussin and Claude Lorrain.  In 1996 the first major exhibition of his work was held at the Palazzo Venezia in Rome.

He died in Naples in 1641 while still working at the Duomo. There were suspicions he had been poisoned by the Spanish painter Jusepe di Ribera, the leading member of a group of three artists known as the Naples Cabal, furious to have been passed over for the Cappella del Tesoro di San Gennaro commission in favour of an outsider.

Part of the Domenichino fresco cycle at San Luigi dei Francesi
Part of the Domenichino fresco
cycle at San Luigi dei Francesi
Travel tip:

The Baroque church of San Luigi dei Francesi can be found in Via della Dogana Vecchia, a couple of blocks to the east of Piazza Navona in the heart of Rome’s historic centre. Built in the 16th century to serve the French community in Rome, it is notable not only for Domenichini’s fresco Scenes from the Life of Saint Cecilia but for the cycle of paintings by Caravaggio about the life of St. Matthew in the Contarelli Chapel.

The Cattedrale di San Gennaro, as the Naples Duomo is more frequently known
The Cattedrale di San Gennaro, as the Naples Duomo is
more frequently known
Travel tip:

The Duomo of Naples, known locally more often as the Cattedrale di San Gennaro, was completed in the 14th century after being commissioned by King Charles I of Anjou, the youngest son of Louis VIII of France. Nowadays the seat of the Archbishop of Naples, it is most famous for housing a vial supposedly containing the dried blood of San Gennaro, the city’s patron saint.  The blood is put on public display twice a year, in May and September, when it usually is seen miraculously to liquefy. If the blood fails to liquefy on these days, legend has it that a disaster will befall Naples. Many have doubted the authenticity of the blood and the miracle.  A recent hypothesis is that it actually contains iron oxide (rust) in the form of a thixotropic gel that has the colour of old blood and would become less viscous if shaken or otherwise agitated, and therefore appear to liquefy.

Friday, 20 October 2017

Mara Venier - television presenter

Former actress became famous as face of Sunday afternoon

Mara Venier found fame as host of the
Sunday afternoon TV show Domenica In
Mara Venier, a familiar face on Italian television for more than 35 years, was born on this day in 1950 in Venice.

The former actress, who made her big-screen debut in 1973, is best known for presenting the long-running Sunday afternoon variety show Domenica In, which has been a fixture on the public TV channel Rai Uno since 1976.

Venier, born Mara Povoleri, hosted the show for nine seasons in four stints between 1993 and 2014. Only Pippo Baudo, something of a legendary figure in Italian television, has presented more editions.

Fronting Domenica In, which was on air for an incredible six hours, was not only a test of stamina for the presenter but came with a huge sense of responsibility. In fact, holding the attention of the viewers was a patriotic duty, the show’s format having been conceived by the Italian government, faced with the global oil crisis in the 1970s, as something to tempt citizens to stay at home rather than use precious fuel for their cars.

Venier had been a movie actress, known largely to audiences in Italy, for two decades before she was invited to host Domenica In.  She enjoyed some success, having made her debut with a nude scene in Sergio Capogna’s Diario di un Italiano in 1973, and gained good reviews for Abbasso tutti, viva noi (1974), directed by Gino Mangini, and for Nanni Loy’s comedy Testa o croce (1982).

It was Loy, in fact, who introduced her to television audiences as the host of an Italian version of Candid Camera on the Mediaset commercial channel Italia 1 in 1987.

Venier hosted Domenica In for nine seasons and has fronted many other hit shows
Venier hosted Domenica In for nine seasons
and has fronted many other hit shows 
She became the lead presenter for Domenica In after spending one season working alongside Luca Giurato and proving a hit with the viewers.  Venier quickly became a host in-demand, held in such high regard that she was chosen as one of the five hosts – one for each day of the week – for the hit nightly game show Luna Park, alongside Baudo, Fabrizio Frizzi, Milly Carlucci and Rosanna Lambertucci, all of whom were high-profile names.

The two shows, and a good deal of other TV work, kept Venier very busy, although her career stalled in 1998 when she, Baudo and Lambertucci became embroiled in a scandal over payments made to promote particular products while on air.

After two years away from Rai, during which she made a number of programmes for Silvio Berlusconi’s Mediaset channels, she returned to the public broadcaster in 2000.

