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.

Thursday, 31 August 2017

Gino Lucetti – failed assassin

Anarchist tried to kill Mussolini with grenade



Gino Lucetti was part of a substantial anarchist presence in Carrara
Gino Lucetti was part of a substantial
anarchist presence in Carrara
Gino Lucetti, who acquired notoriety for attempting to assassinate Italy’s Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini in Rome in 1926, was born on this day in 1900.

A lifelong anarchist, part of a collective of like-minded young men and women from Carrara in Tuscany, he planned to kill Mussolini on the basis that doing so would save the lives of thousands of potential future victims of the Fascist regime.

Lucetti hatched his plot while in exile in France, where he had fled after taking a Fascist bullet in the neck following an argument in a bar in Milan, clandestinely returning several times to Carrara to finalise the details.

After enlisting the help of other anarchists, notably Steffano Vatteroni, who worked as a tinsmith in Rome, and Leandro Sorio, a waiter originally from Brescia, he returned to Rome to carry out the attack.

Vatteroni was able to obtain information about Mussolini’s movements from a clerical worker in the dictator’s Rome offices, including details of his regular motorcades through the city. These were carefully choreographed affairs in which cheering citizens lined the streets, enabling Mussolini to present an image to the world of a popular leader.

Sorio provided a penniless Lucetti with somewhere to stay in Rome while he planned the attack.

Mussolini would ride in an open-topped car, miking the applause of the crowds
Mussolini would ride in an open-topped car,
miking the applause of the crowds
Lucetti settled on September 11 as the day he would kill Il Duce. He had observed how closely his famous Lancia car passed by the crowds and having obtained advance notice that Mussolini’s route that day would pass through the historic gateway at Porta Pia, he loitered in wait for several hours.

When the Lancia came into view, he stepped forward from the crowd and hurled one of two grenades he had in the pockets of his jacket in the direction of the car, hoping to land it at the feet of the dictator as he waved to the cheering masses.

Instead it hit the windscreen, shattering the glass but failing to explode, then bouncing off the running board and into the road.  It blew up after Mussolini’s car had gone by, the force of the blast somewhat ironically knocking Lucetti off his feet.

In the confusion that followed, Lucetti initially sheltered in a doorway in nearby Via Nomentana, but it was not long before Mussolini’s bodyguards found him.

He was beaten up on the spot, then subjected to a violent interrogation at police headquarters.

He compounded his actions by giving police a false identity, insisting he was Ermete Giovanni, from Castelnuovo Garfagnana in Tuscany, as a result of which the town near Lucca was blockaded and dozens of people arrested. Lucetti may have failed in his assassination attempt but regarded showing up the incompetence of the police as at least a small consolation.

Lucetti's grave in Carrara, bedecked in an anarchist flag
Lucetti's grave in Carrara, bedecked in an
anarchist flag 
He stood trial in 1927, at the end of which he was sentenced to 30 years in jail. Vatteroni and Sorio received sentences of around 20 years.

Lucetti spent 17 years in a prison on Santo Stefano, one of the Pontine islands off the coast between Rome and Naples.

He died on the island of Ischia, in the Bay of Naples, in September, 1943, in circumstances that are not clear.  Some accounts say he escaped from Santo Stefano, others that he was transferred to Ischia.

Either way, he was killed during shelling of the island, either by American forces, or by German positions on neighbouring Procida.

Lucetti’s body was returned to Carrara, where he is buried alongside other anarchists, including Goliardo Fiaschi, who was a prominent figure in the Italian resistance in the Second World War, and the Giuseppe Pinelli, who fell from a fourth-floor window of the Milan police headquarters after being taken in for questioning about the Piazza Fontana bombing in 1969, and was later immortalised in Dario Fo’s play, Accidental Death of an Anarchist.

The Michelangelo-designed gate at Porta Pia
The Michelangelo-designed gate at Porta Pia
Travel tip:

Porta Pia is a gateway in Rome’s ancient Aurelian Walls, designed by Michelangelo and the artist’s final architectural project before his death in 1564. It acquired a special place in Italian history as a result of a section of wall immediately adjoining it being breached in September 1870, enabling forces led by Piedmontese General Raffaele Cadorno to storm the city, overwhelming what remained of the Papal garrisons and completing the unification of the country.

The mountains around Carrara sometimes appear to be covered in snow even in summer
The mountains around Carrara sometimes appear
to be covered in snow even in summer
Travel tip:

Carrara, famous for its blue and white marble, sits in a valley that descends from the Apuane Alps in Tuscany, in which the natural white of the peaks often convinces visitors they are covered with snow even in the summer. Marble has been quarried in the area for more than 2,000 years. Michelangelo was said to have been so taken with the purity of the stone that he spent eight months there choosing blocks for specific projects.  Nowadays, Carrara is a city of almost 70,000 inhabitants.  It became a hotbed of anarchists in the last 19th and early 20th century, largely because of the radical views of the quarry workers.



Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Andrea Gabrieli - composer

Father of the Venetian School


Andrea Gabrieli was the organist at the Basilica di San Marco in Venice
Andrea Gabrieli was the organist at the
Basilica di San Marco in Venice
The Venetian composer and organist Andrea Gabrieli, sometimes known as Andrea di Cannaregio, notable for his madrigals and large-scale choral works written for public ceremonies, died on this day in 1585.

His nephew, Giovanni Gabrieli, is more widely remembered yet Andrea, who was organist of the Basilica di San Marco – St Mark’s – for the last 19 years of his life, was a significant figure in his lifetime, the first member of the Venetian School of composers to achieve international renown. He was influential in spreading the Venetian style of music in Germany as well as in Italy.

