11 July 2020

11 July

Giuseppe Arcimboldo – painter


Portraits were considered unique in the history of art

The artist Giuseppe Arcimboldo, who created imaginative portrait heads made up entirely of objects such as fruit, vegetables, flowers and fish, died on this day in 1593 in Milan.  Unique at the time, Arcimboldo’s work was greatly admired in the 20th century by artists such as Salvador Dali and his fellow Surrealist painters.  Giuseppe’s father, Biagio Arcimboldo, was also an artist and Giuseppe followed in his footsteps designing stained glass and frescoes for churches.  Arcimboldo (sometimes also known as Arcimboldi) at first painted entirely in the style of the time. His beautiful fresco of the Tree of Jesse can still be seen in the Duomo of Monza.  But in 1562 he abruptly changed his style after moving to Prague to become court painter to the erudite King Rudolph II.  He began to create human heads, which could be considered as portraits, made up of pieces of fruit and vegetable and other objects, which were chosen for the meaning attributed to the image.  Arcimboldo also painted settings for the court theatre in Prague and he became an expert in illusionist trickery. His paintings contained allegorical meanings, puns and jokes that were appreciated by his contemporaries, but were lost upon later audiences.  Read more...

_______________________________________________________

Giorgio Armani – designer


Former army medic forged brilliant career in fashion

Giorgio Armani, who is considered by many to be Italy's greatest fashion designer, was born on this day in 1934 in Piacenza in Emilia-Romagna.  Known for his menswear and the clean, tailored lines of his collections for women, Armani has become a multi-billionaire.  His original career plan was to become a doctor and he enrolled in the Department of Medicine at the University of Milan but after three years left to join the army. Due to his medical background he was assigned to the military hospital in Verona.  After he left the army, Armani decided to have a complete career change and got a job as a window dresser for La Rinascente, a Milan department store.  He progressed to become a sales assistant in the menswear department and then moved on to work for Nino Cerruti as a menswear designer.  In 1973 Armani opened a design office in Milan from where he worked as a freelance designer for fashion houses. He founded his own company, Giorgio Armani, in Milan in 1975.  He began producing designs specifically for the United States and his label soon became one of the leading names in international fashion.   Read more…

________________________________________________________

Eleonora di Garzia di Toledo


The shocking fate of a Spanish noblewoman

The beautiful wife of Don Pietro de' Medici, Eleonora di Garzia di Toledo, was strangled to death with a dog lead on this day in 1576 in a villa near Barberino di Mugello in Tuscany.  The murder was carried out by her husband, Pietro, but he was never brought to justice. His brother, Francesco, the Grand Duke of Tuscany, gave out as the official line that his sister-in-law had died as a result of an accident.  Eleonora, who was more often referred to as Leonora, was born in Florence in 1553, the daughter of Garcia Alvarez di Toledo and Vittoria d’Ascanio Colonna. Her father and mother were living in Florence at the time because Garcia was in charge of the castles of Valdichiana.  When her mother died a few months later, the baby, Leonora, was left in the care of her aunt, Eleonora, the Duchess of Florence, and her husband, the Grand Duke Cosimo I de' Medici, who raised her, preparing her for a life at the Medici court.  After the Duchess, Eleonora, died, her daughter, Isabella, took over the supervision of the young Leonora.  A marriage was arranged between Leonora and Cosimo’s son and Isabella’s brother, Pietro.  Read more…



10 July 2020

10 July

The death of Hadrian


Legacy of emperor famous for wall across Britain

The Roman emperor Hadrian, famous for ordering the construction of a wall to keep barbarians from entering Roman Britain, died on this day in 138 AD.  Aged about 62, he is thought to have been suffering from heart failure and passed away at his villa at Baiae – now Baia – on the northern shore of the Bay of Naples.  Hadrian was regarded as the third of the five so-called "Good Emperors", a term coined by the political philosopher Niccolò Machiavelli, who noted that while most emperors to succeed to the throne by birth were “bad” in his view, there was a run of five - Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, Antoninus Pius and Marcus Aurelius – who all succeeded by adoption, who enjoyed the reputation as benevolent dictators. They governed by earning the good will of their subjects.  It is accepted that Hadrian came from a family with its roots in Hispania. His birthplace is thought to have been the city of Italica Hispania – on the site of what is now Seville.  His predecessor, Trajan, a maternal cousin of Hadrian's father, did not designate an heir officially and it is thought that his wife, Plotina, signed the papers of succession, claiming that Trajan had named Hadrian emperor immediately before his death.  Read more…

__________________________________________________________

Caterina Cornaro – Queen of Cyprus


Monarch lived out her last years in 'sweet idleness'

The last ruler of the Kingdom of Cyprus, Caterina Cornaro, died on this day in 1510 in Venice.  She had been living out her life in a castle in Asolo, a pretty town in the Veneto, after the Venetian Government persuaded her to abdicate as Queen of Cyprus.  Her court at the castle became a centre of literary and artistic excellence as she spent her days in what has been described as ‘sweet idleness,’ a translation of the verb asolare, invented by the poet Pietro Bembo to describe her daily life in the town.  Caterina was born in 1406 into the noble Cornaro family, which had produced four Doges, and she grew up in the family palace on the Grand Canal. The family had a long trading and business association with Cyprus.  Caterina was married by proxy to King James II of Cyprus in 1468, securing commercial rights and privileges for Venice in Cyprus. In 1472 she set sail for Cyprus and married James in person at Famagusta.  James died soon after the wedding and Caterina, who was by then pregnant, became regent of the kingdom, as was specified in his will. She was imprisoned briefly, after Cyprus was seized by the Archbishop of Nicosia, but restored to continue ruling after a military intervention by Venice.  Read more…

