30 November 2017

Veronica Gambara – writer and stateswoman

Politically astute poet wrote an ode to Emperor Charles V

Veronica Gambara, as portrayed by Antonio Allegri, known as Il Correggio
Veronica Gambara, as portrayed by Antonio
Allegri, known as Il Correggio
Veronica Gambara, a lyric poet who ruled the state of Correggio for 32 years, was born on this day in 1485 in Pralboino in the province of Brescia.

Under her rule, the court of Correggio became an important literary salon visited by many writers and artists.

Gambara signed a treaty with the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, which guaranteed Correggio would not be besieged and in her political poems she expressed Italy as an entity centuries before unification.

Gambara came from an accomplished family, one of the seven children of Count Gianfrancesco da Gambara and Alda Pio da Carpi.

The humanist poets Ginevre and Isotta Noarola were her great aunts and Emilia Pia, the principal female interlocutor of Baldassare Castiglione’s Il Cortegiano, was her aunt.

Gambara studied Latin, Greek, philosophy and theology and by the age of 17 had begun corresponding with the poet, Pietro Bembo, who later became her mentor when she sent him her poetry to read.

When Gambara was 24 she married her cousin, Giberto, Count of Correggio, a widower aged 50, and they had two sons, Ippolito and Girolamo. After her husband’s death in 1518, Gambara took charge of the state, which included managing Correggio’s condottieri. She also supervised the education of her two sons and her stepdaughter, Costanza.

Pietro Bembo was an influence on Gambara's poetry
Pietro Bembo was an influence on
Gambara's poetry
With Gambara at its head, the court of Correggio was visited by important figures such as Pietro Bembo, Gian Giorgio Trissino, Marcantonio Flaminio, Ludovico Ariosto and Titian.

Although Gambara’s poems were not published during her lifetime they were circulated in manuscript form. About 80 of her poems and 50 of her letters are still in existence.

She composed poems on political issues, devotional poems and love poems dedicated to her husband. She also corresponded with the poet Bernardo Tasso and Emperor Charles V.

After allying Correggio with the Holy Roman Empire, Gambara personally received the Emperor in Correggio in 1530, when she composed an ode to him in Latin. They signed a treaty together guaranteeing Correggio’s safety. This was broken in 1538 when the Count of Mirandola and Concordia launched an attack on Correggio but Gambara organised a successful defence and saw to it that Charles V paid for improved fortifications.

Gambara died in June 1550. A complete English translation of her poems was published in 2014.

The 18th century Palazzo Gambara in Pralboino
The 18th century Palazzo Gambara in Pralboino
Travel tip:

Pralboino, where Veronica Gambara was born, is a village in the province of Brescia in Lombardy. It is about 35 kilometres to the south of the city of Brescia. The 18th century Palazzo Gambara was built on the site of a previous 13th century castle, where the poet lived until her marriage to the Count of Correggio.

The Corso Giuseppe Mazzini in Correggio
The Corso Giuseppe Mazzini in Correggio
Travel tip:

Correggio, which was ruled by Veronica Gambara between 1518 and 1550, is a town in the Emilia-Romagna region. The Renaissance painter Antonio Allegri, who was known as Il Correggio, was born there in 1489. One of the main sights in Correggio is the elegant Palazzo dei Principi in Corso Cavour. In 1659 Correggio was annexed to the Duchy of Modena. The present Duke of Modena, Prince Lorenz of Belgium, Archduke of Austria-Este, is the current holder of the title of Prince of Correggio.

29 November 2017

Cardinal Andrea della Valle – antiquities collector

Restoration and conservation techniques set example to others

A medal bearing the image of Cardinal Andrea della Valle
A medal bearing the image of Cardinal Andrea della Valle
Andrea della Valle, remembered for amassing one of the earliest known collections of Roman antiquities, was born into a noble family on this day in 1463 in Rome.

He was the son of Filippo della Valle and Girolama Margani, and was the second of their four children.

After entering the Church, he was elected Bishop of Crotone in 1496. He was chosen to direct the Apostolic Chancery between 1503 and 1505 and served as Apostolic secretary during the reign of Pope Julius II.

Della Valle was transferred to the titular diocese of Miletus in 1508, but resigned from it to give way to his nephew, Quinzio Rustici, in 1523.

He was created cardinal priest in 1517 and participated in the papal conclaves of 1521 and 1523.

As archpriest of the Basilica Santa Maria Maggiore, Della Valle ceremonially opened and closed the holy door in the Jubilee year of 1525. The door is sealed by mortar and cement from the inside so it cannot normally be opened, but is ceremoniously opened during holy year to allow pilgrims to enter and gain plenary indulgences.

An engraving by the Dutch artist Hieronymus Cock of the inner courtyard of the Palazzo Valle
An engraving by the Dutch artist Hieronymus Cock of the
inner courtyard of the Palazzo Valle
Della Valle had inherited some antiquities collected by his ancestors but was always eager to acquire more, according to the art historian, Giorgio Vasari.

In 1520 he commissioned the sculptor and architect Lorenzetto Lotti to create a palace for him which would be a suitable setting for the sculptures, inscriptions and other antiquities he had amassed.

The sculptures were eventually displayed in a loggia in Palazzo Valle’s inner courtyard, which was described by Vasari as a sort of hanging garden. The architectural framing and the care with which the collection was presented became a model for other collections of Roman antiquities.

The systematic restoration of damaged items was carried out on his collection, which was to become common practice with other Roman antiquities during the sixteenth century.

After Della Valle’s death in 1534, the Palazzo passed to his niece, Faustina, who was married to Camillo Capranica. The antiquities collection was moved to the palace of Bishop Bruto della Valle.

