13 July 2020

13 July

The founding of the Carabinieri

Italy’s stylish ‘First Force’

The Carabinieri Corps was created on this day in 1814 in Italy by a resolution passed by Victor Emmanuel I of Savoy.  He established an army of mounted and foot soldiers to provide a police force, to be called Royal Carabinieri (Carabinieri Reali). The soldiers were rigorously selected ‘for their distinguished good conduct and judiciousness.’  Their task was defined as ‘to contribute to the necessary happiness of the State, which cannot be separated from protection and defence of all good subjects.’  Their functions were specified in the royal licence issued at the time, which underlined the importance of the personal skills required by the soldiers selected. It also affirmed their dual military and civil roles.  The sense of duty and high level of conduct displayed by the Carabinieri went on to win the respect of the Italian people.  They were called Carabinieri to avoid any comparisons with the former Napoleonic gendarmerie, and because they were equipped with carbines as weapons.  Their dress uniform was designed to reflect the solemn image of the sovereign state, with a two cornered hat, known as the lucerna, and dark blue dress coat.   Read more…


Jarno Trulli - racing driver and winemaker

Ex-Formula One star still winning prizes

The racing driver-turned-winemaker Jarno Trulli was born on this day in 1974 in Pescara on the Adriatic coast.  Trulli competed in Formula One from 1997 until 2011, competing in more than 250 Grand Prix.  He enjoyed his most successful season in 2004, when he represented the Mild Seven Renault team and finished sixth in the drivers’ championship.  He retired from racing in 2014-15 to focus on his winemaking business, which he had established while still competing and which now produces more than 1.2 million bottles every year.  Trulli’s Podere Castorani vineyard, situated near the village of Alanno, some 35km (22 miles) inland of Pescara, focuses largely on wines made from Abruzzo’s renowned Montepulciano grapes.  Although he was familiar with vineyards as a boy - his grandfather was a winemaker - Trulli’s parents were motorsports fans and named him after a Finnish Grand Prix motorcycling champion, Jarno Saarinen, who had been killed at the Monza circuit the year before Trulli was born.  Trulli began kart racing at the age of seven and by 17 was Karting World Champion.  He made his debut in Formula Three in 1993 and in 1996, driving for the Benetton-sponsored Opel team, won the German F3 Championship.  Read more…


Giulio d’Este of Ferrara

Plots and prison ruin life of handsome son of Duke

Giulio d’Este, who spent more than half of his life in prison for taking part in a failed conspiracy against his half-brother, the Duke of Ferrara, was born on this day in 1478 in Ferrara.  He was the illegitimate son of Ercole I d’Este, an earlier Duke of Ferrara, born as a result of an affair the Duke had with Isabella Arduin, a lady in waiting to his wife.  Giulio was often in conflict with his half-brothers, Alfonso and Ippolito, which led to him eventually playing his part in a plot to assassinate them.  He had grown up in the court of Ferrara and later lived in a palace on the Via degli Angeli in Ferrara.  The first major conflict between Giulio and Ippolito arose over a musician, Don Rainaldo of Sassuolo. Rainaldo was in the service of Giulio, but Ippolito, who had by then become a Cardinal, wanted him for his chapel and so in 1504 he abducted Rainaldo and held him in the Fortress of Gesso.  When Giulio discovered where he was being held, he went with a group of armed men and recovered the musician. In a sign of defiance, Giulio replaced him with the warden of the fortress.  Ippolito complained about his actions to his brother, Alfonso.  Read more…


Tommaso Buscetta - Mafia ‘pentito’

Sicilian gangster’s testimony put hundreds behind bars

The Sicilian mobster Tommaso Buscetta, who was the first major Mafia figure to break the code of omertá and pass details of organised criminal activity to the authorities, was born on this day in 1928 in Palermo.  His evidence to the celebrated anti-Mafia judge Giovanni Falcone paved the way for the so-called Maxi Trial, a process lasting six years that led to the conviction and jailing of 350 mafiosi.  Buscetta’s testimony in the Pizza Connection Trial in New York State at around the same time in the mid-1980s led to the conviction of several hundred more mobsters both in Italy and the United States, including the powerful Sicilian Mafia boss Gaetano Badalamenti.  Arguably the most shocking information he passed on to the authorities concerned Italy’s three-times former prime minister, the late Giulio Andreotti, whose links with the Cosa Nostra he exposed shortly after Falcone was murdered in May 1992, killed by a massive bomb placed under the motorway linking Palermo with the city’s international airport.  Andreotti was found guilty of complicity in the Mafia assassination of a journalist and sentenced to 24 years in jail.  Read more…

