2 March 2021

2 March

Vittorio Pozzo - double World Cup winner

Manager led Azzurri to victory in 1934 and 1938

Vittorio Pozzo, the most successful manager in the history of Italy's national football team, was born on this day in 1886 in Turin.  Under Pozzo's guidance, the Azzurri won the FIFA World Cups of 1934 and 1938 as well as the Olympic football tournament in 1936. He also led them to the Central European International Cup, the forerunner of the European championships, in 1931 and 1935. No other coach in football history has won the World Cup twice.  Pozzo managed some outstanding players, such as Internazionale's Giuseppe Meazza and the Juventus defender Pietro Rava, but his reputation was tarnished by the success of his team coinciding with the Fascist regime's tight grip on power. Italy's success on the football field was exploited ruthlessly as a propaganda vehicle.  While not a Fascist himself, Pozzo upset many opponents of Mussolini across Europe at the 1938 World Cup in France when his players gave the so-called 'Roman' salute - the extended right-arm salute adopted by the Fascists - during the playing of the Italian anthem.  Read more…


Pietro Novelli – painter and architect

Sicilian great who was killed in Palermo riot

Pietro Novelli, recognised as the most important artist in 17th century Sicily, was born on this day in 1603 in Monreale, a town about 10km (6 miles) from Palermo.  A prolific painter, his works can be seen in many churches and galleries in Sicily, in particular in Palermo.  There are good examples of his work outside the city, too, for example at Piana degli Albanesi, about 30km (19 miles) from Palermo, where he painted a fresco cycle in the cathedral of San Demetrio Megalomartire and another fresco, entitled Annunciation, in the church of Santissima Annunziata.  At his peak, wealthy and aristocratic members of Sicilian society, as well as monasteries and churches, competed to be in possession of a Novelli work.  His father, also called Pietro, was a respected artist who also worked with mosaics and Pietro initially worked in his father’s workshop in Monreale.  A great student of art who travelled extensively, among his major influences were Caravaggio, whose work in Sicily he studied, particularly his Adoration of the Shepherds, which was commissioned for the Capuchin Franciscans and was painted in Messina for the Church of Santa Maria degli Angeli.  Read more…


Pope Pius XII

Pope elected on 63rd birthday to lead the church during the war

Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli was elected Pope and took the name of Pius XII on this day in 1939, his 63rd birthday.  A pre-war critic of the Nazis, Pius XII expressed dismay at the invasion of Poland by Germany later that year.  But the Vatican remained officially neutral during the Second World War and Pius XII was later criticised by some people for his perceived silence over the fate of the Jews.  Pope Pius XII was born Eugenio Maria Giuseppe Giovanni Pacelli on March 2, 1876 in Rome.  His family had a history of links with the papacy and he was educated at a school that had formerly been the Collegio Romano, a Jesuit College in Rome.  He went on to study theology and became ordained as a priest.  He was appointed nuncio to Bavaria in 1917 and tried to convey the papal initiative to end the First World War to the German authorities without success. After the war he worked to try to alleviate distress in Germany and to build diplomatic relations between the Vatican and the Soviet Union.  He was made a Cardinal priest in 1929 and elected Pope on March 2, 1939.   When war broke out again he had to follow the strict Vatican policy of neutrality.  Read more…


1 March 2021

1 March

Luigi Vanvitelli – architect

Neapolitan genius drew up a grand design for his royal client

The most famous Italian architect of the 18th century, Luigi Vanvitelli, died on this day in 1773 in Caserta in Campania.  The huge Royal Palace he designed for the Bourbon kings of Naples in Caserta is considered one of the greatest triumphs of the Baroque style of architecture in Italy.  Vanvitelli was born Lodewijk van Wittel in Naples in 1700, the son of a Dutch painter of landscapes, Caspar van Wittel. His father later also took up the Italian surname Vanvitelli.  Luigi Vanvitelli was trained as an architect by Nicola Salvi and worked with him on lengthening the façade of Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s Palazzo Chigi-Odelscalchi in Rome and on the construction of the Trevi Fountain.  Following his notable successes with the facade of the Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano (1732) and the facade of Palazzo Poli, behind the Trevi Fountain, Pope Clement XII sent Vanvitelli to the Marche to build some papal projects.   At Ancona in 1732, he directed construction of the Lazzaretto, a large pentagonal building built as an isolation unit to protect against contagious diseases arriving on ships. Later it was used as a military hospital or as barracks.  Read more…