In 1584 it was purchased by Cardinal Ferdinand dè Medici and was shared between the Villa dè Medici in Rome and other Medici homes in Florence.

Cardinal della Valle was buried in the tomb of his ancestors in the church of Santa Maria in Aracoeli in Rome.

The Basilica of Sant'Andrea della Valle is opposite Palazzo Valle.
The Basilica of Sant'Andrea della Valle
is opposite Palazzo Valle.
Travel tip:

Palazzo Valle in Corso Vittorio Emanuele II was designed by Lorenzetto Lotti with an inner courtyard to house Della Valle’s large collection of Roman statues and reliefs. It was unfinished at the time of his death in 1534 and after it was inherited by his niece, Faustina, who was married to Camillo Capranica, it became known as Palazzo Valle-Capranica. It is now the headquarters of the Confederazione Generale dell’Agricoltura.

Travel tip:

The Basilica of Santa Maria in Aracoeli - St Mary of the Altar of Heaven - where Cardinal della Valle was buried in his family tomb, is on the Campidoglio, the Capitoline Hill, one of the seven hills of Rome. It has a 13th century brick facade but its origins are believed to date back to the Augustan era. In the Middle Ages condemned criminals used to be publicly executed at the foot of the steps.

28 November 2017

Mario Nascimbene - film music composer

First Italian to score for Hollywood

Mario Nascimbene
Mario Nascimbene
The composer Mario Nascimbene, most famous for composing the music for more than 150 films, was born on this day in 1913 in Milan.

Nascimbene’s legacy in the history of Italian cinema is inevitably overshadowed by the work of Ennio Morricone and the late Nino Rota, two composers universally acknowledged as giants of Italian film music.

Yet the trailblazer for the great Italian composers of movie soundtracks was arguably Nascimbene, whose engagement to score Joseph L Mankiewicz’s 1954 drama The Barefoot Contessa won him the distinction of becoming the first Italian to write the music for a Hollywood production.

It was such an unexpected commission that Nascimbene confessed in an interview in 1986 that when he was first contacted about the film by Mankiewicz’s secretary he shouted down the phone and hung up, suspecting a hoax perpetrated by a friend who only a few months earlier had caught him out in a similar wind-up over the score for the William Wyler movie Roman Holiday.

Only after a third call from the secretary did he reluctantly agree to meet the director and when his doorbell rang he was convinced his friend would be on the other side as before, only to fling it open and find Mankiewicz standing on his front step, ready to explain that he had been impressed by his work in Italian cinema and did indeed want to hire him.

The movie poster for Joseph Mankiewicz's The Barefoot Contessa
The movie poster for Joseph Mankiewicz's
The Barefoot Contessa
The Barefoot Contessa, starring Humphrey Bogart, Ava Gardner and Edmond O’Brien, won an Oscar for O’Brien as Best Supporting Actor and was a box office hit, gaining Nascimbene a level of exposure he had never before known.

More work in America soon came his way and more success, his scores for Robert Rossen’s Alexander the Great, starring Richard Burton and Claire Bloom, A Farewell to Arms, starring Rock Hudson and Jennifer Jones, Mankiewicz’s The Quiet American, starring Audie Murphy and Michael Redgrave, and The Vikings, a swashbuckling romp starring Kirk Douglas, establishing his reputation.

He cracked the British market, too, with his commission to score the 1959 movie Room at the Top, directed by Jack Clayton and nominated for six Academy Awards, winning Best Actress for Simone Signoret and Best Adapted Screenplay for Neil Paterson.

Nascimbene himself won three Nastro d'Argento awards for best score for Rome 11:00 (1952), Violent Summer (1960) and  for Pronto... c'è una certa Giuliana per te (1968).

In 1991, Nascimbene was awarded a "Career David" from the David di Donatello Awards, honouring his lifetime achievements.

Nascimbene's work is overshadowed by Ennio Morricone
Nascimbene's work is overshadowed
by Ennio Morricone (above)
Born in Milan, Nascimbene attended the  "Giuseppe Verdi" Conservatory of Music under the guidance of Ildebrando Pizzetti, studying composition and orchestral conducting.  After graduating, he wrote several pieces of chamber music and a ballet.

His first film work came in 1941 for the Italian movie Love Song and the success of that project encouraged him to concentrate his energy on the cinema, where he came to be regarded as one of the finest movie composers of his lifetime.

Nascimbene was particularly appreciated for inventing ‘Mixerama’, a revolutionary style that allowed him to incorporate into his scores the sounds of non-orchestral instruments, such as the jaw harp and harmonica, and even everyday noises such as the ticking of a clock, the ring of a bicycle bell or, famously, the clacking of typewriters in Giuseppe de Santis’s neorealist Rome 11:00.

Having worked briefly but successfully with Federico Fellini on Amore in Città (Love in the City) in 1953, he was disappointed that Fellini eventually chose Rota as his favoured composer, but established good relationships of his own with De Santis and Roberto Rossellini, composing the score for the latter’s 1975 epic The Messiah.

Nascimbene, who also did some work in contemporary opera and jazz music, was twice married.  He died in Rome in 2002 at the age of 88.

Colourful Via Abramo Lincoln
Colourful Via Abramo Lincoln
Travel tip:

One of the quirkier attractions in Milan can be found to the east of the city centre at the centre of a block just beyond Porta Vittoria, bordered to the south by Corso XXII Marzo and to the north by Corso Indipendenza.  Running parallel with Via Pasquale Sottocorno and accessed from Via Benvenuto Cellini, the narrow, tree-lined Via Abramo Lincoln is the most unusual street in the context of the city, a collection of small, terraced houses, each painted a different colour from its neighbour.  It has the feel of London’s Notting Hill and is all that exists of a dream of a workers’ co-operative in the late 19th century to create an area of small, affordable houses which, largely because of economic turmoil and the First World War, never progressed beyond a single street.