___________________________________________________________

Calogero Vizzini - Mafia chieftain


‘Man of Honour’ installed as Mayor by Allies

The Sicilian Mafia boss Calogero Vizzini, known as Don Calò, died on this day in 1954 in Villalba, a small town in the centre of the island about 100km (62 miles) southeast of the capital, Palermo.  He was 76 and had been in declining health. He was in an ambulance that was taking him home from a clinic in Palermo and was just entering the town when he passed away.  His funeral was attended by thousands of peasants dressed in black and a number of politicians as well as priests played active roles in the service. One of his pallbearers was Don Francesco Paolo Bontade, a powerful mafioso from Palermo.  Although he had a criminal past, Don Calò acquired the reputation as an old-fashioned ‘man of honour’, whose position became that of community leader, a man to whom people looked to settle disputes and to maintain order and peace through his power.  In rural Sicily, such figures commanded much greater respect than politicians or policemen, many of whom were corrupt.  In his own words, in a newspaper interview in 1949, his view of the world was that “in every society there has to be a category of people who straighten things out when situations get complicated.  Read more…



9 July 2020

9 July

Adriano Panatta – tennis player


French Open champion was most at home on the clay

The only tennis player ever to defeat Bjorn Borg at Roland Garros in Paris, Adriano Panatta was born on this day in 1950 in Rome.  A successful singles player, Panatta reached the peak of his career in 1976 when he won the French Open, gaining his only Grand Slam title, defeating the American player, Harold Solomon, in the final 6-1, 6-4, 4-6, 7-6.  Panatta learnt to play tennis as a youngster on the clay courts of the Tennis Club Parioli in Rome, where his father was the caretaker.  He won top-level titles at Bournemouth in 1973, Florence in 1974 and at Kitzbuhel in Austria and Stockholm in 1975.  In the same year that he won the French Open, Panatta won the Italian Open in Rome, beating Guillermo Vilas in the final 2-6, 7-6, 6-2, 7-6. In the first round of the competition he had saved 11 match points in his match against the Australian Kim Warwick.  Panatta ended 1976 by helping Italy capture its only Davis Cup title, winning two singles and a doubles rubber in the final against Chile. He also reached his career-high singles ranking of World number four that year.  The only player to have defeated Bjorn Borg in the French Open, Panatta had the distinction of achieving this feat twice.  Read more…

_________________________________________________________

Ottorino Respighi – violinist and composer


Talented Bolognese brought a Russian flavour to Italian music

The musician Ottorino Respighi was born on this day in 1879 in an apartment inside Palazzo Fantuzzi in the centre of Bologna.  As a composer, Respighi is remembered for bringing Russian orchestral colour and some of Richard Strauss’s harmonic techniques into Italian music.  He is perhaps best known for his three orchestral tone poems Fountains of Rome, Pines of Rome and Roman Festivals, but he also wrote several operas.  Respighi was born into a musical family and learnt to play the piano and violin at an early age.  He studied the violin and viola with Federico Sarti at the Liceo Musicale in Bologna and then went to St Petersburg to be the principal violinist in the orchestra of the Imperial Theatre. While he was there he studied with Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov and acquired an interest in orchestral composition.  One of Respighi’s piano concertos was performed at Bologna in 1902 and an orchestral piece by him was played at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York the same year.  His operas brought him more recognition and in 1913 he was appointed as professor of composition at the prestigious St Cecilia Academy in Rome.  Read more…

__________________________________________________________

Manlio Brosio - NATO secretary-general


Anti-Fascist politician became skilled diplomat

Manlio Brosio, the only Italian to be made a permanent secretary-general of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), was born on this day in 1897 in Turin.  Brosio, whose distinguished diplomatic career had seen him hold the office of Italian ambassador to the Soviet Union, Britain, the United States and France, was appointed to lead NATO in 1964 and remained in post until 1971, the second longest-serving of the 13 secretary-generals so far.  Known for his congenial personality, he insisted that others behaved courteously and with respect for etiquette, while conducting himself with self-restraint.  This enabled him to maintain a good relationship with all NATO ambassadors and helped him manage a number of difficult situations.  Some critics felt he was too cautious but his low-key approach is now credited with keeping NATO together during the crisis that developed in 1966 when General Charles de Gaulle, the French president, threatened the organisation's existence by insisting that NATO removed all its military installations from France within a year.  France was one of three nuclear powers among the 15 members of NATO.  Read more…



8 July 2020

8 July

Death of the poet Shelley


Dramatic storm took the life of young literary talent

English poet Percy Bysshe Shelley died on this day in 1822 while travelling from Livorno in Tuscany to Lerici in Liguria in his sailing boat, the Don Juan.  Just a month before his 30th birthday, the brilliant poet of the Romantic era drowned during a sudden, dramatic storm in the Gulf of La Spezia that caused his boat to sink.  His body was later washed ashore and, in keeping with the quarantine regulations at the time, was cremated on the beach bear Viareggio on the Tuscan coast.  Shelley had been living with his wife, the writer Mary Shelley, at a rented villa in Lerici and was returning to his home from Livorno, where he had been arranging the start up of a new literary magazine to be called The Liberal.  He had set sail with two other people on board the Don Juan at about noon on Monday 8 July.  His companions were a retired naval officer, Edward Ellerker Williams, and a boatboy, Charles Vivien. Both also perished.  A friend had watched Shelley’s departure until he was about ten miles out of the harbour and then there had been a storm and he had lost sight of the boat.  Three days later one of Shelley’s friends was informed that a water keg and some bottles from the boat had been washed up on a beach near Viareggio.  Read more…

___________________________________________________________

Gian Giorgio Trissino – dramatist and poet


Innovative playwright spotted the potential of Palladio

Literary theorist, philologist, dramatist and poet Gian Giorgio Trissino was born on this day in 1478 in Vicenza.  As well as his contribution to Italian culture, Trissino is remembered for educating and helping Andrea di Pietro della Gondola, a young mason he discovered working on his villa in Cricoli, just outside Vicenza.  He took the young man on two visits to Rome that profoundly influenced his development into a great architect and he gave him the name Palladio, after the Greek goddess of wisdom, Pallas Athene.  Trissino had been born into a wealthy family and was able to travel widely, studying Greek in Milan and philosophy in Ferrara. He was part of Niccolò Machiavelli’s literary circle in Florence before he settled in Rome, where he associated with the humanist and poet, Pietro Bembo. He became a close friend of the dramatist, Giovanni Rucella, and served Popes Leo X and Clement VII.  Trissino’s most important dramatic work was the blank verse tragedy Sofonisba, published in 1524 and first performed in 1562.  The play was based on a story about the Carthaginian wars by the Roman historian Livy. It employed the dramatic techniques of Sophocles and Euripides.  Read more…

