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.

31 January 2019

31 January

Ernesto Basile - architect


Pioneer of Stile Liberty - the Italian twist on Art Nouveau

The architect Ernesto Basile, who would become known for his imaginative fusion of ancient, medieval and modern architectural elements and as a pioneer of Art Nouveau in Italy, was born on this day in 1857 in Palermo. His most impressive work was done in Rome, where he won a commission to rebuild almost completely the Palazzo Montecitorio, the home of the Chamber of Deputies of the Italian parliament. Read more...

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Bernardo Provenzano - Mafia boss


Head of Corleonesi clan dodged police for 43 years

Bernardo Provenzano, a Mafia boss who managed to evade the Sicilian police for 43 years after a warrant was issued for his arrest in 1963, was born on this day in 1933 in Corleone, the fabled town in the rugged countryside above Palermo that became famous for its association with Mario Puzo's novel The Godfather. Read more...

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Don Bosco – Saint


Father and teacher who could do magic tricks

Saint John Bosco, who was often known as Don Bosco, died on this day in 1888 in Turin.  He had dedicated his life to helping street children, juvenile delinquents and other disadvantaged young people, taking them into his confidence by performing magic tricks. He was made a saint by Pope Pius XI in 1934. Read more...

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Charles Edward Stuart – royal exile


Bonnie Prince Charlie’s heart will forever be in Frascati 

The Young Pretender to the British throne, sometimes known as Bonnie Prince Charlie, died on this day in 1788 in Rome.  The man who would have been King Charles III was born and brought up in Italy where his father, James, the son of the exiled Stuart King James II, had been given a residence by Pope Clement XI. Read more...

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Ernesto Basile - architect

Pioneer of Stile Liberty - the Italian twist on Art Nouveau


The rear facade of the Palazzo Monticiterio, which was almost completely rebuilt by Ernesto Basile
The rear facade of the Palazzo Monteciterio, which was
almost completely rebuilt by Ernesto Basile
The architect Ernesto Basile, who would become known for his imaginative fusion of ancient, medieval and modern architectural elements and as a pioneer of Art Nouveau in Italy, was born on this day in 1857 in Palermo.

His most impressive work was done in Rome, where he won a commission to rebuild almost completely the Palazzo Montecitorio, the home of the Chamber of Deputies of the Italian parliament.

Yet his most wide-ranging impact was in Sicily, where he followed in the footsteps of his father, Giovan Battista Filippo Basile, in experimenting with the Art Nouveau style.

Basile senior designed the Villa Favoloro, in Piazza Virgilio off Via Dante, and with Ernesto and others, notably Vincenzo Alagna, taking up the mantle, it was not long before entire districts of the city were dominated by Stile Liberty, the Italianate version of the Art Nouveau that took its name from the Liberty and Co store in London's Regent Street, which sold ornaments, fabric and objets d'art to a refined clientele and encouraged modern designers.

Ernesto Basile was a pioneer of Art Nouveau style
Ernesto Basile was a pioneer
of Art Nouveau style
Fine examples of Ernesto Basile’s architecture in Palermo include the Villino Florio (1899–1902) in Viale Regina Margherita, which is open to the public, the Hotel Villa Igiea (1899–1901) on the waterfront and the Casa Utveggio on Via XX Settembre.

He also completed the construction of the city’s great opera house, the Renaissance-style Teatro Massimo, which had been started by his father in 1874 and was finally completed in 1897, its progress interrupted by an eight-year hiatus after a dispute over funding.  Allegations of fraud were levelled at Basile senior and he was to have been replaced with another architect until a public outcry forced his reinstatement. In the event he died soon after work restarted and the final six years were overseen by Ernesto.

Taught initially by his father, who was a professor at the University of Palermo, Ernesto graduated from the Royal School of Engineering and Architecture and soon afterwards moved to Rome.

His work on the Palazzo Montecitorio came about after he took part in a competition held by Francesco Crispi, the President of the Chamber of Deputies, to find an architect to supervise the reconstruction of the palace, designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini with later input from Carlo Fontana, which had been seized by the new Italian government in 1870 but had fallen into serious disrepair.

Ernesto Basile's stylish Villino Florio is one of many examples of Stile Liberty in the city of Palermo
Ernesto Basile's stylish Villino Florio is one of many
examples of Stile Liberty in the city of Palermo
Basile demolished the wings and rear of the palace so that Bernini’s facade was virtually all that remained, building a new structure dominated by four red-brick towers at the corners. Basile also added the Transatlantico, the long and impressive salon which surrounds the grand debating chamber, which is also Basile’s design.

The project, in which Basile fused the Roman classical and Baroque elements of the building with Art Nouveau, is seen as one of the most important milestones for early modernism in Italian architecture.

Basile’s other notable works in a prolific career include the building for the National Exhibition of Palermo in 1892, the Teatro Sociale in Canicattì in the Sicilian province of Agrigento, the Palazzo Bruno di Belmonte in Ispica in the province of Ragusa in the southeast of the island and the Palazzo San Giorgio in Reggio Calabria.

In 1890 he succeeded his father as a professor of architecture at the University of Palermo. He died in the city in August 1932.

The extravagant Liberty-style Antico Stabilimento Balneare di Mondello is a reminder of the resort's golden age
The extravagant Liberty-style Antico Stabilimento Balneare
di Mondello is a reminder of the resort's golden age
Travel tip:

Two particular areas of Palermo and the surroundings are dominated by Stile Liberty buildings. One is Via Libertà and the streets running off it between Politeama and the Giardino Inglese; another is Mondello, the seaside town just outside the city created from an area of former marshland, where the promenade retains many Art Nouveau villas built for the well-to-do of Palermo around the turn of the century, some designed by Ernesto Basile. Right in the water itself, built on stilts with a bridge linking it to the promenade, is the extraordinary Antico Stabilimento Balneare di Mondello, the extravagant Stile Liberty bathing platform built by Rudolf Stualker.