Little is known about Andrea’s early life aside from the probability that he was born in the parish of San Geremia in Cannaregio and that he may have been a pupil of the Franco-Flemish composer Adrian Willaert, who was maestro di cappella at St Mark’s from 1527 until 1562.

In 1562 – the year of Willaert’s death – Andrea is on record as having travelled to Munich in Germany, where he met and became friends with Orlando di Lasso, who wrote secular songs in French, Italian, and German, as well as Latin.  There was evidence in the later work of Di Lasso of a Venetian influence, while Gabrieli took back to Venice numerous ideas he learned from Di Lasso.

In 1566 Gabrieli was chosen for the post of organist at St. Mark's, one of the most prestigious musical posts in northern Europe, and he retained this position for the rest of his life.

Giovanni Gabrieli published his uncle Andrea's  music after his death
Giovanni Gabrieli published his uncle Andrea's
music after his death
The acoustics of St. Mark's helped him develop a grand ceremonial style. In part, this was because his duties at St. Mark's included composing music for ceremonial affairs.

These included the festivities accompanying the celebration of the victory over the Turks in the Battle of Lepanto in 1571 and the music for the visit to Venice by a party of princes from Japan in 1585.

He was also renowned, towards the end of his career, as a teacher. His nephew, Giovanni, was a pupil, along with the music theorist Lodovico Zacconi and the German composer Hans Leo Hassler.

Andrea Gabrieli is reckoned to have written more than 100 motets and madrigals, which are pieces written for voices rather than musical instruments, and a smaller number of orchestral or instrumental works.

The church of San Geremia sits by the junction of the  Grand Canal and the Cannaregio Canal
The church of San Geremia sits by the junction of the
Grand Canal and the Cannaregio Canal
His music featured repetition of phrases with different combinations of voices at different pitch levels. In many ways, his music defined the Venetian style for future generation.

Little of his music was published during his own lifetime, apparently through his own reluctance, but it was preserved largely thanks to Giovanni, who recognised its importance and, after his uncle’s death at the age of about 52, of unknown causes, he took it upon himself to publish it.

Among the works Giovanni published was his Magnificat for three choirs and orchestra, almost certainly written to be performed in St. Mark’s, which is regarded as one of Andrea Gabrieli’s finest compositions.

The Ormesina Canal in the Cannaregio district
Travel tip:

The church of San Geremia, where Andrea Gabrieli probably played at some stage early in his career, is situated at the junction of the Grand Canal with the Cannaregio Canal, which is one of the main waterways of the city but which is often overlooked by tourists. The Ormesina and Sensa Canals, which run parallel with the Cannaregio Canal, are lined with good cafes and restaurants and interesting shops, but mostly they are the preserve of people living in the area.


The Basilica di San Marco
The Basilica di San Marco
Travel tip:

The original church on the site of the Basilica di San Marco may have been built in the ninth century, although the earliest recorded mention was dated 1084. It has been rebuilt several times, the present neoclassical church dating from a rebuilding of 1795-1806, for patrician Pietro Zaguri, by Giannantonio Selva. 


Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Leonardo De Lorenzo – flautist

Flair for the flute led to international career


Leonardo De Lorenzo played with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra
Leonardo De Lorenzo played with the
New York Philharmonic Orchestra
Leonardo De Lorenzo, a brilliant flute player who passed on his knowledge of the instrument to others through his books, was born on this day in 1875 in Viggiano in the province of Potenza.

De Lorenzo started playing the flute at the age of eight and then moved to Naples to attend the music conservatory of San Pietro a Majella.

He became an itinerant flautist until he was 16, when he moved to America, where he worked in a hotel. He returned to Italy in 1896 to do his military service in Alessandria and became a member of a military band directed by Giovanni Moranzoni, whose son was to become a famous conductor of the orchestra at the Metropolitan Opera in New York.

De Lorenzo then began a career as a flautist and toured Italy, Germany, England and South Africa, joining an orchestra in Cape Town for a while. Eventually he returned to Naples to continue his studies.

When he travelled to America again, he became first flautist of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra directed by Gustav Mahler. He was warned never to answer back to Mahler, who had a reputation for being unpleasant. Later, in his writing, he recalled that the only time he dared speak to Mahler was after his name had been misspelled in the programme as ‘de Lorenzo’ with a lower case ‘d’. He politely requested the correction saying: ‘De Lorenzo, please, Maestro.’

Gustav Mahler, who was director of the New York Philharmonic when De Lorenzo was first flautist
Gustav Mahler, who was director of the New York
Philharmonic when De Lorenzo was first flautist
He also went on to play for the New York Symphony Orchestra and for orchestras in Minneapolis, Los Angeles and Rochester.

While playing in Minneapolis, he met Maud Peterson, a pianist who frequently accompanied him, and they were later married.

De Lorenzo became professor for flute at the Eastman School of Music and on his retirement concentrated on composing music for the flute and writing about the instrument.

His compositions, Saltarella and Pizzica-pizzica are a homage to the traditional music of his native town.

In 1951 he published the book, My Complete Story of the Flute, after carrying out extensive research.

On August 29 1955 the Los Angeles Flute Club gave a concert in which they performed his compositions to celebrate his 80th birthday.

De Lorenzo died at his home in Santa Barbara in 1962 at the age of 86.

The International Flute Competition, Leonardo De Lorenzo, is held every two years in his birthplace, Viggiano.