Parco Papa Giovanni Paolo II, behind the Basilica  of San Lorenzo Maggiore
Parco Papa Giovanni Paolo II, behind the Basilica
of San Lorenzo Maggiore
Travel tip:

Another less well-known place to visit in Milan is the Parco Papa Giovanni Paolo II, not far from the Navagli canal district in an area known as Ticinese, a stretch of green public space that links to basilicas, the Basilica of Sant’Eustorgio to the south and to the north the magnificent Basilica of San Lorenzo Maggiore, with its Corinthian columns left behind from a 3rd century Roman temple.

27 November 2017

Horace - Roman poet

Writer who ‘seized the day’ and left his vivid account of it

Horace, as imagined by the 19th century Italian painter Giacomo di Chirico
Horace, as imagined by the 19th century
Italian painter Giacomo di Chirico
Quintus Horatius Flaccus, better known as Horace, died on this day in 8 BC in Rome.

He had become a leading poet during the reign of the Emperor Augustus and acquired a farm near Rome which he made famous through his poetry.

His Odes and his more informal Satires and verse Epistles vividly portrayed contemporary Roman society, with the background themes of love, friendship and philosophy.

Horace’s career coincided with Rome’s momentous change from a republic to an empire and he became a spokesman for the new regime.

He is said to have revealed far more about himself and his way of life in his writings than any other poet in antiquity. His most famous two words are ‘carpe diem’ – taken from his first book of Odes – which are usually translated as ‘seize the day’.

Horace was born in 65 BC in Venusia in southern Italy, a town that lay on a trade route between Apulia and Basilicata. Horace’s father had been a slave but had managed to gain his freedom and improve his social position.

He spent money on his son’s education and eventually took him to Rome to find him the best school.

At the age of 19 Horace went to Athens to enrol in the Academy founded by Plato.

The German painter Anton von Werner's depiction of Horace
The German painter Anton von
Werner's depiction of Horace
After the assassination of Julius Caesar, Marcus Junius Brutus came to Athens seeking support for the Republican cause. He recruited Horace as a senior officer and the poet learnt the basics of military life while on the march.

The Republican forces were crushed by Augustus, Caesar’s heir, and Mark Anthony, at the Battle of Philippi. Augustus offered an early amnesty to his opponents and Horace accepted it. Back in Rome he obtained a position as a clerk of the treasury and wrote his poetry.

He was introduced by the poet Virgil to Gaius Maecenas, a principal political advisor to the Emperor Augustus and Horace forged friendships with them both. He went on several journeys with Maecenas, which he described in his poetry.

Horace received the gift of a farm from Maecenas, which included income from five tenants, enabling him to work less and spend more time on his poetry.

He died at the age of 56, only a few months after Maecenas. He was laid to rest near his friend on the Esquiline Hill in Rome. Both men bequeathed their property to Augustus, an honour that the emperor expected from his friends.

The Odes written by Horace attracted interest during the Renaissance and went on to have a profound influence on western poetry.

The poet Alfred Lord Tennyson referred to them as ‘jewels that sparkle for ever’. The intricacy of these jewels has challenged many translators over the centuries and although each Ode has now been translated thousands of times, new versions continue to appear.

Venosa has a statue of Horace in its main square
Venosa has a statue of Horace in its main square
Travel tip:

Venusia, where Horace was born, is now called Venosa and is a town in the province of Potenza in Basilicata. Remains of the ancient city walls and of an amphitheatre can still be seen there and there are fragments of Roman architecture built into the walls of the cathedral.  There is a statue of Horace in the main square and a museum dedicated to him.

Travel tip:

The Esquiline Hill in Rome, where Horace and his friend Maecenas were buried, is one of the celebrated seven hills of Rome. Rising above the Colosseum to the northeast, much of it today is taken up with the Parco del Colle Oppio, a large park covering the southern spur, the Oppian Hill. It was once a fashionable residential district.  Nero built his extravagant, mile-long Golden House there, while Trajan constructed his bath complex, the remains of which are visible today along with the Temple of Minerva Medica. The Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore was built on the Esquiline Hill, on the Cispian spur.

26 November 2017

Letizia Moratti – politician and businesswoman

First woman to be Mayor of Milan and head of RAI

Letizia Moratti was a government minister and the first female Mayor of Milan
Letizia Moratti was a government minister
and the first female Mayor of Milan
Letizia Moratti, one of Europe’s best-known businesswomen and a successful politician, was born on this day in 1949 in Milan.

Married to the oil magnate Gianmarco Moratti, she was chair of the state television network RAI between 1994 and 1996, a minister in former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s second and third administrations and Mayor of Milan between 2006 and 2011.

Born Letizia Maria Brichetto Arnaboldi, her antecedents are the Brichetto family from Genoa, who founded the first insurance brokerage company in Italy, and the noble Arnaboldi family from Milan.  Her grandmother, Mimona Brichetto Arnaboldi, was a society hostess in the 1930s and an outspoken opponent of Fascism.

Letizia attended a private school in Milan and had classical dance classes at the Carla Strauss Academy in the Brera district.  She attended the University of Milan and graduated in political science.

At around the same time, she met Gianmarco Moratti, an oil contractor whose brother, Massimo, a petrochemicals tycoon, is the former chairman of Internazionale.

With funding from the Moratti family, Letizia launched her first business at the age of 25 when she founded GPA, an insurance brokerage which eventually became a subsidiary of the Moratti Group.  In 1990 she joined the board of the Italian Commercial Bank.