Hotels in Mondello from Expedia.co.uk

Ernesto Basile's father designed Palermo's impressive Teatro Massimo before his son completed the project
Ernesto Basile's father designed Palermo's impressive Teatro
Massimo before his son completed the project
Travel tip:

The Teatro Massimo is the largest opera house in Italy and the third biggest in Europe after the Opéra National de Paris and the K. K. Hof-Opernhaus in Vienna. It was originally designed with an auditorium for 3,000 people, although today there is a limit of 1,350.  There are also seven tiers of boxes. Enrico Caruso sang in a performance of La Gioconda during the opening season, returning to perform in Rigoletto at the end of his career. The theatre was closed for renovation for more than 20 years but reopened in 1997. The final scenes of the third part of The Godfather Trilogy, based in Puzo's novel, was filmed there.

Hotels in Palermo from Hotels.com

More reading:

Gian Lorenzo Bernini - Italy's last universal genius

Ulisse Stacchini, the architect behind two major Milan landmarks

The groundbreaking designs of Paolo Soleri

Also on this day:

1788: The death in Rome of British royal pretender Charles Edward Stuart

1888: The death of Saint Don Bosco

1933: The birth of Mafia boss Bernardo Provenzano

(Picture credits: Palazzo Monteciterio by Mac9; Villino Florio by GiuseppeT; Mondello Balneare by Berthold_Werner; Teatro Massimo by Bjs; all via Creative Commons)


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30 January 2019

Feast of Saint Martina of Rome

The day Pope Urban VIII’s own hymns are sung


Saint Martina as portrayed in Pietro da Cortona's Saint Martina Refuses to Adore the Idols
Saint Martina as portrayed in Pietro da Cortona's
 Saint Martina Refuses to Adore the Idols

The feast day of Saint Martina of Rome, who was martyred by the Romans in 228, is celebrated every year on this day.

Martina is now a patron saint of Rome and the patron saint of nursing mothers.

She was the daughter of an ex-consul, one of the chief magistrates of the Roman Republic, but became an orphan while still young.

Described at the time as a noble and beautiful virgin who was charitable to the poor, she openly testified to her Christian faith.

She was persecuted during the reign of Emperor Alexander Severus and arrested and commanded to return to idolatry, the worship of false gods.

When she refused she was whipped and condemned to be devoured by wild beasts in the amphitheatre. When she was miraculously untouched by the animals she was thrown on to a burning pyre from which she is also said to have escaped unhurt. Finally she was beheaded.

Afterwards it was claimed some of her executioners converted to Christianity and were also later beheaded.

In 1634 the relics of Martina were rediscovered by the artist Pietro da Cortona. They were in the crypt of a church originally built in the sixth century on the site of the ancient temple of Mars near the Mamertine Prison and Foro Romano in Rome.

Gian Lorenzo Bernini's portrait of Pope Urban VIII, who supported the rebuilding of the church
Gian Lorenzo Bernini's portrait of Pope Urban
VIII, who supported the rebuilding of the church
Da Cortona had been elected president of the Academy of San Luca, the academy of painters, sculptors and architects in Rome, which had been given the church in 1588.  It was after Da Cortona had begun restoring the crypt that he discovered Martina’s remains.

The Pope at that time was Urban VIII, who visited the church with his nephew, Cardinal Francesco Barberini the month after Da Cortona’s discovery. They dedicated 6000 scudi towards the cost of rebuilding the church. The saint’s body was then returned to the church, which rededicated to saints Luca and Martina.

Da Cortona’s beautiful painting, Saint Martina Refuses to Adore the Idols, was probably painted for Cardinal Barberini. It is now in the Princeton University Art Museum in America.

It has been claimed Pope Urban VIII himself composed the hymns that are sung each year on Martina’s feast day.

The Chiesa dei Santi Luca e Martina, where Martina's remains are buried
The Chiesa dei Santi Luca e Martina,
where Martina's remains are buried
Travel tip:

The Chiesa dei Santi Luca e Martina, where Martina is buried, is in Via della Curia between the Mamertine prison and the Foro Romano. Two stairways from the upper church lead down to the lower church and the chapel of Saint Martina, which is below the high altar, is richly decorated with colour, marble and gilt bronze.

The Forum was the centre of life in Ancient Rome
The Forum was the centre of life
in Ancient Rome
Travel tip:

The Roman Forum, off Via dei Fori Imperiali, was once the centre of day to day life in Rome, the venue for public speeches, criminal trials and the nucleus of commercial affairs. It has the most concentrated array of excavated Roman buildings in the city. It is open to visitors from 8.30 am till one hour before sunset.

More reading:

How Pietro da Cortona decorated some of Italy's finest palaces

Francesco Barberini - the Inquisition chief who refused to condemn Galileo

Why Urban VIII's papacy ended in disgrace

Also on this day:

1629: The death of architect Carlo Maderno

1721: The birth of painter Bernardo Bellotto

1935: The birth of actress Elsa Martinelli


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29 January 2019

Bomb destroys Archiginnasio anatomical theatre

Historic facility hit in 1944 air raid



The Archiginnasio anatomical theatre is surrounded by statues of eminent physicians carved in wood
The Archiginnasio anatomical theatre is surrounded by
statues of eminent physicians carved in wood
The historic anatomical theatre of the Palazzo Archiginnasio, the original seat of the University of Bologna, was almost completely destroyed in a bombing raid on the city by Allied forces on this day in 1944.

The northern Italian city was a frequent target during the final two years of the conflict because of its importance as a transport hub and communications centre.  The wing of the palazzo housing the anatomical theatre, built between 1636 and 1638, took a direct hit on the night of January 29.

Although it is unlikely that the university - the oldest in the world - was a specific target, bombing was much less precise 75 years ago and collateral damage was common and often widespread.