Musicians of Viggiano, as imagined in a book in 1853
Musicians of Viggiano, as imagined in a book in 1853
Travel Tip:

Viggiano, where De Lorenzo was born, is a town in the province of Potenza in the southern Italian region of Basilicata. It is well known for its migrant street musicians and for harp making. Many street musicians from Viggiano have gone on to play in orchestras in Europe, America and Australia. Viggiano is also home to Europe’s biggest oil field.

The Church of San Pietro a Majella in Naples
The Church of San Pietro a Majella in Naples
Travel tip:

San Pietro a Majella, the Naples Music Conservatory, occupies the former monastery adjoining the church of San Pietro a Majella at the western end of Via Tribunali in Naples. Formerly housed in the monastery of San Sebastiano, the Music Conservatory moved to its present location in 1826.



Monday, 28 August 2017

Lamberto Maggiorani - unlikely movie star

Factory worker who shot to fame in Bicycle Thieves


Maggiorani with Enzo Staiola, who played his son, Bruno, in Vittorio de Sica's Bicycle Thieves
Maggiorani with Enzo Staiola, who played his son, Bruno,
in Vittorio de Sica's Bicycle Thieves
Lamberto Maggiorani, who found overnight fame after starring in the neorealist classic Bicycle Thieves (1948), was born on this day in 1909 in Rome.

Maggiorani was cast in the role of Antonio Ricci, a father desperate for work to support his family in post-War Rome, who is offered a job pasting posters to advertising hoardings but can take it only on condition that he has a bicycle – essential for moving around the city carrying his ladder and bucket.

He has one, but it has been pawned.  To retrieve it, his wife, Marie, strips the bed of her dowry sheets, which the pawn shop takes in exchange for the bicycle. They are happy, because Antonio has a job which will support her, their son Bruno and their new baby.

However, on his first day in the job the bicycle is stolen, snatched by a thief who waits for Antonio to climb to the top of his ladder before seizing his moment.  The remainder of the film follows Antonio and Bruno as they try to find the bicycle.

As a portrait of life among the disadvantaged working class in Rome in the late 1940s, the film is hailed as a masterpiece, director Vittorio de Sica and his screenwriter Cesare Zavattini fêted by the critics for turning a little-known novel by Luigi Bartolini into a piece of cinema genius.

For Maggiorani, however, his participation was something of a bitter-sweet experience.

An original poster from the 1948 movie
An original poster from the 1948 movie
De Sica, who had won an Academy Award two years earlier with Shoeshine, attracted plenty of interest when news spread of his new project, with one American producer willing to offer a lucrative deal to cast Cary Grant in the lead role.

It did not interest De Sica, who was determined to be faithful to the principles of the burgeoning neorealist genre be picking actors who would infuse his characters with realism, regardless of whether they had any experience.

Maggiorani was not an actor at all, but a worker in a steel factory. He had himself experienced unemployment as Rome and De Sica saw him as perfect for the role of Antonio.

Delighted, Maggiorani accepted De Sica’s offer, taking time off work for the filming. He was paid $1,000 dollars, the equivalent of about $10,500 dollars (€8,800) today, with which he was able to give his family their first real holiday and buy new furniture for their home.

His performance was magnificent.  Sometimes, De Sica had to use another actor to dub Maggiorani’s dialogue because his strong Roman accent was occasionally hard to follow, but otherwise he was delighted with how his unlikely protégé understood the way he wanted his character to be portrayed. The critics hailed the arrival of a new star.

Yet once the fuss died down and his pay cheque was spent, Maggiorani found his life had changed. One thousand dollars might have been a large sum but it did not set him up for life.

The director Vittorio de Sica
The director Vittorio de Sica
He went back to the factory, but when orders fell away he was told he was no longer required, the perception being that he must be worth millions of lire after his movie success and that there were others whose need for work was greater.

Shunned by many of his friends, too, after failing to share his perceived wealth, he went back to the movie industry, assuming he would be offered more parts.

He was given some, but usually they were minor roles. Pier Paolo Pasolini gave him a bit part in Mamma Roma, a film about a prostitute trying to start a new life and starring Anna Magnani, but only because he thought his name in the credits would raise the movie’s profile.

De Sica was reluctant to use him at all as anything but an extra. Zavattini recognised and sympathised with his predicament and wrote a screenplay entitled ‘Tu, Maggiorani’ about how non-professional actors such as Maggiorani were sometimes used to execute one particular role and then cast aside.

Maggiorani made 16 movies, the last one a comedy entitled Ostia, directed by Sergio Citti and produced by Pier Paolo Pasolini, but none was particularly successful nor earned him much money.

He died at the San Giovanni Hospital in Rome in 1983 at the age of 73, having never regained the standing he enjoyed with Bicycle Thieves.  It is ironic that the film has recently been recognised as one of the greatest of all time.

The Basilica of San Lorenzo Fuori le Mura adjoins the Campo Verano cemetery
The Basilica of San Lorenzo Fuori le Mura adjoins
the Campo Verano cemetery
Travel tip:

Lamberto Maggiorani is buried at the Cimitero Comunale Monumentale Campo Verano, situated beside the Basilica of San Lorenzo Fuori le Mura, in the Tiburtino area of Rome. It is the city's largest cemetery, with some five million internments. The name 'Verano' is thought to date back to the Roman era, when the area was known as Campo dei Verani.

