28 January 2021

28 January

Gianluigi Buffon – goalkeeper

Record-breaking footballer still playing at 43

Juventus goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon was born on this day in 1978 in Carrara in Tuscany.  Widely considered by football experts at his peak to be the best goalkeeper in the world, he is known for his outstanding ability to stop shots.  He holds the record for the most clean sheets, both in Serie A and the national side, and he has won numerous awards.  Now aged 43, Buffon retired from international football after Italy failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup finals in Russia, having played a record 176 times for the Azzurri.  Buffon, whose nickname is Gigi, was born into a family of athletes. His mother, Maria, was a discus thrower and his father, Adriano, was a weightlifter. His two sisters both played volleyball for the Italian national team and his uncle was a prominent basketball player.  His grandfather’s cousin, Lorenzo Buffon, was also a top goalkeeper, playing for AC Milan and Italy, representing his country at the 1962 FIFA World Cup.  Gianluigi Buffon began his career with the Parma youth team at the age of 13 as an outfield player. When both of the team’s goalkeepers were injured he was asked to deputise in goal and within two weeks he had been promoted to first team 'keeper.  Read more…

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Simonetta Vespucci – Renaissance beauty

Noblewoman hailed as embodiment of female perfection

Simonetta Vespucci, a young noblewoman who became the most sought-after artist’s model in Florence in the mid-15th century, is thought to have been born on this day in 1453.  Born Simonetta Cattaneo to a Genoese family, she was taken to Florence in 1469 when she married Marco Vespucci, an eligible Florentine nobleman who was a distant cousin of the explorer and cartographer Amerigo Vespucci.  She quickly became the talk of Florentine society. Soon known as La Bella Simonetta, she captivated painters and young noblemen alike with her beauty.  It is said that, shortly before her arrival, a group of artists had been discussing their idea of the characteristics of perfect female beauty and were stunned, on meeting Simonetta, to discover that their idealised woman actually existed.  The Medici brothers, Lorenzo and Giuliano, were said to have been besotted with her, Giuliano in particular, while she is thought to have been the model for several of Sandro Botticelli’s portraits of women.  The female figure standing on a shell in Botticelli’s masterpiece, The Birth of Venus, so closely resembles the woman in the paintings accepted as being Simonetta Vespucci that some critics insist he must have based his Venus on her.   Read more…

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Giovanni Alfonso Borelli – physiologist and physicist

Neapolitan was the first to explain movement

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.  Read more…

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Paolo Gorini – scientist

Teacher invented technique for preserving corpses

Mathematician and scientist Paolo Gorini, who made important discoveries about organic substances, was born on this day in 1813 in Pavia.  He is chiefly remembered for preserving corpses and anatomical parts according to a secret process he invented himself. His technique was first used on the body of Giuseppe Mazzini, the politician and activist famous for his work towards the unification of Italy.  Gorini was orphaned at the age of 12, but thanks to financial help from former colleagues of his father, who had been a university maths professor, he was able to continue with his studies and he obtained a mathematics degree from the University of Pavia.  He paid tribute in his autobiography to his private teacher, Alessandro Scannini, who he said first inspired his interest in geology and volcanology.  Gorini went to live in Lodi, just south of Milan, in 1834, where he became a physics lecturer at the local Lyceum.  As well as teaching, he dedicated his time to geology experiments, actually creating artificial volcanoes to illustrate their eruptive dynamics. He also made his first attempts at the preservation of animal substances.  Read more…


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27 January 2021

27 January

NEW
- Italy elects its first parliament

1861 vote preceded proclamation of new Kingdom

Italians went to the polls for the first time as a nation state on this day in 1861 to elect a government in anticipation of the peninsula becoming a unified country.  The vote was a major milestone in the Risorgimento - the movement to bring together the different states of the region as one country - enabling there to be a parliament in place the following month and for deputies to declare Victor Emmanuel II of Sardinia as the first King of Italy in March.  The first parliament convened in Turin as Rome remained under the control of the Papal States until it was captured by the Italian army in 1870.  The body comprised 443 deputies representing 59 provinces. Some provinces, such as Benevento, near Naples, elected just one deputy, whereas the major cities elected many more. Turin, for example, chose 19 deputies, Milan and Naples 18 each.  The eligibility rules were so specific that of a population of around 22 million, only 418,696 people were entitled to vote.  In line with the procedures set down in the electoral laws of the Kingdom of Sardinia, only men could vote - women were not fully enfranchised in Italy until 1945 - and only men aged 25 and above who were literate and paid a certain amount of taxes.  Read more…