As well as its importance in the history of medical research, the anatomical theatre was notable as an art treasure, mainly for the 18th century carved wooden statues by Silvestro Gianotti depicting great physicians of history, from the Greek physicians Hippocrates and Galenus onwards, including many who worked at the university, such as Fabrizio Bartoletti, Marcello Malpighi, Mondino de Liuzzi and Gaspare Tagliacozzi.

Gaspare Tagliacozzi was one of the many physicians who worked in the Archiginnasio
Gaspare Tagliacozzi was one of the many
physicians who worked in the Archiginnasio
The theatre, built in the form if an amphitheatre, was designed in 1637 by the Bolognese architect Antonio Levanti, a pupil of Annibale Carracci.

The ceiling, completed between 1647 and 1649 had the figure of Apollo, the god of Medicine, in the middle, surrounded by symbolic images of constellations carved in wood.

The centrepiece of the table was the white table on which the dissection of human or animal bodies took place.  These were open to the public and took place in the presence of an Inquisition priest.

To the side, in an elevated position, the cattedra del lettore - teacher’s desk - was flanked by two spellati - skinned men - statues, sculpted in 1734 from drawings by Ercole Lelli, a local painter of the late Baroque period who became famous for his anatomical sculptures in wax.

Incredibly, despite the destruction, the theatre was faithfully reconstructed after the war had ended thanks to the painstaking recovery from the rubble of anything that could be reused, including the majority of the statues.

The theatre today is open daily to the public, along with other parts of the Palazzo Archiginnasio, which was the seat of the university until 1803. The original marble table is not the one on display, mainly out of consideration for visitors whose sensitivities might be offended by the sight of indelible blood stains.

The city of Bologna as a whole suffered extensive damage from bombing during the Second World War II. The worst raids took place in 1943. On July 24, a massive bombardment destroyed a significant part of the historic city centre and killed about 200 people, with 44 per cent of the buildings in the centre listed as having been destroyed or severely damaged. On September 25, sustained bombing of the wider city left more than 1,000 people dead.

The inner courtyard of the Archiginnasio, which was completed in 1563
The inner courtyard of the Archiginnasio,
which was completed in 1563
Travel tip:

The construction of the Archiginnasio, situated behind the Basilica di San Petronio, began after nearby Piazza Maggiore was remodeled under papal orders in the 16th century. It was commissioned by Pope Pius IV through the papal legate Charles Borromeo, who entrusted the project to the architect Antonio Morandi. The building, inaugurated on October 21, 1563, was to house the Schools of the Legisti (Canon and Civil law) and Artisti (philosophy, medicine, mathematics, natural sciences and physics). The building was named Archiginnasio after the classical term which was used to designate the Studium, as the University was first called, of Bologna. The Archiginnasio ceased to be the seat of the university in 1803, when the university moved to Palazzo Poggi, where it is still located today.  The original building now houses the Archiginnasio Municipal Library, the largest library in Emilia-Romagna.

he Basilica di San Petronio is the largest brick-built church in the world, reaching 51m (167ft) high
The Basilica di San Petronio is the largest brick-built church
in the world, reaching 51m (167ft) high
Travel tip:

The Basilica di San Petronio, is the main church of Bologna, located in Piazza Maggiore in the centre of the city. It is the largest, brick-built church in the world. Building work began on the church in 1390 and it was dedicated to San Petronio, who had been the Bishop of Bologna in the fifth century. The 10th-largest church in the world at 132m (433ft) long and 66m (271ft), the vault reaches 45m (148ft) inside and 51m (167ft) in the facade. The basilica, built as a communal project, was finally consecrated in 1954. It has been the seat of the relics of Bologna's patron saint only since 2000.  Work on the facade was abandoned in the early 16th century by order of Pope Pius IV over fears that it would upstage St Peter's Basilica in Rome as the grandest church in Italy. It has never been completed.

More reading:

The 16th century plastic surgeon who pioneered nose jobs

San Marino is bombed by British planes

Allied troops land at Salerno

Also on this day:

1909: The death of Felice Beato, war photographer

1924: The birth of avant-garde musician Luigi Nono

1996: Fire destroys La Fenice opera house in Venice


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28 January 2019

Giovanni Alfonso Borelli – physiologist and physicist

Neapolitan was the first to explain movement


Giovanni Alfonso Borelli was a  pioneer of biomechanics
Giovanni Alfonso Borelli was a
pioneer of biomechanics
The scientist who was the first to explain muscular movement according to the laws of statics and dynamics, Giovanni Alfonso Borelli, was born on this day in 1608 in Naples.

Borelli was also the first to suggest that comets travel in a parabolic path.

He was appointed professor of mathematics at Messina in 1649 and at Pisa in 1656. After 1675 he lived in Rome under the protection of Christina, the former Queen of Sweden. She had abdicated her throne in 1654, had converted to Catholicism and gone to live in Rome as the guest of the Pope.

Remembered as one of the most learned women of the 17th century, Christina became the protector of many artists, musicians and intellectuals who would visit her in the Palazzo Farnese, where she was allowed to live by the Pope.

Borelli’s best known work is De Motu Animalium - On the Movement of Animals - in which he sought to explain the movements of the animal body on mechanical principles. He is therefore the founder of the iatrophysical school. He dedicated this work to Queen Christina, who had funded it, but he died of pneumonia in 1679 before it was published.

A page from Borelli's De Motu Animalium on arm movement
A page from Borelli's De Motu
Animalium
on arm movement
For this work he has become known as the father of modern biomechanics. The American Society of Biomechanics named its most prestigious award the Giovanni Borelli Award in 1984.

The award is given to scientists for the originality, quality and depth of their research, and its relevance to the field of biomechanics.

Borelli also wrote astronomical works, including a treatise in 1666 that considered the influence of attraction on the satellites of Jupiter.  In a letter published in 1665, using the pseudonym Pier Maria Mutoli, he was the first to suggest the idea that comets travel in a parabolic path.