__________________________________________________________

Ernest Hemingway – American novelist


War wounds sustained in Italy inspire the great American novel

An 18-year-old American Red Cross driver named Ernest Hemingway was severely wounded by shrapnel from an Austrian mortar shell on this day in 1918 at Fossalta di Piave in the Veneto.  Hemingway was taken to a field hospital in Treviso, from where he was transferred by train to a hospital in Milan. While in the hospital and recovering after two operations, he fell in love with his nurse, 26-year-old Agnes von Kurowsky.  His experiences of being wounded in Italy and falling in love later inspired him to write the novel, A Farewell to Arms.  On leaving school Hemingway had worked briefly as a reporter for The Kansas City Star before leaving for the Italian front in World War One to enlist as an ambulance driver.  While stationed at Fossalta di Piave he was bringing chocolates and cigarettes to the men on the front line when he was seriously injured by mortar fire. Despite his own wounds, Hemingway assisted some Italian soldiers to safety, for which he later received the Italian Silver Medal of Bravery.  After his release from hospital, he returned to the United States in January 1919. He and Agnes had agreed to get married in America, but two months later she wrote to say she had become engaged to an Italian army officer.  Read more…

__________________________________________________________

Artemisia Gentileschi – painter


Brilliant artist who survived torture by thumbscrews 

Artemisia Gentileschi, who followed in the footsteps of the Baroque painter Caravaggio by painting biblical scenes with dramatic realism, was born on this day in 1593 in Rome.  As a young woman she was raped by an artist friend of her father who had been entrusted with teaching her, and when he was brought to trial by her father she was forced to give evidence under torture.  This event shaped her life and she poured out her horrific experiences into brutal paintings, such as her two versions of Judith Slaying Holofernes.  Gentileschi was notable for pictures of strong and suffering women from myths, allegories, and the Bible. Some of her best known themes are Susanna and the Elders, Judith Slaying Holofernes, the most famous of which, painted between 1614 and 1620, is in the Uffizi in Florence, and Judith and Her Maidservant.   She had an ability to produce convincing depictions of the female figure, anywhere between nude and fully clothed, that few male painters could match.  It was many years before Gentileschi’s genius was fully appreciated, but a newly discovered self portrait depicting herself as St Catherine of Siena was bought by the National Gallery in London for £3.6 million, a record amount for her work.  Read more…



7 July 2020

7 July

NEW
- Gian Carlo Menotti - composer and librettist


Founded Spoleto festival after finding fame in the United States

Gian Carlo Menotti, who wrote more than two dozen operas and founded the annual Festival dei Due Mondi in Spoleto, was born on this day in 1911 in the village of Cadegliano-Viconago, on the Swiss-Italian border.  A prodigiously talented child who began to write music at the age of seven, Menotti was sent to study at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia as a teenager and settled in the United States.  For many years he was the partner - professionally and in life - of the brilliant American composer, Samuel Barber.  Menotti wrote the libretto for Barber’s 1957 work Vanessa, which is regarded as one of the 20th century’s finest operas.  Two of Menotti’s own operas, The Consul (1950) and The Saint of Bleecker Street (1955), won Pulitzer Prizes.  He created the Festival dei Due Mondi in 1957 out of a desire to make his mark in the country of his birth but also because he was intrigued by the idea of creating an event in which he and his friends could showcase their own work and to which he could also invite some of the great names of music and the arts to perform before a less traditional audience.  Read more…

___________________________________________________________

Vittorio De Sica - film director


Oscar-winning maestro behind 1948 classic Bicycle Thieves

Vittorio De Sica, the director whose 1948 film Bicycle Thieves is regarded still as one of the greatest movies of all time, was born on this day in 1901 in Sora in Lazio.  Bicycle Thieves, a story set in the poverty of post-War Rome, was a masterpiece of Italian neorealism, the genre of which the major figures, in addition to De Sica, were Luchino Visconti, Roberto Rossellini and Giuseppe de Santis and, to a smaller degree, Federico Fellini.  The movie was one of four that landed Academy Awards for De Sica. Another of his great neorealist movies, Shoeshine (1948), won an honorary Oscar, while Bicycle Thieves won a special award as an outstanding foreign language film in the days before the Best Foreign Language Film category was introduced.  De Sica would later win Oscars in that section for Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow (1963) – a comedy starring Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni – and The Garden of the Finzi-Continis (1970).  His Marriage Italian Style (1964), also starring Loren and Mastroianni, also earned a nomination as Best Foreign Language Film and for Loren as Best Actress. Loren did win Best Actress for her role in his 1961 movie La Ciociara, which was released outside Italy as Two Women.  Read more…

___________________________________________________________

1990 World Cup - Italy’s consolation prize


Azzurri beat England for third place

Italy beat England 2-1 in Bari to claim third place in the World Cup finals, of which they were the host nation, on this day in 1990.  It was a small consolation for the team, managed by Azeglio Vicini, who had played some of the best football of all the competing nations to reach the semi-finals, only to be held to a 1-1 draw by Argentina in Naples and then lose the match on a penalty shoot-out.  Their heartbreak mirrored that suffered by England, who had also suffered a defeat on penalties in their semi-final against West Germany in Turin.  Many neutrals believed that Italy and England would have been more worthy finalists, particularly in retrospect after West Germany had beaten Argentina by a penalty five minutes from the end of 90 minutes in a match of cynical fouls and attritional football that is seen as the poorest World Cup final in the competition’s history.  The play-off for third place lacked the intensity of a final, reflecting the heavy weight of disappointment each set of players was carrying.  Yet it was important to the Azzurri to finish on a high note and a crowd of 51,426 inside the Stadio San Nicola - a new stadium built specially for Italia ‘90 - saw the game decided with three goals in the final quarter.  Read more…

