At Italy On This Day you will read about events and festivals, about important moments in history, and about the people who have made Italy the country it is today, and where they came from. Italy is a country rich in art and music, fashion and design, food and wine, sporting achievement and political diversity. Italy On This Day provides fascinating insights to help you enjoy it all the more.

Monday, 16 January 2017

Count Vittorio Alfieri – playwright and poet

Romantic nobleman inspired the oppressed with his writing


A painting by Francois-Xavier Fabre of Alfieri,  property of the High Museum of Art in Atlanta
A painting by Francois-Xavier Fabre of Alfieri,
property of the High Museum of Art in Atlanta
Dramatist and poet Count Vittorio Alfieri was born on this day in 1749 in Asti in Piedmont.

He earned himself the title of ‘the precursor of the Risorgimento’ because the predominant theme of his poetry was the overthrow of tyranny and with his dramas he tried to encourage a national spirit in Italy. He has also been called ‘the founder of Italian tragedy.’

Alfieri was educated at the Military Academy of Turin but disliked military life and obtained leave to travel throughout Europe.

In France he was profoundly influenced by studying the writing of Voltaire, Rousseau and Montesquieu and in England he embarked on a doomed affair with an unsuitable woman.

When he returned to Italy in 1772 he settled in Turin and resigned his military commission.  Soon afterwards, he wrote a tragedy, Cleopatra, which was performed to great acclaim in 1775.

He decided to devote himself to literature and began a methodical study of the classics and of Italian poetry.

Since he expressed himself mainly in French, which was the language of the ruling classes in Turin, he went to Tuscany to familiarise himself with pure Italian.

Francois-Xavier Fabre also painted Alfieri with the Countess of Albany, with whom he lived in Italy and France
Francois-Xavier Fabre also painted Alfieri with the Countess
of Albany, with whom he lived in Italy and France
Over the next few years he wrote 14 tragedies and numerous poems. He wrote five odes on American independence, an ode on the fall of the Bastille in Paris in 1789 and a political treatise on tyranny.

While in Florence, Alfieri met Princess Louise of Stolberg Gedern, also known as the Countess of Albany, who was the wife of the Stuart pretender to the English throne.

Although she was living with her husband, Charles Edward Stuart, otherwise known as Bonnie Prince Charlie, Alfieri formed a serious relationship with her. When she moved to Rome to get away from her husband, Alfieri followed her there.

She then moved to France and he went to join her there. They lived together in both Alsace and Paris, but eventually left France because of the revolution and returned to live in Florence. Alfieri remained deeply attached to her for the rest of his life.

He chose to use a dramatic style in his writing to persuade the oppressed to accept his political ideas and to inspire them to heroic deeds. Most of his tragedies represented the struggle between a champion of liberty and a tyrant.

This statue of Alfieri is a feature of Piazza Alfieri in Asti
This statue of Alfieri is a feature
of Piazza Alfieri in Asti
One of the best of his published tragedies is Filippo, in which Philip II of Spain is presented as a tyrant. Saul, which is considered to be his masterpiece, has been singled out as the most powerful drama ever presented in the Italian theatre.

Alfieri died in Florence in 1803. His autobiography, Vita di Vittorio Alfieri scritta da esso, The life of Vittorio Alfieri written by himself, was published posthumously in 1804.

Alfieri and the Countess of Albany were both buried in the Basilica of Santa Croce in Florence.

Travel tip:

Asti, where Alfieri was born, is a city in the Piedmont region of northern Italy, situated about 55 kilometres to the east of Turin. It is famous for its high-quality wines, Moscato d’Asti, a sparking white wine and Barbera, a prestigious red. Every year a Palio, a bare-back horse race, is held in Piazza Alfieri, the square named after the writer, on the third Sunday in September.

Hotels in Asti by Expedia

The tomb of Vittorio Alfieri in the Basilica of Santa Croce in Florence was sculpted by Antonio Canova
The tomb of Vittorio Alfieri in the Basilica of Santa
Croce in Florence was sculpted by Antonio Canova
Travel tip:

The Basilica of Santa Croce in Florence, where Vittorio Alfieri is buried, is the largest Franciscan church in the world and the present building dates back to the 13th century. The Basilica has 16 chapels, many of them decorated with frescoes by Giotto and his pupils. It is the burial place for many important Italians, including Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli and Rossini. Alfieri's tomb was sculpted by Antonio Canova, who is considered one of Italy's greatest sculptors.

Florence hotels from Hotels.com

More reading:


Bonnie Prince Charlie - Italian-born heir to the throne of Great Britain

The genius of Antonio Canova

Giuseppe Mazzini - hero of the Risorgimento


Also on this day:


1957: The death of conductor Arturo Toscanini

(Picture credits: Asti statue by Palladino Neil; Santa Croce tomb by jollyroger; via Wikimedia Commons)

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