31 March 2017

Pope Benedict XIV

Bologna cardinal seen as great intellectual leader

Pierre Subleyras's portrait of Benedict XIV, painted in the early 1700s, is in the Palace of Versailles
Pierre Subleyras's portrait of Benedict XIV, painted
in the early 1700s, is in the Palace of Versailles
Prospero Lorenzo Lambertini, who would in his later years become Pope Benedict XIV, was born on this day in 1675 in Bologna.

Lambertini was a man of considerable intellect, considered one of the most erudite men of his time and arguably the greatest scholar of all the popes.

He promoted scientific learning, the baroque arts, the reinvigoration of the philosophy of Saint Thomas Aquinas and the study of the human form.

He was Bishop of Ancona at the age of 52, Archbishop of Bologna at 56 and Pope at 65 but at no time did he consider his elevation to these posts an honour upon which to congratulate himself.  He saw them as the opportunity to do good and tackled each job with zeal and energy. A man of cheerful character, he set out never to allow anyone to leave his company dissatisfied or angry, without feeling strengthened by his wisdom or advice. 

He attracted some criticism for his willingness to make concessions or compromises in his negotiations with governments and rulers, yet his pursuit of peaceful accommodation was always paramount and historians have noted that few conflicts in which he sought to arbitrate remained unresolved after his administration came to an end.

As governor of the papal states he reduced taxation and encouraged agriculture. He supported free trade.
As a scholar he laid the ground work for the present Vatican Museum.

The 18th century bust of Benedict XIV by  Pietro Bracci is in the Museum of Grenoble
The 18th century bust of Benedict XIV by
Pietro Bracci is in the Museum of Grenoble
The third of five children born to Marcella Lambertini and Lucrezia Bulgarini, both of whom came from noble families, he was precociously gifted as a child.  He began to study rhetoric, Latin, philosophy and theology at the Collegium Clementianum in Rome from the age of 13. 

At the age of 19 he became a Doctor of Sacred Theology and Doctor Utriusque Juris (canon and civil law).

He was consecrated a bishop in Rome in July 1724. He became Bishop of Ancona in 1727 and was made a Cardinal in 1728. He was made Cardinal Priest of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme in May 1728 and served as the Archbishop of Bologna from 1731.

At the time of the death of Pope Clement XII, Lambertini’s reputation was at its highest and he was invited to attend the papal conclave to choose a successor. Among the 54 cardinals who took part in the process, several cliques developed and through various intrigues the conclave would last six months.

Ultimately, after one proposal after another was rejected, it was suggested that Lambertini might be put forward himself as a compromise candidate.  He made a speech in which he said, slightly with tongue in cheek: “If you wish to elect a saint, choose Gotti; a statesman, Aldobrandini; an honest man, me."

The words struck a chord with the cardinals and Lambertini was elected Pope on the evening of August 17, 1740 and took his new pontifical name of Benedict XIV in honour of Pope Benedict XIII. 
St Peter's Basilica has a monument marking the tomb of Benedict XIV
St Peter's Basilica has a monument
marking the tomb of Benedict XIV

Benedict governed the states of the church with wisdom and moderation and introduced many reforms to promote the happiness and prosperity of the people. Measures were put in place to curb the excesses of the Catholic Church and to replenish the resources that have been exhausted by the extravagance of some of his predecessors as Pope.

In spiritual and religious matters, Benedict left a lasting impression. His papal bulls and encyclicals played an important part in defining and clarifying obscure and difficult points of ecclesiastical law. For example, he brought definition to the question of mixed marriages, between Catholics and Protestants. It was decreed that mixed marriages were allowable under certain conditions, one of which was that children born of those marriages should be brought up in the Catholic faith.

Benedict's health began to decline in the 1750s and he died on May 3, 1758 at the age of 83. Following his funeral he was buried in St Peter’s Basilica and a large monument erected in his honour.

Apostolic Palace above the colonnades in St Peter's Square
The Apostolic Palace above the colonnades in St Peter's Square
Travel tip:

The Apostolic Palace is the official residence of the Pope, which is located in Vatican City. It is also known as the Papal Palace, Palace of the Vatican and Vatican Palace. The building contains the Papal Apartments, various offices of the Catholic Church and the Holy See, private and public chapels, Vatican Museums, and the Vatican Library, including the Sistine Chapel, Raphael Rooms, and Borgia Apartment. The modern tourist can see these and other parts of the palace, but other parts, such as the Sala Regia and Cappella Paolina, are closed to tourists.

The facade of Bologna's cathedral
The facade of Bologna's cathedral
Travel tip:

The seat of the Archbishop of Bologna is the Metropolitan Cathedral of St Peter.  In the past, there was a baptistery in front of the façade but the building, as it may be seen today, is the one renovated after a fire in the 12th century and an earthquake in the 13th century. Inside the church are paintings by Prospero Fontana, Ludovico Carracci and Marcantonio Franceschini.

More reading:

How Pope Benedict XV tried to stop the First World War

Gregory XV - the last pope to issue ordinance against witchcraft

The consecration of St Peter's Basilica

Also on this day:

(Bust by Milky; Monument in St Peter's by Ben Skála; Apostolic Palace by MarkusMark; Cathedral facade by Jean Housen; all via Wikmedia Commons)

30 March 2017

Ignazio Gardella – architect

Modernist who created Venetian classic

The architect Ignazio Gardella
The architect Ignazio Gardella
The engineer and architect Ignazio Gardella, considered one of the great talents of modern urban design in Italy, was born on this day in 1905 in Milan.