The Castel Nuovo in Naples, built in the 13th century and rebuilt by Alfonso I in 1453
The Castel Nuovo in Naples, built in the 13th century
and rebuilt by Alfonso I in 1453
Travel tip:

Borelli was born in the Castel Nuovo area of Naples to a Spanish infantryman serving in the city and a young Neapolitan girl. The castle was called ‘nuovo’, new, when it was built in the 13th century to distinguish it from two earlier ones in Naples, Castel d’Ovo and Castel Capuano. Alfonso I, King of Naples and Sicily, had it completely rebuilt in 1453, the year of his triumphant entry into Naples. Alfonso later ordered the construction of the superb Arco di Trionfo, one of the most significant expressions of early Renaissance culture in southern Italy.

The Palazzo Farnese in Rome, once home of the former Queen Christina of Sweden, now houses the French embassy
The Palazzo Farnese in Rome, once home of the former
Queen Christina of Sweden, now houses the French embassy
Travel tip:

Palazzo Farnese, where Borelli would visit his patron, Queen Christina, is one of the most important High Renaissance palaces in Rome. Owned by the Italian republic, the palazzo in Piazza Farnese was given to the French Government in 1936 for a period of 99 years and currently serves as the French embassy in Italy. One of the scenes in Puccini’s opera Tosca is set in Palazzo Farnese.

More reading:

The physicist who inspired Mary Shelley's Frankenstein

The 18th century anatomist who turned pathology into a science

The scientist who gave new 'life' to a dead frog and a new word to the language

Also on this day:

1453: The birth of Renaissance beauty Simonetta Vespucci

1813: The birth of scientist Paolo Gorini

1978: The birth of goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon


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27 January 2019

Roberto Paci Dalò – composer and film maker

Music maker coined the definition ‘media dramaturgy’


Roberto Paci Dalò has composed and directed more than  30 groundbreaking music-theatre works
Roberto Paci Dalò has composed and directed more than
30 groundbreaking music-theatre works
The award-winning contemporary musician and composer Roberto Paci Dalò was born on this day in 1962 in Rimini.

Paci Dalò is the co-founder and director of the performing arts ensemble Giardini Pensili and has composed music for theatre, radio, television and film.

After completing musical, visual and architectural studies in Fiesole, Faenza and Ravenna, Paci Dalò focused on sound and design and their use in film, theatre and collaborative projects.

He has been a pioneer in the use of digital technologies and telecommunication systems in art and has been particularly interested in performing arts as a meeting point of languages.

Since 1985 he has written, composed and directed more than 30 groundbreaking music-theatre works which have been presented worldwide.

Roberto Paci Dalò has worked at some of Italy's leading universities
Roberto Paci Dalò has worked at some
of Italy's leading universities
Paci Dalò has composed music for acoustical ensembles, electronics and voices and has produced radio works for the main European broadcasting corporations.

His films and videos have been regularly presented in international festivals.

Paci Dalò taught Media Dramaturgy at the University of Siena and collaborates with institutions such as the University of Bologna, University of Rome, University of Ascoli Piceno and the Brera Fine Arts Academy in Milan, where he develops projects in collaboration with designers, architects, planners, artists, programmers and hackers.

He coined the term ‘media dramaturgy’ - an extension of the study of composition of drama and adapting stories to actable form to cover not only the theatre but radio, television and film - in describing his own work.

He has been internationally acclaimed for leading the way in multimedia.

As a performer he has also developed extended techniques on the clarinet and with electronics.

Paci Dalò currently lives and works in the hills above Rimini.

The 13th century Tempio Maletestiano in Rimini has frescoes by Piero della Francesca and works by Giotto
The 13th century Tempio Maletestiano in Rimini has
frescoes by Piero della Francesca and works by Giotto
Travel tip:

With wide sandy beaches and plenty of hotels and restaurants, Rimini is one of the most popular seaside resorts in Europe, but it is also a historic town with many interesting things to see. The Tempio Maletestiano is a 13th century Gothic church originally built for the Fransiscans that was transformed on the outside in the 15th century and decorated inside with frescoes by Piero della Francesca and works by Giotto and many other artists. In 1993 Paci Dalò conceived the project Publiphono for his native town, using the public address system of the beach at Rimini to create environmental audio performances along 15km (9 miles) of the coast.


The Piazza della Libertà in the centre of Faenza, the city
in Emilia Romagna where Paci Dalò studied
Travel tip:

Paci Dalò studied at Faenza, a city about 72km (45 miles) kilometres northwest of Rimini, which is famous for the manufacture of a type of decorative majolica-ware known as faience. It is also home to the International Museum of Ceramics, which has examples of ceramics from ancient times, the Middle Ages and the 18th and 19th centuries as well as displaying work by important contemporary artists. The museum is in Viale Baccarini in Faenza. For more information visit www.micfaenza.org

More reading:

The unique style of contemporary composer Ludovico Einaudi

The Futurist artist who invented 'noise music'

How Luigi Nono used avant-garde music as a means of political expression

Also on this day:

98AD: Trajan becomes Roman Emperor

1901: The death of Giuseppe Verdi

1927: The birth of novelist Giovanni Arpino


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26 January 2019

Giovanni Lanfranco - painter

Artist from Parma whose technique set new standards



Lanfranco was renowned for his dome frescoes, particularly those inside the Basilica of Sant'Andrea della Valle in Rome
Lanfranco was renowned for his dome frescoes, particularly
those inside the Basilica of Sant'Andrea della Valle in Rome
The painter Giovanni Lanfranco, whom some critics regard as the equal of Pietro da Cortona and Guercino (Giovanni Francesco Barbieri) among the leading masters of High Baroque painting in Rome, was born on this day in 1582 in Parma.

A master of techniques for creating illusion, such as trompe l'oeil and foreshortening, he had a major influence on 17th century painting in Naples also, inspiring the likes of Mattia Preti, Luca Giordano and Francesco Solimena.