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Trajan - Roman emperor

Military expansionist with progressive social policies

Marcus Ulpius Traianus succeeded to the role of Roman Emperor on this day in 98 AD.  The 13th ruler of the empire and known as Trajan, he presided over the greatest military expansion in Roman history, the consequence of which was that in terms of physical territory the empire was at its largest during his period in office.  Despite his taste for military campaigns - he conquered Dacia (the area now called Romania), Armenia, Mesopotamia, and the Sinai Peninsula - Trajan was seen as the second of the so-called Good Emperors to rule during the years known as Pax Romama, a long period of relative peace and stability.  He was credited with maintaining peace by working with rather than against the Senate and the ruling classes, introducing policies aimed at improving the welfare of citizens, and engaging in massive building projects that were to the benefit of ordinary Romans.  Marcus Ulpius Traianus was born in the Roman province of Baetica, which approximates to the area now known as Andalusia in southern Spain. His father was a provincial governor who then turned soldier, commanding a legion in the Roman war against Jews. Read more…

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Giuseppe Verdi – composer

How Italy mourned the loss of a national symbol

Opera composer Giuseppe Verdi died on this day at the age of 87 in his suite at the Grand Hotel et de Milan in 1901.  The prolific composer who had dominated the world of opera for a large part of the 19th century was initially buried privately at Milan’s Cimitero Monumentale.  But a month later Verdi’s body was moved to its final resting place in the crypt of a rest home for retired musicians that he had helped establish in Milan.  An estimated crowd of 300,000 people are reported to have turned out to bid Verdi farewell and ‘Va, pensiero’, a chorus from his 1842 opera Nabucco, was performed by a choir conducted by Arturo Toscanini.  Verdi meant a great deal to the Italian people because his composition, ‘Va, pensiero’ had been the unofficial anthem for supporters of the Risorgimento movement, which had sought the unification of Italy.  In his early operas Verdi had demonstrated sympathy with the cause of the Risorgimento and people had come to associate him with the movement’s ideals.  But as he became older and more prosperous he had chosen to withdraw from public life and had established himself on a country estate just outside Busseto, the town of his birth, near Parma in Emilia-Romagna.  Read more...

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Frank Nitti - mobster

Barber who became Al Capone’s henchman

The mobster who achieved notoriety as Frank Nitti was born Francesco Raffaele Nitto it is thought on this day in 1881, although some accounts put the year of his birth as 1886.  Nitti, who was raised in Brooklyn, New York, where he and Al Capone - his cousin - grew up, would eventually become Capone’s most trusted henchman in the Chicago mob he controlled.  After Capone was jailed for 11 years for tax evasion, Nitti was ostensibly in charge of operations.  Unlike many of the American Mafia bosses in the early part of the 20th century, Nitti was not a Sicilian.  His roots were in the heart of Camorra territory in the shadow of Vesuvius, his birthplace the town of Angri, 8km (5 miles) from nearby Pompei.  Angri was also the hometown of Capone’s parents.  Francesco’s father died while he was still a small child. His mother, Rosina, married again within a year to Francesco Dolengo, who emigrated to the United States in 1890.  Nitti, his mother and his sister, Giovannina, left Italy to join him in 1893, settling in Navy Street, Brooklyn.  He was enrolled in a local school but left at around age 13, taking a job as a pinsetter in a bowling alley before becoming a barber.  Read more…

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Roberto Paci Dalò – composer and film maker

Music maker coined the definition ‘media dramaturgy’

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.  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.  Read more…

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Giovanni Arpino - writer and novelist 

Stories inspired classic Italian films

The writer Giovanni Arpino, whose novels lay behind the Italian movie classics Divorce, Italian Style and Profumo di donna – later remade in the United States as Scent of a Woman – was born on this day in 1927 in the Croatian city of Pula, then part of Italy.  His parents did not originate from Pula, which is near the tip of the Istrian peninsula about 120km (75 miles) south of Trieste. His father, Tomaso, was a Neapolitan, while his mother, Maddalena, hailed from Piedmont, but his father’s career in the Italian Army meant the family were rarely settled for long in one place.  In fact, they remained in Pula only a couple of months. As Giovanni was growing up, they lived in Novi Ligure, near Alessandria, in Saluzzo, south of Turin, and in Piacenza in Emilia-Romagna. His father imposed a strict regime on Giovanni and his two brothers, who were required to spend a lot of their time studying.  In fact, Giovanni was separated from his family for a while during the Second World War, when his mother returned to the Piedmontese town of Bra, not far from Saluzzo in the province of Cuneo, to deal with the estate of her father, who passed away in 1940.  Read more…