He represented the fourth generation in a family of architects and his destiny was determined at an early age. He graduated in civil engineering in Milan in 1931 and architecture in Venice in 1949.

Gardella designed numerous buildings during an active career that spanned almost six decades, including the Antituberculosis Dispensary in Alessandria, which is considered one of the purest examples of Italian Rationalism, and the Casa alle Zattere on the Giudecca Canal in Venice, in which he blended modernism with classical style in a way that has been heralded as genius.

During his university years, he made friends with many young architects from the Milan area and together they created the Modern Italian Movement.

He worked with his father, Arnaldo, on a number of projects while still studying.  On graduating, he set up an office in Milan, although he spent a good part of his early career travelling, sometimes with a commission but at other times to study.

Gardella's Casa delle Zattere in Venice
Gardella's Casa delle Zattere in Venice
He expanded his knowledge and ideas by visiting Germany, Finland, Sweden and Norway before the Second World War.  After the conflict he travelled to the USA, Greece, France and Spain.

During the 1930s, Gardella designed both the Antituberculosis Dispensary and the Provincial Laboratory of Hygiene in Alessandria. The first building is considered one of the purest examples of Italian Rationalism.

The bulk of his work came as Italy rebuilt in the 1940s and 1950s, although he was still working even into his 80s and 90s, when he designed a new Faculty of Architecture for the University of Genoa and collaborated with a number of architects in renovating the Teatro San Felice in the same city.

He also worked with his son, Iacopo, on building a new railway station, Milano Lambrate, with its distinctive rounded copper roof.

Gardella is best remembered, though, for the projects he undertook in the post-War years, including the Case Borsalino apartments in Alessandria, the PAC (Padiglione Arte Contemporanea) in the Villa Reale in Milan, which Gardella rebuilt, without payment, after it was badly damaged in an explosion in 1996, the Olivetti Dining Hall at their factory in Ivrea and, in particular for the Casa alle Zattere in the Dorsoduro district of Venice, built between 1953 and 1958.

The Olivetti Dining Hall at Ivrea
The Olivetti Dining Hall at Ivrea
The building, again built as apartments, is one of the finest examples of Italian post-war Modernism coming to terms with its historical surroundings, a triumph for Gardella given that few architects are given the chance to build in Venice and none wants to leave something detrimental to its appearance.

The linear components of Casa alle Zettere are unmistakably contemporary, yet Gardella’s careful selection and manipulation of architectural elements and their subsequent assembly in a well thought-out scheme allowed him to create something that perfectly complements the surrounding buildings, even down to the church of Santo Spirito next door, and would not look out of place among the palaces on the Grand Canal.

Away from architecture, Gardella was an influential figure in interior design, starting as early as 1947, when he founded the Azucena Agency with Luigi Caccia Dominioni, designing primarily decorative furniture.

Gardella, who won numerous prizes for his work, also had an important academic career as a professor at IUAV – the architectural university in Venice. He died in Oleggio, a town about 60km north-west of Milan adjoining the Ticino national park, in 1999.

The Casa alle Zattere has the appearance of a palace
The Casa alle Zattere has the appearance of a palace
Travel tip:

The Casa alle Zattere can be found on Fondamenta Zattere allo Santo Spirito between Calle Zucchero and Calle larga della Chiesa in the Dorsoduro quarter of Venice, looking out over the Giudecca Canal towards the Giudecca island, almost directly opposite Palladio’s striking white marble church, the Chiesa del Santissimo Redentore, built to commemorate the plague of 1575-76, which claimed more than a quarter of the population of the city.

Travel tip:

The town of Oleggio in Piedmont sits next to the Park of the Ticino, an area of just under 100,000 hectares situated largely in Lombardy but straddling the border of its neighbouring region.  A beautiful area of rivers and streams, moorlands, conifer forests and wetlands, it is home to almost 5,000 species of fauna, flora and mushrooms, as well as a variety of wildlife, from the purple herons, white storks and mallards that populate the waterways to sparrowhawks and peregrine falcons, tawny and long-eared owls, rabbits, foxes, squirrels and stone martens.

More reading:

Giovanni Michelucci - the man who created Florence's 'motorway church'

How Marco Zanuso put Italy at the forefront of contemporary style

What Milan owes to Ulisse Stacchini

Also on this day:

1282: Sicilians rise up against the French

(Picture credits: Top picture from WhipArt archive)


29 March 2017

Enea Bossi - aviation pioneer

Claimed first pedal-powered flight in 1936

Enea Bossi emigrated to the United  States after the First World War
Enea Bossi emigrated to the United
 States after the First World War
Enea Bossi, the aviator credited - albeit disputedly - with building the world's first human-powered aeroplane, was born on this day in 1888 in Milan.

It was claimed that in 1936 Bossi's Pedaliante aircraft flew for approximately 300 feet (91.4m) under pedal power alone.

Piloted by Emilio Casco, a robustly built major in the Italian army and an experienced cyclist, the Pedaliante - or pedal glider - is said to have taken off and covered the distance while remaining a few feet off the ground, although in the absence of independent verification it is not counted as the first authenticated human-powered flight, which did not take place until 1961 in Southampton, England.

The following year, as Bossi attempted to win a competition in Italy offering a prize of 100,000 lire for a successful human-powered flight, Casco succeeded in completing the required 1km (0.62 miles) distance at a height of 30 feet (9m) off the ground.