Lanfranco is best known for his Assumption of the Virgin (1625-7) in the duomo of Sant’Andrea della Valle in Rome, the altar fresco of the Navicella (1627-28) in St Peter’s Basilica, the cupola of the Gesù Nuovo church (1634-36) in Naples and the fresco of the Cappella del Tesoro, in Naples Cathedral (1643).

His St Mary Magdalen Transported to Heaven (c.1605), currently housed in the Capodimonte Museum in Naples, is another outstanding example of his work, as is The Ecstasy of the Blessed Margaret of Cortona (1622), in the Pitti Palace in Florence.

Lanfranco was inspired and influenced by the work of Antonio da Corregio, who painted the dome of Parma Cathedral
Lanfranco was inspired and influenced by the work of Antonio
da Corregio, who painted the dome of Parma Cathedral
Lanfranco’s dome frescoes were influenced by the work of Antonio da Correggio, the master of chiaroscuro who painted the Vision of St. John on Patmos (1520–21) for the dome of the church of San Giovanni Evangelista in Parma, and the dome of the Cathedral of Parma with a startling Assumption of the Virgin, displaying a use of illusionistic perspective and dramatic foreshortening that were ahead of his time.

Born Giovanni Gaspare Lanfranco, the third son of Stefano and Cornelia Lanfranchi, a poor family from Parma who lived in the Piazzale Santa Caterina, as a boy he was sent to be a page in the household of Count Orazio Scotti, a nobleman in Piacenza.

Without any other outlet for his natural fascination with creating pictures, he would draw on the walls using pieces of coal. Rather than being angry with the boy, the count arranged for him to begin an apprenticeship with the Bolognese artist Agostino Carracci, brother of Annibale Carracci, and was soon working alongside fellow Parmese Sisto Badalocchio in the local Farnese palaces.

When Agostino died in 1602, both young artists moved to Annibale's large Roman workshop, which was then involved in working on the ceiling of the Galleria Farnese in the Palazzo Farnese. Lanfranco is considered to have contributed to the panel of Polyphemus and Galatea and other works in the room.

A self-portrait of Lanfranco painted between 1628 and 1632
A self-portrait of Lanfranco painted
between 1628 and 1632
Afterwards, along with Guido Reni and Francesco Albani, Lanfranco frescoed the Herrera (San Diego) Chapel in San Giacomo degli Spagnoli (1602–1607). He also participated in the fresco decoration of San Gregorio Magno and of the Cappella Paolina in Santa Maria Maggiore.

In 1617, Lanfranco's frescoes in the Sala Regia in the papal Palazzo del Quirinale won him admiration as one of Rome's most progressive painters and in the 1620s he introduced an approach to space that derived partly from the art of Tintoretto.

Lanfranco contrasted dominant foreground figures with partly hidden figures emerging from behind a rise, a departure from the approach taken by Annibale Carracci, Domenichino and Pietro da Cortona.

His dome frescoes for Sant’Andrea della Valle in Rome heralded the High Baroque, combining the Carracci figure style with Correggio's illusionistic methods. Domenichino, who won a share of the commission but was overshadowed by Lanfranco, is said to have been so jealous of his rival that he attempted to sabotage part of the scaffolding, hoping Lanfranco would fall to his death.

There was no love lost between the pair, who were fierce rivals for commissions throughout the 1620s, the ill-feeling between them not helped by Lanfranco's public accusation that Domenichino had plagiarized Agostino Carracci in his painting of the Confession of St. Jerome, now in the Vatican.

A plaque marks the house in Parma where Lanfranco was born and raised in a poor family
A plaque marks the house in Parma where Lanfranco was
born and raised in a poor family
From 1634 to 1646, Lanfranco worked in Naples, decorating the dome and pendentives of the Jesuit church of the Gesù Nuovo in Naples before moving on to fresco the nave and choir of the Certosa of San Martino.

This was followed by the decoration of Santi Apostoli and the dome of the Cappella del Tesoro di San Gennaro in the Cathedral of Naples.

He returned to Rome in 1646 and died there the following year, his last work being the apse of the church of San Carlo ai Catinari.

The Basilica of Sant'Andrea della Valle is in Piazza Vidoni in Rome
The Basilica of Sant'Andrea della Valle
is in Piazza Vidoni in Rome
Travel tip:

Sant'Andrea della Valle is a minor basilica in the rione of Sant'Eustachio of the city of Rome, located at Piazza Vidoni, at the intersection of Corso Vittorio Emanuele and Corso Rinascimento.  The building of the church followed a bequest made to the city by the duchess of Amalfi, Donna Costanza Piccolomini d'Aragona, who came from the family of Pope Pius II. It was dedicated to Saint Andrew as the patron saint of Amalfi. Work began in 1590 and was completed by 1560, with input from Giacomo della Porta and Pier Paolo Olivieri, Carlo Maderno and Francesco Grimaldi. The fresco decoration of the dome - the third largest in the city behind the St Peter’s Basilica and the Pantheon - was one of the most prestigious commissions of the time.

The Reale Cappella del Tesoro di San Gennaro in the  Naples Duomo was decorated by Lanfranco
The Reale Cappella del Tesoro di San Gennaro in the
Naples Duomo was decorated by Lanfranco
Travel tip:

The Royal Chapel of the Treasure of St. Januarius - the Reale Cappella del Tesoro di San Gennaro - is a chapel in the Cathedral of Naples dedicated to Saint Januarius (San Gennaro), patron saint of the city. It is the most lavishly decorated chapel in the cathedral. Between 1526 and 1527, Naples suffered severe damage and loss of life first in a siege by the French, then a resurgence of the plague and finally a volcanic eruption of Vesuvius, with accompanying earthquakes. The surviving Neapolitans pledged to erect a chapel to San Gennaro to show their gratitude at being spared. Every year, on three specific occasions, the cathedral hopes to witness the liquefaction of the blood of the the saint, as preserved in two ampoules. In local folklore, the failure of the blood to liquefy signals that war, famine, disease or other disaster will befall the city.