__________________________________________________________

Giacomo Barozzi da Vignola - architect


Legacy of beautiful Renaissance buildings throughout Italy

One of the great architects of the 16th century, Giacomo Barozzi da Vignola, died on this day in 1573 in Rome.  Often referred to simply as Vignola, the architect left the world with a wealth of beautiful buildings and two acknowledged masterpieces, the Villa Farnese at Caprarola and the Church of the Gesù in Rome.  Along with Andrea Palladio and Sebastiano Serlio, Vignola was responsible for spreading the style of the Italian Renaissance throughout Europe.  He was born at Vignola near Modena in Emilia-Romagna in 1507. He began his career as an architect in Bologna and then went to Rome to make drawings of Roman temples. He was invited to Fontainebleau  to work for King Francois I, where it is believed he first met the Bolognese architect, Serlio.  Back in Italy he designed the Palazzo Bocchi in Bologna and then moved to Rome to work for Pope Julius III. He later worked alongside the artist Michelangelo, who greatly influenced his architectural style.  From 1564 onwards, Vignola worked on the new St Peter’s Basilica, following the plans Michelangelo had drawn up for the domes.  Read more…



Gian Carlo Menotti - composer and librettist

Founded Spoleto festival after finding fame in the United States


Gian Carlo Menotti found success as a composer in America
Gian Carlo Menotti found success
as a composer in America
Gian Carlo Menotti, who wrote more than two dozen operas and founded the annual Festival dei Due Mondi in Spoleto, was born on this day in 1911 in the village of Cadegliano-Viconago, on the Swiss-Italian border.

A prodigiously talented child who began to write music at the age of seven, Menotti was sent to study at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia as a teenager and settled in the United States.  

For many years he was the partner - professionally and in life - of the brilliant American composer, Samuel Barber.  Menotti wrote the libretto for Barber’s 1957 work Vanessa, which is regarded as one of the 20th century’s finest operas.

Two of Menotti’s own operas, The Consul (1950) and The Saint of Bleecker Street (1955), won Pulitzer Prizes.

He created the Festival dei Due Mondi in 1957 out of a desire to make his mark in the country of his birth but also because he was intrigued by the idea of creating an event in which he and his friends could showcase their own work and to which he could also invite some of the great names of music and the arts to perform before a less traditional audience.

The festival proved a great success and continues to be held every summer in the Umbrian city, even though Menotti died in 2007.

One of eight brothers and sisters, Menotti came from a well-to-do background. His father, Alfonso, was a coffee merchant, his mother, Ines, a pianist.  Encouraged by his mother, Gian Carlo soon displayed a rare talent. He wrote the libretto and the music for his first opera, The Death of Pierrot, when he was just 11 years old and was sent to study at the Milan Conservatory a year later, coming to the attention of the great musician and conductor, Arturo Toscanini, who recommended that he enrolled at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia.

Menotti and the American composer Samuel Barber (above) became partners
Menotti and the American composer
Samuel Barber (above) became partners
It was around that time that Alfonso Menotti died. Gian Carlo’s relationship with his mother changed after she met and married a much younger man and they went to live in South America, a decision which influenced her son’s decision to stay in the United States.  Barber and Leonard Bernstein were among his fellow students in Philadelphia and Gian Carlo spent long periods living with Barber’s family in West Chester, Pennsylvania.

Menotti and Barber became increasingly close.  They bought a house together in Mount Kisco, a prosperous town in New York State, a little over 40 miles (64km) up the Hudson River from New York City, also spending time in Austria, where they had a house on the picturesque Wolfgangsee Lake, near Salzburg.

While studying at Curtis, Menotti wrote his first mature opera, Amelia Goes to the Ball (Amelia al Ballo), to his own Italian text.  The comic, one-act work was well received in New York, and the Metropolitan Opera took it up for their 1937 season.

When the Second World War began in Europe, Menotti stayed in America, although he never gave up his Italian citizenship.  It took Menotti nine more years to win the critical acclaim he craved, his success in 1946 with The Medium bringing him major American and later international recognition. Menotti directed a film version of the opera in Rome in 1951. 

The Consul (1950) and The Saint of Bleecker Street (1954), in which he succeeded in marrying Italian melodrama to the Broadway musical, put him on the map. Some critics place them alongside George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, Benjamin Britten’s Peter Grimes and Bernstein’s West Side Story as examples of the 20th century’s great musical dramas.

He achieved further success with the first opera written specifically for television, Amahl and the Night Visitors (1951), a Christmas commission from NBC, yet Menotti for the first time began to feel restless in America.

The Roman amphitheatre in Spoleto is a key venue at the Festival dei Due Mondi
The Roman amphitheatre in Spoleto is a
key venue at the Festival dei Due Mondi
Drawn back to his native land, he decided he wanted to create a festival, something that would help bring opera to a wider audience and create an opportunity for young musicians, composers and other performers he believed deserved a showcase for their work.

He spent some months looking for a suitable venue and settled on Spoleto in part because it is such a well-preserved medieval town but also because it had a number of indoor theatres that were willing to stage performances, as well as a Roman theatre that would provide a perfect outdoor venue.

The inaugural event, a production of Verdi's Macbeth directed by Luchino Visconti, attracted considerable Italian and international media attention and the Festival of the Two Worlds, as Menotti called it, soon acquired a dedicated following. 

Menotti had no difficulty persuading celebrity artists to associate themselves with the Festival, including the dancer Rudolf Nureyev, directors Ken Russell and Roman Polanski, the poet Ezra Pound, the film composer Nino Rota, actors Vittorio Gassman and Al Pacino, and the great tenor Luciano Pavarotti.

Famous artists were invited to design festival posters, including Richard Lindner, Ben Shahn, David Hockney and Willem De Kooning. The sculptor Henry Moore, who contributed a number of pieces to an exhibition of sculptures in the city’s medieval squares in 1962, designed the sets for Menotti's production of Don Giovanni in 1968.