The Pedaliante, which had been built by the Italian glider manufacturer Vittorio Bonomi, was disqualified, however, on account of having used a catapault launch to achieve its altitude. Bossi, in fact, was ineligible for the prize because he had taken American citizenship after emigrating shortly after the First World War, and the competition was open only to Italians.

Bossi was an aeronautical pioneer throughout his career.

Bossi's Pedaliante plane was powered by pedalling
Bossi's Pedaliante plane was powered by pedalling
He created the first Italian-designed aircraft, the first landing gear braking system and the Italian Navy's first seaplane. After moving to the United States, he built a seaplane for the New York City Police Department, the first to be deployed by the force. Later he designed the first aircraft made from stainless steel.

Bossi graduated from the Instituto Tecnico in Lodi, not far from Milan, in 1907, specialising in physics and mathematics. He had already become fascinated with flight after the Wright brothers’ Flyer became the first heavier-than-air machine to be airborne in December 1903.

He became only the second person in Italy to have a pilot's licence and, with the financial support of a far-sighted father who did not share the general scepticism about flying, set about designing a glider that could carry a petrol-driven engine.

Modelled on the Wrights' Flyer, the design won a silver medal at the first international aviation meeting in Reims, France, in 1908 and the plane was built in Bossi’s own factory the following year.

Bossi, his son Charles and the Higgins helicopter
Bossi, his son Charles and the Higgins helicopter
In December 1909 it made its first successful flight. The same year, Bossi developed his braking system and the Italian Navy’s first seaplane.

The possibility of going to the United States came about after he began working as the Italian representative of Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Company – based in Buffalo, New York - for whom he secured rights for the production of the Curtiss Model F by the Zari brothers, at their workshop in Bovisia, near Milan. The first of these was demonstrated to the Italian Navy on Lake Como in September, 1914.

During the First World War, Bossi served as both a bomber pilot and a flight instructor for the Italian Navy. The economic and social difficulties in Italy that followed the war persuaded him to move permanently to the United States in 1918.

Living first in New York and later in Montclair, New Jersey and Philadelphia, he was granted US citizenship in 1925.  He married Flora Kelher, a Swiss-German girl who was living in Connecticut, and they had two sons, Charles and Enea Junior.

Bossi at his desk in the United States in the 1930s
Bossi at his desk in the United States in the 1930s
In the US, he worked on aviation fuel systems before, in 1928, he founded the American Aeronautical Corporation, based in Port Washington, New York, to build Savoia Marchetti seaplanes under licence and a considerable number of these were purchased by the police department of New York City.

In around 1930 Bossi moved to the EG Budd Manufacturing Company, where he built the first stainless steel aircraft, an amphibious biplane now preserved at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia.

After his time back in Italy in pursuit of the human-powered flight prize, he returned to the US, where he built a helicopter prototype for Higgins Industries of New Orleans.

After retirement, he moved to with his family to Dayton, Ohio, where he died in January, 1963.

The Church of Sant'Ambrogio on Piazza Gramsci in Cinisello
The Church of Sant'Ambrogio on Piazza Gramsci in Cinisello
Travel tip:

The first flight of the Pedaliante took place at an airfield juts outside Cinisello, nowadays a town of around 75,000 inhabitants called Cinisello-Balsamo.  It falls within the Milan metropolitan area, between Sesto San Giovanni and Monza, about 10km north-west of the city centre.  It is a pleasant town of which the Piazza Gramsci is the central square, overlooked by the 17th century church of Sant'Ambrogio.  Cinisello's Villa Ghirlanda Silva Cipelletti owned one of the first landscaped gardens in Italy. It now houses the Museum of Contemporary Photography.

The Piazza della Vittoria in Lodi
The Piazza della Vittoria in Lodi
Travel tip:

Lodi, the city in Lombardy that was the scene of the first battle between the troops of the young Napoleon Bonaparte and the Austrians, retains a mostly Medieval layout, starting from the remains of the Visconti Castle, built by the ruling Visconti family alongside the city walls in 1370. The Piazza della Vittoria, ringed with colonnades and overlooked by the cathedral and the Palazzo Comunale, is the focal point.  Nearby, the churches of San Francesco and Sant’Agnese are worth a look, as id the 13th century church of San Lorenzo.

28 March 2017

Fra Bartolommeo - Renaissance great

Friar rated equal of Michelangelo, Raphael and Leonardo

Bartolommeo's God the Father with SS Catherine of Siena and Mary Magdalene can be seen at Villa Guinigi in Lucca
Bartolommeo's God the Father with SS
Catherine of Siena and Mary Magdalene

can be seen at Villa Guinigi in Lucca
Fra Bartolommeo, the Renaissance artist recognised as one of the greatest religious painters, was born on this day in 1472 in Savignano di Vaiano, in Tuscany.

Also known as Baccio della Porta, a nickname he acquired because when he lived in Florence his lodgings were near what is now the Porta Romana, Bartolommeo created works that chart the development of artistic styles and fashion in Florence, from the earthly realism of the 15th century to the grandeur of High Renaissance in the 16th century.

His most famous works include Annunciation, Vision of St Bernard, Madonna and Child with Saints, the Holy Family, the Mystic Marriage of St Catherine, God the Father with SS Catherine of Siena and Mary Magdalene and Madonna della Misericordia.