More reading:

How Annibale Carracci left his imprint on Rome

Domenichino: a rival to Raphael

Why Francesco Solimena became an influence for a generation

Also on this day:

1482: The first printed version of the Hebrew Bible is completed in Bologna

1907: The birth of Gabriele Allegra, friar and scholar

1919: The birth of footballer Valentino Mazzola


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25 January 2019

Noemi - singer-songwriter

Debut album topped Italian charts


Noemi - born Veronica Scopelliti in Rome - found fame after appearing on the Italian version of X-Factor
Noemi - born Veronica Scopelliti in Rome - found fame
after appearing on the Italian version of X-Factor
The singer-songwriter Noemi - real name Veronica Scopelliti - was born on Rome on this day in 1982. 

Noemi’s first album, Sulla Mia Pelle, released in 2009, sold more than 140,000 copies, topping the Italian album charts.

It followed her appearance in the second series of the Italian version of The X-Factor, the television talent show that was launched in the United Kingdom in 2004.

Although she did not win the competition, Noemi proved to be the most popular singer, finishing fifth overall.  Soon afterwards, she landed her first recording contract, with Sony Music, and released a single, Briciole, which reached number two in the Italian singles chart.

Heavily influenced by soul music, Noemi established immediately the style that has seen her nicknamed the ‘lioness of Italian pop’.

The cover of Noemi's debut EP, which sold more than 50,000 copies
The cover of Noemi's debut EP, which
sold more than 50,000 copies
The elder of two daughters of Armando and Stefania Scopelliti, Noemi - Veronica as she was then - had early experience of appearing in the spotlight - at 19 months she was chosen to model nappies in a TV commercial for Pampers.

She inherited her love for music from her father, who played guitar in a group, and began learning the piano at seven and the guitar at 11, soon writing her own pieces. She attended the De Merode Institute of the Collegio San Giuseppe, a Catholic school on Piazza di Spagna in the heart of Rome, and from there progressed to a degree in Drama, Arts, Music and Entertainment at the Università di Roma Tre - Rome’s third university.

Accompanying herself on guitar or at the piano, she began to appear at venues in Rome from the age of 21 onwards, even before she completed her studies, before successfully auditioning for X-Factor in 2008.

Soon after Briciole was released in April 2009, Sony Music produced her first EP, entitled simply Noemi, which sold more than 50,000 copies. She launched a promotional tour, which included an appearance at the concert Amiche per l'Abruzzo, organised by the top-selling Italian star Laura Pausini at the San Siro stadium in Milan to raise funds for victims of the Abruzzo earthquake, and at the Concerto per Viareggio organised by the popular male singer Zucchero to help the victims of a train derailment and explosion that killed 32 people in the seaside town in June, 2009.

Noemi's career has been encouraged by Laura Pausini, one of Italy's top stars
Noemi's career has been encouraged by
Laura Pausini, one of Italy's top stars
Her first album, Sulla mia pelle, was released in October of that year. A single from the album, L'amore si odia - a duet with Fiorella Mannoia - obtained a platinum disc.

Noemi has subsequently released four more studio albums - RossoNoemi, Made in London, Cuore d’artista and La luna - a live album RossoLive, and 15 singles, five of which sold more than 50,000 copies each.

She has appeared in five editions of the Sanremo Music Festival, between 2010 and 2018, finishing third once and fourth twice. Per tutta la vita, which she sang on her Sanremo debut, was her second number one single, following on from L’amore si odia.  Her total record sales add up to more than 750,000.

In 2013, together with Raffaella Carrà , Piero Pelù and Riccardo Cocciante, Noemi was hired as a coach of the first edition of The Voice of Italy, broadcast on Rai Due.

Inspired by singers such as Aretha Franklin, Robert Johnson, Billie Holiday, Janis Joplin, Erykah Badu and James Brown, Noemi is comfortable with soul, blues. R&B and rock, her voice characterised by a distinctively scratchy and deeply powerful sound.

Pausini, Umberto Tozzi and Vasco Rossi, all important figures in the Italian music industry, are among her admirers.

In 2018, Noemi married Gabriele Greco, the bassist and double bass player in her band, in Rome in the Basilica of San Lorenzo in Lucina, following a 10-year romance.

The Collegio San Giuseppe is just off Rome's famous Piazza di Spagna
The Collegio San Giuseppe is just off
Rome's famous Piazza di Spagna
Travel tip:

The Collegio San Giuseppe-Istituto de Mérode is a Catholic school of the Brothers of the Christian Schools, located at via San Sebastianello 1, at the corner of Piazza di Spagna, in the rione Campo Marzio.  The Brothers of the Christian Schools was founded by Jean-Baptiste de La Salle in the 17th century. The Collegio San Giuseppe was founded in 1850 in Palazzo Poli at the Trevi Fountain. It was relocated to its current location in 1885. In addition to Noemi, its alumni include the journalist Pietro Calabrese and Giovanni Malagò, the current president of the Italian National Olympic Committee.

The Basilica of San Lorenzo in Lucina can be found  a short distance from the Palazzo Montecitorio
The Basilica of San Lorenzo in Lucina can be found
a short distance from the Palazzo Montecitorio 
Travel tip:

The Minor Basilica of St. Lawrence in Lucina, where Noemi was married, is located in Piazza di San Lorenzo in Lucina in the Rione Colonna, not far from the Palazzo Montecitorio - the seat of the Chamber of Deputies of the Italian parliament - and Via del Corso.  Originally built in the fourth century, the church was reconstructed in the 12th century and again in the 17th, when the lateral isles were replaced by Baroque chapels, among them one designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini for the Portuguese doctor Gabriele Fonseca, who was physician to Pope Innocent X (1644-55). Guido Reni's Christ on the Cross is visible above the high altar.  Among those interred in the basilica are the opera composer Bernardo Pasquini and the French Baroque painter Nicolas Poussin, who spent most of his working life in Rome.