12 July 2020

12 July

NEW - Carla Fendi - fashion executive

Turned family business into global giant

Carla Fendi, whose flair for marketing helped propel her mother and father’s small fur and leather business into a worldwide fashion giant, was born on this day in 1937 in Rome.  Under Fendi’s guidance, the business became so successful that at one point it had 215 stores worldwide and generated more than $1.2 billion in annual sales.  She also helped turn a young Paris-based German designer named Karl Lagerfeld into a household name, having taken up a friend’s recommendation to give him a try when the firm needed some fresh ideas in the 1960s.  Carla Fendi was one of five sisters who grew up in the leather workshop and fur boutique run by Edoardo and Adele Fendi in the Via del Plebiscito, near Rome’s Piazza Venezia. The family lived in rooms above the shop.  When Edoardo died in 1954, the sisters began to help the mother with the business, gradually taking on more responsibility. The business had a solid, up-market clientele for its bags and cases but Carla sensed it needed to appeal to attract younger, more fashion-conscious customers if it were to expand.  Read more…


Agostino Codazzi - soldier and map-maker

Italian who mapped first route for Panama Canal

Agostino Codazzi, a soldier, scientist, geographer and cartographer who became a national hero in Venezuela and plotted the route for the Panama Canal on behalf of the British government, was born on this day in 1793 in the town of Lugo in Emilia-Romagna.  When the canal was eventually built by United States engineers, they followed the precise route that Codazzi had recommended, although the Italian has not been credited in the history of the project.  Known in Latin America as Agustín Codazzi, he was born Giovanni Battista Agostino Codazzi.  As a young man, he was excited about the French Revolution and the idea of the ruling classes being overthrown by the people in pursuit of a more equitable society.  After attending the Scuola di Artiglieria military academy in Pavia, he joined Napoleon’s army and served with them until the Napoleonic empire collapsed in 1815.  It was then that he decided to travel further afield, finally settling in Venezuela, where he offered his military knowledge to another revolutionary, Simón Bolívar - known as El Libertador - who played a leading role in the establishment of Venezuela, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Panama as sovereign states, independent of Spanish rule.  Read more…


Stefano della Bella – printmaker

Artist sketched important events preserving them for posterity

Stefano della Bella, who produced hundreds of sketches of court festivities held by the Medici, as well as visual records of important public occasions, died on this day in 1664 in Florence.  Della Bella was a draughtsman and printmaker known for his etchings of military and court scenes. He left more than 1000 prints and several thousand drawings, but only one known painting.  He was born into a family of artists in Florence in 1610 and was apprenticed to a goldsmith. However he went on to become an engraver and studied etching.  Thanks to the patronage of the Medici family, della Bella was able to study for six years in Rome living in the Medici Palace in the Villa Borghese area.  Della Bella produced views of Rome, drawings of antiquities and sketches of crowded public occasions in a series of sketchbooks, many of which were later turned into prints.  Della Bella captured major events of his time, just like a photographer does today, and his prints have enabled people to see in detail the lavish festivities held by the Medici family and what daily life was like in Rome - and also in Paris - in the first half of the 17th century.  Read more…


Amedeo Modigliani – artist

Illness marred the life of creative genius 

Painter and sculptor Amedeo Clemente Modigliani was born on this day in 1884 in Livorno in Tuscany.  The artist went on to become famous for his portraits and his paintings of nudes, which were characterised by their elongated faces and figures.  Modigliani did not receive much acclaim during his lifetime, but after his death his work became popular and achieved high prices.  He was born into a Jewish family and suffered health problems as a child, but began drawing and painting from an early age and begged his family to take him to see the paintings in the Uffizi in Florence.  His mother enrolled him at the art school of Guglielmo Micheli in Livorno where he received artistic instruction influenced by the style and themes of 19th century Italian art.  In 1902 Modigliani enrolled in the school of nude studies at the Accademia di Belle Art in Florence and then moved on to Venice to continue his studies.  In 1906 he moved to Paris, where he set up a studio with Jacob Epstein.  He lived with a beautiful young French art student, Jeanne Hébuterne, from 1917 until he became ill and died in 1920, at the age of just 35.  Read more…