She had two more spells fronting Domenica In between 2001 and 2006, although the programme was less successful than it had been in its early years and Venier left the role in 2006 after failing to control an argument between two guests that descended into such foul-mouthed language that the programme was temporarily dropped from the schedule.

Venier’s presence on the small screen was almost constant, however, as the host of many concerts, special broadcasts, talk shows and prime-time regulars such as La vita in diretta – “Life live” and Telethon. 

Mara Venier in her movie acting days
Mara Venier in her movie acting days
She hosted Domenica In for the last time in the 2013-14 series, at the end of which she announced she was leaving Rai and rejoining Mediaset on a contract that included the hit Canale 5 shows L’Isola dei famosi – similar to the UK hit I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here! – and Striscia la notizie, as well as a co-host role in the New Year’s Eve show Capodanno con Gigi D’Alessio.

Nowadays, she is often affectionately referred to as Zia Mara or “la zia d’Italia” – Italy’s aunt.

Born in Venice, the daughter of a railway worker, Venier moved to Mestre with her family and became a mother at the age of just 17 when her daughter, Elisabetta was born.  She married Francesco Ferracini, Elisabetta’s father, and moved to Rome, where he wanted to pursue an acting career.

The marriage did not last, however.  Venier had a son, Paolo, from a relationship with another actor, Pier Paolo Capponi, before making Jerry Calà, also an actor, her second husband in 1984.

They divorced in 1987 but since 2006 Venier has been happily married to the veteran film maker and publisher Nicola Carrara.

The Piazza Erminio Ferretto in Mestre, looking  towards the Torre Civica
The Piazza Erminio Ferretto in Mestre, looking
towards the Torre Civica
Travel tip:

Mestre’s reputation as a grimly modern industrial centre is not undeserved and many travellers know little of it beyond the railway station, which offers trains not only across the lagoon into nearby Venice but to all places on the mainland.  As such, tourists arriving at Marco Polo airport – or Treviso, for that matter – pass through in large numbers. Some holidaymakers do use it, however, as a cheap alternative to staying in Venice and many workers in Venice commute daily from Mestre.  Its most appealing area for visitors is around the main square, the Piazza Erminio Ferretto, a large, rectangular open space lined with porticoes and pleasant cafes. Nearby is the 18th-century church of San Lorenzo and the restored Torre Civica.

The Peggy Guggenheim Collection is housed in the  Palazzo Venier dei Leoni on the Grand Canal
The Peggy Guggenheim Collection is housed in the
Palazzo Venier dei Leoni on the Grand Canal
Travel tip:

Mara Povoleri is believed to have taken Venier as a stage name after the noble Venetian family of the 14th to 16th centuries, three of whom were Doges – Antonio (1382-1400), Francesco (1554-56) and Sebastiano (1577-78) – and several of whom were appointed podestà – city ruler – of Padua. The Fondamenta Sebastiano Venier forms part of the waterfront along the Canareggio Canal in Venice, while the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, the city’s famous modern art gallery, is housed in the family’s former palace, Palazzo Venier dei Leoni.

Thursday, 19 October 2017

Carlo Urbani – microbiologist

Infectious disease expert who identified SARS

 Carlo Urbani was a World Health Organisation specialist in infectious diseases
 Carlo Urbani was a World Health Organisation
specialist in infectious diseases
The doctor and microbiologist Carlo Urbani, whose decisive action after discovering the deadly SARS virus saved millions of lives, was born on this day in 1956 in Castelplanio, near Ancona.

Dr Urbani himself died after contracting the condition, which had been given the name severe acute respiratory syndrome.

He identified it in an American businessman who had been taken ill in Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, with suspected influenza.

Recognising quickly that what he was dealing with was not a straightforward case of ‘flu, Urbani, who was working in Vietnam as an infectious diseases specialist for the World Health Organisation, immediately alerted WHO headquarters in Geneva.

He convinced them that what he had discovered posed a grave threat to life and thus sparked the most effective response to a major epidemic in the history of medicine.

At a local level, be persuaded the Vietnamese health authorities to introduce a raft of preventative measures, including large-scale screening and prompt, secure isolation of suspected victims, that slowed the spread of the disease.