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Italy elects its first parliament

1861 vote preceded proclamation of new Kingdom

Count Camillo Benso di Cavour was named Italy's first prime minister
Count Camillo Benso di Cavour was
named Italy's first prime minister
Italians went to the polls for the first time as a nation state on this day in 1861 to elect a parliament in anticipation of the peninsula becoming a unified country.

The vote was a major milestone in the Risorgimento - the movement to bring together the different states of the region as one country - enabling there to be a parliament in place the following month and for deputies to declare Victor Emmanuel II of Sardinia as the first King of Italy in March.

The first parliament convened in Turin as Rome remained under the control of the Papal States until it was captured by the Italian army in 1870.

The body comprised 443 deputies representing 59 provinces. Some provinces, such as Benevento, near Naples, elected just one deputy, whereas the major cities elected many more. Turin, for example, chose 19 deputies, Milan and Naples 18 each.

The eligibility rules were so specific that of a population of around 22 million, only 418,696 people were entitled to vote.

In line with the procedures set down in the electoral laws of the Kingdom of Sardinia, only men could vote - women were not fully enfranchised in Italy until 1945 - and only men aged 25 and above who were literate and paid a certain amount of taxes, in most cases at least 40 lire per year. 

The new parliament proclaimed Victor Emmanuel II as king
The new parliament proclaimed
Victor Emmanuel II as king

The election was in two stages, the voting on 27 January being followed by, where necessary, a second ballot a week later on 3 February.  A second vote took place only when no candidate received more than 50 per cent of the vote or the equivalent of one-third of the registered voters in the constituency.

Of the 418,696 who could have voted, only 239,583 actually did and 10,000 votes were declared invalid, which meant that the first government was decided by barely one percent of the population.  The turnout was not helped by the Pope demanding that Catholics take no part.

In the absence of political parties as would be recognised today, the candidates representing blocs according to their values.

The group known as the Destra Storico - the Historical Right - comprised conservatives and monarchists and was led by Camillo Benso, Count of Cavour, the former prime minister of Sardinia, an experienced statesman who had been an important figure in the drive to unification.

Against the Right, the Sinistra Storica - the Historical Left - was made up of liberals and centrists, led by Urbano Rattazzi.

The election was also contested by the Historical Far Left - also known as the Partito d’Azione - the radical grouping led by the revolutionary Giuseppe Mazzini and with which Giuseppe Garibaldi also alligned himself.

Mazzini and Garibaldi were also key figures in the Risorgimento, but in a different way from Cavour.  Mazzini, often described as the movement's ideological inspiration, had been behind many uprisings from the 1830s onwards as Italians rebelled against the rule of oppressive foreign powers and Garibaldi led the military campaign to unite the peninsula. Mazzini, in particular, wanted the new country to be a republic.

Mazzini's party was not widely supported
Mazzini's party was not
widely supported
In the event, perhaps not surprisingly given the natural political alliances of those eligible to vote, Mazzini’s group polled a mere 2.3 percent of the popular vote, which swung heavily behind Cavour’s Historical Right, which received 46.1 percent against 20.4 percent for Rattazzi’s Historical Left.

Cavour was duly elected prime minister and parliament convened for the first time on 4 March in Turin, where 13 days later they proclaimed the new Kingdom of Italy and confirmed Victor Emmanuel as the first monarch.

As King of Sardinia, Victor Emmanuel had appointed Cavour as prime minister of Sardinia-Piedmont. The new king’s insistence on ruling as Victor Emmanuel II - as he had called himself in Sardinia in respect of his ancestor Victor Emmanuel I - upset some factions, who felt it implied that Italy was actually ruled by the House of Savoy.

Cavour’s term in office proved to be brief, in the event, as the stress of the job, dominated by the question of how to bring Rome and Venice into the new kingdom to make it fully unified, took its toll. He succumbed to malaria and died after only 75 days in office, at the age of just 50.