The San Giovanni Addolorata Hospital is built on top of Roman Ruins on Celio hill, south-east of the city centre
The San Giovanni Addolorata Hospital is built on top of
Roman Ruins on Celio hill, south-east of the city centre
Travel tip:

The hospital complex San Giovanni Addolorata, where Maggiorani died, is on the Celio hill, an area of ancient Roman urban settlements. Under the existing buildings are archaeological remains, including the Villa of Domitian Lucilla, mother of Emperor Marcus Aurelius.  Renovation work has also uncovered a villa belonging to the powerful Valerii family, great landowners, which contained historic mosaics preserved in perfect condition.



Sunday, 27 August 2017

Zanetta Farussi – actress

Venetian performer who gave birth to a legendary womaniser


Giacomo Casanova, whose mother was  the actress Zanetta Farussi
Giacomo Casanova, whose mother was
 the actress Zanetta Farussi
Zanetta Farussi, the comedy actress who was the mother of the notorious adventurer, Casanova, was born on this day in 1707 in Venice.

At the age of 17, Zanetta had married the actor Gaetano Casanova, who was 10 years older than her.

He had just retuned to Venice after several years with a touring theatrical troupe, to take a job at the Teatro San Samuele.

Farussi’s parents opposed the marriage because they considered acting to be a disreputable profession.

But Farussi soon began working at Teatro San Samuele herself and the following year she gave birth to a son, Giacomo, who was to grow up to make the name Casanova synonymous with womanising and philandering.  Giacomo Casanova would later claim that his real father was Michele Grimani, who owned the Teatro San Samuele.

Zanetta and Gaetano accepted a theatrical engagement in London where Farussi gave birth to their second son, Francesco, who became a well-known painter.

They returned to Venice in 1728 and went on to have four more children. The youngest child was born two months after the death of his father. 

The Teatro San Samuele, where Farussi found work
The Teatro San Samuele, where Farussi found work
The same year, Farussi met the playwright Carlo Goldoni in Verona and he wrote a short comedy for her called La Pupilla (The Female Ward), which was inspired by the jealous infatuation she had inspired in a famous actor and theatrical impresario of the day. It was presented as an interlude with his tragicomedy, Belisario.

In 1737 Farussi signed a long contract to appear in Italian comedies in Saxony.

The following year she made her debut in Pilnitz, near Dresden, on the occasion of the proxy wedding of Crown Princess Maria Amalia.

Farussi eventually visited Warsaw, where she presented two short theatrical pieces she had written herself.

When the Seven Years War started, the Saxon court suspended the activities of the Italian comedy troupe and the actors all retired and were granted an annual pension.

The playwright Carlo Goldoni
The playwright Carlo Goldoni
During the war, Farussi sought refuge in Prague but as soon as it was safe she returned to Dresden where she was to remain for the rest of her life. She was joined by one of her sons, Giovanni, who taught at the Academy of Fine Arts there, and one of her daughters, Maria Maddalena, who married the court organist, Peter August.

Meanwhile, her eldest son, Giacomo Casanova, had graduated in law from the University of Padua. At various times during his life he worked as a clergyman, military officer, violinist, businessman and spy. Throughout his life it was a recurring pattern that he embarked on passionate affairs with women, ran out of money and was imprisoned for debt.

He was locked up for a time in the Doge’s Palace in Venice in terrible conditions, but he eventually escaped through the ceiling of his cell, broke back into the building through a window, walked out through the main entrance and made his escape in a gondola across the lagoon on his way to exile in France.

Farussi, who was known in theatrical circles as La Buranella, a reference to her family roots on the island of Burano, died in 1776 in Dresden.

Travel tip:

The church of San Samuele, just beyond the waterbus stop
The church of San Samuele, just beyond the waterbus stop
Teatro San Samuele, where Farussi began her theatrical career, was an opera house and theatre at the Rio del Duca, between San Samuele and Campo Santo Stefano. It was first opened in 1656 in Venice and the playwright, Carlo Goldoni, was the theatre’s director between 1737 and 1741. The theatre was destroyed by fire in 1747 but then rebuilt and it remained a theatre until the building was demolished in 1894. San Samuele is in the San Marco sestiere and has a waterbus stop on the right bank of the Grand Canal before you reach the Rialto.

Goldoni's home was the beautiful Palazzo Centani
Goldoni's home was the beautiful Palazzo Centani
Travel tip:

The playwright, Carlo Goldoni, who wrote more than 250 comedies, was born in the beautiful Gothic Palazzo Centani in Venice. The palace, in Calle dei Nomboli in the San Polo district, is now a centre for theatrical studies and has a collection of theatrical memorabilia on display. It is open to the public every day except Wednesday.




Saturday, 26 August 2017

La Pietà - Michelangelo's masterpiece

Brilliant sculpture commissioned by French Cardinal


Michelangelo's masterpiece, La Pietà
Michelangelo's masterpiece, La Pietà
Michelangelo Buonarotti agreed the contract to create the sculpture that would come to be regarded as his masterpiece on this day in 1498.

It was made between the artist and Cardinal Jean de Bilhères-Lagraulas, the French ambassador to the Holy See, who wanted a sculpture of the Virgin Mary grieving over the body of Jesus, which was a common theme in religious art in northern Europe at the time.

Michelangelo, who would live until he was almost 89, was just 23 at the time and had been in Rome only a couple of years, but was about to produce a piece of work that astounded his contemporaries and is still seen as one of the finest pieces of sculpture ever crafted.

La Pietà – in English, 'the pity' – was carved from a block of blue and white Carrara marble selected by Michelangelo a good six feet (183cm) tall by six feet across.  The Cardinal intended it to be his funeral monument. It was eventually placed in a chapel in St Peter’s Basilica.