Gastone Nencini – cycling champion

Lion of Mugello won both Tour de France and Giro d’Italia

Gastone Nencini, sometimes described as Italy’s forgotten cycling champion, and certainly one of its least heralded, was born on this day in 1930 in Barberino di Mugello, a town in the Tuscan Apennines, about 38km (24 miles) north of Florence.  Nencini won the 1957 Giro d’Italia and the 1960 Tour de France, putting him in the company of only seven Italians to have won the greatest of cycling’s endurance tests.   He followed Ottavio Bottecchia, Gino Bartali and Fausto Coppi and preceded Felice Gimondi, Marco Pantani and the most recent winner, 2014 champion Vincenzo Nibali.  Yet often even cycling fans asked to name the seven Italian champions sometimes forget Nencini, despite his courage and resilience earning him the nickname The Lion of Mugello.  This may be in part because he died very young, a month short of his 50th birthday, after developing a rare disease of the lymphatic system.  Others, in particular members of his family, believe it was his maverick nature, his refusal to comply with the sport’s etiquette, that damaged his reputation.  In his era, some claim, there were unwritten rules in cycling.  Read more…


Pietro Canonica - sculptor

Artist in demand from European royalty

The sculptor Pietro Canonica, who was also a proficient painter and an accomplished musician but who found himself most in demand to create busts, statues and portraits for the royal courts of Europe, was born on this day in 1869 in Moncalieri in Piedmont.  Canonica’s ability to create realism in his work, bringing marble sculptures almost to life, resulted in an endless stream of commissions, taking him from Buckingham Palace in London to the courts of Paris, Vienna, Brussels and St Petersburg.  He was highly skilled in equestrian statuary and after the First World War was commissioned to create many monuments to the fallen, which can be seen in squares around Italy to this day.  Canonica’s mastery of Naturalism and Realism were the qualities that set him apart, exemplified nowhere with such stunning effect as in his 1909 work L'abisso - The Abyss - which depicts Paolo and Francesca, the ill-fated lovers from Dante’s Inferno, locked in their eternal punishment, clinging desperately to one another with fear in their eyes, her fingers digging into his back as the vortex in which they are trapped drags them towards their fate.  Read more…


Cesare Danova - movie actor

Acclaim came late for Bergamo-born star

The actor Cesare Danova, who appeared in more than 300 films and TV shows over the course of a 45-year career, was born Cesare Deitinger on this day in 1926 in the Lombardy city of Bergamo.  The son of an Austrian father and an Italian mother, he adopted Danova as his professional name after meeting the film producer, Dino De Laurentiis, in Rome.  De Laurentiis gave him a screen test and was so impressed he immediately cast Danova in the 1947 movie The Captain's Daughter, playing alongside Amedeo Nazzari and Vittorio Gassman.  So began a career that was to see Danova star opposite Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in Joseph L Mankiewicz's 1963 hit Cleopatra, opposite Elvis Presley and Ann-Margaret in Viva Las Vegas (1964), alongside Robert De Niro and Harvey Keitel in Martin Scorsese's cult movie Mean Streets (1973) and as part of a star-studded cast in National Lampoon's Animal House (1978).  In his later years, Danova became a familiar figure on TV screens in America, making appearances in almost all the popular drama series of the 1980s, including Charlie's Angels, Murder, She Wrote, Falcon Crest and Hart to Hart.  Read more…


28 February 2021

28 February

- Domenico Agusta - entrepreneur 

Sicilian count who founded MV Agusta motorcycle company

Count Domenico Agusta, who founded the all-conquering MV Agusta motorcycle company in 1945, was born on this day in 1907 in Palermo.  Originally set up as a means of keeping the family’s aeronautical company in business after aircraft production in Italy was banned as part of the post World War II peace treaty with the Allies, MV Agusta became such a giant of motorcycle racing that their bikes claimed 38 MotoGP world titles in the space of 22 years as well as 34 victories in the prestigious Isle of Man Tourist Trophy.  MV Agusta made world champions of eight different riders, including two of the greatest Italians in motorcycle racing history, Giacomo Agostini and Carlo Ubbiali. Agostini won 13 of his record 15 world titles riding for MV Agusta.  Domenico Agusta was the son of Giovanni Agusta and hailed from a Sicilian family with aristocratic roots.  Both father and son exercised their right to use the title of count.  Agusta senior designed and built his first aeroplane in 1907, the year of Domenico’s birth.  After serving as a volunteer in the Italo-Turkish War of 1911-12, Giovanni moved the family north, where he believed there would be greater opportunities to develop his aviation business.  They settled in Cascina Costa, a village near the Lombardy town of Samarate, close to where the aeronautical pioneer Gianni Caproni had established an airfield on the site of what is now Milan Malpensa international airport. Read more…