Palazzo Carignano, birthplace of the King, where Italy's first parliament met in 1861
Palazzo Carignano, birthplace of the King, where
Italy's first parliament met in 1861
Travel tip:

The first Italian parliament met in Palazzo Carignano in Turin, the house in which Victor Emmanuel II was born. Designed by the Piedmontese architect Guarino Guarini, the Baroque palace in Via Accademia delle Scienze dates back to 1679. It now houses the National Museum of the Risorgimento, the biggest of 23 museums in Italy devoted to the movement.  The building has a lavish interior with many frescoes, some by Stefano Legnani, a painter of the Baroque period who was known in his native Milan as Legnanino.

The medieval Grinzane Castle was Cavour's home for 31 years until his death
The medieval Grinzane Castle was Cavour's
home for 31 years until his death
Travel tip:

Camillo Benso di Cavour, Italy’s first prime minister, hailed from a background in Turin nobility. He was the second son of the fourth Marquess of Cavour and for a large part of his life lived at the 13th century castle of Grinzane Cavour near Turin, which is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. Born in 1810, Cavour lived there from 1830 until his death in 1861. During his stays there he restored the building and improved the cultivation of the vines in the area. Today, the castle has rooms dedicated to Cavour as well as the Cavour Regional Enoteca, which showcases the best wines produced in the region.

Also on this day:

98: Trajan becomes Emperor of Rome

1881: The birth of mobster Frank Nitti

1901: The death of composer Giuseppe Verdi

1962: The birth of composer and film director Roberto Paci Dalò


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26 January 2021

26 January

Giovanni Lanfranco - painter

Artist from Parma whose technique set new standards

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’s dome frescoes were influenced by the work of Antonio da Correggio, the master of chiaroscuro.  Read more…

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Valentino Mazzola – footballer

Tragic star may have been Italy’s greatest player

The footballer Valentino Mazzola, captain of the mighty Torino team of the 1940s, was born on this day in 1919 in Cassano d’Adda, a town in Lombardy about 30km (19 miles) northeast of Milan.  Mazzola, a multi-talented player who was primarily an attacking midfielder but who was comfortable in any position on the field, led the team known as Il Grande Torino to five Serie A titles in seven seasons between 1942 and 1949. He scored 109 goals in 231 Serie A appearances for Venezia and Torino and had become the fulcrum of the Italy national team, coached by the legendary double World Cup-winner Vittorio Pozzo.  In just over a decade at the top level of the Italian game he achieved considerable success and some who saw him play believe he was the country’s greatest footballer of all time.  His life was cut short, however, when he and most of the Grande Torino team – and at the same time the Italian national team – were killed when a plane carrying them home from a friendly in Portugal crashed in thick fog on its approach to Turin airport on May 4, 1949.  The Superga Disaster – so-called because the aircraft collided with the rear wall of the Basilica of Superga, which stands on a hill overlooking the city – claimed the lives of 18 players.  Read more…

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Gabriele Allegra – friar and scholar

Sicilian who learnt Chinese to carry out his life’s work

The Blessed Gabriele Allegra, a Franciscan friar who translated the entire Catholic Bible into Chinese, is remembered on this day every year.  He was born Giovanni Stefano Allegra in San Giovanni la Punta in the province of Catania in Sicily in 1907 and he entered the Franciscan seminary in Acireale in 1918.  Gabriele Allegra was inspired to carry out his life’s work after attending a celebration for another Franciscan who had attempted a translation of the Bible into Chinese in the 14th century. For the next 40 years of his life the friar devoted himself to his own translation.  Gabriele Allegra was ordained a priest in 1930 and set sail for China. On his arrival he started to learn Chinese.  With the help of his Chinese teacher he prepared a first draft of his translation of the Bible in 1947 but it was not until 1968 that his one volume Chinese Bible was published for the first time.  Gabriele Allegra died on 26 January 1976 in Hong Kong. Although he was primarily a scholar, he had also helped the poor, the sick and lepers along the way.  He was declared Venerable in 1994.  Read more…

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Hebrew Bible in print for first time