At its peak, people in the areas affected by the SARS virus were encouraged to wear surgical masks in public places
At its peak, people in the areas affected by the SARS virus
were encouraged to wear surgical masks in public places
It was as a result of Urbani’s actions that the epidemic was largely contained, almost all deaths from the disease occurring in territories surrounding the South China Sea, namely southeast China, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Singapore and the Philippines.

Some 775 people died in the epidemic, two thirds of them prior to Urbani’s intervention.

The only significant outbreak beyond this area was in Canada, where 44 people died following the import of the disease into the country by a tourist who had stayed at the same hotel in Hong Kong as Urbani’s patient, who probably contracted the disease from a Chinese doctor who was a guest at a wedding there. 

This doctor had been treating patients suffering from the disease in Guangdong Province, just across the border from Hong Kong, where the virus is thought to have originated.

Urbani, whose parents were a teacher at the Ancona Commercial Navy Institute and a primary school headmistress, gained a degree in medicine from the University of Ancona and a postgraduate degree in tropical parasitology from the University of Messina in Sicily.  He began voluntary work in Africa while he was still at university.

Urbani contracted the virus after treating a sick businessman in Vietnam
Urbani contracted the virus after treating a
sick businessman in Vietnam
After a period of academic research, he went to work at a hospital in Macerata, about 55km (34 miles) from his home town of Castelplanio in the Marche region.  In 1993 he began to accept temporary assignments from the WHO in places such as the Maldives, Mauritania and Guinea.

In 1997, on a recommendation from the WHO, he joined Médicins San Frontières to work in Cambodia and Vietnam. He was elected president of the Italian section of MSF in 1999 and travelled to Oslo in the same year to receive the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of the organisation.

A year later he was recruited by the WHO to be their infectious diseases specialist in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, based in Hanoi. He achieved success in reducing the health impact of parasitic flatworms.

Urbani was summoned to Hanoi’s French Hospital following the admission on February 23, 2003 of a 47-year old Chinese-American businessman called Johnny Chen, resident in Shanghai, who had begun to feel unwell with 'flu-like symptoms soon after arriving on a flight from Hong Kong.

He became suspicious that Mr Chen had something different from normal influenza when several hospital workers who had been in contact with him quickly developed similar symptoms, some rapidly becoming seriously ill.

Sadly, the story has a tragic postscript.  After treating a number of sick patients, Urbani left Hanoi on March 11, bound for a conference in Bangkok, Thailand, where he was to give a talk on the subject of childhood parasites.

During the flight he became feverish. He realised straightaway what had happened and when he arrived at the airport in Bangkok told a colleague sent to meet him that he should call an ambulance immediately and inform the operator that he had almost certainly contracted the SARS virus.  While they awaited the ambulance, Urbani insisted his to his colleague that he was to allow no one within eight feet of him.

Urbani was in intensive care for 18 days but died on March 29, having ultimately suffered a heart attack.  He was only 46 and left behind a wife and three children.

The Arena Sferisterio in Macerata
The Arena Sferisterio in Macerata
Travel tip:

The walled city of Macerata in Marche, where Carlo Urbani worked in the local hospital, is a charming historic city of cobbled streets perched on a hill between the Potenza and Chienti rivers.  At the heart of the city, in the pretty Piazza della Libertà, is the Loggia dei Mercanti with its two-tier arcades, dating from the Renaissance. Macerata’s university is among the oldest it Italy, established in 1290.  Each July and August the city hosts the Sferisterio Opera Festival, which is held in the 2,500 seat open-air Arena Sferisterio, a huge neoclassical arena built in the 1820s.

The Arch of Trajan still stands guard over Ancona's harbour
The Arch of Trajan still stands guard over Ancona's harbour
Travel tip:

The coastal city of Ancona, where Urbani attended university, is a bustling port with a population of almost 102,000. Although the area around the port has an industrial feel, there are some notable beaches nearby and a good deal of history in the older part of the city, bearing witness to its Greek and Roman past. The 18m-high Arch of Trajan, built in honour of the emperor who built the city’s harbour, is regarded as one of the finest Roman monuments in the Marche region. Urbani may have been inspired to follow his chosen direction in life by the presence in Ancona’s harbour of the Lazzaretto, the pentagonal building constructed on an artificial island in the 18th century as a quarantine station designed to protect Ancona from diseases carried by infected travellers.