The work shows the body of Christ, shortly after being taken down from the cross following his crucifixion by the Romans, cradled in the lap of Mary.  It is necessarily out of proportion – Michelangelo makes Mary quite a broad figure, with voluminous clothes, to accommodate the body of a man lying full length across her -  but the detail is exquisite.

Michelangelo Buonarotti: a detail from Daniele da Volterra's portrait, painted in about 1544
Michelangelo Buonarotti: a detail from Daniele
da Volterra's portrait, painted in about 1544
Michelangelo broke with convention by portraying Mary as a young and beautiful woman. The long and physically almost perfect body of Christ, moreover, with few signs of the damage done to him, wears a facial expression conveying almost serenity, rather than suffering. Giorgio Vasari, the artist and art historian, a contemporary of Michelangelo, described the work as “perfection that nature is scarcely able to create in the flesh.”

One explanation for Michelangelo’s decision to make Mary a young woman rather than the middle-aged figure of convention is that he intended her to be a symbol of incorruptible beauty.

Another is that it stems from his enthusiasm, as a Tuscan, for Dante’s Divine Comedy and is a reference to a scene in Paradiso, the third part of the epic poem, in which Saint Bernard describes Mary as ‘Virgin mother, daughter of your son’ on the basis that if Jesus is one of the figures of the Holy Trinity, then Mary would be his daughter.

When challenged about it, Michelangelo suggested that, as a chaste woman, Mary would retain her freshness and therefore could still appear youthful, even though the mother of a 33-year-old son.

Despite its scale and the intricacies of detail Michelangelo sought to achieve, the work took less than two years to complete.

The dome of the 'new' St Peter's
The dome of the 'new' St Peter's
The Pietà's first home was the Chapel of Santa Petronilla, a Roman mausoleum near the south transept of the old St. Peter's, which the Cardinal had chosen as his funerary chapel.  Word of its outstanding brilliance spread and artists would travel to Rome especially to study it.  Michelangelo, already a noted sculptor who had worked for the Medici in Florence, became almost a revered figure among his peers.

The statue is the only one Michelangelo ever signed, something he would later say he regretted as an act of vanity.

Apparently, it happened shortly after it had been installed in the chapel, when Michelangelo overheard a conversation among a group of visitors from Lombardy in which one of the group said the work was by a sculptor from Milan, Cristoforo Solari, also known as Il Gobbo (the hunchback).  Furious, Michelangelo returned to the chapel that night with his chisels and chipped out an inscription across the sash of Mary’s robe, which read: ‘Michelangelus Bonarotus Florent Faciebat’ – Michelangelo Buonarotti, Florentine, Made This’.

According to Vasari, Michelangelo later felt ashamed at having left a rather tawdry mark on his work out of petty impulsiveness.  From then on, nothing he created bore his signature.

The Pietà  has been moved a number of times, including in the early 18th century when four fingers on Mary’s outstretched left hand were damaged and had to be reconstructed, but remarkably it survived the extraordinary journey undertaken in 1964 after Pope John XXIII agreed for the sculpture to be displayed at the New York World’s Fair.

The SS Cristoforo Colombo, on which the Pietà
was shipped to New York in 1964
Packed into a crate padded with plastic foam within two outer crates, it was loaded on to the SS Cristoforo Colombo, the luxury cruiser of the Italian Line, and embarked on an eight-to-nine-day journey across the Atlantic.

Apparently, the crate, despite weighing 5.26 metric tonnes (11,600lb), would have floated to the surface had the Cristoforo Colombo sunk, and have been visible in the water by its red painted top.  There was also radio equipment in the crate which would have given its position had it slipped below the surface, although this was operational only to a depth of three metres (10ft).

Happily, both voyages were completed without mishap and the Pietà , not previously moved from the Vatican in 465 years, was returned safely to St Peter’s, where it can be found in the first chapel on the right after entering through the main doors.

Following an attack in 1972 by a mentally disturbed geologist, the Hungarian-born Australian Laszlo Toth, who struck the Pietà  with a hammer 15 times, damaging Mary’s left arm, part of her nose and one of her eyelids, it is now behind a bulletproof acrylic glass panel.

Travel tip:

Visitors to Rome will find that St Peter’s Basilica is open every day throughout the year, from 7am to 7pm between April and September and from 7am to 6pm October to March. As with most religious buildings in Italy, visitors must abide by the dress code, that tends to mean no shorts or short skirts and that shoulders should be covered. The Pietà  is in the Chapel of the Pietà , which is immediately on the right after entering from St Peter’s Square via the Porta Santa (Holy Door).

The Basilica of St Peter with Bernini's colonnades and Carlo Maderno's fountain in the foreground
The Basilica of St Peter with Bernini's colonnades and
Carlo Maderno's fountain in the foreground 
Travel tip:

At the time the Pietà was made, St Peter’s Basilica did not exist in its present form but as a church built originally in the fourth century on the spot where it was believed St Peter was buried. The idea of building a new basilica was first mooted in the mid-15th century, and finally commissioned by Pope Julius II in 1505 after a competition was held, inviting designs for what Julius described as “the grandest building in Christendom". Donato Bramante, from Urbino, won the competition, although he was only the first of several architects to be involved, included Michelangelo, Carlo Maderno and Gian Lorenzo Bernini.  Construction began in 1506 and took 120 years to complete.



Friday, 25 August 2017

Saint Patricia of Naples

Patron saint performs a miracle every week


The Chapel of Saint Patricia inside the Church of  San Gregorio Armeno in the centre of Naples
The Chapel of Saint Patricia inside the Church of
San Gregorio Armeno in the centre of Naples
The feast day of Saint Patricia is celebrated every year in Naples on this day.