Bologna printer makes history

The first printed edition of the Hebrew Bible was completed in Bologna on this day in 1482.  Specifically, the edition was the Pentateuch, or Torah, which consists of the first five books of the Christian and Jewish Bibles - Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.  Torah, in Hebrew, means 'instruction'.  The book was given that name because the stories within it, which essentially form the opening narrative of the history of the Jewish people, and the interpretations offered of them, were intended to set out the moral and religious obligations fundamental to the Jewish way of life.  The book was the work of the Italian-Jewish printer Abraham ben Hayyim dei Tintori, from Pesaro.  The text consisted of large, clear square letters, accompanied by a translation in the Jewish biblical language Aramaic and a commentary by Rashi, who had been the foremost biblical commentator of the Middle Ages.  It was published and financed by Joseph ben Abraham, a member of the Caravita banking family in Bologna. The editor was the Hebrew scholar Yosef Hayyim ben Aaron, of Strasbourg.  The printing press had been invented in Germany in 1439.  Read more…


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25 January 2021

25 January

Noemi - singer-songwriter

Debut album topped Italian charts

The singer-songwriter Noemi - real name Veronica Scopelliti - was born in 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 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.  Read more…

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Friuli earthquake

First of two disasters to rock Italy in the same year

A devastating earthquake hit the area now known as Friuli Venezia Giulia on this day in 1348.  With a seismic intensity believed to be the equivalent of 6.9 on the Richter scale, the effects of the quake were felt right across Europe.  According to contemporary sources, houses and churches collapsed and there were numerous casualties. It was recorded that even as far away as Rome, buildings had been damaged.  The epicentre is believed to have been north of Udine to the east of the small towns of Tolmezzo, Venzone and Gemona.  The earthquake happened on 25 January early in the afternoon and its effects were immediately felt in Udine, where the castle and cathedral were both damaged.  In Austria the town of Villach was later hit by a landslide caused by the earthquake. Buildings in Carniola, part of present day Slovenia, and in Vicenza, Verona and Venice were also damaged.  It was recorded that the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome was damaged by the earthquake and an ancient tower nearby developed a permanent tilt. Aftershocks were felt in different parts of Italy for several weeks.  Read more…

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Antonio Scotti - baritone

Neapolitan singer who played 35 seasons at the Met

The operatic baritone Antonio Scotti, who performed at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York for a remarkable 35 consecutive seasons, was born on this day in 1866 in Naples.  Scotti's career coincided with those of many fine baritones and experts did not consider his voice to be among the richest. Yet what he lacked in timbre, he compensated for in musicality, acting ability and an instinctive grasp of dramatic timing.  Later in his career, he excelled in roles that emerged from the verismo movement in opera in the late 19th century, of which the composer Giacomo Puccini was a leading proponent, drawing on themes from real life and creating characters more identifiable with real people.  For a while, Scotti's portrayal of the chief of police Baron Scarpia in Puccini's Tosca, for example, was the yardstick against which all performances were measured, at least until Tito Gobbi's emergence in the 1930s.  Indeed, in 1924 the Met chose a gala presentation of Tosca as a fitting way for Scotti to mark the 25th anniversary of his debut there.  Scotti's parents in Naples were keen for him to enter the priesthood but he chose to pursue his ambitions in music. Read more…

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Paolo Mascagni – physician

Scientist was first to map the human lymphatic system

The physician Paolo Mascagni, whose scientific research enabled him to create the first map of the complete human lymphatic system, was born on this day in 1755 in Pomarance, a small town in Tuscany about 40km (25 miles) inland from the western coastline.  Mascagni described his findings in a book with detailed illustrations of every part of the lymphatic system he had identified, which was to prove invaluable to physicians wanting to learn more about a part of the human body vital to the regulation of good health. He also commissioned the sculptor Clemente Susini to create a full-scale model in wax of the lymphatic system, which can still be seen at the Museum of Human Anatomy at the University of Bologna.  Later he created another significant tome, his Anatomia Universa, which comprises 44 enormous copperplate illustrations that set out to bring together in one book the full extent of human knowledge about the anatomy of the human body.  The ‘book’ in the event was so large it was never bound, each plate measuring more than 3ft 6ins (1.07m) by 2ft 6ins (0.76m), designed in such a way that those from the same plane of dissection can be placed together and show the whole body in life size.  Read more…


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24 January 2021

24 January

Assassination of Caligula

Controversial emperor killed by Praetorian Guard

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.  A descendent of Rome's most distinguished family, the Julio Claudiens, Caligula had initially been popular.  Read more…

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Farinelli – music’s first superstar