Moratti with the president Giorgio Napolitano on the occasion she was honoured by the state
Moratti with the president Giorgio Napolitano on
the occasion she was honoured by the state
It was during Silvio Berlusconi’s first administration, in 1994, that she became the first woman to be chair of RAI. During her two years in the role, she supervised radical internal reorganization turned losses into a significant profit.

Moratti joined Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party and served as Minister for Education, Universities and Scientific Research from 2001 to 2006, during which time she introduced reforms in the Italian schools system and in university teaching.

After leaving national government she stood for mayor of her home city in 2006 and won with a 52 per cent share of the vote, which opened the way for her follow her own ideals, particularly in terms of the environment.

The first woman to be elected mayor of the city, she introduced measures to encourage Milanese citizens to ride bicycles, increasing the number of secure places to leave bicycles and making available 5,000 bicycles to rent, and to discourage the use of cars by introducing a congestion charge based on emissions.

During her period in office, she also made a successful bid to have Milan host Expo 2015.

Moratti has been a fervent campaigner against drug abuse
Moratti has been a fervent campaigner
against drug abuse
Moratti failed to win a second term, losing to a left-wing candidate who, ironically, was supported by her brother-in-law, Massimo, who could never quite reconcile his support for his sister-in-law with his opposition to Berlusconi, owner of Inter’s city rivals, AC Milan.

Away from politics, Moratti has been a fervent anti-drugs campaigner. Since 1996 she has been a member of the steering committee of Rainbow - the International Association Against Drugs – and in March 2000 she was appointed Civic Ambassador of the United Nations against Drugs and Crime.

She is the founder of the San Patrignano Foundation, which aims to help drug users find a different path.

Since February 2012, Moratti has been developing microcredit projects aimed at helping disadvantaged people who do not qualify for traditional bank loans.

In January 2014 she was awarded the honour of Grande Ufficiale al Merito della Repubblica Italiana.

She has two children, Gabriele and Gilda, and is currently chair of the management board of UBI Banca.

A typical narrow street in the trendy Brera district of Milan
A typical narrow street in the trendy Brera
district of Milan
Travel tip:

The Brera district of Milan is so named because in around the ninth century, for military purposes, it was turned into a ‘brayda’ – a Lombardic word meaning ‘an area cleared of trees’.  Today, it is one of Milan’s most fashionable neighbourhoods, its narrow streets lined with trendy bars and restaurants, and has been home to artists and writers traditionally, giving it a Bohemian feel that has brought comparisons with Montmartre in Paris.  The Brera is home to the Brera Academy of Fine Arts and the Brera Art Gallery.

Bicycles to rent are a feature of Milan today
Bicycles to rent are a feature of Milan today
Travel tip:

Visitors to Milan by car should note that access to the centre of the city is subject, like London and other major cities, to a congestion charge, introduced during Letizia Moratti’s time as mayor.  The area covers about 8.2 square kilometres and is controlled by entry gates with cameras.  Charges vary for residents and non-residents and the vehicle’s pollution rating. Whereas hybrid and electric cars have benefitted from exemptions, some diesel vehicles are banned.  There are a number of out-of-town car parks with transport access to the centre, where many visitors take advantage of the bicycle rental scheme, also introduced by Letizia Moratti.

25 November 2017

Giorgio Faletti – writer and entertainer

Comedian who became best-selling novelist

Giorgio Faletti had a varied career before becoming a best-selling novelist
Giorgio Faletti had a varied career before
becoming a best-selling novelist
Giorgio Faletti, who became a best-selling thriller writer, was born on this day in 1950 in Asti in Piedmont.

He was a successful actor, comedian, and singer-songwriter before he turned his hand to writing fiction. His first thriller, I Kill (Io uccido), sold more than four million copies.

Faletti’s books have now been published in 25 languages throughout Europe, South America, China, Japan, Russia and the US.

Faletti graduated from law school but then began a career as a comedian at the Milanese Club ‘Derby’.

In 1983 he made his debut on local television before appearing alongside the popular hostess and former actress, Raffaella Carrà, on RAI’s daytime game show, Pronto, Raffaella? He was cast as a comedian in the popular variety show, Drive In, which was followed by other television successes.

He wrote the soundtrack for a TV series in which he was one of the main actors and then released an album of his songs.

In 1992 he took part in the San Remo Music Festival with Orietta Berti with the song Rumba di tango.

The cover of Giorgio Faletti's  debut thriller, I Kill
The cover of Giorgio Faletti's
debut thriller, I Kill
In 1994, performing his own song, Signor tenente, he came second at San Remo.  In all, he recorded six albums. His last, entitled Nonsense, was released in 2000.

A motor racing enthusiast, Falleti began his writing career by penning a column for the Italian weekly magazine, Autosprint.

His first book was the humorous book, Porco il mondo che cio sotto I piedi! in 1994. His second book came as a surprise, the thriller, I Kill (Io uccido).

The book sold four million copies and the follow-up, The Killer In My Eyes (Niente di vero tranne gli occhi), three million and a half copies.

The writer Jeffery Deaver said of Faletti: ‘In my neck of the woods, people like Faletti are called larger than life, living legends.’

In November 2005 Faletti received the De Sica Prize for literature from the President of the Italian Republic.

The following year, in which he released his novel Outside Of An Evident Destiny (Fuori da un evidente destino) he starred in the film Notte prima degli esami (First Night of the Exams), in which he was nominated for the David di Donatello Award for best supporting actor.  It was the first of several acting roles.

In recognition of his literary achievements, Faletti was appointed president of the Astense Library, the civic library of Asti, in 2012.  The library subsequently became home to the Fondazione Biblioteca Astense Giorgio Faletti.