The Teatro Nuovo Gian Carlo Menotti in Spoleto was renamed in his honour
The Teatro Nuovo Gian Carlo Menotti
in Spoleto was renamed in his honour
Menotti in time complained about how much energy he had to give to organising the Festival, sometimes at the expense of his own career as a composer, yet at its height Spoleto would attract nearly half a million visitors every summer and a parallel Spoleto Festival was set up in Charleston, South Carolina.  The main theatre in Spoleto has been renamed Teatro Nuovo Gian Carlo Menotti in his honour.

Menotti eventually handed over control of the Festival to his son, Francis, an American former actor and figure skater he adopted in 1974 after he had appeared in a production of The Medium. 

It was in the same year that Menotti decided he would no longer live in America or Italy, acquiring Yester House, an 18th-century mansion in Gifford, a village in the county of East Lothian in Scotland, that had formerly been the home of the Marquess of Tweeddale. After he died in 2007 in Monaco, at the age of 95, it was at Yester House that he was buried. 

The waterfront at Lugano, which is just a few kilometres from Menotti's birthplace
The waterfront at Lugano, which is just a few
kilometres from Menotti's birthplace
Travel tip:

Cadegliano-Viconago, where Gian Carlo Menotti was born, is a hamlet in northern Lombardy about 60km (37 miles) north of Milan in the province of Varese. It is situated barely two kilometres from the Italian-Swiss border, between the lakes Maggiore and Lugano. The town of Lugano, the beautiful lakeside resort notable for its temperate climate, despite offering Alpine views. Lugano is in the Italian-speaking canton of Ticino and visitors enjoy a blend of Swiss and Italian culture.

Spoleto's 12th century cathedral is a feature of this attractive Umbrian town
Spoleto's 12th century cathedral is a feature of
this attractive Umbrian town
Travel tip:

The historic and beautiful Umbrian hill town of Spoleto, home to Menotti’s Festival dei Due Mondi, has an impressive 12th century cathedral among a number of interesting buildings and, standing on a hilltop overlooking the town, the imposing 14th century fortress, La Rocca Albornoziana.  The cathedral contains frescoes by Fra Filippo Lippi, who is buried in the church.  The amphitheatre, close to Piazza Garibaldi, where so many events in the Festival take place, dates back to the middle of the first century BC and the early days of the Roman empire.  Two marble busts unearthed nearby, thought to be of Rome’s first emperor, Augustus and his adoptive father, Julius Caesar, may have been part of the decoration of the wall of the stage, which was destroyed in the Middle Ages during the construction of the adjoining Sant’Agata monastery and church, which now houses an archaeological museum.

Also on this day:














6 July 2020

6 July

Cesare Mori - Mafia buster


'Iron Prefect' who 'eliminated' the Cosa Nostra

Cesare Mori, the prefect of police credited with crushing the Sicilian Mafia during the inter-War years, died on this day in 1942 at the age of 70.  At the time of his death he was living in retirement in Udine, in some respects a forgotten figure in a country in the grip of the Second World War.  Yet during his police career his reputation as a hard-line law enforcer was such that the Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini personally appointed him as prefect of Palermo, charged with breaking the Mafia’s hold over Sicily and re-establishing the authority of the State by any means necessary.  Mori was born in Pavia in Lombardy, by then part of the new Kingdom of Italy, in 1871.  His upbringing was difficult.  His first years were spent living in an orphanage, although his parents were not dead and looked after him after he had turned seven.  He attended the Military Academy in Turin and was set on a career in the army but after marrying Angelina Salvi in 1897 he quit and joined the police, taking up a posting in Ravenna.  His first experience of Sicily came with a brief posting to Castelvetrano, near Trapani, where he captured a notorious bandit, Paolo Grisalfi.  Read more…

_________________________________________________________

Goffredo Mameli - writer


Young poet wrote the stirring words of Italian national anthem

Patriot and poet Goffredo Mameli died on this day in 1849 in Rome.  A follower of political revolutionary Giuseppe Mazzini and a supporter of the Risorgimento movement, Mameli is the author of the words of the Italian national anthem, Fratelli d’Italia.  Mameli was the son of a Sardinian admiral and was born in Genoa in 1827 where his father was commanding the fleet of the Kingdom of Sardinia.  As he grew up he became interested in the theories of Mazzini and he joined a political movement that supported the idea of a united Italy.  Mameli was a 20-year-old student when he wrote the words that are still sung today by Italians as their national anthem.  They were sung to music for the first time in November 1847 to celebrate the visit of King Charles Albert of Sardinia to Genoa.  The anthem is known in Italian as L’inno di Mameli or Mameli’s hymn.  Mameli became involved in the movement to expel the Austrians from Italy and joined Garibaldi’s army. He also became director of a newspaper that launched a press campaign urging the people to rise up against Austria.  He died after being accidentally injured in the leg by the bayonet of one of his colleagues during a battle.  Read more…

_________________________________________________________

Pietro Valpreda - the ‘bomber’ who never was


Jailed suspect acquitted after 16 years

Pietro Valpreda, who was arrested following the Piazza Fontana bombing in Milan in December 1969 and was held for 16 years awaiting trial as a terrorist before being acquitted, died on this day in 2002.  The Piazza Fontana bombing killed 17 people and injured 88 others after a device was detonated inside the Banca Nazionale dell'Agricoltura in Piazza Fontana, which is just a few streets away from the Duomo in the centre of Milan.  Valpreda was an anarchist sympathiser but insisted he was at home on the afternoon of the incident, being cared for by an aunt, who swore under police questioning that her nephew, who was a dancer with a vaudeville company, was suffering from flu.  He was charged, however, on the evidence of a taxi driver, Cornelio Rolandi, who said he dropped a man fitting Valpreda’s description in the vicinity of the bank before the bomb went off and picked him up again afterwards, minus a briefcase he had been carrying when he dropped him.  Despite considering Rolandi’s evidence to be unreliable on the grounds of inconsistencies in his description of events, prosecuting magistrates held Valpreda.  Read more…