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Luca Giordano – artist

Talented Neapolitan was renowned for being a fast worker

Luca Giordano was influenced by Caravaggio
Luca Giordano was influenced by Caravaggio
Luca Giordano, the most celebrated and prolific Neapolitan painter of the late 17th century, was born on this day in 1634 in Naples.

His nicknames were Luca Fa Presto - "Luca work faster" - said to derive from the way his father, the copyist Antonio Giordano, used to admonish him, Fulmine (the Thunderbolt) because of his speed, and Proteus, because he was reputed to be able to imitate the style of almost any other artist.

Giordano’s output both in oils and in frescoes was enormous and he is said to have once painted a large altarpiece in just one day.

He was influenced at the start of his career by Jose de Ribera, who he was apprenticed to, and he also assimilated Caravaggio’s style of dramatic intensity.

But after Giordano had travelled to Rome, Florence and Venice, his style underwent a profound change. The influence of Pietro da Cortona’s frescoes in the Pitti Palace in Florence can be detected in Giordano’s huge ceiling fresco in the ballroom of the Palazzo Medici-Riccardi, which he completed in 1683, and he became noted for his showy use of colour.

He went to Spain in 1692 as court painter to Charles II and stayed there till 1702. The frescoes in El Escorial are often claimed to be his best works, but there are nearly 50 paintings by him in the Prado in Madrid, which are evidence of his huge output.

Detail from Giordano's ceiling fresco at the Palazzo Medici-Riccardo in Florence
Detail from Giordano's ceiling fresco at
the Palazzo Medici-Riccardo in Florence
After his return to Naples he continued to paint prolifically. His last great work there was the ceiling of the Cappella del Tesoro in San Martino, begun on his return to the city in 1702 and completed in 1704.

Many of Giordano’s other works in Naples were destroyed during the Second World War.

His St Benedict cycle, painted in 1677 in the abbey of Monte Cassino in Lazio, was entirely destroyed.

But his painting of Christ expelling the Traders from the Temple, painted in the monastery church of Girolamini (or Gerolamini) next to the Duomo in Naples, miraculously survived. It is full of expressive lazzaroni, Neapolitan beggars, who Giordano would have seen every day in the surrounding streets while he was working at the church.

Giordano died in Naples in 1705 and was buried in a tomb in the Church of Santa Brigida, where he had previously painted the cupola. He was to have a profound influence on many Italian artists who came after him.

The Palazzo Medici-Riccardi
The Palazzo Medici-Riccardi
Travel tip:

Construction of the Palazzo Medici-Riccardi in Florence was begun in 1444 to provide a home for the Medici family and the headquarters for their banking business. It was later sold to the wealthy Riccardi family. Part of the palace now open to the public includes the room where Giordano painted his frescoes between 1682 and 1685.

Travel tip:

The 17th century church of Santa Brigida in Naples had to have a dome that was no more than nine metres high, otherwise it would have obstructed artillery fire from Castel Nuovo. The fresco of a vivid sky executed by Giordano on the cupola cleverly creates a feeling of immense space. The artist’s tomb can be found in the left transept of the church.

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Bartolommeo Bandinelli - Renaissance sculptor

Career scarred by petty jealousies

Bartolommeo Bandinelli - a self-portrait
Bartolommeo Bandinelli - a self-portrait
The sculptor Bartolommeo Bandinelli, a contemporary and rival of Michelangelo and Benvenuto Cellini in Renaissance Italy, was born on this day in 1473 in Florence.

He left his mark on Florence in the shape of the monumental statue of Hercules and Cacus in the Piazza della Signoria and his statues of Adam and Eve, originally created for the Duomo but today housed in the Museo Nazionale del Bargello.

Also known as Baccio Bandinelli and Bartolommeo Brandini, he was skilled in small sculptures but became known and disliked for his antagonistic manner with other artists and his particular hatred of Michelangelo, of whom he was bitterly jealous.

Giorgio Vasari, the artist and sculptor who was the first to compile a written history of art and artists, and who was a student in Bandinelli’s workshop, recalled an occasion when Bandinelli was so enraged by the excitement that ensued when a Michelangelo drawing was uncovered in the Palazzo Vecchio that, as soon as an opportunity arose, he tore it up.

Where Michelangelo was revered for everything he did, Bandinelli’s critics said he lacked the skills required to tackle large sculptures.