Dino Zoff – footballer

Long career of a record-breaking goalkeeper

Dino Zoff, the oldest footballer to be part of a World Cup winning team, was born on this day in 1942.  Zoff was captain of the Italian national team in the final of the World Cup in Spain in 1982 at the age of 40 years, four months and 13 days.  He also won the award for best goalkeeper of the tournament, in which he kept two clean sheets and made a number of important saves.  Zoff was born in Mariano del Friuli in Friuli-Venezia Giulia. He had trials with Inter-Milan and Juventus at the age of 14 but was rejected because of his lack of height.  Having grown considerably, he made his Seria A debut with Udinese in 1961. He then moved to Mantua, where he spent four seasons, and Napoli, where he spent five seasons.  Zoff made his international debut during Euro 68 and was number two goalkeeper in the 1970 World Cup.  From 1972 onwards he was Italy’s number one goalkeeper.  He signed for Juventus in 1972 and during his 11 years with the club won the Serie A championship six times, the Coppa Italia twice and the UEFA Cup once.  When Zoff retired he held the record for being the oldest Serie A player at the age of 41 and for the most Serie A appearances, having played 570 matches.  Read more…


Karl Zuegg - jam and juice maker

Businessman turned family farm into international company

Karl Zuegg, the businessman who turned his family's fruit-farming expertise into one of Italy's major producers of jams and juices, was born on this day in 1915 in Lana, a town in what is now the autonomous province of Bolzano in Trentino-Alto Adige.  His grandparents, Maria and Ernst August Zuech - they changed their name to Zuegg in 1903 - had been cultivating fruit on their farm since 1860, when Lana was part of South Tyrol in what was then Austria-Hungary.  They traded at local markets and began exporting.  Zuegg and the company's other major brand names, Skipper and Fruttaviva, are among the most recognisable in the fruit products market in Italy and it is largely through Karl's hard work and enterprise.  He was managing director of the company from 1940 to 1986, during which time Zuegg became the first drinks manufacturer in Italy to make use of the ground-breaking Tetrapak packaging invented in Sweden, which allowed drinks to be sold in lightweight cardboard cartons rather than traditional glass bottles.  The family business had begun to experiment with jams in 1917 when austerity measures in Italy were biting hard and there was a need to preserve food.  Read more…


Mario Andretti – racing driver

American champion was born and grew up in Italy

Mario Andretti, who won the 1978 Formula One World Championship driving as an American, was born on this day in 1940 in Montona, about 35km (22 miles) south of Trieste in what was then Istria in the Kingdom of Italy.  Andretti’s career was notable for his versatility. He is the only driver in motor racing history to have won an Indianapolis 500, a Daytona 500 and an F1 world title, and one of only two to have won races in F1, Indy Car, NASCAR and the World Sportscar Championship. He is the last American to have won an F1 Grand Prix.  He clinched the 1978 F1 title at the Italian Grand Prix at Monza in September, the 14th of the 16 rounds, having led the standings by 12 points going into the race.  He crossed the line first and even though he was demoted to sixth place – the result of a one-minute penalty for going too soon at a restart – it was enough to mean he could not be caught.  His celebrations were muted, however, after his close friend, the Swedish driver Ronnie Petersen, died from complications to injuries he suffered in a crash on the first lap.  Andretti’s early years in Italy were fraught with difficulties.  Read more…