The saint, who is also sometimes referred to as Patricia of Constantinople, is one of a long list of patron saints of Naples.

She is less well known than San Gennaro, also a patron saint of the city, who attracts crowds to Naples Cathedral three times a year to witness the miracle of a small sample of his blood turning to liquid.

But Saint Patricia’s blood, which is kept in the Church of San Gregorio Armeno, is said to undergo the same miraculous transformation every Tuesday morning as well as on August 25 each year - her feast day - which was believed to be the day she died in 665 AD.

Saint Patricia was a noble woman, who may have been descended from St Constantine the Great.

Saint Patricia
Saint Patricia
She was a devout virgin and travelled to Rome to become a nun in order to escape an arranged marriage.  She received the veil – symbolising her acceptance into the monastic community – from Pope Liberius.

When her wealthy father died, she returned to Constantinople and, renouncing any claim to the imperial crown, distributed her wealth among the poor.

She was planning to go on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, but was shipwrecked after a terrible storm on to a small island off the coast of Naples, which is now the site of Castel dell’Ovo.

Patricia died shortly afterwards from disease, but according to a legend, a man pulled out one of her teeth after her death, which caused her body to haemorrhage. Her devoted followers collected the blood, which they preserved.

Patricia’s remains were transferred in the 19th century to the monastery of San Gregorio Armeno in Naples.

Every Tuesday morning, Saint Patricia’s blood liquefies after the service at the Church of San Gregorio, as it does on August 25, her feast day.

Patricia’s remains lie inside a coffin at a side altar in the church, but during Tuesday mass, a vial of her blood is hung from the main altar covered with a cloth. Worshippers queue up to kiss the receptacle containing the blood, which is said to turn into a dark liquid.

San Gennaro performs his miracle at the Duomo in Naples three times a year but attracts a lot more publicity.

Via San Gregorio Armeno is famous for its stalls selling hand-made presepi
Via San Gregorio Armeno is famous for
its stalls selling hand-made presepi
Travel tip:

The Church of San Gregorio Armeno, where Saint Patricia’s remains are kept, is in Via San Gregorio Armeno, a street well-known for its stalls of hand-made presepi - Christmas crib scenes - which are for sale all the year round. Construction of the Baroque Church began in the 16th century and much of the decoration was done by Luca Giordano, in particular the cupola, which is painted with the Glory of San Gregorio.

Travel tip:

The Duomo in Naples, in Via Duomo, off Via Tribunali, was built over the ruins of two earlier Christian churches for Charles I of Anjou at the end of the 13th century. One of the main attractions inside is the Royal Chapel of the Treasure of San Gennaro, which contains many precious works of art. The Duomo is also sometimes referred to as Cattedrale di San Gennaro. It is open to the public from 8.30am to 1.30pm and 2.30pm to 8pm Monday to Saturday and 8.30pm to 1.30pm and 4.30pm to 7.30pm on Sundays.



Thursday, 24 August 2017

Parmigianino - Mannerist painter

Artist from Parma left outstanding legacy


Parmigianino's Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror, with which he announced himself in Rome in 1524
Parmigianino's Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror, with
which he announced himself in Rome in 1524 
The artist Girolamo Francesco Maria Mazzola – better known as Parmigianino – died on this day in 1540 in Casalmaggiore, a town on the Po river south-east of Cremona in Lombardy.

Sometimes known as Francesco Mazzola, he was was only 37 years old when he passed away but had nonetheless made sufficient impact with his work to be regarded as an important influence on the period that followed the High Renaissance era of Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Raphael.

Known for the refined sensuality of his paintings, Parmigianino – literally ‘the little one from Parma’ – was one of the first generation of Mannerist painters, whose figures exuded elegance and sophistication by the subtle exaggeration of qualities associated with ideal beauty.

Parmigiano is also thought to have been one of the first to develop printmaking using the technique known as etching and through this medium his work was copied, and circulated to many artistic schools in Italy and other countries in northern Europe, where it could be studied and admired.

The church of San Giovanni Evangelista in Parma, where Parmigianino did early work
The church of San Giovanni Evangelista in
Parma, where Parmigianino did early work
Parmigianino’s figures would often have noticeably long and slender limbs and strike elegant poses. He is most famously associated with the Madonna dal collo lungo – Madonna with the Long Neck – which portrays a tall Virgin Mary with long, slender fingers, long, narrow feet and a swan-like neck, cradling a particularly large baby Jesus watched over by a group of lithe and graceful angels.

He is also remembered for The Mystic Marriage of St Catherine, for his fresco series Legend of Diana and Actaeon, executed while he was living in Parma, for his Vision of St Jerome, which he painted in Rome, and for the Madonna with St Margaret and Other Saints that he worked on in Bologna after leaving Rome to escape the sacking of the city by German troops loyal to the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V.

Parmigianino was born, as the name suggests, in Parma, in 1503, into a large family. His father died when he was two and he was brought up by two uncles, Michele and Pier Ilario, who were both established artists.

His uncles saw his talent at a young age and he would help them on local commissions.  His early influence was said to be Antonio Allegri – otherwise known as Correggio, the foremost painter of the Parma school during the Renaissance, with whom he likely worked at the church of San Giovanni Evangelista, in Parma, where there are frescoes attributed to Parmigianino.