Bandinelli's Hercules and Cacus
Bandinelli's Hercules and Cacus
This only drove him to want to prove them wrong, and to this end it is thought that he persuaded the ruling Medici family to give him the commission for the statue of Hercules and Cacus – originally intended for Michelangelo, who was busy working on the Medici Chapel.

Yet when the work was unveiled in 1534 it attracted ridicule, in particular from Cellini.   Where Michelangelo, whose David already stood in the Piazza, had a gift for imbuing his creations with a sense of realism and drama, Bandinelli’s figures - in the eyes of his critics at least – lacked character and authenticity.

Much more favourably received were his bronze copy of the ancient Greek statue Laocoon and his Sons, his tombs of the Medici popes Leo X and Clement VII in Rome and his Monument to Giovanni delle Bande Nere, the Medici condottiero (professional soldier).

Bandinelli was the son of a prominent Florentine goldsmith. As a boy, he was apprenticed under Giovanni Francesco Rustici, a sculptor friend of Leonardo da Vinci.

Later in his career, he was a leader in the group of Florentine Mannerists who were inspired by the revived interest in Donatello.

Some of his works in terracotta were hailed as masterpieces and some of his drawings have been difficult to establish as not being by Michelangelo.

Bandinelli's Pietà in the Basilica della Santissima Annunziata
Bandinelli's Pietà in the Basilica della Santissima Annunziata
Yet he continued to attract scorn whenever he took on a large project, his Pietà in the Basilica della Santissima Annunziata being another example.  Bandinelli began work on it only after he heard about Michelangelo’s similar commission in Rome.

It was completed in 1559 and again brought unfavourable comments from other artists, some of whom said that it lacked refinement, his figures appearing somewhat awkward and oddly positioned compared with the grace and beauty of Michelangelo’s work.

The other complaint against Bandinelli, voiced by Vasari, was that he accepted commissions too hastily and failed to complete many of them, although there are enough examples of his work in museums and galleries to refute that claim.

However, Vasari’s detailed Lives of the Artists also gives praise where it was due and acknowledges Bandinelli was a sculptor of merit, and in recent years his talent has been better appreciated, culminating in the first exhibition devoted to his work alone, in the Bargello museum in Florence.

Cellini's Perseus with the Head of Medusa
Cellini's Perseus with the Head of Medusa
Travel tip:

Florence’s Piazza della Signoria, situated right in the heart of the city, close to the Duomo and the Uffizi Gallery, is an open-air museum of Renaissance art, featuring a series of important sculptures, the most famous of which are Giambologna’s The Rape of the Sabine Women and his Equestrian Monument of Cosimo I, Cellini’s Perseus with the Head of Medusa (next to The Rape of the Sabine Women in the Loggia dei Lanzi), Bandinelli’s Hercules and Cacus, the Medici Lions by Fancelli and Vacca, The Fountain of Neptune by Bartolemeo Ammannati, copes of Donatello’s Judith and Holofernes and Il Marzocco (the Lion), and the copy of Michelangelo’s David, at the entrance to the Palazzo Vecchio.

The Bargello in Via del Proconsolo
The Bargello in Via del Proconsolo
Travel tip:

More Renaissance sculptures can be appreciated in the Museo Nazionale del Bargello - the Bargello National Museum - situated just a short distance from Piazza della Signoria in Via del Proconsolo, in a fortified 13th century building that was once a prison. The museum houses masterpieces by Michelangelo, Donatello, Cellini, Giambologna, Vincenzo Gemito, Jacopo Sansovino, Gianlorenzo Bernini and many works by the Della Robbia family.

Monday, 16 October 2017

Dorando Pietri - marathon runner

Athlete who made his fortune from famous disqualification

Dorando Pietri with the silver cup presented to him by Queen Alexandra
Dorando Pietri with the silver cup
presented to him by Queen Alexandra
The athlete Dorando Pietri, who found fame and fortune after being disqualified in the 1908 Olympic marathon, was born on this day in 1885 in Mandrio, a hamlet near Carpi, in Emilia-Romagna.

In an extraordinary finish to the 1908 race in London, staged on an exceptionally warm July day, Pietri entered the White City Stadium in first place, urged on by a crowd of more than 75,000 who were there to witness the finish, only for his legs to buckle beneath him.