5 July 2020

5 July

Paolo Rossi's World Cup hat-trick


Spain 1982: Italy defeat Brazil in classic match

Italians were celebrating up and down the country on this day 34 years ago as striker Paolo Rossi turned from villain to hero with a magnificent hat-trick to knock hot favourites Brazil out of the 1982 World Cup finals in Spain.  The Juventus forward had served a two-year suspension for his role in an alleged match-fixing scandal while on loan with Perugia and was controversially selected for the World Cup by Italy coach Enzo Bearzot.  He had returned to action in Serie A late in the 1981-82 season after his ban was lifted less than six weeks before the finals were due to begin. Critics argued that with so little preparation time he could not possibly be match fit.  Boasting stars such as Zico, Falcão, Éder and Sócrates, the 1982 Brazil side was reckoned to be at least the equal of the team of Pelé, Rivellino, Tostão and Jairzinho that won the 1970 World Cup in such flamboyant, thrilling style.  Some say the 1982 vintage was even better. What is true is that they needed only to avoid defeat against Italy in their final match in the second group phase in the Estadio Sarrià in Barcelona to reach the semi-finals.  Italy, by contrast, had been uninspiring.  Read more…

____________________________________________________________

Giovanni Sforza – Lord of Pesaro and Gradara


Military leader was briefly married to Lucrezia Borgia

Giovanni Sforza d’Aragona was born on this day in 1466 in Pesaro in the region of Le Marche.  The illegitimate son of Costanzo I Sforza, Giovanni became part of the powerful Sforza family and inherited his father’s titles when he was just 17, as Costanzo I died leaving no legitimate children.  Giovanni Sforza is mainly remembered for being the first husband of Lucrezia Borgia, but he was also a condottiero - a professional army commander -  who fought military campaigns and ruled over Pesaro and Gradara from 1483 until his death.  In 1489 Sforza married Maddalena Gonzaga, the daughter of Federico I of Mantua, but she died the following year.  As Giovanni was related to the Sforza branch who ruled the Duchy of Milan, he was regarded as a valuable connection by the Borgias and with the help of Giovanni’s cousin, Cardinal Ascanio Sforza, the Borgias arranged a marriage between Giovanni, who was by then in his twenties and Lucrezia, the 12-year-old illegitimate daughter of the Borgia pope, Alexander VI.  A proxy marriage took place on 12 June 1492 as the contract stipulated that Lucrezia would stay in Rome and not consummate the marriage for a year.  Read more…

_________________________________________________________

Gianfranco Zola – footballer


Brilliant forward voted Chelsea’s all-time greatest player

Gianfranco Zola, a sublimely talented footballer whose peak years were spent with Napoli, Parma and Chelsea, was born on this day in 1966 in the Sardinian town of Oliena.  Capped 35 times by the Italian national team, Zola scored more than 200 goals in his club career, the majority of them playing at the highest level, including 90 in Italy’s top flight – Serie A – and 58 in the English Premier League.  He specialised in the spectacular, most of his goals resulting from his brilliant execution of free kicks or his dazzling ball control.  Zola went on to be a manager after his playing career ended, although he has so far been unable to come anywhere near matching his achievements as a player.  He was probably at his absolute peak during the seven years he spent playing in England with Chelsea, whose fans named him as the club’s greatest player of all time in a poll conducted in 2003, shortly before he left to return to Sardinia.  However, it was probably the four years he spent with Napoli, his first Serie A club, that were his making as a player, after being spotted playing club football in Sardinia for Nuorese and Torres.  Read more…

___________________________________________________________

Roberto Locatelli - motorcycle racer


World champion who survived horror crash

The former world 125cc motorcycling champion Roberto Locatelli was born on this day in 1974 in the Lombardy city of Bergamo.  Locatelli won the 125cc title in 2000, riding an Aprilia for the Vasco Rossi Racing team, winning the Grand Prix of Malaysia, Italy, the Czech Republic, Spain and Japan to finish top of the standings, ahead of the Japanese rider Yoichi Ui.  He finished third in the standings in 2004, his next best performance, but because of the rule excluding riders over the age of 28 from competing in the 125cc class was obliged to focus on the 250cc category.  He enjoyed some success racing with the Toth team, obtaining two podium finishes in the 2006 season, including second place in Valencia, to finish fifth overall. The achievement won him a contract to ride for Gilera in 2007.  However, while practising for the Spanish Grand Prix in Jerez in March 2007 Locatelli suffered an horrific crash, losing control of his bike and slammed into a trackside tyre wall at an estimated speed of 150kph (93mph).  He was taken to Cadiz hospital and placed in a medically-induced coma. Tests ruled out brain damage, but every bone in the rider’s face was broken, in addition to a fractured left collarbone, a dislocated left ankle, and a punctured lung.  Read more…



4 July 2020

4 July

Gina Lollobrigida – actress


Movie star who became photojournalist

Film star Gina Lollobrigida was born Luigina Lollobrigida on this day in 1927 in Subiaco in Lazio.  At the height of her popularity as an actress in the 1950s and early 1960s she was regarded as a sex symbol all over the world.  In later life she worked as a photojournalist and has supported Italian and American good causes. In 2013 she sold her jewellery collection and donated the money she raised, in the region of five million dollars, to fund stem cell therapy research.  As a young girl, Lollobrigida did some modelling, entered beauty contests and had minor roles in Italian films.  When she was 20 she entered the Miss Italia competition and came third. The publicity she received helped her get parts in European films but she turned down the chance to work in America at the beginning.  She received a BAFTA nomination and won a Nastro d’Argento award for her performance in Bread, Love and Dreams (Pane, amore e fantasia) in 1953. She later starred in the English language film Beat the Devil, which was shot in Italy, and she also worked in the French film industry.  Her appearance in The World’s Most Beautiful Woman led to her receiving the David di Donatello for Best Actress award.  Read more…