Pietro Ottoboni - patron of music and art

Venetian cardinal spent fortune on composers and painters

Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni, who is remembered as the biggest sponsor of the arts and music in particular in Rome in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, died on 29 February, 1740 in Rome.  Despite a somewhat licentious lifestyle that reportedly saw him father between 60 and 70 children, Ottoboni, whose great uncle was Pope Alexander VIII, was considered a candidate to succeed Pope Clement XII as pontiff following the death of the latter on 6 February.  However, he developed a fever during the conclave and had to withdraw. He died three weeks later.  Born into a noble Venetian family, Ottoboni was the last person to hold the office of Cardinal-nephew, a tradition dating back to the Middle Ages that allowed a pontiff to appoint members of his own family to key positions. The practice was abolished by Alexander VIII’s successor, Pope Innocent XII, in 1692.  Ottoboni was also made vice-chancellor of the Holy Church of Rome, a position he held until his death, which gave him an annual income that would have been the equivalent today of almost £5 million (€5.79m).  Although he had several positions of responsibility, including superintendent general of the affairs of the Apostolic See, and governor of the cities of Fermo and Tivoli, he was an unashamed seeker of sensual pleasure.  Read more...

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Domenico Agusta - entrepreneur

Sicilian count who founded MV Agusta motorcycle company

Domenico Agusta founded MV Agusta in 1945
Domenico Agusta founded
MV Agusta in 1945
Count Domenico Agusta, who founded the all-conquering MV Agusta motorcycle company in 1945, was born on this day in 1907 in Palermo.

Originally set up as a means of keeping the family’s aeronautical company in business after aircraft production in Italy was banned as part of the post World War II peace treaty with the Allies, MV Agusta became such a giant of motorcycle racing that their bikes claimed 38 MotoGP world titles in the space of 22 years as well as 34 victories in the prestigious Isle of Man Tourist Trophy.

MV Agusta made world champions of eight different riders, including two of the greatest Italians in motorcycle racing history, Giacomo Agostini and Carlo Ubbiali. Agostini won 13 of his record 15 world titles riding for MV Agusta.

Domenico Agusta was the son of Giovanni Agusta and hailed from a Sicilian family with aristocratic roots.  Both father and son exercised their right to use the title of count.

Agusta senior designed and built his first aeroplane in 1907, the year of Domenico’s birth.  After serving as a volunteer in the Italo-Turkish War of 1911-12, Giovanni moved the family north, where he believed there would be greater opportunities to develop his aviation business.  They settled in Cascina Costa, a village near the Lombardy town of Samarate, close to where the aeronautical pioneer Gianni Caproni had established an airfield on the site of what is now Milan Malpensa international airport.

Domenico quickly became interested in flying and at 19 he was among the first to serve in the Regia Aeronautica, Italy’s new autonomous aviation armed force, based at Malpensa.

Giacomo Agostino leads Britain's Phil Read in a 350cc race in 1971
Giacomo Agostino leads Britain's Phil Read
in a 350cc race in 1971
His father had set up a company manufacturing aeroplanes but it was in only its fifth year when he died, in 1927, at the age of just 48. Domenico, the eldest of four brothers, suddenly found himself effectively in charge of the business, alongside his mother, Giuseppina.

For the next 12 years, the company had full order books.  However, all that changed in the aftermath of the Second World War.  The Paris Peace Treaties of 1947 outlawed the manufacture of aircraft in Italy, sounding the death knell for businesses such as Agusta.

Thankfully, Count Domenico had already turned his thoughts towards diversifying and had proposed motorcycle production as a new line of business, anticipating that a country impoverished by war would have a need for the inexpensive means of transport that motorcycles could provide. By August 1943, in a workshop at Verghera, another village near Samarate, he had developed a 98 cc single-cylinder two-stroke engine and in January 1945 he registered a new company, Meccanica Verghera Srl, for its manufacture.

He wanted to call the light motorcycle he unveiled at a dealership in Milan the following October the Vespa 98, only to find that the Vespa name - the Italian word for wasp - had already been claimed by another manufacturer, Enrico Piaggio, for his motor scooter.  He settled instead for calling it simply the MV98, going into mass production in 1946. 

The famous MV Agusta logo familiar to MotoGP fans for more than 20 years
The famous MV Agusta logo familiar
to MotoGP fans for almost 30 years
From the outset, Count Domenico wanted to be involved with motorcycle racing, which by then had been in existence as a sport since the early part of the century.  Like Enzo Ferrari in the world of four wheels, he saw success on the track translating into increased sales for the road, and increased sales as the means to fund success on the track.

