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.

3 October 2017

Eleonora Duse – actress

Performer 'became' the person she played with her whole being

Eleonora Duse began acting at the age of four.
Eleonora Duse began acting at the age of four.
Regarded as one of the greatest acting talents of all times, Eleonora Duse was born on this day in 1858 in Vigevano in Lombardy.

Often simply known as Duse, she was admired for her total assumption of the roles she played. In 1947, the film, Eleonora Duse, was made about her life.

She began acting at the age of four, joining her father and grandfather in the profession. She worked in a troupe with her family, travelling from city to city. Duse became famous for creating Italian versions of roles made famous by the actor Sarah Bernhadt.

Duse toured South America, Russia and the US, beginning the tours as an unknown actor, but leaving in her wake a general recognition of her genius.

She had an affair with the Italian poet, Arrigo Boito, who was the librettist for the composer, Giuseppe Verdi. They carried out their relationship in a clandestine manner, but the letters they exchanged have survived and they remained on good terms until Boito’s death in 1918.

Duse had a romantic relationship with the writer and poet Gabriele D'Annunzio
Duse had a romantic relationship with the
writer and poet Gabriele D'Annunzio
In 1895 Duse met the writer Gabriele D’Annunzio and they became involved romantically as well as professionally.

D’Annunzio wrote four plays for her but when he gave the lead in La Città Morta to Sarah Bernhardt instead of her, Duse ended her relationship with him.

Duse had a relationship with the dancer, Isadora Duncan and spent several weeks with her at Viareggio in Tuscany, shortly after Duncan’s two children drowned in a tragic accident.

Her biographer, Frances Winwar, recalled that Duse wore little make-up but made herself up "morally." She meant that she used her body to express her grief and joy.

Duse, who had a history of ill health, died of pneumonia at the age of 65 in the US while on a tour. Her body was returned to Italy and she was buried in Asolo in the Veneto at the cemetery of St Anna.

The beautiful Piazza Ducale in Vigevano
The beautiful Piazza Ducale in Vigevano
Travel tip:

Vigevano, where Duse was born, is a town in the province of Pavia in Lombardy. It is well-known for the beautiful Piazza Ducale in the centre of town. The piazza was completed in 1493 and was planned to form the forecourt to the castle built for Ludovico Sforza, who was Duke of Milan between 1452 and 1508.

Porticoes line the Via Browning in Asolo
Porticoes line the Via Browning in Asolo
Travel tip:

Asolo, where Duse was buried, is a town in the Veneto region, known as ‘the pearl of the province of Treviso’. It is famous for being the home of the English poet, Robert Browning. Duse lived there for part of her life and is now buried in the hillside cemetery of St Anna.

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