___________________________________________________________

Giuseppe ‘Nuccio’ Bertone – car designer


The man behind the classic Alfa Romeo Giulietta Sprint

Automobile designer Giuseppe Bertone, who built car bodies for Alfa Romeo, Fiat, Lamborghini, Ferrari and many other important names in the car industry, was born on this day in 1914 in Turin.  Nicknamed ‘Nuccio’ Bertone, he was regarded as the godfather of Italian car design. His career in the automobile industry spanned six decades.  His father Giovanni was a skilled metalworker who made body parts for cars in a workshop he founded two years before Giuseppe was born.  Giovanni had been born in 1884 into a poor farming family near the town of Mondovi, in southern Piedmont. He had moved to Turin in 1907 and became gripped by the automobile fever that swept the city.  It was under the direction of his son that the company – Carrozzeria Bertone – was transformed after the Second World War into an industrial enterprise, specialising at first in design but later in the manufacture of car bodies on a large scale.  An accountant by qualification, Nuccio joined his father's firm in 1933, although his passion at first was racing cars as a driver. He raced Fiats, OSCAs, Maseratis, and Ferraris.  Read more…

__________________________________________________________

Luigi Guido Grandi – monk, philosopher and mathematician


Man of religion who advanced mathematical knowledge

Luigi Guido Grandi, who published mathematical studies on the cone and the curve, died on this day in 1742 in Pisa.  He had been court mathematician to the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Cosimo III de’ Medici, and because he was also an engineer, he was appointed superintendent of water for the Duchy.  Grandi was born in 1671 in Cremona and was educated at the Jesuit College in the city.  He joined the Camaldolese monks at Ferrara when he was 16 and a few years later he was sent to the monastery of St Gregory the Great in Rome to complete his studies in philosophy and theology in preparation for taking holy orders.  Having become a professor in both subjects at a monastery in Florence, he became interested in mathematics, which he studied privately.  Grandi soon developed such a reputation in the field of mathematics that he was appointed court mathematician by Cosimo III.  While also serving as Superintendent of Water at the Medici court, he was involved in the drainage of the Chiana valley, which runs north to south between Arezzo and Orvieto.  Read more…  



3 July 2020

3 July

NEW
- Flavio Insinna - actor and presenter


Star of TV dramas turned game show host

The actor and presenter Flavio Insinna, who is the host of Italy’s popular television game show L’eridità and was formerly the face of Affari tuoi - the Italian version of Deal or No Deal - was born on this day in 1965 in Rome. In a broad-ranging career, Insinna has run up an impressive list of credits in cinema, theatre and television as well as publishing an autobiography and a novel. He is also known for his philanthropy after donating his 49-foot boat Roxana to humanitarian organisation Médecins Sans Frontières to help rescue Syrian refugees.  In a substantial catalogue of television drama and comedy appearances, Insinna’s portrayal of the Carabinieri captain Flavio Anceschi in the popular Rai Uno series Don Matteo, with Terence Hill and Nino Frassica.  Ironically, Insinna’s ambition after obtaining his Liceo Classico diploma from Rome’s Augusto high school in 1984, had been to become a Carabinieri officer but after failing to gain admission to the elite police force’s training college he opted for acting. He enrolled at the drama school run by the Polish-Italian dramatist Alessandro Fersen and later joined the drama laboratory led by the Rome-born singer and actor Gigi Proietti, who had been one of his heroes growing up.  Read more…

__________________________________________________________

Walter Veltroni - politician


Popular former communist twice elected Mayor of Rome

The politician Walter Veltroni, who was the first leader of Italy’s centre-left Democratic Party (Partito Democratico) and was twice elected Mayor of Rome, was born on this day in 1955 in Rome.  A popular figure, Veltroni helped the PD reach a level of influence in Italian politics that enabled them to provide the leaders of three consecutive governments in Enrico Letta, Matteo Renzi and Paolo Gentiloni before the centre-left were routed at the 2018 general election.  Veltroni had such charisma and broad appeal that he was often tipped as a future prime minister, but his star began to wane after he lost the April 2008 general election in a head-to-head with Silvio Berlusconi’s centre-right People of Freedom party.  He had stepped down as Mayor of Rome in order to focus on winning the election so defeat was a crushing blow.  In February 2009, following a heavy defeat for PD in regional elections in Sardinia and amid clashes within the party, he resigned as leader, giving way to his former deputy, Dario Franceschini.  Veltroni's political career had begun in 1976, when he was elected as a Rome city councillor as a member of the Italian Communist Party (PCI).  Read more…

__________________________________________________________

Ulisse Stacchini - architect


Designer behind two famous Milan landmarks

Ulisse Stacchini, the architect who designed two of Milan's most famous 20th century landmarks, was born on this day in 1871 in Florence.  A champion of Liberty style Art Nouveau designs, Stacchini's defining work was the gargantuan Stazione di Milano Centrale - the city's main railway terminal.  He also designed the stadium that evolved into the city's iconic Stadio Giuseppe Meazza, joint home of Milan's two major football clubs, Internazionale and AC Milan.  Stacchini studied in Rome and moved to Milan soon after graduating, setting up a partnership with the engineer Giulio de Capitani, building houses, offices and shops for private clients.  Among his early projects was the Savini Caffè in the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II.  His style can be seen in a number of town houses commissioned by wealthy patrons, including Via Gioberti 1 at Via Revere 7, which feature linear designs.  He became involved with the Milano Centrale project when he won a design competition in 1912, although construction was delayed by more than a decade because of the crisis in the Italian economy that followed the First World War.  Read more…