It is thought the first victory by an MV98 came in October 1946 in a road race held at La Spezia in Liguria, ridden by Vincenzo Nincioni. By the following year, bigger engines were beginning to dominate and Agusta moved quickly to develop 125cc and 250cc machines to compete in two of the classifications that were becoming standard.  Franco Bertoni registered the marque’s first track victory in 1947 and won the 125cc Italian Grand Prix at Monza in 1948.

Although Ubbiali would put MV Agusta firmly on the map, winning the 125cc world championship five years in a row between 1955 and 1960 and taking the 250cc title in three of those five years, it was an Englishman, Cecil Sandford, who had become MV’s first world champion, winning the 125cc crown in 1952. Three other British riders - Jon Surtees, Mike Hailwood and Phil Read - became major players in the company’s track success, winning 13 world titles between them, although their achievements would ultimately be put in the shade by Agostini.

The MV Agusta team took 37 constructors’ championships as well before retiring from racing in 1976, having clocked up 270 GP race victories.

Meanwhile, after the ban on aircraft manufacture in Italy was lifted in 1950, Count Domenico had begun to build helicopters under licence for Bell, the American company, before entering into similar arrangements with Sikorsky, Boeing and McDonnell Douglas.   He also moved into automobile production, acquiring the OSCA-Maserati company from the Maserati brothers in 1963.

Like his father, Count Domenico died relatively young, passing away in his apartment on Milan’s Piazza Sant’Erasmo in 1971 at the age of 63, having a few days earlier suffered a heart attack.

Helicopters on display outside the MV Agusta museum in Cascina Costa
Helicopters on display outside the MV Agusta
museum in Cascina Costa
Travel tip:

The headquarters of MV Agusta is nowadays in Varese but Samarate retains its link with the family through Leonardo Helicopters, which is based, like the original Agusta aviation company set up by Giovanni Agusta, in Cascina Costa.  Leonardo was formerly known as AgustaWestland. A town of 16,500 inhabitants approximately 40km (25 miles) northwest of Milan and 25km (16 miles) south of Varese, it is only a short distance from the perimeter of Milan Malpensa airport.  Motorcycle fans will be keen to visit the Agusta Museum in Via Giovanni Agusta in Cascina Costa, which has an impressive collection of motorcycles and helicopters for a modest entry price.

Raphael's The Marriage of the Virgin in the Brera gallery
Raphael's The Marriage of the
in the Brera gallery
Travel tip:

Count Domenico Agusta’s apartment in Milan was close to the Brera quarter, which is one of the oldest neighborhoods of the city, situated a short distance from the Castello Sforza and the Parco Sempione. Famous for its Bohemian atmosphere, it is home to the Brera Academy of fine arts and the city’s largest art gallery Milan, the Pinacoteca di Brera, which includes works by Andrea Mantegna, Gentile and Giovanni Bellini, Raphael, Caravaggio, Tintoretto, Piero della Francesca and other painters of the Renaissance, as well as more modern works. The surrounding streets contain many popular restaurants. 

Also on this day:

1740 (Feb 29): The death of music and art patron Pietro Ottoboni

1915: The birth of juice and jam maker Karl Zuegg

1940: The birth of racing driver Mario Andretti

1942: The birth of footballer and coach Dino Zoff


27 February 2021

27 February

Franco Moschino - fashion designer

Made clothes with sense of humour

The fashion designer Franco Moschino, founder of the Moschino fashion label, was born on this day in 1950 in Abbiategrasso, a town about 24km (15 miles) southwest of Milan.  Moschino became famous for his innovative and irreverent designs, which injected humour into high fashion.  For example, he created a miniskirt in quilted denim with plastic fried eggs decorating the hemline, a jacket studded with bottle tops and a suit covered with cutlery. He designed a dress that resembled a shopping bag and a ball gown made from black plastic bin bags.  Other designs carried messages mocking his own industry, such as a jacket with the motif ‘Waist of Money’ printed round the waistband, another in cashmere with ‘Expensive Jacket’ emblazoned across the back and a shirt with the words ‘I’m Full of Shirt’.  Moschino’s first collections focussed on casual clothes and jeans, but he eventually branched out into lingerie, eveningwear, shoes, menswear and perfumes.  As a young man, Moschino was encouraged to believe that his destiny lay in taking over his father’s iron foundry but his only interest in the plant lay in the layers of dust that clung to the walls, in which he would make drawings.  Read more…