More reading:

How Laura Pausini became one of Italy's all-time biggest female stars

Still rocking at 63 - the enduring appeal of Zucchero

The X-Factor victory that launched Marco Mengoni

Also on this day:

1348: The Friuli Earthquake

1755: The birth of the physician Paolo Mascagni

1866: The birth of operatic baritone Antonio Scotti


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24 January 2019

Assassination of Caligula

Controversial emperor killed by Praetorian Guard


A line engraving depicting Caligula from the Wellcome Collection gallery
A line engraving depicting Caligula
from the Wellcome Collection gallery
Gaius Julius Caesar Germanicus, the Roman emperor usually referred to by his childhood nickname, Caligula, was assassinated at the imperial palace on the Palatine Hill in Rome on this day in 41AD.

His killers were officers of the Praetorian Guard who confronted him in an underground corridor at the imperial palace, where he had been hosting the Palatine Games, an entertainment event comprising sport and dramatic plays.

According to one account, Caligula was stabbed 30 times in a deliberate act of symbolism, that being the number of knife wounds some believe were inflicted on Julius Caesar, his great-great-grandfather after whom he was named, when he was murdered in 44BC, although the number of blows Caesar suffered is disputed.

Most accounts agree that the chief plotter in Caligula’s murder, and the first to draw blood, was Cassius Chaerea, an officer Caligula was said to have frequently taunted for his weak, effeminate voice.

The motives behind the assassination were much more than one aggrieved officer wishing to avenge a personal slight.

This bronze bust of Caligula is displayed in the Metropolitan Museum of New York
This bronze bust of Caligula is displayed in the
Metropolitan Museum of New York
A descendent of Rome's most distinguished family, the Julio Claudiens, Caligula had initially been popular when he succeeded Tiberius to become the third emperor. His great-grandfather was Augustus, the first emperor, while his father, Germanicus, was a much-loved leader in his own right.

The young Gaius adored his father, who would take him on military campaigns from the age of three, fitting him out with a uniform and a small pair of boots - caligula in Latin - the name Germanicus’s soldiers adopted as a nickname for the little boy, which was to stick with him for life.

Tiberius, who killed or imprisoned most of Caligula’s family and whom Caligula blamed for the death of his father during a mission to Rome’s eastern provinces, was deeply disliked by the Roman public, with whom Caligula won favour immediately by releasing citizens unjustly imprisoned by Tiberius and scrapping a number of unpopular taxes.

He also staged chariot races, boxing matches, plays and gladiator shows for the amusement of himself and his citizens.

This bust can be found in the Ny Carlsberg Glypotek museum in Copenhagen
This bust can be found in the Ny Carlsberg
Glypotek museum in Copenhagen
But then a severe mystery illness that struck him down barely six months into his rule seemed to change his character.

Tormented by crippling headaches, Caligula distracted himself by brazenly indulged his sexual proclivities, committing incest with his sisters and sleeping with other men's wives, bragging about it to them afterwards. He began to flaunt his power in the most cruel ways, eliminating his political rivals and forcing parents to watch the executions of their sons.

He is said to have killed for mere amusement. Once, at a games event over which he was presiding, it is alleged that he ordered his guards to throw an entire section of the audience into the arena to be eaten by lions because there were no prisoners left and he was bored.

Caligula caused more outrage with his declaration that he was a living God, spending a fortune on a bridge between his palace and the Temple of Jupiter and demanded that a statue of himself be erected in the Temple of Jerusalem for his worship.

In his insanity, he was said to have promised to make his horse, Incitatus, a consul, and actually did appoint him a priest.

The remains of Caligula's Bridge on the Palatine Hill in Rome
The remains of Caligula's Bridge on the Palatine Hill in Rome
Rome soon grew to hate its leader, and Chaerea’s plot was one of many conspiracies aimed at removing him from power, which gathered momentum when Caligula announced to the Senate that he planned to leave Rome permanently and to move to Alexandria in Egypt, which would have drastically reduced Rome’s political power.

Caligula’s wife and daughter were also killed and for a while the military were divided between those who sought the reinstatement of the Roman Republic and those who favoured a continuing imperial monarchy. Eventually, the latter faction prevailed, with Caligula’s uncle, Claudius, who is said to have hidden behind a curtain while his nephew was being murdered, announced as Caligula’s successor.

The ruins of the Palace of Augustus on the Palatine Hill, seen from the Roman Forum
The ruins of the Palace of Augustus on the Palatine Hill,
seen from the Roman Forum
Travel tip:

From the time of Augustus, who ruled from 27 BC to 14 AD, Roman emperors traditionally lived in an imperial palace atop the Palatine Hill, the central hill among the seven hills of ancient Rome.  There are remains visible today of at least three palaces, built next to one another over the years, in which Augustus, Tiberius and Domitian lived.  The word ‘palace’ – palazzo in Italian – derives from the name of the hill, which looks down upon the Roman Forum on one side, and the Circus Maximus on the other.

The Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus on the Capitoline Hill, as it would have looked
The Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus on the
Capitoline Hill, as it would have looked
Travel tip:

The Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus, which was the most important temple in ancient Rome, was located on the Capitoline Hill. It was the equivalent to a basilica in status in the official religion of Rome, presiding over the Area Capitolina, a square used for certain assemblies and where numerous shrines, altars and statues were displayed. The remains of the temple podium and foundations can be seen today behind the Palazzo dei Conservatori, in an exhibition area built in the Caffarelli Garden, and within the Musei Capitolini.

More reading:

The assassination of Julius Caesar

The suspicious death of Claudius, the emperor who conquered Britian

Titus - the 'good' emperor who helped the victims of Vesuvius

Also on this day:

1705: The birth of Farinelli, music's first superstar

1916: The birth of actor Arnoldo Foà

1947: The birth of footballer Giorgio Chinaglia


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23 January 2019

Salvatore Lima - politician

Christian Democrat MEP murdered by Mafia



Salvatore 'Salvo' Lima was the most  powerful Christian Democrat in Sicily
Salvatore 'Salvo' Lima was the most
powerful Christian Democrat in Sicily
Salvatore Lima, a politician strongly suspected of being the Sicilian Mafia’s ‘man in Rome’ until he was shot dead near his seaside villa in 1992, was born on this day in 1928 in Palermo.