Bartolommeo always prepared for any painting by making sketches, more than 1,000 in total over the years he was active.  Around 500 of them were discovered at the convent of St Catherine of Siena in Florence in 1722, where nuns were unaware of their significance.

Vision of St Bernard with SS Benedict and John the Evangelist, housed in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence
Vision of St Bernard with SS Benedict and John the
, housed in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence
He is also remembered for his striking profile portrait of Fra Girolamo Savonarola, the fanatical priest under whose influence he came in the 1490s.  He came to believe the message that Savonarola preached, that much of the art and literature of the Renaissance was sinful and that the sole purpose of painting should be to illustrate the lessons of the bible.

Consequently, he threw many of his own early paintings, particularly those which contained nudity or other sensual images, on Savonarola's famous bonfires.  When Savonarola was arrested, hung and burned at the stake in 1498, Bartolommeo gave up painting and entered the friary of San Domenico in Prato as a novice.

He entered the convent of San Marco in Florence in 1500 and was persuaded to return to painting in 1504 when his superior asked him to do so for the benefit of the order, who sold artworks to raise money.  He became head of the monastery workshop, a position occupied some 50 years earlier by another great Renaissance artist, Fra Angelico.

Before taking orders, Bartolommeo, the son of a mule driver, had been an apprentice in the Florence workshop of Cosimo Rosselli.  He set up a studio with another Florentine painter, Mariotto Albertinelli and soon came to be considered one of the greatest talents of his generation, his works standing comparison with those of Michelangelo, Raphael and Leonardo da Vinci.

Fra Bartolommeo's portrait of Fra Girolamo Savonarola is in the San Marco museum
Fra Bartolommeo's portrait of Fra Girolamo
Savonarola is in the San Marco museum
Savonarola's influence changed the direction of Bartolommeo's career. If he had not entered Holy Orders, it is likely he would have become an even more famous name.  Where Raphael and Michelangelo went to Rome to work at the Vatican, he stayed behind in Florence.

After resuming his career he nonetheless made an indelible mark on the history of art.  Following the completion of his Vision of St. Bernard in 1507 for a chapel in the Badia Fiorentina, he befriended Raphael when the younger artist visited Florence and they were said to have influenced each other.  When Bartolommeo eventually did travel to Rome in 1513, Raphael completed two unfinished pictures in Florence.

In the meantime, Bartolommeo had spent time in Venice, where he painted a Holy Father, St. Mary Magdalene and St. Catherine of Siena for the Dominicans of San Pietro Martire in Murano. As the Dominicans failed to pay for the work, he took it back to Lucca, where it can be seen now.

Also in Lucca, he painted an altarpiece Madonna and Child with Saints for the local cathedral and was then commissioned to paint an altarpiece for the Sala del Consiglio of Florence, now in the Museum of San Marco.

In Rome, he painted a Peter and Paul, now in the Pinacoteca Vaticana, returning to Florence to execute his St. Mark Evangelist for the Palazzo Pitti in Florence and the frescoes in the Dominican convent of Pian di Mugnone, near Fiesole, just outside Florence. His last work is fresco of Noli me tangere also in Pian di Mugnone.

Fra Bartolommeo died in 1517 at the age of 44. The painter and art historian Giorgio Vasari recorded that he suffered a “violent fever” after “having eaten some figs.” But it is thought more likely that he died of malaria.

The Palazzo Pretorio in Prato
The Palazzo Pretorio in Prato
Travel tip:

The city of Prato is just half an hour from Florence yet is almost Tuscany's forgotten gem.  It has a commercial heritage founded on the textile industry and its growth in the 19th century earned it the nickname the "Manchester of Tuscany". Prato is the home of the Datini archives, a significant collection of late medieval documents concerning economic and trade history, produced between 1363 and 1410, yet also has many artistic treasures, including frescoes by Filippo Lippi, Paolo Uccello and Agnolo Gaddi inside its Duomo and the external pulpit by Michelozzo and Donatello. The Palazzo Pretorio is a building of great beauty, situated in the pretty Piazza del Comune, and there are the ruins of the castle built for the medieval emperor and King of Sicily Frederick II.

Check TripAdvisor's guide to Prato hotels

The Church of San Marco in Florence
The Church of San Marco in Florence
Travel tip:

The San Marco religious complex in Florence comprises a church and a convent. During the 15th century, the convent was home to both the painter Fra Angelico as well as the preacher Savonarola.  The convent was stripped from the Dominicans in 1808, during the Napoleonic Wars, and again in 1866, when it became a possession of the state.  Until recently, it still housed a community of Dominican friars, but is now home to the Museo Nazionale di San Marco, where Fra Bartolommeo's portrait of Savonarola is on display.  Also housed at the convent is a famous collection of manuscripts in a library built by Michelozzo.

More reading:

What made Michelangelo the greatest of all the great artists

The precocious genius of Raphael

Artist and inventor - the extraordinary talents of Leonardo da Vinci

Also on this day:

(Picture credits: Palazzo Pretorio by Massimilianogalardi; Church of San Marco by Sailko; both via Wikimedia Commons)


27 March 2017

Alessandro La Marmora - military general

Founder of Italy's famed Bersaglieri corps

A painting, by an unknown artist, that shows General Alessandro La Marmora, in his Bersaglieri uniform
A painting, by an unknown artist, that shows General
Alessandro La Marmora, in his Bersaglieri uniform
The general who founded the Italian army's famous Bersaglieri corps was born on this day in 1799 in Turin.