Mirella Freni – opera singer

Good advice from Gigli helped soprano have long career

Singer Mirella Freni was born Mirella Fregni on this day in 1935 in Modena in Emilia-Romagna.  Freni’s grandmother, Valentina Bartolomasi, had been a leading soprano in Italy from 1910 until 1927, specialising in Wagner roles. By coincidence, her mother worked alongside the mother of tenor Luciano Pavarotti in a tobacco factory in Modena.  Freni was obviously musically gifted and sang an opera aria in a radio competition when she was just ten years old.  One of the judges was the tenor Beniamino Gigli, who advised her to give up singing until she was older to protect her voice.  Freni took his advice and resumed singing when she was 17, making her operatic debut at the Teatro Municipale in Modena at the age of 20 in Bizet’s Carmen.  Her international debut came at Glyndebourne in Franco Zeffirelli’s staging of Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore.  In the 1960 season at Glyndebourne she sang comic roles from Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro and Don Giovanni.  Freni made her Covent Garden debut in 1961, her La Scala debut in 1963 and her Metropolitan Opera debut in 1965.  She started singing the heavier Verdi roles in the 1970s.  Read more…


Italy's appeal for help with Leaning Tower

Fears of collapse prompted summit of engineers

The Italian government finally admitted that it needed help to save the Leaning Tower of Pisa from collapsing on this day in 1964.  There had been numerous attempts to arrest the movement of the tower, which had begun to tilt five years after construction began in 1173.  One side of the tower started to sink after engineers added a second floor in 1178, when the mistake of setting a foundation just three metres deep in weak, unstable soil became clear. Construction was halted.  In fact, in part because of a series of military conflicts, it did not resume for 100 years.  Additions were made to the building over the next 100 years, culminating in the completion of the bell chamber in 1372. Nothing more was done until the 19th century, when an ill-considered plan to dig a path around the base in 1838 resulted in a new increase in the tilt.  Ironically, the tower might have been deliberately destroyed in the Second World War when advancing American soldiers were ordered to blow up any tall building that might have been used by German snipers, regardless of its historical importance.  Thankfully, a German withdrawal before the Americans reached Pisa made it unnecessary.  Read more…


Simone Di Pasquale – dancer

Ballroom talent has been springboard for business success

Ballroom dancer and television celebrity Simone Di Pasquale was born on this day in 1978.  In 2005, he became a household name after he started to appear regularly on Italian television in Ballando con le Stelle - the equivalent of the US show Dancing with the Stars and Britain’s Strictly Come Dancing. The show, presented by Milly Carlucci, was broadcast every Saturday evening on the tv channel Rai Uno.  Pasquale has also appeared in numerous other television programmes, on stage in musical theatre and as an actor in a television drama.  Born in Rome, Di Pasquale learnt ballroom dancing at a young age and took part in competitions.  In 2000 he paired up with the dancer Natalia Titova, who also later became a celebrity because of Ballando con le Stelle. The couple were engaged from 1998 to 2005.  They took first place in the competition Rising Stars UK in 2004.  In the first season of Ballando con le Stelle, Di Pasquale partnered the Italian actress Hoara Borselli and the couple won the competition. He has taken part in each successive series since.  Di Pasquale has appeared as a guest on numerous programmes on Italian television.  Read more…


26 February 2021

26 February

Napoleon escapes from Elba

Emperor leaves idyllic island to face his Waterloo

French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte escaped from the Italian island of Elba, where he had been living in exile, on this day in 1815.  Less than a year before, he had arrived in Elba, an island dotted with attractive hills and scenic bays, following his unconditional abdication from the throne of France.  Several countries had formed an alliance to fight Napoleon’s army and had chosen to send him to live in exile on the small Mediterranean island about 10km (6 miles) off the Tuscan coast.  They gave Napoleon sovereignty over the island and he was allowed to keep a small personal army to guard him. He soon set about developing the iron mines and brought in modern agricultural methods to improve the quality of life of the islanders.  But he began to be worried about being banished still further from France. He had heard through his supporters that the French Government were beginning to question having to pay him an annual salary.  He had also been told that many European ministers felt Elba was too close to France for comfort.  Napoleon also missed his wife, Marie-Louise, who he believed his captors were preventing from joining him.  Read more…