Carla Fendi - fashion executive

Turned family business into global giant

Carla Fendi turned her parents' shop into a global fashion empire
Carla Fendi turned her parents' shop into
a global fashion empire
Carla Fendi, whose flair for marketing helped propel her mother and father’s small fur and leather business into a worldwide fashion giant, was born on this day in 1937 in Rome.

Under Fendi’s guidance, the business became so successful that at one point it had 215 stores worldwide and generated more than $1.2 billion in annual sales.

She also helped turn a young Paris-based German designer named Karl Lagerfeld into a household name, having taken up a friend’s recommendation to give him a try when the firm needed some fresh ideas in the 1960s.

Carla Fendi was one of five sisters who grew up in the leather workshop and fur boutique run by Edoardo and Adele Fendi in the Via del Plebiscito, near Rome’s Piazza Venezia. The family lived in rooms above the shop.

When Edoardo died in 1954, the sisters began to help the mother with the business, gradually taking on more responsibility. The business had a solid, up-market clientele for its bags and cases but Carla sensed it needed to appeal to attract younger, more fashion-conscious customers if it were to expand.

In 1964, with Carla becoming the driving force, the business opened new premises in Via Borgognona, the street that runs parallel with Via dei Condotti in the heart of Rome’s fashion district near the Spanish Steps.  The following year, needing someone to create contemporary designs, they took on Lagerfeld, who had been an apprentice to Pierre Balmain in Paris and was freelancing in Rome while he studied art history

The famous 'double F' logo, designed by Karl Lagerfeld
The famous 'double F' logo,
designed by Karl Lagerfeld
Lagerfeld largely focused on fur initially, his innovative use of mole, rabbit, and squirrel pelts in addition to the more traditional furs soon catching the eye.  Carla, meanwhile, made contacts within the film industry and it was not long before actresses Catherine Deneuve, Sophia Loren and Laura Antonelli were wearing Fendi furs.  Lagerfeld also came up with the brand’s trademark ‘double F’ logo.

Fendi began to grow exponentially in the late 1960s, after a fashion industry contact had helped Carla secure a window display in the prestigious Fifth Avenue store of Henri Bendel in New York. The exposure turned Fendi almost overnight into a byword for luxury in the United States, giving Carla a foothold in the world’s biggest market.

By the time Adele died in 1978, the Fendi range included scarves, ties, gloves and sunglasses in addition to bags and furs. In 1977, Lagerfeld unveiled his first ready-to-wear fashion lines.

The backlash against fur in the early 1990s posed a challenge for the company, of which Carla became chairman and president in 1994, but another piece of design genius secured Fendi’s future. This time it was not Lagerfeld but Carla’s niece, Silvia Venturini Fendi - daughter of Anna - who took the credit, designing a lightweight but capacious handbag known as the ‘baguette’.

Fendi's best-selling 'baguette' handbag, designed by Silvia Venturini Fendi
Fendi's best-selling 'baguette' handbag,
designed by Silvia Venturini Fendi
Inspired by the shape of French bread loaves and worn across the body, the baguette soon became a must-have accessory, with pop star Madonna and actress Julia Roberts among its fans.  Despite some special editions costing up to $35,000, more than a million bags were sold.

Carla and her sisters sold half of Fendi’s shares to Prada and LVMH in 1999, a deal that valued the company at $950 million. By 2002, the French luxury group LVMH had control, although Carla remained president until 2008.

Freed from day-to-day involvement in running the business, Carla focused more attention on the Carla Fendi Foundation, the charitable arm of the company, which paid for the restoration of Rome’s Trevi Fountain among other projects. An enthusiastic supporter of music and the arts, she also restored the Caio Melisso theatre in the Umbrian city of Spoleto, where she was a long-term patron of the Festival dei Due Mondi.

