3 August 2019

3 August

Imperia Cognati - courtesan

Prostitute who became a celebrity

Imperia Cognati, who acquired celebrity status in Rome in the early 16th century as a courtesan to a number of rich and powerful figures, was born on this day in 1486.  Courtesans were originally the female companions of courtiers of the papal court, whose duties required them to be educated and familiar with etiquette, so that they could participate in the formalities of court life and take part in polite conversation.  In time, however, in some cases their companionship became of a more intimate nature and they became the mistresses of their courtiers, who in the papal court were clerics nor permitted to marry.  It was common, too, for courtesans to be the companions of several clients simultaneously.  They were in effect a new class of prostitute, refined and educated enough to hold their own in polite society.  Imperia Cognati acquired her elevated status mainly through being the chosen companion of Agostino Chigi, a Sienese banker closely associated with Pope Alexander VI who at one time was thought to be the richest banker in the world.  Chigi remained her main client but she took others, maintaining her status and income.  They included the painter Raphael, of whom Chigi was a sponsor.  It is thought that the nymph Galatea in the frescoes Raphael painted for the Villa Farnesina in Rome, built by Chigi, is actually Imperia. Read more...


Antonio da Sangallo the Younger - Architect

Talented Florentine was commissioned by the Popes

Antonio da Sangallo the Younger, who left his mark on Rome during the Renaissance, died on this day in 1546 in Terni in Umbria.  Sangallo was the chief architect on St Peter’s Basilica from 1520 onwards and built many other beautiful churches and palaces in the city and throughout the Papal States.  He was born Antonio Cordiani in Florence in 1484. His grandfather had been a woodworker and his uncles, Giuliano and Antonio da Sangallo, were architects.  The young man followed his uncles to Rome to pursue a career in architecture and ended up taking the name Sangallo himself.  He became an assistant to Donato Bramante and started by preparing sketches for his master.  Recognising his talent, Bramante gave Sangallo projects to complete with no more than an outline of the design and motifs.  Sangallo’s first major commission was for the Church of Santa Maria di Loreto in 1507.  He came to the attention of Cardinal Alessandro Farnese, who later became Pope Paul III, and was commissioned to design the Farnese Palace in Piazza Farnese and a palace and church in the Cardinal’s home town of Gradoli.  Read more…


La Scala - opera and ballet theatre

First night at the world’s most famous opera house

Milan’s Teatro alla Scala was officially inaugurated on this day in 1778.  Known to Italians simply as La Scala, the theatre has become the leading opera house in the world and many famous artists have appeared there.  A fire had destroyed the Teatro Regio Ducale, which had previously been the home of opera in Milan. A new theatre was built on the site of the former Church of Santa Maria alla Scala, which is how the theatre got its name.  The cost of the new theatre was funded by the owners of the boxes at the former Teatro Regio Ducale.  The new theatre was designed by neoclassical architect Giuseppe Piermarini and at the official opening on 3 August 1778, Antonio Salieri’s opera L’Europa Riconosciuta was premiered.  The world’s finest singers have appeared at La Scala during the past 200 years and the theatre has hosted the premieres of operas by Rossini, Donizetti, Verdi and Puccini.  La Scala’s original 18th century structure was renovated in 1907 and, after bomb damage during the Second World War, it had to be rebuilt and was reopened in 1946.  Read more…


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