Parmigianino's Madonna with the Long Neck highlights his exaggerated style
Parmigianino's Madonna with the Long
Neck
highlights his exaggerated style
In common with many young artists of his era and earlier, he moved to Rome in 1524, seeking fame and inspiration by working in the city of so many great masters, where he could study the works of Raphael and Michelangelo among others. He took with him his brilliantly imaginative Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror, which he presented to the Papal court, after which Giorgio Vasari, who is recognised as art’s first historian, noted that he was hailed as 'Raphael reborn'.

Parmigianino and Pier Ilario, along with Maria Bufalina from Città di Castello, collaborated on a project at the church of San Salvatore in Lauro that included an altarpiece of the Vision of Saint Jerome, now on show at the National Gallery in London.

His time in Rome was cut short when the city was destroyed by Charles V’s imperial army in 1527.

Initially, he went to Bologna, where he stayed for almost three years. His works during that time included the Madonna and Child with Saints, which is kept now by the Pinacoteca in Bologna and the Madonna with Saint Zachariah, which is in the Uffizi in Florence.

By 1530 he was back in Parma, where he was paid an advance to produce two altarpieces, depicting Saint Joseph and Saint John the Baptist, for the unfinished church of Santa Maria della Steccata.

He painted the Madonna with the Long Neck after being commissioned by the noblewoman Elena Baiardi to decorate her family chapel in the church of Santa Maria dei Servi in Parma.

For all he was celebrated at his peak, however, Parmigianino was to end his life somewhat in disgrace.

Distracted, it is thought, by his obsession with etching and printmaking techniques, he neglected his commission with the church of Santa Maria della Staccata and was eventually imprisoned for two months for breach of contract and replaced with Giulio Romano.

The monument to Parmigianino in Parma
Released on bail, he took refuge in Casalmaggiore, where he died of a fever. Increasingly eccentric, he was said to have been buried in the church of the Servite Friars naked and with a cross made in cypress wood placed on his chest.

Many Venetian artists, including Jacopo Bassano and Paolo Veronese, are said to have been strongly influenced by the emotional and dramatic qualities in Parmigianino’s work. 

Travel tip:

Despite the unhappy end to his relationship with what is now the Basilica of Santa Maria della Steccata, Parmigianino’s status as one of Parma’s most famous sons is celebrated with a monument immediately in front of the church, in Piazza della Steccata, executed by the sculptor Giovanni Chierici and inaugurated in 1879. The monument consists of a fountain and a statue.

Piazza Garibaldi in Casalmaggiore, looking towards Palazzo Comunale
Piazza Garibaldi in Casalmaggiore, looking
towards Palazzo Comunale 
Travel tip:

Casalmaggiore sits alongside the Po river about 42km (26 miles) south-east from Cremona. It is an attractive town with a lively central square, the Piazza Garibaldi, where there is a weekly market every Saturday and regular outdoor events. Most of the town’s main sights are in the vicinity of the square, including the imposing castellated Palazzo Comunale – the Town Hall – built in 1788, and the Estense tower. Look out also for the Diotti or Bijou Museum, in the basement of the former Collegio Santa Croce, which displays jewellery, ornaments and accessories made in local factories in the late 19th century.






Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Roberto Assagioli – psychiatrist

Harsh imprisonment sparked new psychiatric theories

Roberto Assagioli, the pioneering psychiatrist who founded the science of psychosynthesis, died on this day in 1974 in Capolona in the province of Arezzo in Tuscany.

Roberto Assagioli was the pioneer of a holistic approach to psychiatry
Roberto Assagioli was the pioneer of
a holistic approach to psychiatry
His innovative psychological movement, which emphasised the possibility of progressive integration, or synthesis, of the personality, aimed at finding inner peace and harmony, is still admired and is being developed by therapists and psychologists today.

Assagioli explained his ideas in four books - two published posthumously - and the many different pamphlets he wrote during his lifetime.

In 1940 the psychiatrist had to spend 27 days in solitary confinement in prison, having been arrested by Mussolini’s Fascist government for praying for peace and encouraging others to join him. He later claimed this experience helped him make his psychological discovery.

Assagioli was born under the name of Roberto Marco Grego in 1888 into a middle-class, Jewish background in Venice.

His father died when he was two years old and his mother remarried quickly to Alessandro Emanuele Assagioli. As a young child Roberto was exposed to art and music and learnt many different languages – creative inspiration which is believed to have helped his work in psychosynthesis.

When he was 18, Assagioli began to travel, and while in Russia he learnt about social systems and politics.

Assagioli as a young man
Assagioli as a young man
Assagioli received his first degree in neurology and psychiatry at Istituto di Studii Superiori Pratici di Perfezionamento in Florence in 1910. Then he began writing articles that criticised psychoanalysis, arguing for a more holistic approach.

After training in psychiatry at a hospital in Zurich, he opened the first psychoanalytic hospital in Italy, but felt unsatisfied with this field of psychiatry.

He married Nella Ciapetti in 1922 and they had a son, Ilario.

After being released from his solitary cell in Regina Coeli prison in 1940, he returned to his family, but later in the war their farm was destroyed and they had to go into hiding in the mountains above Arezzo.

Their son, Ilario, died at the age of 28 from lung disease, thought to have been caused by the harsh living conditions he experienced during the war.

The cover of Assagioli's second book, published a year before he died.
The cover of Assagioli's second book,
published a year before he died.
After the war, Assagioli returned to his work on psychosynthesis, preferring a spiritual and holistic approach to psychology.

He was inspired by Freud and Jung and felt that love, wisdom and creativity were important components in psychoanalysis.

Assagioli corresponded with Freud but they never had the chance to meet.