Castrato rated among all-time opera greats

The opera singer Carlo Broschi – better known by his stage name of Farinelli – was born on this day in 1705 in the city of Andria in what is now Apulia.  Farinelli was a castrato, a type of classical male singing voice that was enormously popular from the 16th to the 18th century, one which had an enormous range and flexibility, a little like a female soprano but subtly different.  It was achieved through the somewhat barbaric practice of castrating a male singer before puberty, which is why there are no castrati today. Among other things, the procedure caused changes in the development of the larynx, meaning the voice effectively never breaks, and of the bones, including the ribs, which grew longer than in non-castrated boys and gave the castrato singer considerably enhanced lung power and capacity.  Although many survived and, like Farinelli, went on to enjoy a normal lifespan, the practice was hugely risky and there were many deaths not only from post-operative infections but also from overdoses of opium or other narcotic drugs administered as painkillers, or else from the compression of the carotid artery in the neck employed as a means of rendering the boy unconscious.  Read more…

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Giorgio Chinaglia - footballer

Centre-forward from Carrara became a star on two continents

The footballer Giorgio Chinaglia, who would start his career in Wales before enjoying stardom in his native Italy and then the United States, was born on this day in 1947 in Carrara in Tuscany.  A powerful centre forward and a prolific goalscorer, Chinaglia scored more than 100 goals for Lazio. His 193 for New York Cosmos made him the all-time leading goalscorer in the North American Soccer League.   Chinaglia left Italy at the age of nine after his father, Mario, decided that his family would enjoy a more prosperous future abroad given the state of Italy's economy in the immediate wake of the Second World War.  Jobs at a Cardiff steelworks were advertised in the employment office in Carrara and Mario successfully applied.  He would eventually leave the steelworks to train as a chef, building on his experience as a cook in the army, and ultimately opened his own restaurant.  The catholic schools Chinaglia attended tended to favour rugby as their principal winter game and his teachers saw in him a potential second-row forward.  But rugby was an alien game to him and he much preferred football.  Ultimately he was picked for Cardiff Schools, for whom he scored a hat-trick in an English Schools Shield match, in doing so earning a trial at Swansea Town.  Read more…

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Galeazzo Maria Sforza - Duke of Milan

Effective leader with dark side

Galeazzo Maria Sforza, who became the second member of the Sforza family to take the title Duke of Milan, was born on this day in 1444 in Fermo, in what is now the Marche region.  Sforza was an effective ruler but is often remembered as a tyrant with a cruel streak.  He ruled Milan for just 10 years before he was assassinated in 1476.  In that time, Galeazzo did much to boost the economy of Milan and the wider area of Lombardia. He introduced measures to promote and protect the work of Lombard craftsmen and boosted agriculture by the introduction of jasmine farming and rice cultivation. Farsightedly, he realised that a healthy population was a more productive one and expanded the health institutions started by his father, Francesco Sforza.  He minted a new silver coin, the Testone, which carried an image of his profile on the reverse.  He saw to it that work on Milan’s cathedral, which had started almost 100 years earlier, continued to progress, and took over the construction of a major hospital that his father had wanted to see built.  Galeazzo was also a major patron of music, attracting composers and musicians not just in Italy but from northern Europe.  Read more…

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Arnoldo Foà – actor

Talented performer, director and writer worked into his 90s.

Theatre and film actor Arnoldo Foà was born on this day in 1916 in Ferrara.  He began acting in the 1930s and was still appearing on stage after the year 2000 when he was over 90. He had parts in more than 100 films between 1938 and 2007.  Foà was born into a Jewish family living in Ferrara but moved with his family to live in Florence when he was three years old, eventually attending an acting school there.  He abandoned his economics and commerce studies in Florence at the age of 20 to move to Rome and attend the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia.  Foà began appearing on stage in the 1930s but his situation became difficult during the war. In order to earn money he had to stand in for actors when they were ill using a false name.  He eventually moved to Naples and when the Allies arrived worked for their radio station as an announcer. At the end of the war Foà was able to work in the theatre under his own name again.  In the 1950s he started writing, became a theatre director and helped with the development of RAI.  During his film career Foà worked for many famous directors. On his website he picks as  two of his most prestigious films Il processo (The Trial) directed by Orson Welles and Gente di Roma (People of Rome) directed by Ettore Scola, for which he received an award.  Read more…


