28 January 2020

28 January

Simonetta Vespucci – Renaissance beauty


Noblewoman hailed as embodiment of female perfection

Simonetta Vespucci, a young noblewoman who became the most sought-after artist’s model in Florence in the mid-15th century, is thought to have been born on this day in 1453.  Born Simonetta Cattaneo to a Genoese family, she was taken to Florence in 1469 when she married Marco Vespucci, an eligible Florentine nobleman who was a distant cousin of the explorer and cartographer Amerigo Vespucci.  She quickly became the talk of Florentine society. Soon known as La Bella Simonetta, she captivated painters and young noblemen alike with her beauty.  It is said that, shortly before her arrival, a group of artists had been discussing their idea of the characteristics of perfect female beauty and were stunned, on meeting Simonetta, to discover that their idealised woman actually existed.  The Medici brothers, Lorenzo and Giuliano, were said to have been besotted with her, Giuliano in particular, while she is thought to have been the model for several of Sandro Botticelli’s portraits of women.  The female figure standing on a shell in Botticelli’s masterpiece, The Birth of Venus, so closely resembles the woman in the paintings accepted as being Simonetta Vespucci that some critics insist he must have based his Venus on her.   Read more…


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Giovanni Alfonso Borelli – physiologist and physicist


Neapolitan was the first to explain movement

The scientist who was the first to explain muscular movement according to the laws of statics and dynamics, Giovanni Alfonso Borelli, was born on this day in 1608 in Naples.  Borelli was also the first to suggest that comets travel in a parabolic path.  He was appointed professor of mathematics at Messina in 1649 and at Pisa in 1656. After 1675 he lived in Rome under the protection of Christina, the former Queen of Sweden. She had abdicated her throne in 1654, had converted to Catholicism and gone to live in Rome as the guest of the Pope.  Remembered as one of the most learned women of the 17th century, Christina became the protector of many artists, musicians and intellectuals who would visit her in the Palazzo Farnese, where she was allowed to live by the Pope.  Borelli’s best known work is De Motu Animalium - On the Movement of Animals - in which he sought to explain the movements of the animal body on mechanical principles. He is therefore the founder of the iatrophysical school. He dedicated this work to Queen Christina, who had funded it, but he died of pneumonia in 1679 before it was published.  Read more…


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Gianluigi Buffon – goalkeeper


Record-breaking footballer still playing at 42

Juventus goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon was born on this day in 1978 in Carrara in Tuscany.  Widely considered by football experts at his peak to be the best goalkeeper in the world, he is known for his outstanding ability to stop shots.  He holds the record for the most clean sheets, both in Serie A and the national side, and he has won numerous awards.  Now aged 42, Buffon retired from international football after Italy failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup finals in Russia, having played a record 176 times for the Azzurri.  Buffon, whose nickname is Gigi, was born into a family of athletes. His mother, Maria, was a discus thrower and his father, Adriano, was a weightlifter. His two sisters both played volleyball for the Italian national team and his uncle was a prominent basketball player.  His grandfather’s cousin, Lorenzo Buffon, was also a top goalkeeper, playing for AC Milan and Italy, representing his country at the 1962 FIFA World Cup.  Gianluigi Buffon began his career with the Parma youth team at the age of 13 as an outfield player. When both of the team’s goalkeepers were injured he was asked to deputise in goal and within two weeks he had been promoted to first team 'keeper.  Read more…

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Paolo Gorini – scientist


Teacher invented technique for preserving corpses

Mathematician and scientist Paolo Gorini, who made important discoveries about organic substances, was born on this day in 1813 in Pavia.  He is chiefly remembered for preserving corpses and anatomical parts according to a secret process he invented himself. His technique was first used on the body of Giuseppe Mazzini, the politician and activist famous for his work towards the unification of Italy.  Gorini was orphaned at the age of 12, but thanks to financial help from former colleagues of his father, who had been a university maths professor, he was able to continue with his studies and he obtained a mathematics degree from the University of Pavia.  He paid tribute in his autobiography to his private teacher, Alessandro Scannini, who he said first inspired his interest in geology and volcanology.  Gorini went to live in Lodi, just south of Milan, in 1834, where he became a physics lecturer at the local Lyceum.  As well as teaching, he dedicated his time to geology experiments, actually creating artificial volcanoes to illustrate their eruptive dynamics. He also made his first attempts at the preservation of animal substances.  Read more…


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