1 March 2020

1 March

Gastone Nencini – cycling champion


Lion of Mugello won both Tour de France and Giro d’Italia

Gastone Nencini, sometimes described as Italy’s forgotten cycling champion, and certainly one of its least heralded, was born on this day in 1930 in Barberino di Mugello, a town in the Tuscan Apennines, about 38km (24 miles) north of Florence.  Nencini won the 1957 Giro d’Italia and the 1960 Tour de France, putting him in the company of only seven Italians to have won the greatest of cycling’s endurance tests.   He followed Ottavio Bottecchia, Gino Bartali and Fausto Coppi and preceded Felice Gimondi, Marco Pantani and the most recent winner, 2014 champion Vincenzo Nibali.  Yet often even cycling fans asked to name the seven Italian champions sometimes forget Nencini, despite his courage and resilience earning him the nickname The Lion of Mugello.  This may be in part because he died very young, a month short of his 50th birthday, after developing a rare disease of the lymphatic system.  Others, in particular members of his family, believe it was his maverick nature, his refusal to comply with the sport’s etiquette, that damaged his reputation.  In his era, some claim, there were unwritten rules in cycling.  Read more…


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Luigi Vanvitelli – architect


Neapolitan genius drew up a grand design for his royal client

The most famous Italian architect of the 18th century, Luigi Vanvitelli, died on this day in 1773 in Caserta in Campania.  The huge Royal Palace he designed for the Bourbon kings of Naples in Caserta is considered one of the greatest triumphs of the Baroque style of architecture in Italy.  Vanvitelli was born Lodewijk van Wittel in Naples in 1700, the son of a Dutch painter of landscapes, Caspar van Wittel. His father later also took up the Italian surname Vanvitelli.  Luigi Vanvitelli was trained as an architect by Nicola Salvi and worked with him on lengthening the fa├žade of Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s Palazzo Chigi-Odelscalchi in Rome and on the construction of the Trevi Fountain.  Following his notable successes with the facade of the Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano (1732) and the facade of Palazzo Poli, behind the Trevi Fountain, Pope Clement XII sent Vanvitelli to the Marche to build some papal projects.   At Ancona in 1732, he directed construction of the Lazzaretto, a large pentagonal building built as an isolation unit to protect against contagious diseases arriving on ships. Later it was used as a military hospital or as barracks.  Read more…


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Cesare Danova - movie actor


Acclaim came late for Bergamo-born star

The actor Cesare Danova, who appeared in more than 300 films and TV shows over the course of a 45-year career, was born Cesare Deitinger on this day in 1926 in the Lombardy city of Bergamo.  The son of an Austrian father and an Italian mother, he adopted Danova as his professional name after meeting the film producer, Dino De Laurentiis, in Rome.  De Laurentiis gave him a screen test and was so impressed he immediately cast Danova in the 1947 movie The Captain's Daughter, playing alongside Amedeo Nazzari and Vittorio Gassman.  So began a career that was to see Danova star opposite Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in Joseph L Mankiewicz's 1963 hit Cleopatra, opposite Elvis Presley and Ann-Margaret in Viva Las Vegas (1964), alongside Robert De Niro and Harvey Keitel in Martin Scorsese's cult movie Mean Streets (1973) and as part of a star-studded cast in National Lampoon's Animal House (1978).  In his later years, Danova became a familiar figure on TV screens in America, making appearances in almost all the popular drama series of the 1980s, including Charlie's Angels, Murder, She Wrote, Falcon Crest and Hart to HartRead more…


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Pietro Canonica - sculptor


Artist in demand from European royalty

The sculptor Pietro Canonica, who was also a proficient painter and an accomplished musician but who found himself most in demand to create busts, statues and portraits for the royal courts of Europe, was born on this day in 1869 in Moncalieri in Piedmont.  Canonica’s ability to create realism in his work, bringing marble sculptures almost to life, resulted in an endless stream of commissions, taking him from Buckingham Palace in London to the courts of Paris, Vienna, Brussels and St Petersburg.  He was highly skilled in equestrian statuary and after the First World War was commissioned to create many monuments to the fallen, which can be seen in squares around Italy to this day.  Canonica’s mastery of Naturalism and Realism were the qualities that set him apart, exemplified nowhere with such stunning effect as in his 1909 work L'abisso - The Abyss - which depicts Paolo and Francesca, the ill-fated lovers from Dante’s Inferno, locked in their eternal punishment, clinging desperately to one another with fear in their eyes, her fingers digging into his back as the vortex in which they are trapped drags them towards their fate.  Read more…


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