He was helped to his feet by two officials only to fall down four more times before he crossed the finish line.  Each time, officials hauled him to his feet and walked alongside him, urging him on and ready to catch him if he fell.  The final 350 yards (320m) of the event accounted for 10 minutes of the two hours, 54 minutes and 46 seconds recorded as his official time.

Eventually, a second athlete entered the stadium, the American Johnny Hayes, but Pietri had staggered over the line before he could complete the final lap.

The American team was already unpopular with the British crowd, partly because of a row about a flag at the opening ceremony. They lost even more support after they lodged an objection to the result. 

Pietri, a small man of 5ft 2ins who looked younger than his 22 years, was hailed for his pluckiness by the White City crowd, who felt he deserved the gold medal.  But the Games organisers were obliged to uphold the American complaint, on the grounds that the Italian had received assistance.

Pietri races ahead of the field in the 2008 Olympic Marathon
Pietri races ahead of the field in
the 2008 Olympic Marathon
The outrage at this decision extended even as far as the British Royal Family.  Queen Alexandra had taken a particular interest in the race, even arranging for the start line, originally set for a street outside Windsor Castle, to be moved inside the castle grounds so that her children could watch. This extended the distance to 26 miles 385 yards, which has remained the official distance for marathons ever since.

Inside the stadium, with the finishing line placed directly in front of the Royal Box, Queen Alexandra is said to have been so thrilled to see Pietri stagger across the line and be acclaimed the winner that she joined the applause of the crowd by banging her umbrella on the floor of the box.

When she learned he had been disqualified, the story goes that she was so disappointed on his behalf that she insisted his efforts be recognised and arranged for a silver and gilt cup to be inscribed, which she presented to him during the closing ceremony.

This gesture caught the public imagination to such a degree that the Daily Mail began a fund for him, which the celebrated author Arthur Conan Doyle, who had been commissioned by the newspaper to write a report of the race, launched by donating five pounds.

The Mail told its readers that money raised would help Pietri, a pastry chef by trade, to open a bakery in Carpi. In the event, the appeal realised £300, which in 1908 was a sum comparable with more than £28,000 today.

Pietri is helped across the line at the finish of the race
Pietri is helped across the line at the finish of the race
With that money and his subsequent earnings as a professional – he was invited to compete in lucrative races all over the world, including a 22-race tour of the United States – he was able eventually to open an hotel.

Apart from making his fortune, cashing in on celebrity status that extended even to having a song written about him by Irving Berlin, Pietri was able to use his American tour to remove any doubt that he was a worthy winner in London.

In a rematch staged over 262 laps of a special track built at Madison Square Garden in New York in November, 2008, in front of a 20,000 crowd, Pietri defeated Johnny Hayes, repeating the win four months later.  In all the Italian won 17 of the 22 races on the tour.

Pietri retired from competition in 1911, after a career lasting just seven years, which had been interrupted by two years of national service.

Sadly, the Grand Hotel Dorando in Carpi was not a success and in time was closed, after which Pietri moved to the Ligurian resort of San Remo, where he ran a taxi business until he died in 1942, having suffered a heart attack.

The Piazza Martiri is Italy's third largest square
The Piazza Martiri is Italy's third largest square
Travel tip:

Carpi, situated 18km (11 miles) north of Modena in the Padana plain, became a wealthy town during the era of industrial development in Italy as a centre for textiles and mechanical engineering. Its historic centre, which features a town hall housed in a former castle, is based around the Renaissance square, the Piazza Martiri, the third largest square in Italy. Italy’s national marathon has finished in Carpi in 1988 in honour of Dorando Pietri, who is also commemorated with a bronze statue by the sculptor Bernardino Morsani, erected in 2008 on the 100th anniversary of the London Olympic marathon, at the junction of Via Ugo da Carpi and Via Cattani, about 2.5km (1.5 miles) from the centre of the town.

Luxury yachts in the harbour at San Remo
Luxury yachts in the harbour at San Remo
Travel tip:

San Remo, the main resort along Liguria’s Riviera dei Fiori – Riviera of Flowers – is a town steeped in old-fashioned grandeur with echoes of its heyday as a health resort in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, with broad streets lined with palm trees and luxury villas.  The harbour is still filled with expensive yachts and the casinos attract wealthy clientele. San Remo also has an old town of narrow streets and alleyways and is famous as the home of an annual pop music contest, the Sanremo Festival, where winning is still a considerable career advantage for up-and-coming Italian performers.