The Christian Democrat MEP, usually known as Salvo, had long been suspected of corruption, from his days as Mayor of Palermo in the 1950s and 60s to his time as a member of the Chamber of Deputies, between 1968 and 1979, when he formed a close association with Giulio Andreotti, the three-times Italian prime minister whose rise to power was helped considerably by the support Lima was able to garner for him in Sicily.

Lima's links with the Mafia were established by a magistrates’ enquiry into his death when it was concluded that he was killed on the orders of the then all-powerful Mafia boss Salvatore ‘Toto’ Riina as an act of revenge following Lima’s failure through his connections in Rome to have sentences against 342 mafiosi accused in the so-called 'maxi-trial' of 1986-87 annulled or at least reduced.

He had allegedly promised his Cosa Nostra paymasters that he would see to it that a Supreme Court judge with a reputation for overturning sentences against suspected Mafia members was appointed prosecutor, but the position was handed instead to another judge.

Giulio Andreotti formed a close
alliance 
Riina ordered his murder, carried out by a gunman on a motorcycle outside Lima’s villa in Mondello, the seaside resort just outside Palermo, shortly after the verdicts were confirmed in 1992.  Later in the same year, Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, the two most prominent magistrates in the investigations that led to the maxi-trial, were also killed on Riina’s orders.

Much of the information about Lima’s involvement with the Mafia was provided by pentiti - supergrasses - such as Tommaso Buscetta and Leonardo Messina, former mafiosi who turned state’s evidence after finding themselves disenfranchised by the ruthless purge of rival clans carried out by Riina’s Corleonesi family in the Second Mafia War of the early 1980s.

Buscetta and Messina both confirmed that Lima’s father, Vincenzo, had been a member of the Mafia.

Despite this, Salvo Lima was elected Mayor of Palermo in 1958 and again in 1965, occupying the office for a total of eight years. It was revealed later that during the construction boom in Palermo in the 50s and 60s, Lima and his fellow Christian Democrat Vito Ciancimino, who was the city’s assessor for public works, awarded hundreds of lucrative contracts to Francesco Vassallo, a builder with powerful Mafia connections.

One of them, a mafioso called Angelo La Barbera, had supported Lima’s campaign for election.

Lima's body lay covered by a sheet as  police looked for clues to his killing
Lima's body lay covered by a sheet as
police looked for clues to his killing
It was also established that two Christian Democrat-supporting businessmen, Nino and Ignazio Salvo, to whom he awarded unusually generous terms to collect taxes on the island, were both cousins and Mafia members.  In return, they pledged their loyalty to Lima and Andreotti.

Lima’s election to the Chamber of Deputies in 1968 as a representative for Palermo came as a surprise, given that he was up against established politicians. It was of great benefit to Andreotti, who had much support in and around Rome but no national electoral base, that Lima was able through his influential contacts not only to place Andreotti-supporting candidates in the Sicily constituencies but also guarantee they would be elected, which gave Andreotti a much stronger powerbase in the Italian parliament than he had enjoyed previously.

When Andreotti became prime minister for the first time in 1972, it was not long before Lima had a position in government as Under-Secretary of the Budget.

He became the Member of the European Parliament for the Italian Islands in 1979 but the veneer of respectability that he took to the grave after he was murdered was seriously damaged in November 1992 when Buscetta testified before the Antimafia Commission about links between the Cosa Nostra, Lima and Andreotti.

Buscetta described Lima as “the politician to whom Cosa Nostra turned most often to resolve problems for the organisation whose solution lay in Rome."

Other witnesses, including another pentito, Gaspare Mutolo, confirmed that Lima had been ordered to "fix" the appeal of the maxi trial with Italy's Supreme Court of Cassation and had been killed because he was unable to do so.

According to Mutolo: "Lima was killed because he was the greatest symbol of that part of the political world which, after doing favours for Cosa Nostra in exchange for its votes, was no longer able to protect the interests of the organisation at the time of its most important trial."

Mondello's beautiful sandy beach is largely free to use and attracts crowds of bathers in high season
Mondello's beautiful sandy beach is largely free to use and
attracts crowds of bathers in high season.
Travel tip:

Mondello, where Lima lived and was murdered, is a former fishing village about 10km (6 miles) north of Palermo that has become a popular beach resort. It has a sweeping bay enclosing turquoise water and a beach of fine sand in front of a promenade lined with beautiful villas, many built in Liberty style at the start of the 20th century as summer retreats for the wealthier residents of the city. The beach, which tends to be crowded during the summer with many stretches free of charge, also has many pastel-coloured changing cabins. The nature reserve of Capo Gallo, with its white rocks and clear water, is within walking distance of Mondello.

Palermo's magnificent cathedral has a classic Sicilian mix of  architectural influences from Europe and the Arab world
Palermo's magnificent cathedral has a classic Sicilian mix of
architectural influences from Europe and the Arab world.
Travel tip:

Although Palermo is widely seen by the rest of the world as a Mafia stronghold, visitors to the city would normally encounter nothing to suggest that the criminal underworld exerts any influence on daily life.  The Sicilian capital, on the northern coast of the island, is a vibrant city with a wealth of beautiful architecture bearing testament to a history of northern European and Arabian influences.  Typical is Palermo's majestic Cathedral of the Assumption of Virgin Mary, which includes Norman, Moorish, Gothic, Baroque and Neoclassical elements.

More reading:

Giulio Andreotti - Italy's great political survivor

The supergrass who put hundreds behind bars

Giovanni Falcone's crusade against the Mafia

Also on this day:

1752: The birth of 'father of the piano' Muzio Clementi

1881: The birth of socialite and muse Lusia Casati

1980: The death of car designer Giovanni Michelotti


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