He gave much of the credit for his inspiration for psychosynthesis to his solitary confinement for nearly four weeks in 1940.

He said he used his time in prison to exercise his mental will by meditating daily because he had realised he was able to change his punishment into an opportunity to investigate his inner self.

Assagioli died on August 23, 1974 at the age of 86 from unknown causes.

Since his death, psychosynthesis has continued to be embraced as a comprehensive psychological approach for finding inner peace and harmony.


The Institute of Psychosynthesis has its headquarters on the northern outside of Florence
The Institute of Psychosynthesis has its headquarters
on the northern outside of Florence
Travel tip:

Roberto Assagioli’s former home in Via San Domenico, on the northern outskirts of Florence on the way to Fiesole, is now the headquarters of the Institute of Psychosynthesis, where conferences about the science are regularly held. Although Assagioli wrote just two books about his ideas, the Institute houses a rich archive of documents that includes a large quantity of hand-written material by him.

The bridge across the Arno into Capolona
The bridge across the Arno into Capolona
Travel tip

Capolona, where Assagioli was living when he died, is a small town near Arezzo in Tuscany, located on the right bank of the River Arno. It is referred to as the gateway to the Casentino area, which is rich in castles, churches and old bridges. A few kilometres away to the north lies Caprese Michelangelo, the small village where the great artist Michelangelo was born.



Tuesday, 22 August 2017

History’s first air raid

Balloon bombs dropped on Venice


Luigi Querena's dramatic painting of the blazing Church of San Geremia on the Grand Canal during the Austrian bombardment
Luigi Querena's dramatic painting of the blazing Church of San
Geremia on the Grand Canal during the Austrian bombardment 
Venice suffered the first successful air raid in the history of warfare on this day in 1849.

It came six months after Austria had defeated the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia in the First Italian War of Independence as the Austrians sought to regain control of Venice, where the revolutionary leader Daniele Manin had established the Republic of San Marco.

The city, over which Manin’s supporters had seized control in March 1848, was under siege by the Austrians, whose victory over the Piedmontese army in March 1849 had enabled them to concentrate more resources on defeating the Venetians.

They had regained much of the mainland territory of Manin’s republic towards the end of 1848 and were now closing in on the city itself, having decided that cutting off resources while periodically bombarding the city from the sea would bring Venice’s capitulation.

An artist's impression of how the balloon bombs may have looked
An artist's impression of how the
balloon bombs may have looked
However, because of the shallow lagoons and the strength of Venice’s coastal defences, there were still parts of the city that were out of the range of the Austrian artillery.

It was at this point that one of Austrian commander Josef von Radetzky’s artillery officers, Lieutenant Franz von Uchatius, came up with the unlikely idea of attaching bombs to unmanned balloons and letting the wind carry them into Venice.

He devised a crude timing device using charcoal and greased cotton thread that would release the bomb at the moment he calculated it would be over the city.

Of course, he had no control over the speed or direction of the wind and when a first attempt was made in July 1849 it failed miserably, none of the balloons reaching their target and some drifting back towards where they were launched, exploding over the Austrian forces.

Undeterred, the Austrians tried again on August 22, launching an estimated 200 balloons, each carrying more than 14kg (30lbs) of explosives.  This time a number of them hit their target, although the damaged they caused was minimal.

Daniele Manin led the overthrow of the Austrians in Venice in 1848
Daniele Manin led the overthrow of the
Austrians in Venice in 1848
Nonetheless, it signalled the arrival of a new dimension to warfare, raising the possibility that civilian populations well behind the front lines of their armies could become targets for attack.  To the vocabulary of warfare could now be added the ‘air raid’.

In fact, it was Italian forces that would launch the first proper ‘air raid’ in history, some 62 years later in 1911, when bombs were dropped from an Italian aeroplane over a village near Tripoli in Libya, then part of the Ottoman Empire.

As it happens, the Republic of San Marco fell only two days after the 1849 balloon attack, although the two events were almost certainly unconnected.  Venice was already on its knees, with stocks of food and ammunition exhausted, and Manin had negotiated a honourable surrender than would see himself and other leaders spared their lives and liberty on condition that they leave Venice and go into exile.

The beautiful Oratory of the Crucifix in Chiesa di San Polo lined with paintings by Giandomenico Tiepolo
The beautiful Oratory of the Crucifix in Chiesa di San Polo
lined with paintings by Giandomenico Tiepolo
Travel tip:

Daniele Manin’s birthplace in Venice was in the San Polo sestiere – district – of which the main public space is the vast Campo San Polo, the second largest square in Venice after San Marco and much quieter, at least in terms of tourist activity, and some would say a much more comfortable place to experience an authentic Venice, with bars frequented as much by local people going about their business as visitors.  In any other city the 15th century Gothic Chiesa di San Polo would be the main attraction, featuring an interior beautifully restored by David Rossi in the early 19th century and featuring paintings by Tintoretto, Jacopo Guarana, Giambattista and Giandomenico Tiepolo, Palma il Giovane and Paolo Veronese.

Campo Manin in San Marco, featuring the statue of Manin
Campo Manin in San Marco, featuring the statue of Manin
Travel tip:

Manin’s main residence in adult life was a house on the Rio de l’Barcaroli canal in the San Marco sestiere facing what used to be Campo San Pernian, now renamed Campo Manin, through which many visitors pass each day between Teatro la Fenice with Teatro Goldoni. In the centre of this square is a bronze statue of Manin, sculpted by Luigi Borro and erected in 1875, with a bronze winged lion of Venice resting at the foot of the plinth.