Alessandro Ferrero La Marmora was one of 16 children born to the Marquis Celestino Ferrero della Marmora and his wife Raffaella.  The family had a strong military tradition. Alessandro was one of four of the male children who grew up to serve as generals.

La Marmora was a captain when he came up with the idea for the Bersaglieri in 1836.

He had spent much time in France, England, Bavaria, Saxony, Switzerland, and the Austrian county of Tyrol studying armies and tactics and he approached King Carlo Alberto of Piedmont-Sardinia with the idea of creating a new corps of light infantry.

He envisaged a mobile elite corps similar to the French chasseurs and Austrian jägers, trained to a high physical level and all crack marksmen.  He suggested they should act as scouts, providing screen for the main army, operate as skirmishers and use their sharpshooting skills to weaken the flanks of the enemy during a battle.

From this proposal emerged the Bersaglieri, soldiers who were trained to be bold, carrying out their duties with patriotic fervour despite personal danger.

A painting by Carlo Ademollo from 1880 shows Bersaglieri  soldiers storming Rome's Porta Pia in 1870
A painting by Carlo Ademollo from 1880 shows Bersaglieri
 soldiers storming Rome's Porta Pia in 1870
They wore distinctive headgear, both for ceremonial occasions and in action, that sported generally black grouse or capercaillie feathers, which was seen to symbolise their flair and bravery on the battlefield, setting them apart from others.

The other feature of the Bersaglieri was that, on parade, they moved in a fast jog rather than marching.

The feathers were important to morale, reinforcing belief in corps members that they were a force to be reckoned with against any opposing troops.  Battlefield helmets carried about 100 plumes compared with 400 on dress helmets.

The feathers served a practical purpose, too. Worn on the right side of the hat, they helped shade the shooting eye of the soldier as an aid to taking aim.  Also, because adornments to military headgear were normally worn on the left, they had the potential to confuse enemy spotters over the direction in which they were moving.

When, during the First World War, it was decided that feathers would make the Bersaglieri too conspicuous in trench warfare and the corps were ordered to wear plain tin helmets, morale suffered so much that the order had to be reversed.

Bersaglieri in action at the Battle of Novara
Bersaglieri in action at the Battle of Novara
The Bersaglieri made their first public appearance at a military parade on July 1, 1836 and so impressed King Carlo Alberto they were immediately integrated as part of the Piedmontese regular army.  The Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia was relatively poor and a quick-moving infantry corps with sharpshooting skills helped compensate for their army's lack of numbers.

Led by La Marmora, the Bersaglieri distinguished themselves during the First Italian War of Independence by storming a bridge in the Battle of Goita - in which La Marmora suffered a broken jaw when he was shot in the face - and became famous on September 20, 1870 when they charged through a breach in the walls of Rome at Porta Pia. Their assault led to the capture of the city, completing Italian unification.

Elements served in the expeditionary force sent by the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia to Russia during the Crimean War and during the First World War many Bersaglieri saw service on the front with Austria and in the Middle East. Their valour and bravery was noted.

In the Second World War, although largely disastrous for Mussolini's armies, the Bersaglieri regiments performed so effectively they not only impressed Italy's German allies, particularly during the North African campaign, but also their adversaries on the Allied side.

Today's Bersaglieri regiments are no longer foot soldiers but mechanised units. They have served as peacekeepers in the in Lebanon, Yugoslavia and in the Somali civil wars, and were also active in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

A modern Italian Bersagliere in the  service of Nato
A modern Italian Bersagliere in the
service of Nato
La Marmora had joined the Piedmontese army at the age of 15 in the regiment of the Grenadier Guards and became a second lieutenant. At the age of 22, during the First Italian War of Independence, he fought at the Battle of Novara and was awarded the cross of justice by the Mauritian Order.

In 1849, he was appointed Chief of Staff of the army and inspector of the Bersaglieri. He was in charge of the division stationed in the Ligurian city of Genoa and at the command of his brother Alfonso, the Royal commissioner, who had been sent to quell an anti-monarchy revolt.

In 1852 Alessandro was regular commander of the military division of Genoa and in the same year was promoted by King Vittorio Emanuele II to lieutenant general. He stayed in the Ligurian capital until 1854, when he married Rosa Roccatagliata,

In 1855, at the age of 56, he was lieutenant general in command of the second division of the army corps sent to the Crimea, but died at Balaklava from cholera. A memorial bust was erected outside among the statues and monuments of patriots on the Janiculum Hill in Rome.

Porta Pia and the monument to the Bersaglieri in Rome
Porta Pia and the monument to the Bersaglieri in Rome
Travel tip:

The achievements of the Bersaglieri are commemorated in Rome at the Historical Museum of the Bersaglieri, which was inaugurated by King Victor Emanuel III in June 1904, at the La Marmora barracks in the Trastevere district. From May  1909 it housed the medals won by the Bersaglieri corps.  The museum was moved to the area of Porta Pia in 1921.

Travel tip:

In addition to the bust at the Janiculum Hill in Rome, La Marmora is commemorated in Turin with a statue in bronze in the Giardino La Marmora on Via Cernaia in the centre of the city. The statue, which shows La Marmora in action with his sword drawn, was created in 1867 by the sculptors Giuseppe Cassano and Giuseppe Dini.

More reading:

How the capture of Rome completed Italian unification

Italy's decisive victory of the First World War

The Milanese uprising that drove out the Austrians

Also on this day:

1969: The birth of Gianluigi Lentini, once the world's most expensive footballer


26 March 2017

Elio de Angelis - racing driver

The 'last gentleman racer' of Formula One

Elio de Angelis drove for Lotus for six seasons
Elio de Angelis drove for Lotus for six seasons
The Formula One motor racing driver Elio de Angelis was born on this day in 1958 in Rome.

His record of winning two Grands Prix from 108 career starts in F1 may not look impressive but he was regarded as a talented driver among his peers, holding down a place with Lotus for six consecutive seasons alongside of such talents as Nigel Mansell and Ayrton Senna, both future world champions.

He had his best seasons in 1984 and 1985, which encompassed seven of his nine career podium finishes and in which he finished third and fifth respectively in the drivers' championship standings.

Tragically, he was killed in testing the following year, having left Lotus for Brabham in frustration after perceiving that Senna was being given more favourable treatment.

De Angelis was seen by many in motor racing as "the last of the gentlemen racers."

De Angelis hailed from a wealthy background in Rome
De Angelis hailed from a wealthy
background in Rome
In contrast to his teammate Mansell, who came from a working class background in the West Midlands of England, De Angelis was born into wealth.

His family was long established in the upper echelons of Roman society.  His father, Giulio, ran a successful construction company and raced powerboats, winning many championships in the 1960s and 1970s. Elio was the oldest of his four children.

This glittering pedigree had its disadvantages.  Elio was known to be on the target list for Red Brigades kidnappers and when he returned to Rome to visit his parents he was whisked from the airport in a bulletproof limousine and could not step out even for a pizza without two bodyguards for company.

On the other hand, he was free to indulge himself in whatever entertainment took his fancy.  He skied and played tennis and showed a talent for both, as he did for the piano, which he learned to concert standard.  Perhaps through his father's genes, he also loved speed.

He started karting when he was 14, finishing second in the World Championship in 1975 and winning the European title in 1976.

By the age of 19 he was driving in Formula Three, winning his first race on only his third start at the Mugello circuit near Florence. He then went on to win the Italian Formula Three Championship in 1977.

In 1978 he raced in Formula Two as well as Formula Three, in which his victory in the prestigious Monaco F3 race. That led to a chance to test for the Shadow F1 team.

Ultimately, his father paid for him to race for Shadow, which was not good for Elio's reputation at the start.  Yet his talent shone through and won his respect.

De Angelis in action for Lotus in 1985
De Angelis in action for Lotus in 1985
It also led him to being hired by Colin Chapman to drive for Lotus in 1980 and when, in only his second race, the 21-year-old Elio failed narrowly to become the youngest winner of a Formula One race when he finished second to René Arnoux in Brazil it was clear he was a star in the making.

Off the track he was both envied and admired.  He had style in abundance and any resentment of his privileged background was soon overcome by his easy charm.  He was friendly and respectful towards the other drivers but could also join in the jokes.  And such was his natural talent that he could turn up at the last minute for a qualifying session, sometimes so disorganised he might have to borrow a helmet from another driver, yet still set the fastest lap time.

His first victory came in the Austrian Grand Prix in 1982 and he finished ahead of Mansell in the drivers' standings all but the 1983 season, when his car was plagued by mechanical problems.

The 1985 season brought a second Grand Prix victory for De Angelis at San Marino after Alain Prost took the chequered flag first but was subsequently disqualified for an underweight car.  However, the arrival of Senna in place of Mansell, who had gone to Williams, marked a change in fortunes for the Italian.

Senna finished fourth to his fifth in the drivers' championship, despite De Angelis maintaining the consistency he and his car had shown in 1984, and when Lotus appeared to be concentrating their resources and expertise on the Brazilian driver De Angelis began to look elsewhere.

His move to Brabham seemed full of promise, giving him the chance to drive the BT55, a new low-frame chassis car designed to create less drag.  After only four races, however, during testing at the Paul Ricard circuit in France, De Angelis's BT55 lost its rear wing at high speed, catapulted over a barrier and caught fire.

The driver's physical injuries were minor but he was unable to escape from the car unaided. He died just over a day later from the affects of smoke inhalation. The lack of qualified track marshalls on hand, combined with a delay in the arrival of a helicopter to take him to hospital, were said to have contributed to his death.

Monza's duomo, with its white and green facade
Monza's Duomo, with its white and green facade
Travel tip:

Formula One motor racing in Italy is about Monza, which has hosted the Italian Grand Prix every year since 1950. The city itself - situated about 15km (9 miles) north of Milan - is underappreciated. It has several notable architectural attractions, including the Gothic Duomo, with its white-and-green banded facade, which contain the Corona Ferrea (Iron Crown), which according to legend features one of the nails from the Crucifixion. The crown is on show in the chapel dedicated to the Lombard queen Theodolinda.  The adjoining Museo e Tesoro del Duomo contains one of the greatest collections of religious art in Europe.

TripAdvisor's lowdown on the best hotels in Monza

The view across Rome from Monte Mario
The view across Rome from Monte Mario
Travel tip:

There are many ways of enjoying Rome, but to appreciate the city in its full perspective, the Monte Mario natural park offers breathtaking views. Situated to the west of the city, it is the highest point of Rome and it is possible to pick out almost every notable dome and bell tower. The most popular panoramic terrace, called Zodiaco, is near the astronomical observatory.

Hotels in Rome by Booking.com

More reading:

How Michele Alboreto almost ended Italy's long F1 drought

Vittorio Grigolo - the singer who chose opera over F1

Luigi Fagioli - still F1's oldest winning driver

25 March 2017

Francesco I - Grand Duke of Tuscany

Florentine ruler at heart of Medici murder mystery

A portrait of Francesco I by Agnolo di Cosimo, the Florentine artist better known as Bronzino
A portrait of Francesco I by Agnolo di Cosimo,
the Florentine artist better known as Bronzino.
Francesco I, the Medici Grand Duke whose death at the age of 46 became the subject of a murder mystery still unsolved 430 years later, was born on this day in 1541 in Florence.

The second to be given the title Grand Duke of Tuscany, Francesco was the son of Cosimo I de' Medici, the first to hold the title, and Eleonor of Toledo.

Like his father, Francesco was often a despotic leader, but while Cosimo's purpose was to maintain Florence's independence, Francesco's loyalties were not so clear. He taxed his subjects heavily but diverted large sums to the empires of Austria and Spain.

He continued his father's patronage of the arts, supporting artists and building the Medici Theatre as well as founding the Accademia della Crusca and the Uffizi Gallery. He was also interested in chemistry and alchemy and spent many hours in his private laboratory.

It was his personal life that he is remembered for, beginning with an unhappy marriage to Joanna of Austria, youngest daughter of Ferdinand I, Holy Roman Emperor and Anne of Bohemia and Hungary.  Joanna was reportedly homesick for her native Austria, and Francesco was unfaithful from the start. Joanna died in 1578, at the age of 31.

Soon after Joanna's death, Francesco married his Venetian mistress, Bianca Cappello, who had already borne him a son, Antonio. Because of the quick remarriage following Joanna's sudden death, rumours spread that Francesco and Bianca had poisoned her, the atmosphere of suspicion not helped by reports that Francesco's younger brother Pietro had extricated himself from a similarly unhappy marriage by killing his wife.

Bianca Capello, as portrayed by the artist Allori
 Alessandro in a portrait now in the Pitti Palace
Francesco was besotted with Bianca, for whom he built and decorated the Villa di Pratolino in Vaglia, 12km north of Florence on the way to Bologna. But she was not popular among Florentines.

They had no legitimate children, but after the death of Francesco's legitimate son Philip de' Medici, Antonio was proclaimed heir.

The two died 12 hours apart in October, 1587, at the Medici family villa in Poggio a Caiano.  The death certificates stated malaria as the cause, but it has been widely speculated since that the couple was poisoned, possibly by Francesco's brother, Ferdinando, who feared being excluded from the line of succession after Francesco announced Antonio as his heir.

Ferdinando had visited the couple at the villa shortly before they fell ill and when he heard of their plight returned immediately, taking charge of bulletins sent to the Holy See, which allegedly blamed his brother's illness on his poor eating habits and Bianca's on worry about her husband's condition.

Ferdinando also ordered the autopsies on the bodies, which led to the conclusion that malaria was to blame.

It was when the bodies were exhumed, two and a half centuries later in 1857, in order to be reburied in the basement of the Medici Chapel in San Lorenzo that reports of unusually well preserved bodies gave rise to theories that they were poisoned with arsenic, which slows down the putrefaction process.

The bodies were exhumed again in 2005 by a team from the Universities of Florence and Pisa, following which the parasite plasmodium falciparum, which causes malaria, was found in the skeletal remains of Francesco I, bolstering the credibility of the official documents.  Analysis of Francesco's facial hair detected low levels of arsenic, which seemed to rule out chronic exposure to the substance.

The Basilica di San Lorenzo in Florence, to which are attached the Medici family chapels
The Basilica di San Lorenzo in Florence, to which are
attached the Medici family chapels
When Bianca's remains were found in some broken terracotta jars buried under the crypt in the Church of Santa Maria a Bonistallo, near Francesco's villa, however, testing supported the theory of arsenic poisoning. The same findings were detected in organs from Francesco.

This suggested Francesco and Bianca were given small doses of arsenic for several days until it killed them, the doses too small and administered over a too short period of time to be detected in Francesco's facial hair.  The symptoms, such as fever, stomach-cramps and vomiting, could have been misinterpreted as an infection.

However, Gino Fornaciari, professor of forensic anthropology and director of the Pathology Museum at the University of Pisa, said that it was much more likely that malaria was the cause of death.

Travel tip:

Bunelleschi's Basilica of San Lorenzo in Florence is the site of two Medici Chapels, dating from the 16th and 17th centuries. The Sagrestia Nuova, (New Sacristy), was designed by Michelangelo. The larger Cappella dei Principi, (Chapel of the Princes), though proposed in the 16th century, was not begun until the early 17th century.  The octagonal Cappella dei Principi, commissioned by Ferdinand I and notable for its 59m (194ft) dome, is the distinguishing feature of the Basilica when seen from a distance.

Florence hotels by Booking.com

The beautiful Villa Medici at Poggio a Caiano
The beautiful Villa Medici at Poggio a Caiano
Travel tip:

The Villa Medici at Poggio a Caiano is one of the most famous Medici villas, located about 9km (six miles) south of Prato. Today it is a public building comprising the historic apartments where the Medici stayed and a museum. The villa is perhaps the best example of architecture commissioned by Lorenzo the Magnificent, in this case designed by Giuliano da Sangallo in around 1480.

More reading:

Cosimo de' Medici - the banker who founded the Medici dynasty

Gian Gastone - the last Medici to rule Florence

Why Cosimo II gave his support to Galileo


24 March 2017

Luigi Einaudi - politician and winemaker

Composer's grandfather was President of the Republic

Luigi Einaudi was President of the Italian Republic from 1948 to 1955
Luigi Einaudi was President of the Italian
Republic from 1948 to 1955
The politician, economist, journalist and winemaker Luigi Einaudi was born on this day in 1874 in Carrù, in the province of Cuneo in what is now Piedmont.

Einaudi, who is the grandfather of the musician and composer Ludovico Einaudi and the father of publisher Giulio Einaudi, was elected President of the new Italian Republic between 1948 and 1955, the second person to occupy the post.

He was actively involved with politics from his university days, when he supported socialist movements.  For a decade he edited a socialist magazine but later took a more conservative position.

After being appointed to the Senate of the Kingdom of Italy in 1919, in the days when the upper house of the Italian parliament was a non-elected body, he was one of the signatories in forming the Italian Liberal Party (PLI).

The PLI initially joined forces with the Italian Fascists and it was through their support that Mussolini was able to win the 1924 general election with an absolute majority.

Einaudi had been both a journalist and an academic since graduating in law from Turin University in 1895.

The musician and composer Ludovico Einaudi
The musician and composer Ludovico Einaudi
He became a professor at Turin University as well as the Polytechnic of Turin and the Bocconi University in Milan. He wrote on economic matters for the Turin daily La Stampa before moving to Corriere della Sera in Milan in 1903.

At first broadly supportive of some elements of Fascist policy, he became distrustful of Mussolini's plans for constitutional reform and when the socialist politician Giacomo Matteotti was murdered in 1924, with suspicion falling on gangsters recruited to Mussolini's secret police, he distanced himself from the Fascists.

In 1925, he was among the signatories of the Manifesto of the Anti-Fascist Intellectuals, written by the writer and philosopher Benedetto Croce. In the same year he resigned from Corriere della Sera after the Fascists removed the editor, Luigi Albertini.  His positions at the Bocconi University and Turin Polytechnic were taken from him but he retained his professorship at Turin University's law school, signing an oath of allegiance to Fascism rather that let the chair be occupied by a Fascist.

In the Senate, he voted against Mussolini's war in Ethiopia in 1935 and against proposed racial laws in 1938.  When Mussolini was deposed and arrested in 1943, he was appointed Rector of Turin University but when the Germans freed the dictator from house arrest and installed him as head of a new Italian Socialist Republic he fled Italy to Switzerland, where he was granted asylum.

Alcide de Gasperi, in whose governments Einaudi occupied several offices
Alcide de Gasperi
On his return he was made Governer of the Bank of Italy and became part of Italy's governing National Council prior to the formation of the Republic, in which he served its first prime minister, Alcide de Gasperi, in several ministerial positions, including deputy premier, before his election as President.  He was the first to hold that office to reside at the Palazzo Quirinale.

Einaudi entered the winemaking business in 1897 at the age of 23 when he acquired an 18th century farmhouse called San Giacomo outside Dogliani, his mother's home town, about 10km (six miles) from Carrù, which came with a ruined chapel and about 15 hectares of vines.

The farm began bottling Dolcetto di Dogliani under the label Poderi Einaudi (Einaudi Estates), with Luigi attending the harvest every year, despite his numerous commitments.

Although Luigi died in 1961 at the age of 87, the business remained in the family and now extends across 145 hectares, mainly in Dogliani but with some in Barolo.  The current owner is Matteo Sardagna, Luigi's great grandson and Ludovico's cousin.

The University of Turin now has an Einaudi Campus named in his honour.

Dogliani's church of Santi Quirico e Paolo
Dogliani's church of
Santi Quirico e Paolo
Travel tip:

Dogliani, where there has been a settlement since pre-Roman times, is a town of some 4,500 inhabitants about 60km (37 miles) southeast of Turin. As well as being the home of the red wine Dolcetto di Dogliani, it is famous for the annual tradition of Presepio Vivente, in which around 350 people take part in a living nativity scene in the medieval streets.  The town is also notable for the magnificent parish church of Santi Quirico and Paolo, designed by Giovanni Battista Schellino.

Dogliani hotels by Booking.com

A typical hamlet in the picturesque Langhe area of  Piedmont
A typical hamlet in the picturesque Langhe area of  Piedmont
Travel tip:

Like Dogliani, the similarly sized Carrù is one of the towns of the Langhe, a picturesque area of hills to the south and east of the Tanaro river famous for wines, cheeses and truffles, in particular the white truffles of Alba.  The wines produced in the region include Barbera, Barbaresco, Barolo, Dolcetto and the Langhe Nebbiolo.  Carrù hosts the Sagra dell'Uva (fair of the grape) each year.  The town's castle, now a bank, is said to be haunted by La dama blu (the blue lady), the wife of one of the counts of Carrù, who was killed by an arrow fired by a murderer who was never caught.

More reading:

Alcide de Gasperi - the prime minister who rebuilt Italy

The distinctive and beautiful music of Ludovico Einaudi

Why Giaocomo Matteotti was called a 'martyr of freedom'

Also on this day:

1926: The birth of actor and writer Dario Fo

(Picture credits: Ludovico Einaudi by Joergens; Church in Dogliani by Luigi.tuby; Langhe hamlet by M^3)