Dante Ferretti – set designer

Three-times Oscar winner worked with Fellini and Scorsese

Dante Ferretti, who in more than half a century in movie production design has been nominated for 10 Academy Awards and won three, was born on this day in 1943 in the city of Macerata, in the Marche region of central Italy.  Ferretti, who works in partnership with his wife, the set decorator Francesca Lo Schiavo, won two of his Oscars for films directed by Martin Scorsese, with whom he has enjoyed a collaboration that began 25 years ago this year.  Nominated for his first film with Scorsese, The Age of Innocence (1993) and subsequently for Kundun (1998) and Gangs of New York (2003), he was successful with The Aviator (2005) and Hugo Cabret (2012).  Both Oscars, for Best Scenography, were shared with Lo Schiavo, with whom he also shared an Oscar for Tim Burton’s 2008 film Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.  Ferretti also enjoyed long collaborations with Federico Fellini and Pier Paolo Pasolini, and worked with a string of other major directors, including Elio Petri, Ettore Scola, Franco Zeffirelli, Jean-Jacques Annaud, Terry Gilliam, Anthony Minghella, Brian de Palma, Julie Taymor and Kenneth Branagh.  Read more…


Angelo Mangiarotti - architect and designer

Iconic glass church among legacy to city of Milan 

Angelo Mangiarotti, regarded by his peers as one of the greats of modern Italian architecture and design, was born on this day in 1921 in Milan.  Many notable examples of his work in urban design can be found in his home city, including the Repubblica and Venezia underground stations, the iconic glass church of Nostra Signora della Misericordia in the Baranzate suburb and several unique residential properties, including the distinctive Casa a tre cilindri - composed of a trio of cylindrical blocks - in Via Gavirate in the San Siro district of the city.  He also worked extensively in furniture design with major companies such as Vistosi, Fontana Arte, Danese, Artemide, Skipper and the kitchen producer Snaidero.  Mangiarotti graduated from the Architecture School of the Politecnico di Milano in 1948. He moved to the United States in 1953 and worked in Chicago as a visiting professor for the Illinois Institute of Technology. While in Illinois, he met internationally renowned architects Frank Lloyd Wright, Walter Gropius, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Konrad Wachsmann, all of whom were substantial influences.  Read more…


Emanuele Severino - philosopher

Thinker famous for theories on eternity and being

The contemporary philosopher Emanuele Severino, who died in January 2020, was born on this day in 1929 in Brescia, in northern Italy.  Severino is regarded by many as one of Italy’s greatest thinkers of the modern era, yet came into conflict with the Catholic Church, so much that the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, the body that once stood in judgment of those it deemed as heretics, banished him from the Church in 1969 on the basis that his beliefs were not compatible with Christianity.  The basis for their action was his belief in “the eternity of all being”, which essentially denies the existence of God as a creator.  Severino believed that the ancient Greek theory of all things coming from nothing and returning to nothing after being granted temporary existence was flawed, and that the Greek sense of becoming was an error. He contended that the idea that an entity can move from ‘being’ to ‘non-being’ and vice-versa was absurd.  He argued that everything is eternal, not only all people and all things, but every moment of life, every feeling, every aspect of reality, and that nothing becomes or ceases to be.  Read more…

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25 February 2021

25 February

- Benedetto Croce – philosopher and historian

Prolific writer opposed the Fascists and supported democracy

Benedetto Croce, one of the most important figures in Italian life and culture in the first half of the 20th century, was born on this day in 1866 in Pescasseroli in the region of Abruzzo.  Croce was an idealist philosopher, historian and erudite literary scholar whose approach to literature influenced future generations of writers and literary critics. He was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature 16 times.  He became a Senator in 1910 and was Minister for Education from 1920 to 1921 in the last pre-Fascist government of the so-called Giolitti era. He is also remembered for his major contribution to the rebirth of Italian democracy after World War II.  Croce was born into a wealthy family and raised in a strict Catholic environment.  However, from the age of 16 he gave up Catholicism and developed a personal philosophy of spiritual life.  In 1883, while he was still a teenager, he was on holiday with his family on the island of Ischia when an earthquake struck Casamicciola and destroyed the house they were staying in. His mother, father and sister were all killed, but although he was buried for a long time, he managed to survive.  Read more…