Married since 1960 to former pharmacist Candido Speroni, she lived in an apartment in a 16th-century palazzo in Rome. She died in 2017, having been widowed two years earlier. Her funeral took place at the Basilica of Santa Maria in Montesanto, in Rome’s Piazza del Popolo.

The couple had no children but Carla was aunt to 11 nephews and nieces, of whom Silvia remains on the board of Fendi as its creative director. Lagerfeld continued to work for the brand until his death in 2019.

Rome's Via Condotti, viewed from the city's landmark Spanish Steps
Rome's Via Condotti, viewed from the city's
landmark Spanish Steps
Travel tip:

The Via dei Condotti - known generally as Via Condotti - takes its name from the conduits that carried water to the Roman Baths of Agrippa. Beginning at the foot of the Spanish Steps, it links the Tiber with the Pincio hill. Today, it is the street which contains the greatest number of Rome-based Italian fashion retailers, equivalent to Milan's Via Montenapoleone, Paris's Rue du Faubourg-Saint-Honoré, Florence's Via de' Tornabuoni or London's Bond Street.  The street is also famous for the historic Antico Caffè Greco, which opened in 1760. Once the haunt of literary and musical figures such as Stendhal, Goethe, Byron, Liszt and Keats, it is the oldest bar in Rome and second oldest in Italy, after Caffè Florian in Venice.

The colossal monument to Victor Emmanuel II, the first king of Italy, dominates Piazza Venezia
The colossal monument to Victor Emmanuel II,
the first king of Italy, dominates Piazza Venezia
Travel tip

The Piazza Venezia, close to where Carla Fendi and her sisters grew up,  is dominated by the vast Altare della Patria, otherwise known as the Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II, and sometimes 'the wedding cake' or Il Vittoriano, a monument built in honour of Victor Emmanuel, the first king of a unified Italy. It features Corinthian columns, fountains, an equestrian sculpture of Victor Emmanuel and two statues of the goddess Victoria riding on quadrigas. Including the winged victories, it touches 81 metres (266 feet) tall. The base of the structure houses a small museum of Italian Unification.

Also on this day:

11 July 2020

11 July

Giuseppe Arcimboldo – painter

Portraits were considered unique in the history of art

The artist Giuseppe Arcimboldo, who created imaginative portrait heads made up entirely of objects such as fruit, vegetables, flowers and fish, died on this day in 1593 in Milan.  Unique at the time, Arcimboldo’s work was greatly admired in the 20th century by artists such as Salvador Dali and his fellow Surrealist painters.  Giuseppe’s father, Biagio Arcimboldo, was also an artist and Giuseppe followed in his footsteps designing stained glass and frescoes for churches.  Arcimboldo (sometimes also known as Arcimboldi) at first painted entirely in the style of the time. His beautiful fresco of the Tree of Jesse can still be seen in the Duomo of Monza.  But in 1562 he abruptly changed his style after moving to Prague to become court painter to the erudite King Rudolph II.  He began to create human heads, which could be considered as portraits, made up of pieces of fruit and vegetable and other objects, which were chosen for the meaning attributed to the image.  Arcimboldo also painted settings for the court theatre in Prague and he became an expert in illusionist trickery. His paintings contained allegorical meanings, puns and jokes that were appreciated by his contemporaries, but were lost upon later audiences.  Read more...


Giorgio Armani – designer

Former army medic forged brilliant career in fashion

Giorgio Armani, who is considered by many to be Italy's greatest fashion designer, was born on this day in 1934 in Piacenza in Emilia-Romagna.  Known for his menswear and the clean, tailored lines of his collections for women, Armani has become a multi-billionaire.  His original career plan was to become a doctor and he enrolled in the Department of Medicine at the University of Milan but after three years left to join the army. Due to his medical background he was assigned to the military hospital in Verona.  After he left the army, Armani decided to have a complete career change and got a job as a window dresser for La Rinascente, a Milan department store.  He progressed to become a sales assistant in the menswear department and then moved on to work for Nino Cerruti as a menswear designer.  In 1973 Armani opened a design office in Milan from where he worked as a freelance designer for fashion houses. He founded his own company, Giorgio Armani, in Milan in 1975.  He began producing designs specifically for the United States and his label soon became one of the leading names in international fashion.   Read more…