Faletti was asked to sign his name on the Muretto di Alassio
Faletti was asked to sign his name on the Muretto di Alassio
After his successes in music and literature, he was invited to sign his name on the Muretto di Alassio, a wall in the Ligurian resort of Alassio embedded with ceramic tiles, each bearing the signature of a celebrity.

Married to Roberta Bellesini, with whom he shared a house on the island of Elba, he died of lung cancer in Turin in 2014, aged 63.

Travel tip:

Asti, where Faletti was born, is a city in the Piedmont region of Turin, famous for its high-quality wines, Moscato d’Asti, a sparkling white wine and Barbera, a prestigious red wine.

Piazza Castello is at the heart of royal Turin
Piazza Castello is at the heart of royal Turin
Travel tip:

Turin, where Faletti died, was once the capital of Italy and its shopping streets reflect its former prestige, with 18km (11 miles) of arcades featuring the top names in fashion and jewellery. It is an important business centre and has architecture demonstrating its rich history, which is linked with the Savoy Kings of Italy. Piazza Castello, with the royal palace, royal library and Palazzo Madama, which used to house the Italian senate, is at the heart of ‘royal’ Turin.

24 November 2017

Pietro Torrigiano – sculptor

Achievements overshadowed by assault on Michelangelo

Pietro Torrigiano was born in Florence in 1472
Pietro Torrigiano was born in Florence in 1472
Pietro Torrigiano, the sculptor credited with introducing Renaissance art to England in the early years of the 16th century but who is best remembered for breaking the nose of Michelangelo in a fight, was born on this day in 1472 in Florence.

The incident with the man who would become the greatest artist of their generation came when both were teenagers, studying in Florence under the patronage of Lorenzo de’ Medici.

Torrigiano was older than Michelangelo by two and a half years and confessed some years later that he found his young rival to be somewhat irritating, especially since it was his habit to peer over the shoulders of his fellow students and make disparaging comments about the quality of their work.

On the occasion they clashed, when Michelangelo was said to be about 15, he was with Torrigiano and some others in the church of Santa Maria del Carmine, studying frescoes by Masaccio.  Looking at a sketch Torrigiano was making, the younger boy made some slighting remark and Torrigiano lashed out.

He caught him such a blow that Michelangelo, who was knocked out cold at the time, suffered a broken nose and a disfigurement he would carry for life.

Torrigiano's tomb of Henry VII in Westminster Abbey
Torrigiano's tomb of Henry VII in Westminster Abbey
Torrigiano knew he would be in trouble and when word reached him that Lorenzo de’ Medici was incensed by the incident he fled Florence for Rome.

He would not return to the Tuscan city until more than a quarter of a century had passed, by which time Michelangelo was famous, the creator of masterpieces of sculpture such as his Pietà and David, and the wonderful frescoes that adorned the Sistine Chapel.

In conversation with Benvenuto Cellini, a young sculptor he was trying to recruit as an assistant, Torrigiano confessed to having been the man responsible for Michelangelo’s crooked nose, explaining that he was regularly annoyed by Michelangelo’s sniping comments but on this occasion had let his temper get the better of him.

He is said to have told Cellini: “I got more angry than usual, and clenching my fist, gave him such a blow on the nose that I felt bone and cartilage go down like biscuit beneath my knuckles; and this mark of mine he will carry with him to the grave.”

At the time it happened, though, Torrigiano made no such confession.  To escape the Medici wrath, he went to Rome, where he worked briefly with Pinturicchio, but soon put his artistic ambitions to one side and essentially went on the run.

Torrigiano's extraordinarily lifelike sculpture of Henry VII in terracotta
Torrigiano's extraordinarily lifelike sculpture
of Henry VII in terracotta
A bullish man and something of a braggart, he made a living for a while as a professional soldier, moving from one state to another. 

He is thought to have been invited to England by Henry VIII, who was looking for a court artist shortly after the death of his father, Henry VII.

Torrigiano created sculptures in terracotta of Henry VII, Henry VIII and John Fisher, the Roman Catholic bishop that Henry VIII would ultimately have killed.  He is also thought to have made an extremely lifelike funeral effigy of Henry VII.

Henry VIII ultimately commissioned Torrigiano to created the magnificent tomb of his father and his queen that can still be admired in the Henry VII Lady Chapel in Westminster Abbey.  When he met Cellini in Florence in about 1518, he was trying to recruit young artists to work with him in England on other commissions in the Abbey.

Cellini, horrified at his confession, refused to take up his offer and Torrigiano left Italy again, never to return.

He spent the last few years of his life in Sevilla in Spain, where the Museum of Fine Arts houses his sculpture of Saint Jerome (Hieronymus), which he finished in 1525.

Still inclined to outbursts of violent temper, he became well known to the authorities and was often in trouble.  In fact, he died in prison in 1528 at the age of 55.

Inside the church of Santa Maria del Carmine
Inside the church of Santa Maria del Carmine 
Travel tip:

The church of Santa Maria del Carmine, of the Carmelite Order, is in the Oltrarno area of Florence. The Renaissance frescoes by Masaccio and Masolino di Panicale can be found in the Brancacci Chapel. The church was built in 1268, enlarged in 1328 and 1464 and renovated in Baroque style in the 16th and 17th centuries.

Part of Pinturicchio's fresco cycle at the Borgia Apartments
Part of Pinturicchio's fresco cycle at the Borgia Apartments
Travel tip:

During his brief time in Rome, Torrigiano worked with Pinturicchio – real name Bernardino di Betto – on decorating the Borgia Apartments, a suite of rooms in the Apostolic Palace adapted for personal use by Pope Alexander VI (Rodrigo de Borgia), with paintings and frescoes.  After Rodrigo’s death in 1503 the rooms remained little used for centuries but are now considered part of the Vatican Library.