Sunday, 15 October 2017

Angelo Schiavio - footballer

Scored goal that won Italy's first World Cup

Angelo Schiavio played all his club football with Bologna
Angelo Schiavio played all his club
football with Bologna
Angelo Schiavio, the hero of the Italian football team’s first World Cup victory in 1934, was born on this day in 1905 in Bologna.

The centre forward, a prolific goalscorer for his home-town club in Serie A, scored the winning goal in the final against Czechoslovakia to hand victory to the Azzurri in the 16-team tournament, of which the Italians were hosts.

In the final at the Stadio Flaminio in Rome, the Azzurri had gone behind to a goal by the Czech winger Antonin Puc with 19 minutes remaining, but equalised 10 minutes later through Raimundo Orsi, the Argentina-born forward from Juventus, taking the match into extra time.

Schiavio struck the decisive goal, driven home with his right foot from a pass by Enrique Guaita, another Argentine – one of 12 to represent Italy and Argentina in the days before playing for more than one nation was outlawed.

It was his fourth goal of the tournament, sparking massive celebrations in Rome and across Italy, albeit in a mood of triumph hijacked by Benito Mussolini and his Fascist regime.

Rumours circulated, almost inevitably, that match officials had been bribed to make decisions favouring the Italians, much to the frustration of coach Vittorio Pozzo, athough he was able to validate the victory four years later when the Azzurri retained the trophy in France.

Schiavio hailed from a large family – he was the eighth child – who had originated in Gorla, a tiny hamlet in the hills above Lake Como, close to the villages of Zelbio, Valeso and Erno.

Schiavio's goal beats the Czech 'keeper in the 1934 final
Schiavio's goal beats the Czech 'keeper in the 1934 final
They had run a silk mill before moving to Bologna a year before Angelo was born to start a business selling clothing and underwear made from wool, under the name of Schiavio-Stoppani.

Their first store, opened in 1919, was located on the corner of Via Clavature and Via dei Toschi, right in the historic centre of the city.  The business would grow, expanding into sports equipment, and continued to trade as a family enterprise until the early part of the 20th century.

Angelo Schiavio played an active part in the business himself once his career was over.

As a player, renowned for his power and pace as a centre forward, with excellent dribbling skills and a fierce shot, he made 348 appearances for Bologna between 1922 and 1938, scoring 242 goals, having made his debut against Juventus in January 1923, at the age of just 17. By the end of his first half-season he had scored six goals.

He helped Bologna win the scudetto – the Italian Serie A title – for the first time in their history in 1924-25, winning three more championships in the rossoblu shirt.

Schiavio’s career goals tally remains the highest by any Bologna player and the fourth highest among all Italians. Only Silvio Piola, Giuseppe Meazza and, from the modern era, Francesco Totti have scored more goals over their careers.

Schiavio in the
national colours
For the Azzurri, he struck 15 goals in 21 appearances, scoring twice on his debut against Yugoslavia in Padua in 1925. He twice scored hat-tricks for the national team, the first time in an incredible 11-3 victory over Egypt in the third-place match at the 1928 Olympics in the Netherlands, the second in the opening match of the 1934 World Cup, when Italy thrashed the United States 7-1.

The final was his last international appearance, although he would play on in club football until 1938.

As a coach, he was twice part of a technical committee at Bologna and served the national team in a similar capacity between 1953 and 1958, before leaving football and devoting himself to the family business.

He died in 1990 at the age of 84 and is buried in the Monumental Cemetery of Certosa in Bologna.

Lake Como has an abundance of picturesque lakeside towns and villages
Lake Como has an abundance of picturesque lakeside
towns and villages
Travel tip:

Zelbio, Valeso and Erno are picturesque small villages nestling in the tree-lined hills that descend gently towards the shore of the western branch of Lake Como, about 50km (31 miles) north of Milan, about 25km (16 miles) from Como itself and a similar distance from Bellagio.  The best way to appreciate the beauty of the area is to take one of the ferry services that link the lakeside towns.

Piazza Maggiore in the centre of Bologna
Piazza Maggiore in the centre of Bologna
Travel tip:

The Schiavo-Stoppani store, on the corner of Via Clavature and Via dei Toschi, was in a prime location in the centre of Bologna, only a few metres from the historic heart of the city in Piazza Maggiore.  Via Clavature is an interesting, narrow street lined with fruit and vegetable stores and has several bars and restaurants.