Eleonora di Garzia di Toledo

The shocking fate of a Spanish noblewoman

The beautiful wife of Don Pietro de' Medici, Eleonora di Garzia di Toledo, was strangled to death with a dog lead on this day in 1576 in a villa near Barberino di Mugello in Tuscany.  The murder was carried out by her husband, Pietro, but he was never brought to justice. His brother, Francesco, the Grand Duke of Tuscany, gave out as the official line that his sister-in-law had died as a result of an accident.  Eleonora, who was more often referred to as Leonora, was born in Florence in 1553, the daughter of Garcia Alvarez di Toledo and Vittoria d’Ascanio Colonna. Her father and mother were living in Florence at the time because Garcia was in charge of the castles of Valdichiana.  When her mother died a few months later, the baby, Leonora, was left in the care of her aunt, Eleonora, the Duchess of Florence, and her husband, the Grand Duke Cosimo I de' Medici, who raised her, preparing her for a life at the Medici court.  After the Duchess, Eleonora, died, her daughter, Isabella, took over the supervision of the young Leonora.  A marriage was arranged between Leonora and Cosimo’s son and Isabella’s brother, Pietro.  Read more…

10 July 2020

10 July

The death of Hadrian

Legacy of emperor famous for wall across Britain

The Roman emperor Hadrian, famous for ordering the construction of a wall to keep barbarians from entering Roman Britain, died on this day in 138 AD.  Aged about 62, he is thought to have been suffering from heart failure and passed away at his villa at Baiae – now Baia – on the northern shore of the Bay of Naples.  Hadrian was regarded as the third of the five so-called "Good Emperors", a term coined by the political philosopher Niccolò Machiavelli, who noted that while most emperors to succeed to the throne by birth were “bad” in his view, there was a run of five - Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, Antoninus Pius and Marcus Aurelius – who all succeeded by adoption, who enjoyed the reputation as benevolent dictators. They governed by earning the good will of their subjects.  It is accepted that Hadrian came from a family with its roots in Hispania. His birthplace is thought to have been the city of Italica Hispania – on the site of what is now Seville.  His predecessor, Trajan, a maternal cousin of Hadrian's father, did not designate an heir officially and it is thought that his wife, Plotina, signed the papers of succession, claiming that Trajan had named Hadrian emperor immediately before his death.  Read more…


Caterina Cornaro – Queen of Cyprus

Monarch lived out her last years in 'sweet idleness'

The last ruler of the Kingdom of Cyprus, Caterina Cornaro, died on this day in 1510 in Venice.  She had been living out her life in a castle in Asolo, a pretty town in the Veneto, after the Venetian Government persuaded her to abdicate as Queen of Cyprus.  Her court at the castle became a centre of literary and artistic excellence as she spent her days in what has been described as ‘sweet idleness,’ a translation of the verb asolare, invented by the poet Pietro Bembo to describe her daily life in the town.  Caterina was born in 1406 into the noble Cornaro family, which had produced four Doges, and she grew up in the family palace on the Grand Canal. The family had a long trading and business association with Cyprus.  Caterina was married by proxy to King James II of Cyprus in 1468, securing commercial rights and privileges for Venice in Cyprus. In 1472 she set sail for Cyprus and married James in person at Famagusta.  James died soon after the wedding and Caterina, who was by then pregnant, became regent of the kingdom, as was specified in his will. She was imprisoned briefly, after Cyprus was seized by the Archbishop of Nicosia, but restored to continue ruling after a military intervention by Venice.  Read more…


Calogero Vizzini - Mafia chieftain

‘Man of Honour’ installed as Mayor by Allies

The Sicilian Mafia boss Calogero Vizzini, known as Don Calò, died on this day in 1954 in Villalba, a small town in the centre of the island about 100km (62 miles) southeast of the capital, Palermo.  He was 76 and had been in declining health. He was in an ambulance that was taking him home from a clinic in Palermo and was just entering the town when he passed away.  His funeral was attended by thousands of peasants dressed in black and a number of politicians as well as priests played active roles in the service. One of his pallbearers was Don Francesco Paolo Bontade, a powerful mafioso from Palermo.  Although he had a criminal past, Don Calò acquired the reputation as an old-fashioned ‘man of honour’, whose position became that of community leader, a man to whom people looked to settle disputes and to maintain order and peace through his power.  In rural Sicily, such figures commanded much greater respect than politicians or policemen, many of whom were corrupt.  In his own words, in a newspaper interview in 1949, his view of the world was that “in every society there has to be a category of people who straighten things out when situations get complicated.  Read more…

9 July 2020

9 July

Adriano Panatta – tennis player

French Open champion was most at home on the clay

The only tennis player ever to defeat Bjorn Borg at Roland Garros in Paris, Adriano Panatta was born on this day in 1950 in Rome.  A successful singles player, Panatta reached the peak of his career in 1976 when he won the French Open, gaining his only Grand Slam title, defeating the American player, Harold Solomon, in the final 6-1, 6-4, 4-6, 7-6.  Panatta learnt to play tennis as a youngster on the clay courts of the Tennis Club Parioli in Rome, where his father was the caretaker.  He won top-level titles at Bournemouth in 1973, Florence in 1974 and at Kitzbuhel in Austria and Stockholm in 1975.  In the same year that he won the French Open, Panatta won the Italian Open in Rome, beating Guillermo Vilas in the final 2-6, 7-6, 6-2, 7-6. In the first round of the competition he had saved 11 match points in his match against the Australian Kim Warwick.  Panatta ended 1976 by helping Italy capture its only Davis Cup title, winning two singles and a doubles rubber in the final against Chile. He also reached his career-high singles ranking of World number four that year.  The only player to have defeated Bjorn Borg in the French Open, Panatta had the distinction of achieving this feat twice.  Read more…


Ottorino Respighi – violinist and composer

Talented Bolognese brought a Russian flavour to Italian music

The musician Ottorino Respighi was born on this day in 1879 in an apartment inside Palazzo Fantuzzi in the centre of Bologna.  As a composer, Respighi is remembered for bringing Russian orchestral colour and some of Richard Strauss’s harmonic techniques into Italian music.  He is perhaps best known for his three orchestral tone poems Fountains of Rome, Pines of Rome and Roman Festivals, but he also wrote several operas.  Respighi was born into a musical family and learnt to play the piano and violin at an early age.  He studied the violin and viola with Federico Sarti at the Liceo Musicale in Bologna and then went to St Petersburg to be the principal violinist in the orchestra of the Imperial Theatre. While he was there he studied with Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov and acquired an interest in orchestral composition.  One of Respighi’s piano concertos was performed at Bologna in 1902 and an orchestral piece by him was played at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York the same year.  His operas brought him more recognition and in 1913 he was appointed as professor of composition at the prestigious St Cecilia Academy in Rome.  Read more…


Manlio Brosio - NATO secretary-general

Anti-Fascist politician became skilled diplomat

Manlio Brosio, the only Italian to be made a permanent secretary-general of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), was born on this day in 1897 in Turin.  Brosio, whose distinguished diplomatic career had seen him hold the office of Italian ambassador to the Soviet Union, Britain, the United States and France, was appointed to lead NATO in 1964 and remained in post until 1971, the second longest-serving of the 13 secretary-generals so far.  Known for his congenial personality, he insisted that others behaved courteously and with respect for etiquette, while conducting himself with self-restraint.  This enabled him to maintain a good relationship with all NATO ambassadors and helped him manage a number of difficult situations.  Some critics felt he was too cautious but his low-key approach is now credited with keeping NATO together during the crisis that developed in 1966 when General Charles de Gaulle, the French president, threatened the organisation's existence by insisting that NATO removed all its military installations from France within a year.  France was one of three nuclear powers among the 15 members of NATO.  Read more…

8 July 2020

8 July

Death of the poet Shelley

Dramatic storm took the life of young literary talent

English poet Percy Bysshe Shelley died on this day in 1822 while travelling from Livorno in Tuscany to Lerici in Liguria in his sailing boat, the Don Juan.  Just a month before his 30th birthday, the brilliant poet of the Romantic era drowned during a sudden, dramatic storm in the Gulf of La Spezia that caused his boat to sink.  His body was later washed ashore and, in keeping with the quarantine regulations at the time, was cremated on the beach bear Viareggio on the Tuscan coast.  Shelley had been living with his wife, the writer Mary Shelley, at a rented villa in Lerici and was returning to his home from Livorno, where he had been arranging the start up of a new literary magazine to be called The Liberal.  He had set sail with two other people on board the Don Juan at about noon on Monday 8 July.  His companions were a retired naval officer, Edward Ellerker Williams, and a boatboy, Charles Vivien. Both also perished.  A friend had watched Shelley’s departure until he was about ten miles out of the harbour and then there had been a storm and he had lost sight of the boat.  Three days later one of Shelley’s friends was informed that a water keg and some bottles from the boat had been washed up on a beach near Viareggio.  Read more…


Gian Giorgio Trissino – dramatist and poet

Innovative playwright spotted the potential of Palladio

Literary theorist, philologist, dramatist and poet Gian Giorgio Trissino was born on this day in 1478 in Vicenza.  As well as his contribution to Italian culture, Trissino is remembered for educating and helping Andrea di Pietro della Gondola, a young mason he discovered working on his villa in Cricoli, just outside Vicenza.  He took the young man on two visits to Rome that profoundly influenced his development into a great architect and he gave him the name Palladio, after the Greek goddess of wisdom, Pallas Athene.  Trissino had been born into a wealthy family and was able to travel widely, studying Greek in Milan and philosophy in Ferrara. He was part of Niccolò Machiavelli’s literary circle in Florence before he settled in Rome, where he associated with the humanist and poet, Pietro Bembo. He became a close friend of the dramatist, Giovanni Rucella, and served Popes Leo X and Clement VII.  Trissino’s most important dramatic work was the blank verse tragedy Sofonisba, published in 1524 and first performed in 1562.  The play was based on a story about the Carthaginian wars by the Roman historian Livy. It employed the dramatic techniques of Sophocles and Euripides.  Read more…


Ernest Hemingway – American novelist

War wounds sustained in Italy inspire the great American novel

An 18-year-old American Red Cross driver named Ernest Hemingway was severely wounded by shrapnel from an Austrian mortar shell on this day in 1918 at Fossalta di Piave in the Veneto.  Hemingway was taken to a field hospital in Treviso, from where he was transferred by train to a hospital in Milan. While in the hospital and recovering after two operations, he fell in love with his nurse, 26-year-old Agnes von Kurowsky.  His experiences of being wounded in Italy and falling in love later inspired him to write the novel, A Farewell to Arms.  On leaving school Hemingway had worked briefly as a reporter for The Kansas City Star before leaving for the Italian front in World War One to enlist as an ambulance driver.  While stationed at Fossalta di Piave he was bringing chocolates and cigarettes to the men on the front line when he was seriously injured by mortar fire. Despite his own wounds, Hemingway assisted some Italian soldiers to safety, for which he later received the Italian Silver Medal of Bravery.  After his release from hospital, he returned to the United States in January 1919. He and Agnes had agreed to get married in America, but two months later she wrote to say she had become engaged to an Italian army officer.  Read more…


Artemisia Gentileschi – painter

Brilliant artist who survived torture by thumbscrews 

Artemisia Gentileschi, who followed in the footsteps of the Baroque painter Caravaggio by painting biblical scenes with dramatic realism, was born on this day in 1593 in Rome.  As a young woman she was raped by an artist friend of her father who had been entrusted with teaching her, and when he was brought to trial by her father she was forced to give evidence under torture.  This event shaped her life and she poured out her horrific experiences into brutal paintings, such as her two versions of Judith Slaying Holofernes.  Gentileschi was notable for pictures of strong and suffering women from myths, allegories, and the Bible. Some of her best known themes are Susanna and the Elders, Judith Slaying Holofernes, the most famous of which, painted between 1614 and 1620, is in the Uffizi in Florence, and Judith and Her Maidservant.   She had an ability to produce convincing depictions of the female figure, anywhere between nude and fully clothed, that few male painters could match.  It was many years before Gentileschi’s genius was fully appreciated, but a newly discovered self portrait depicting herself as St Catherine of Siena was bought by the National Gallery in London for £3.6 million, a record amount for her work.  Read more…