23 November 2017

Franco Nero – actor

The film Camelot sparked long love affair with English actress

Franco Nero made his name playing in the Spaghetti Western Django
Franco Nero made his name playing in
the Spaghetti Western Django
Francesco Clemente Giuseppe Sparanero, better known by his stage name Franco Nero, was born on this day in 1941 in San Prospero Parmense.

Nero became well-known for playing the title role in Sergio Corbucci’s Spaghetti Western film Django in 1966 and then reprising the role in Nello Rossati’s film Django Strikes Again in 1987.

The actor has had a long-standing relationship with British actress Vanessa Redgrave, which began in the 1960s during the filming of the musical comedy-drama Camelot. They had a son, Carlo Gabriel Redgrave Sparanero in 1969. Now known as Carlo Gabriel Nero, their son is a screenwriter and director.

Franco Nero was the son of a Carabinieri Officer, who was originally from San Severo, a city in the province of Foggia in Apulia.

He grew up in Bedonia in Emilia-Romagna and then in Milan, where he studied briefly at the Economy and Trade Faculty of the University. He left there to study at the Piccolo Teatro in Milan.

Nero’s first film role was a small part in Giuseppe Fina's Pelle Viva in 1962. After his success in Django, he played the part of Lancelot in Camelot, opposite Vanessa Redgrave as Guinevere, in 1967.

Nero with his and Vanessa Redgrave's son Carlo, in 1979
Nero with his and Vanessa Redgrave's
son Carlo, in 1979
He then appeared in Damiano Damiani's Mafia film, Il giorno della civetta, opposite Claudia Cardinale in 1968.

Nero has appeared in more than 150 films during the last 55 years. He wrote, produced and starred in the film Jonathan degli orsi in 1993.

Nero was apart from Vanessa Redgrave for many years, during which they both had relationships with other people. He walked her late daughter, Natasha Richardson, down the aisle when she married actor Liam Neeson in 1994. Natasha’s father, Tony Richardson, had died in 1991.

Carlo Nero directed his mother in the cinematic adaptation of Wallace Shawn’s play The Fever in 2004.

Franco Nero and Vanessa Redgrave were reunited and were married on 31 December 2006.

Travel tip:

San Prospero Parmense, where Franco Nero was born, is a small hamlet in the province of Parma in Emilia-Romagna, located about six kilometres from the city of Parma. The Church of San Prospero in Via Emilio Lepido dates back to at least 980 and the Baroque Villa Mattei, accessible from Viale Dall’Aglio, was built in 1682 by the noble Mariani family.

Croce Monte Bue
Croce Monte Bue
Travel tip:

Bedonia, where Franco Nero lived as a child, is a city in Emilia-Romagna but it is close to the region of Liguria and its colourful buildings show Ligurian influence. North of the town on top of the Pelpi mountain is a huge cross, the Croce Monte Bue. This area became a pilgrimage site after a miracle of the Virgin Mary occurred there more than 100 years ago.

22 November 2017

Paolo Gentiloni – Prime Minister of Italy

Current premier is both noble and a Democrat

Paolo Gentiloni has been prime minister of Italy since December 2016
Paolo Gentiloni has been prime minister
of Italy since December 2016
Italy’s Prime Minister, Paolo Gentiloni, was born on this day in 1954 in Rome.

A member of the Democratic Party, Gentiloni was asked to form a Government in December 2016 by Italian President Sergio Mattarella.

A professional journalist before he entered politics, Gentiloni is a descendant of Count Gentiloni Silveri and holds the titles of Nobile of Filottranno, Nobile of Cingoli and Nobile of Macerata.

The word Nobile, derived from the Latin nobilis, meaning honourable, indicates a level of Italian nobility ranking somewhere between the English title of knight and baron.

Gentiloni is related to the politician Vincenzo Ottorino Gentiloni, who was a leader of the Conservative Catholic Electoral Union and a key ally of Prime Minister Giovanni Giolitti, who held the office five times between 1892 and 1921.

Gentiloni attended the Classical Lyceum Torquato Tasso in Rome and went on to study at La Sapienza University in the city where he became a member of the Student Movement, a left wing youth organisation. He moved on to become a member of the Workers’ Movement for Socialism and graduated in Political Sciences.

He came director of La Nuova Ecologia, the official newspaper of Legambiente, which led to him first meeting Francesco Rutelli, who at the time was leader of the Federation of the Greens.

Gentiloni was a member of the Olive Tree coalition led by Romano Prodi
Gentiloni was a member of the Olive
Tree coalition led by Romano Prodi
He became Rutelli’s spokesman in his campaign to become Mayor of Rome. After being elected as mayor, Rutelli appointed Gentiloni as Jubilee and Tourism Councillor on Rome’s city council .

Gentiloni was elected as a member of parliament in 2001 and helped found the Daisy party in 2002, serving as the party’s communications spokesman.

He was elected again in 2006 as a member of the Olive Tree, the coalition led by Romano Prodi.

Gentiloni helped found the Democrat party in 2007 and was elected again in the 2008 election, which was won by Silvio Berlusconi.

Gentiloni came third when he ran for Mayor of Rome in 2013 but was elected to the Chamber of Deputies again in the same year.

He supported Matteo Renzi in the Democratic party leadership election and was appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs when Renzi became prime minister in 2014.

Gentiloni stated on television that Italy would be ready to fight in Libya against the Islamic State because there was an active terrorist threat to the country only a few hours away by boat. He was subsequently threatened by ISIL.

After a car bomb exploded outside the Italian consulate in Cairo, he said that Italy would continue to fight against terrorism.

Gentiloni and US president Donald Trump
Gentiloni and US president Donald Trump
Gentiloni also negotiated the release of two Italians held hostage by Syrian terrorists in 2015.