Saturday, 14 October 2017

Alessandro Safina – singer

Tenor who has blended opera and rock

Alessandro Safina has become a household name in Italy after several successful albums
Alessandro Safina has become a household name
in Italy after several successful albums
Alessandro Safina, a singer trained in opera who has expanded the so-called ‘crossover’ pop-opera genre to include rock influences, was born on this day in 1963 in Siena.

A household name in Italy, the tenor is less well known outside his own country but has recorded duets with international stars such as Sarah Brightman, South Korean soprano Sumi Jo, Rod Stewart, former Pretenders singer Chrissie Hynde, Scottish actor and singer Ewan McGregor and the superstar Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli.

Safina’s biggest album to date is Insieme a Te, which has sold more than 700,000 copies.

It was written in collaboration with the Italian pianist and composer Romano Musumarra, who helped realise Safina’s ambition of creating soulful rock-inspired music for the tenor voice.  He first performed songs from the album at the Olympia theatre in Paris in 1999.

Safina was born into an opera-loving family and earned money to pay for singing lessons by working in his father’s stationery business.  Set on becoming a professional singer from the age of nine, he began attending a music academy at 12 and was accepted for a place at the Luigi Cherubini Conservatory in Florence at 17.

In 1989, he won the a competition – the Concorso Lirico Internazionale in Mantova, Italy – and made his opera debut the following year, appearing alongside soprano Katia Ricciarelli as Rodolfo in Puccini's La bohème.

Safina made his operatic debut in 1990 singing alongside the soprano Katia Ricciarelli
Safina made his operatic debut in 1990 singing
alongside the soprano Katia Ricciarelli
Professionally, Safina’s singing remained focussed on the classic tenor operatic roles for much of the 1990s. Privately, his musical tastes were much less confined. He was late to discover rock music, but once he had he became a fan of such bands as U2, Genesis, Depeche Mode and even punk outfit The Clash.

His collaboration with Musumarra led to his debut album, simply called Alessandro Safina, in 2001, from which the single Luna became a hit. After he had performed the song live in The Netherlands, it reached number one in the Dutch singles charts and remained there for 14 weeks.

This success sparked numerous engagements over the coming years, including a duet singing Elton John’s Your Song with Ewan McGregor for the score of Moulin Rouge, an appearance in front of Queen Elizabeth at the 73rd Royal Variety Performance in London (singing Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s Music of the Night) and another rendition of Your Song, this time with Elton John, for the Sport Relief fund-raising campaign.

He made his acting debut in the role of the painter Mario Cavaradossi in a film based on Puccini’s Tosca and sang a duet with Rod Stewart on the latter’s album, As Time Goes By.

His links with South Korea began after he performed at the opening ceremony of the 2002 football World Cup.

Safina’s second album, Insieme a Te, consolidated his position as a star of the crossover genre, featuring his duet with Chrissie Hynde as well as Lloyd Webber’s classic Music of the Night.

In more recent years, Safina has recorded a duet with the British soprano Sarah Brightman for her album, Symphony, performed "O Sole Mio" with Andrea Bocelli.  He recorded his fifth album, Dedicated, in 2014.

The Palio di Siena delivers spectacular thrills
The Palio di Siena delivers spectacular thrills 
Travel tip:

The city of Siena is famous for its twice-yearly horse race, Il Palio, which brings massive crowds both to watch the spectacular action as the horses, ridden bareback by colourfully adorned jockeys from 10 of the city’s contrade (wards), career around a track that follows the perimeter of Piazza del Campo.  Generally speaking, the race takes place on July 2, when it is contested as the Palio di Provenzano, in honour of the Madonna of Provenzano, and on August 16, when it is named the Palio dell'Assunta, in honour of the Assumption of Mary.

The Piazza del Campo is shaped like a scallop shell
The Piazza del Campo is shaped like a scallop shell
Travel tip:

The Piazza del Campo is the heart of Siena’s medieval centre, one of the largest and most beautiful squares in Italy, shaped a little like a scallop shell, with a gentle slope towards the imposing Palazzo Pubblico.  From the square, some 11 narrow streets and alleyways radiate outwards into the city, which has a sense of charm and mystery that visitors find beguiling.