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23 January 2021

23 January

NEWSilvio Gazzaniga - sculptor

Milanese artist who designed FIFA World Cup trophy

Silvio Gazzaniga, the sculptor and medal-maker who created the trophy held aloft every four years by the winners of football’s World Cup, was born in Milan on this day in 1921.  Gazzaniga designed the trophy, with its spiralling lines depicting two players, with arms outstretched in triumph, carrying a globe on their shoulders, in 1971, after entering a competition organised by football’s world governing body, FIFA.  The organisation had been faced with a dilemma after the 1970 World Cup, when champions Brazil earned the right to keep the Jules Rimet Trophy, the prize for which the competition was originally played, by winning for the third time.  In the knowledge that they would need a new trophy before the next tournament, in 1974, they invited designers to submit their ideas, eventually collecting 53 proposals from artists all over the world. Among them was the submission from Gazzaniga, a football fan and the artistic director of Bertoni, a small firm making medals and trophies now based at Paderno Dugnano, a town on the outskirts of Milan.  Gazzaniga did much of his work in a modest studio in the artists’ quarter of the Lombardy capital.  Read more…

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Salvatore Lima - politician

Christian Democrat MEP murdered by Mafia

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 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.  Read more…

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Luisa Casati – heiress and muse

Outrageous marchioness saw herself as a living work of art

The heiress, socialite and artist’s muse Luisa Casati, known for her outlandish dresses, exotic pets and hedonistic lifestyle, was born on this day in 1881 in Milan.  Casati, born into a wealthy background, married a marquis – Camillo, Marchese Casati Stampa di Soncino – when she was 19 and provided him with a daughter, Cristina, a year later, yet the marriage was never strong and they kept separate residences from an early stage.  It was not long before she tired of a life bound by formalities and the strict rules of etiquette and everything changed after she met the poet, patriot and lothario Gabriele D’Annunzio at a society hunt.  They became lovers and D’Annunzio introduced her to the world of writers and artists.  Tall, almost painfully thin and with striking looks, she became a creature of fascination for many young artists, who craved the attention of this eccentric aristocrat and the chance to paint her.  Their interest only encouraged the Marchesa Casati to indulge her taste for the extravagant, posing in ever-more outlandish dresses, embracing the culture of the Belle Époque. Her wealth enabled her to throw lavish parties.  Read more…

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Giovanni Michelotti – car designer

The many Triumphs of Turin sports car genius

One of the most prolific designers of sports cars in the 20th century, Giovanni Michelotti died on this day in 1980 in Turin.   Known for his hard work and creative talent, Michelotti has been credited with designing more than 1200 different cars.  He worked for Ferrari, Lancia and Maserati in Italy but car firms abroad soon got to know about him and he also designed for Triumph and BMW.  Michelotti was born in Turin in 1921 and worked for coach building firms before opening his own design studio in 1959.  The first of his designs put into production was for an Alfa Romeo 6C 2500 in 1947.  Among the legendary sports cars designed by Michelotti in Italy are the Ferrari 166 MM and the Maserati Sebring.  In Britain he was responsible for many successful Triumphs, including the famous Spitfire, Stag and TR4. He also designed buses and trucks for British Leyland.  Under his own name he designed a beach car, the Shellette, with wicker seats. Only about 80 were made, but among the buyers were the Dutch royal family, who used it at their summer property in Porto Ercole, and Jacqueline Onassis.  Read more…

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Muzio Clementi – composer and pianist

Musician is remembered as ‘father of the piano’

Composer Muzio Clementi, whose studies and sonatas helped develop the technique of the early pianoforte, was born on this day in 1752 in Rome.  He moved to live in England when he was young, where he became a successful composer and pianist and started a music publishing and piano manufacturing business. He also helped to found the Royal Philharmonic Society in London.  Clementi was baptised Mutius Philippus Vincentius Franciscus Xaverius the day after his birth at the Church of San Lorenzo in Damaso in Rome.  His father was a silversmith, who soon recognised Clementi’s musical talent and arranged for him to have lessons from a relative, who was maestro di cappella at St Peter’s Basilica.  By the time he was 13, Clementi had already composed an oratorio and a mass and he became the organist at his parish church, San Lorenzo in Damaso, at the age of 14.  Sir Peter Beckford, a wealthy Englishman, was so impressed with Clementi’s musical talent and his skill with the harpsichord when he visited Rome in 1766 that he offered to take him to England and sponsor his musical education until he was 21.  Read more…


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