In December 2016, after Renzi announced his resignation, Gentiloni was asked by President Mattarella to form a new Government.

Since taking office, he has signed agreements with Libya and Tunisia to try to prevent immigrants entering Italy illegally.

He hosted the 43rd G7 summit in Taormina in Sicily, attended by British premier Theresa May and US president Donald Trump.

In January 2017, during an official trip to Paris, he suffered an obstructed coronary artery and received an emergency angioplasty. The following day he tweeted that he felt well and would be back at work soon.

Yesterday, on the eve of his 63rd birthday, he held talks with trade unions and told them his Government had prepared a significant, sustainable package on pensions and retirements.

The Palazzo Chigi, the Italian PM's official residence
The Palazzo Chigi, the Italian PM's official residence
Travel tip:

When in Rome, Paolo Gentiloni lives in Palazzo Chigi, the official residence of the Prime Minister of Italy, which is a 16th century palace in Piazza Colonna,  just off Via del Corso and close to the Pantheon.

The port city of Ancona is the capital of Le Marche
The port city of Ancona is the capital of Le Marche
Travel tip:

Gentiloni holds the title of Nobile of Macerata, which is a city in the Marche region. He also holds the titles of Nobile of Filotranno and Nobile of Cingoli, two nearby towns. Le Marche is an eastern region, located between the Apennine mountains and the Adriatic. The capital, Ancona, is a port city surrounded by medieval villages. Nearby is Pesaro, the birthplace of the composer Gioachino Rossini.

21 November 2017

Antonio Visentini – architect and engraver

His copies took Canaletto paintings to wider world

Visentini's engraving, a copy of a Canaletto painting, looking east along the Grand Canal from Santa Croce
Visentini's engraving, a copy of a Canaletto painting, looking
east along the Grand Canal from Santa Croce
Antonio Visentini, whose engravings from Canaletto’s paintings helped the Venetian artist achieve popularity and earn commissions outside Italy, particularly in England, was born on this day in 1688 in Venice.

A pupil of the Baroque painter Giovanni Antonio Pellegrini, Visentini was commissioned by Canaletto’s agent, Joseph Smith, who was the British Consul in Venice, to produce engravings of Canaletto’s celebrated views of the city to be published as a catalogue.

Engraving itself was an intricate skill and in the days before photography anyone who could produce faithful copies of paintings or original art that could be printed on paper was much in demand.

Visentini embarked on his first series of 12 Canaletto views, mainly of canal scenes, in around 1726 and they were published in 1735.

Visentini's capriccio of Mereworth Castle in Kent
Visentini's capriccio of Mereworth Castle in Kent
This was followed by two more series of engravings of Canaletto works arranged by Smith, which were published in 1742.  In all, Visentini copied some 38 Canaletto views, which not only furthered Canaletto’s career but his own.

Smith encouraged Canaletto to travel to England to paint views of London, while Visentini himself was engaged in collaboration with Francesco Zuccarelli, an artist originally from Tuscany, to paint capricci – idealised fantasy views – of some grand English residences, including Burlington House, a mansion on Piccadilly in Mayfair, and Mereworth Castle, a copy of Andrea Palladio’s Villa Capra – better known as La Rotonda – in Kent.

Visentini had a long association with Joseph Smith, who hired him in 1740 to renovate and redesign his residence on the Grand Canal, Palazzo Balbi, which he had hitherto been renting but decided to buy after being told the position of British Consul was to be his.

The Palazzo Giusti on the Grand Canal was  built in 1766 to Visentini's plans
The Palazzo Giusti on the Grand Canal was
built in 1766 to Visentini's plans
Smith, an enormous admirer of Palladio, wanted the palace in particular to have a Palladian façade.  Originally built in 1582 as the residence of the Balbi family, the palace is now the seat of the president of the Veneto region and the regional council.

Further along the Grand Canal, Visentini designed the Palazzo Giusti, a four-storey structure built in 1766 for the Miani family, who would later sell it to the Coletti, who in turn sold it on to the Giusti family.  Visentini’s design features three ground-floor niches, displaying statues.

In Vicenza, Visentini painted frescoes at the Villa Valmarana, for which Gian Domenico Tiepolo painted the figures.

In the 1760s the English architect James Wyatt travelled to Venice to study with Visentini as an architectural draughtsman and painter.

Visentini, who was also the author of a number of treatises on perspective, was a professor at the Accademia di Belle Arti in Venice from 1772–78. He died in his home city in 1782 at the age of 93.

The Palazzo Balbi at the entrance to Rio de Ca' Foscari
The Palazzo Balbi at the entrance to Rio de Ca' Foscari
Travel tip:

Palazzo Balbi can be found on the Grand Canal at the point at which the canal makes a near-90 degree turn at the entrance to the Rio de Ca’ Foscari.  It was between 1582 and 1590 to a design by Alessandro Vittorio in a Mannerist style characterized by Renaissance and Baroque influences.  The Ca’ Foscari, on the opposite side of the Rio de Ca’ Foscari, tends to attract more attention from visitors but the Palazzo Balbi is a handsome building nonetheless.

The Baroque church of Santa Maria della Salute
The Baroque church of Santa Maria della Salute
Travel tip:

Palazzo Balbi is in the Dorsoduro sestieri, a favourite district with many regular visitors to Venice with a rather more relaxed atmosphere, say, than San Marco, where it is possible to feel overwhelmed by the numbers of tourists.  Yet Dordosuro contains many notable attractions, such as the church of Santa Maria della Salute, the Accademia gallery, the Peggy Guggenheim Collection and the Ca’ Rezzonico museum. The Campo Santa Margherita is popular for its late-night bars, particularly with students, who relish its more Bohemian feel.