___________________________________________________________

Alessandro Blasetti - film director


Reputation tarnished by links with Mussolini

Alessandro Blasetti, the film director sometimes referred to as ‘the father of Italian cinema’ for the part he played in reviving the film industry in Italy in the late 1920s and 30s, was born on this day in 1900 in Rome.  In his directing style, Blasetti was seen as ahead of his time, even in his early days.  His films were often shot on location, used many non-professional actors and had the characteristics of the neorealism that would make Italian cinema famous in the post-War years.  Yet he will forever be seen by some critics as an apologist for Fascism, a charge which stems mainly from his support for at least part of the ideology of Benito Mussolini, which led to a number of his films being interpreted as Fascist propaganda, although the evidence in some cases was rather thin.  The son of an oboe professor at Rome’s Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, Blasetti graduated in law from the Sapienza University of Rome.   Married in 1923, his first job was as a bank clerk but after a year he began to work as a journalist and wrote the first film column to appear in an Italian national newspaper.  He used his position to campaign for a revival of film production in Italy.  Read more…



Flavio Insinna - actor and presenter

Star of TV dramas turned game show host


Flavio Insinna presents the daily quiz show L'eridità
Flavio Insinna presents the daily
quiz show L'eridità
The actor and presenter Flavio Insinna, who is the host of Italy’s popular television game show L’eridità and was formerly the face of Affari tuoi - the Italian version of Deal or No Deal - was born on this day in 1965 in Rome.

In a broad-ranging career, Insinna has run up an impressive list of credits in cinema, theatre and television as well as publishing an autobiography and a novel. He is also known for his philanthropy after donating his 49-foot boat Roxana to humanitarian organisation Médecins Sans Frontières to help rescue Syrian refugees.

In a substantial catalogue of television drama and comedy appearances, Insinna’s portrayal of the Carabinieri captain Flavio Anceschi in the popular Rai Uno series Don Matteo, with Terence Hill and Nino Frassica.

Ironically, Insinna’s ambition after obtaining his Liceo Classico diploma from Rome’s Augusto high school in 1984, had been to become a Carabinieri officer but after failing to gain admission to the elite police force’s training college he opted for acting. He enrolled at the drama school run by the Polish-Italian dramatist Alessandro Fersen and later joined the drama laboratory run by the Rome-born singer and actor Gigi Proietti, who had been one of his heroes growing up.

He made his acting debut on stage in 1986 and honed his acting skills in theatre for more than a decade before landing his first film role as Orfeo in the comedy-drama Figli di Annibale (Hannibal’s Children) in 1998.

Insinna (left) with Terence Hill in a scene from the hit drama series Don Matteo
Insinna (left) with Terence Hill in a scene
from the hit TV drama series Don Matteo
By then Insinna had also made his first steps in TV. In 1999, his role in a TV drama about the life of Padre Pio, the priest with a reputation for miracle-working who was later made a Saint, gave his talent wider attention and it was only a year later that he landed the part of Capitano Anceschi in Don Matteo, the long-running drama that starred Terence Hill in the title role as a sleuthing parish priest in the Umbrian town of Gubbio.

He gained more plaudits for his portrayal of the priest Don Bosco, who was famous for his work with the poor and disadvantaged  in Turin in the late 19th century.

The opportunity to front Affari tuoi came in 2006, after the producers had seen Insinna as the ideal person to rescue the show’s then-flagging ratings in competition with the rival Striscia la Notizia on Canale 5.  In the same year, Insinna was awarded an important prize for his role in the TV drama La Buona Battaglia, in which he played Don Pietro Pappagallo, an anti-Fascist priest who was one of the 335 victims massacred by Nazi soldiers just outside Rome in caves known as the Fosse Ardeatine in March 1944.

Still drawn towards acting rather than presenting, he quit Affari tuoi after just two seasons and returned to the portrayal of a policeman in Ho sposato uno sbirro (I married a cop).

Insinna became popular for his
dramatic presentation style on Affari tuoi
By 2013, he was back at the helm of Affari tuoi, this time for a four-year stay. He again proved a popular presenter, his high profile bringing him invitations to guest on other shows, including the prime time Ballando con le stelle - Italy’s version of Strictly Come Dancing and Dancing with the Stars.  Three times he has hosted Italy’s coverage of the Eurovision Song Contest.

In 2018, Insinna became the presenter of L'eredità (The Legacy), Italy’s longest-running game show, which broadcasts every night on Rai Uno, succeeding the late Fabrizio Frizzi.

Although born in Rome, Insinna is proud of his Sicilian roots, his father having moved to the mainland from Vallelunga Pratameno, a rugged town in central Sicily in the province of Caltanissetta, about 98km (61 miles) southeast of Palermo and 74km (46 miles) northeast of Agrigento.

In 2015, in an act of compassion inspired by the plight of Syrian refugees trying to reach Italy via perilous Mediterranean sea crossings, Insinna donated his own yacht, the Roxana, to Médecins Sans Frontières to assist their work in the war-torn country. When the vessel could no longer he given a practical use, he sold it and gave the proceeds to a refugee charity. 

The Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano is one of southern Rome's major landmarks
The Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano is
one of southern Rome's major landmarks
Travel tip:

Insinna’s high school, the Liceo Ginnasio Augusto, is in the Appio/San Giovanni neighbourhood of Rome, southeast of the city centre. It is well known primarily for the Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano, the oldest and most important of Rome’s four major basilicas and officially Rome’s cathedral.  The church’s history can be traced to the reign of the Roman emperor Constantine the Great, who converted the Lateran Palace to a church in 324AD after he had converted to Christianity.  The famous Baroque eastern facade, topped with enormous statues of saints, was added in 1736, completed by Alessandro Galilei. 

Caltanissetta's beautiful Piazza Garibaldi is the Sicilian city's main square
Caltanissetta's beautiful Piazza Garibaldi is
the Sicilian city's main square
Travel tip:

Sicily’s largest completely inland city, with a population of just over 61,000, Caltanissetta was founded by the Greeks and became prosperous in the first half of the 20th century as the capital of the island’s sulphur-mining industry. Today it is an important agricultural centre and rarely gets a mention in tourist guides but it does have a beautiful central square, the Piazza Garibaldi, dominated by the city’s duomo, the Cattedrale di Santa Maria la Nova, which was completed in 1622. The cathedral’s Baroque facade, with its twin bell towers, was damaged by Allied bombing in 1943 but faithfully restored in 1946. 

Also on this day: