1 June 2017

Francesco Scipione – playwright

Erudite marquis revitalised Italian drama

An 18th century portrait of Scipione by  an unknown artist
An 18th century portrait of Scipione by
an unknown artist
Dramatist Francesco Scipione, marchese di Maffei, was born on this day in 1675 in Verona.

His most famous work was his verse tragedy, Merope, which attempted to introduce Greek and French classical simplicity into Italian drama. This prepared the way for the dramatic tragedies of Vittorio Alfieri and the librettos of Pietro Metastasio later in the 18th century.

After studying at Jesuit colleges in Parma and Rome, Scipione went to fight on the side of Bavaria in the War of the Spanish Succession. He saw action in 1704 at the Battle of Schellenberg, near Donauworth, when his brother, Alessandro, was second in command at the battle.

In 1710, Scipione was one of the founders of an influential literary journal, Giornale dei letterati, a vehicle for his ideas about reforming Italian drama. He founded a later periodical, Osservazioni letterarie, to promote the same cause.

Scipione spent time studying the manuscripts in the Royal Library at Turin and arranged the collection of objects of art which Charles Emmanuel, Duke of Savoy had brought from Rome. He also travelled extensively in France, England, the Netherlands and Germany and received an honorary doctorate from Oxford University.

The Scipione statue in Piazza dei
Signori in Verona
When Scipione’s verse tragedy, Merope, was first performed in 1713, it met with astonishing success. It was based on Greek mythology and the French neoclassical period, signalling the way for the later reform of Italian tragedy. It was popular with the audience because of its rapid action and the elimination of the prologue and the chorus.

In addition to Merope, Scipione wrote other plays, scholarly works and poetry, and he also translated the epic poems, the Iliad and Aeneid.

Another of his major works is a valuable account of the history and antiquities of his native city - Verona illustrata: A Compleat History of the Ancient Amphitheatres and in particular that of Verona.

Scipione built a museum in Verona to house his art and archaeological collection, which he bequeathed to his native city. He died there at the age of 79 in 1755.  A statue to him was later erected in Piazza dei Signori in Verona.

Travel tip:

The secondary school, Liceo Maffei, is named in Scipione’s honour in the town of his birth, Verona. The city in the Veneto is famous as the setting for Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet as well as for its Roman amphitheatre, L’Arena di Verona in Piazza Bra, where opera and music concerts are now regularly performed.

The Biblioteca Reale is housed inside the Royal Palace in Turin's Piazzetta Reale
The Biblioteca Reale is housed inside the Royal Palace
in Turin's Piazzetta Reale
Travel tip:

The Royal Library, Biblioteca Reale, in Turin, where Scipione studied the manuscripts, is on the ground floor of the Royal Palace in Piazzetta Reale. It was originally established to hold the rare manuscripts collected by members of the House of Savoy.

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