Also on this day:

20 November 2017

Giorgio de Chirico – artist

Founder of the scuola metafisica movement

Giorgio de Chirico painted this self-portrait, confronting a bust of himself, in 1922
Giorgio de Chirico painted this self-portrait, confronting
a bust of himself, in 1922
The artist Giorgio de Chirico, who founded the scuola metafisica (metaphysical school) of Italian art that was a profound influence on the country’s Surrealist movement in the early 20th century, died on this day in 1978 in Rome.

Although De Chirico, who was 90 when he passed away, was active for almost 70 years, it is for the paintings of the first decade of his career, between about 1909 and 1919, that he is best remembered.

It was during this period, his metaphysical phase, that he sought to use his art to express what might be called philosophical musings on the nature of reality, taking familiar scenes, such as town squares, and creating images that might appear in a dream, in which pieces of classical architecture would perhaps be juxtaposed with everyday objects in exaggerated form, the scene moodily atmospheric, with areas of dark shadow and bright light, and maybe a solitary figure.

These works were much admired and enormously influential.  During military service in the First World War he met Carlo Carrà, who would become a leading light in the Futurist movement, and together they formed the pittura metafisica (metaphysical painting) movement.

De Chirico's The Song of Love (1914)
De Chirico's The Song of Love (1914)
De Chirico’s work in this period, in which he was inspired by the German symbolist painter Max Klinger and the Swiss painter Arnold Bocklin, whom he had met while studying at the Munich Academy of Fine Arts, was extraordinary.

Such works as The Enigma of the Hour, The Disquieting Muses, The Song of Love, The Soothsayer’s Recompense and The Melancholy of Departure, greatly inspired the Surrealists of the 1920s, who were enormously fascinated with the subconscious mind and saw De Chirico as a figure to be revered.

De Chirico never saw himself as a Surrealist, although he had admired Pablo Picasso after meeting him in Paris, yet he was happy to collaborate with the movement for a while, willingly showing his work at their group exhibitions in the French capital.

Yet in the 1920s he moved away from his metaphysical phase and began to embrace the traditional, looking for inspiration towards the Old Masters of the Renaissance, such as Titian and Raphael. 

He became an advocate for the revival of classicism in art and architecture and began to be an outspoken critic of modern art. When his former admirers in the Surrealist movement disparaged his new work, he denounced them as “cretinous and hostile” and distanced himself from them.

The Red Tower, which De Chirico painted in 1913
The Red Tower, which De Chirico painted in 1913
Born in 1888 in Volos in Greece to Italian parents – his mother was a  noblewoman of Genoese origin and his father an engineer hired to work on Greece’s new railway network – De Chirico studied art at Athens polytechnic before moving to Munich with his mother following the death of his father in 1905.

Returning to Italy, he spent time in Milan and Turin before settling in Florence, where the Piazza Santa Croce inspired the first of his metaphysical town square works, entitled The Enigma of an Autumn Afternoon (1910).

He stayed in Paris for much of 1911 and 1912, residing with his brother, Andrea, who was also a painter.  Works such as The Soothsayer's Recompense (1913) and The Mystery and Melancholy of a Street (1914) were inspired by Paris.

It was his time in Paris that particularly influenced the Surrealists, largely because one of the movement’s leading figures, the writer André Breton, happened upon one of his pictures in a gallery owned by the art dealer, Paul Guillaume, and told all his friends.

Another of De Chirico's classics of the  scuola metafisica, The Disquieting Muse
Another of De Chirico's classics of the
scuola metafisica, The Disquieting Muse
The outbreak of war saw De Chirico called up to serve in the Italian army. Stationed in Ferrara, he suffered a nervous breakdown and it was while he was recuperating in military hospital that he met Carrà.

He returned to Paris after the war with his first wife, a Russian ballerina named Raissa Gurievich, but left again after his acrimonious fall-out with the Surrealists, moving to New York and then London.

De Chirico divorced Gurievich and married another Russian, Isabella Pakszwer Far, with whom he would spend the rest of his life.  After returning to Italy in the early 1930s they moved to America to escape Fascism and settled in Italy only after the fall of Mussolini’s regime, acquiring a house near the Spanish Steps which is now a museum dedicated to his work.

He wrote at times as well as painted, and his 1929 novel Hebderos, the Metaphysician, was described by John Ashbery, the American Pulitzer prize-winning poet, as “the finest major work of Surrealist fiction.”

De Chirico attracted controversy in his later years when, disappointed with the lukewarm response to his classically-inspired work, he secretly produced a number of paintings in the style of the scuola metafisica and falsely dated them as if they had been painting during his peak years, greatly inflating their value.

The bustling Piazza di Spagna in Rome
The bustling Piazza di Spagna in Rome, where De Chirico lived
Travel tip:

The Casa Museo di Giorgio de Chirico – the museum housed in De Chirico’s former home – can be found in the 16th century Palazzetto del Borgognoni in Piazza di Spagna in Rome. The house was left to the state by De Chirico’s widow and opened as a museum in 1998. It is opened only by appointment, but can be visited by prior arrangement on any day apart from Sunday and Monday.  There are many of his works on display there.

The Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice is housed in the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni on the Grand Canal
The Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice is housed
in the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni on the Grand Canal
Travel tip:

Many of De Chirico’s finest works of his metaphysical phase are on display at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City but his 1913 classic, The Red Tower, is owned by the Peggy Guggenheim Collection and can be viewed in the gallery in the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, the 18th century palace on the Grand Canal in Venice, where the American heiress lived for three decades.

Also on this day: 

1851 - The birth of Italy's 19th century Queen Margherita 

1914 - The birth of fashion designer Emilio Pucci.