Carlo Goldoni – playwright

Greatest Venetian dramatist whose work still entertains audiences today

Carlo Goldoni, the author of The Servant of Two Masters, one of Italy’s most famous and best-loved plays, was born on this day in 1707 in Venice.  Goldoni became a prolific dramatist who reinvigorated the commedia dell’arte dramatic form by replacing its masked, stock figures with more realistic characters. He produced tightly constructed plots with a new spirit of spontaneity and is considered the founder of Italian realistic comedy.  The son of a physician, Goldoni read comedies from his father’s library when he was young and ran away from his school at Rimini with a company of strolling players when he was just 14.  Later, while studying at the papal college in Pavia, Goldoni read comedies by Plautus, Terence and Aristophanes and learnt French so he could read plays by Molière.  He was eventually expelled for writing a satire about the ladies of Pavia and was sent to study law.  Although he practiced law in Venice and Pisa and held diplomatic appointments, his real passion was writing plays for the theatres in Venice.  In 1748 he began writing for the Teatro Sant’Angelo company and dispensed with masked characters altogether for his play, La Pamela, a serious drama based on Samuel Richardson’s novel.  Read more…


Enrico Caruso – opera singer

Tenor's voice still regarded as greatest of all time 

Operatic tenor Enrico Caruso was born on this day in 1873 in Naples.  Believed by many opera experts to be the greatest tenor of all time, Caruso had a brilliant 25-year singing career, appearing at many of the major opera houses in Europe and America.  He made more than 200 recordings of his beautiful voice, some made as early as 1902.  Caruso was born in Via San Giovanello agli Ottocalli in Naples and baptised the next day in the nearby church of San Giovanni e Paolo.  At the age of 11 he was apprenticed to a mechanical engineer and also worked alongside his father in a factory.  At the same time he was singing in his church choir and was told his voice showed enough promise for him to consider becoming a professional singer.  Until she died in 1888, he was encouraged by his mother. To earn money, he started to work as a street singer in Naples, progressing to singing Neapolitan songs as entertainment in cafes. Having decided to become an opera singer, Caruso took singing lessons, keeping up with them even during his compulsory military service.  He made his stage debut in 1895 at the Teatro Nuovo in Naples.  Read more...


Alberto Sordi - actor

Comic genius who appeared in 190 films

Alberto Sordi, remembered by lovers of Italian cinema as one of its most outstanding comedy actors, died on this day in 2003 in Rome, the city of his birth.  He was 82 and had suffered a heart attack.  Italy reacted with an outpouring of grief and the decision was taken for his body to lie in state at Rome's town hall, the Campidoglio.  Streams of his fans took the opportunity to file past his coffin and when his funeral took place at the Basilica of San Giovanni in Laterano it was estimated that the crowds outside the church and in nearby streets numbered one million people.  Only the funeral of Pope John Paul II, who died two years later, is thought to have attracted a bigger crowd.  Sordi was the Italian voice of Oliver Hardy in the early days of his career, when he worked on the dubbing of the Laurel and Hardy movies.  He made the first of his 190 films in 1937 but it was not until the 1950s that he found international fame.  He appeared in two movies directed by Federico Fellini - The White Sheik and I vitelloni.  In the latter, he played an oafish layabout, something of a simpleton but an effeminate and vulnerable character to whom audiences responded with warmth and affection due to Sordi's interpretation.  Read more…


Giovanni Battista Morgagni - anatomist

The father of modern pathological anatomy

Anatomist Giovanni Battista Morgagni, who is credited with turning pathology into a science, was born on this day in 1682 in Forlì in Emilia-Romagna.  Morgagni was professor of anatomy at the University of Padua for 56 years and taught thousands of medical students during his time there.  He was sent by his parents to study philosophy and medicine at the University of Bologna when he was 18 and he graduated as a doctor from both faculties.  In 1706 he published his work, Adversaria anatomica, which was to be the first volume of a series and helped him become known throughout Europe as an accurate anatomist.  He succeeded to the chair of theoretical medicine at the University of Padua in 1712 and was to teach medicine there until his death in 1771.  Morgagni was promoted to the chair of anatomy after his first three years in Padua, following in the footsteps of many illustrious scholars. He brought out five more volumes of his Adversaria anatomica during his early years in Padua.  In 1761, when he was nearly 80, he brought out the work that was to make pathological anatomy into a science – De Sedibus et causis morborum per anotomem indagatis (Of the seats and cause of diseases investigated through anatomy). Read more…