17 January 2021

17 January

Guidobaldo I – Duke of Urbino

Military leader headed a cultured court

Guidobaldo da Montefeltro, who was to become Duke of Urbino, was born on this day in Gubbio in 1472.  He succeeded his father, Federico da Montefeltro, as Duke of Urbino in 1482.  Guidobaldo married Elisabetta Gonzaga, the sister of Francesco II Gonzaga, Marquis of Mantua, but they never had any children.  His court at Urbino was one of the most refined and elegant in Italy where literary men were known to congregate.  The writer Baldassare Castiglione painted an idyllic picture of it in his Book of the Courtier.  Castiglione was related on his mother’s side to the Gonzaga family of Mantua and represented them diplomatically.  As a result he met Guidobaldo, Duke of Urbino, and later took up residence in his court among the many distinguished guests.  During this time Castiglione also became a friend of the painter, Raphael, who painted a portrait of him that is now in The Louvre in Paris.  Castiglione’s book, Il Libro del Cortegiano, was written in the form of an imaginary dialogue between Elisabetta Gonzaga and her guests and provides a unique picture of court life at the time. It was published in 1528, the year before he died.  Read more…


Antonio del Pollaiuolo – artist

Paintings of muscular men show knowledge of anatomy

Renaissance painter, sculptor, engraver and goldsmith Antonio del Pollaiuolo was born on this day in 1433 in Florence.  He was also known as Antonio di Jacopo Pollaiuolo and sometimes as Antonio del Pollaiolo. The last name came from the trade of his father who sold poultry.  Antonio’s brother, Piero, was also an artist and they frequently worked together. Their work showed classical influences and an interest in human anatomy. It was reported that the brothers carried out dissections to improve their knowledge of the subject.  Antonio worked for a time in the Florence workshop of Bartoluccio di Michele where Lorenzo Ghiberti - creator of the bronze doors of the Florence Baptistery - also received his training.  Some of Antonio’s paintings show brutality, such as his depiction of Saint Sebastian, which he painted for the Church of Santissima Annunziata in Florence and presents muscular men in action. His paintings of women show more calmness and display his meticulous attention to fashion details.   Antonio was also successful as a sculptor and a metal worker and although he produced only one engraving, The Battle of the Nude Men, it became one of the most famous prints of the Renaissance.  Read more…


Antonio Moscheni - Jesuit painter

Unique legacy of chapel frescoes in India

The painter Antonio Moscheni, best known for the extraordinary frescoes he created in the chapel of St Aloysius College in Mangalore, India, was born on this day in 1854 in the town of Stezzano, near Bergamo in Lombardy.  St Aloysius, situated in the state of Karnataka in south-west India, was built by Italian Jesuit Missionaries in 1880 and the chapel added four years later.  A beautiful building, it would not look out of place in Rome and the Baroque extravagance of Moscheni's work, which adorns almost every available wall space and ceiling, makes it unique in India.  The chapel welcomes thousands of visitors each year simply to marvel at Moscheni's art for the vibrancy of the colours and the intricacy of the detail. Scenes depicted include the life of St. Aloysius, who as the Italian aristocrat Aloysius Gonzaga became a Jesuit and was studying in Rome when he died at the age of just 23, having devoted himself to caring for the victims of an outbreak of plague.  Also painted are the Apostles, the lives of the Saints and the life of Jesus.  Read more…


Pope Gregory XI returns the papacy to Rome

Important date in Roman and papal history

The French Pope, Gregory XI, returned the papacy to Rome, against the wishes of France and several of his cardinals, on this day in 1377.  The move back to Rome was a highly significant act in history as the papacy, from that date onwards, was to remain in the city.  Gregory was born Pierre-Roger De Beaufort in Limoges. He was the last French pope, and he was also the last pope to reign from Avignon, where he had been unanimously elected in 1370.  He immediately gave consideration to returning the papacy to Rome in order to conduct negotiations for reuniting the Eastern and Western Churches and to maintain papal territories against a Florentine revolt being led by the powerful Visconti family.  But Gregory had to shelve his Roman plan temporarily in order to strive for peace between England and France after another phase in the Hundred Years’ War started.  However, in 1375, he defeated Florence in its war against the Papal States and the following year, he listened to the pleas of the mystic Catherine of Siena, later to become a patron saint of Italy, to move the papacy back to Rome.  Read more…


16 January 2021

16 January

Renzo Mongiardino - interior and set designer

Favourite of wealthy clients known as the ‘architect of illusion’

Lorenzo ‘Renzo’ Mongiardino, who became Italy’s leading classic interior designer and a creator of magnificent theatre and film sets, died in Milan on this day in 1998.  He was 81 years old and had never fully recovered from an operation the previous November to install a pacemaker.  Mongiardino, who was nominated for two Academy Awards for Best Art Direction during his career, worked on interior design for an international clientele that included the industrialist and art collector Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, the business tycoons Aristotle Onassis and Gianni Agnelli, the former Russian prince Stanisław Albrecht Radziwiłł and his socialite wife Lee Radziwill, the fashion designer Gianni Versace, the Lebanese banker Edmond Safra, the Rothschild family and the Hearst family.  Nonetheless, he habitually rejected his reputation as the eminence grise of interior design. ''I'm a creator of ambiance, a scenic designer, an architect but not a decorator,'' he once said.  The only son of Giuseppe Mongiardino, a theatre impresario who introduced colour television to Italy, Mongiardino grew up in an 18th-century palazzo in Genoa.  Read more…


Arturo Toscanini - conductor

Talented musician had unexpected career change

World famous orchestra conductor Arturo Toscanini died on this day in 1957.  He served as musical director of La Scala in Milan, the Metropolitan Opera in New York and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra.  Toscanini was a well-known musician in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, respected for his amazing musical ear and his photographic memory.  Towards the end of his career he became a household name as director of the NBC Symphony Orchestra because of the radio and television broadcasts and recordings he made.  Toscanini was born in Parma in 1867 and won a scholarship to his local music conservatory where he studied the cello.  He joined the orchestra of an opera company and while they were presenting Aida on tour in Rio de Janeiro the singers went on strike.  They were protesting against their conductor and demanded a substitute. They suggested Toscanini, who they were aware knew the whole opera from memory.  Although he had no previous conducting experience, he was eventually persuaded to take up the baton late in the evening. He led a performance of the long Verdi opera, entirely relying on his memory.  Read more…


Carlo Maria Viganò - controversial archbishop

Former papal ambassador who shocked Catholic Church

Carlo Maria Viganò, the controversial former Apostolic Nuncio to the United States who was twice at the centre of serious corruption allegations against the Vatican, was born on this day in 1941 in Varese, northern Italy.  Viganò, who had occupied one of the most powerful positions in the Vatican before Pope Benedict XVI set him to be his ambassador in Washington in 2011, was a key figure in the so-called Vatileaks scandal in 2012 when the Italian journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi published leaked documents that included letters from Viganò to Pope Benedict and to the Vatican secretary of state Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone complaining of corruption in the awarding of contracts.  The subsequent scandal resulted in the conviction of Benedict’s former butler, Paolo Gabriele, who was found guilty of theft by a Vatican court and handed an 18-month prison sentence.  Viganò’s 2011 allegations pale, however, alongside the extraordinary 11-page document he published seven years later, in which he claimed that high-ranking church officials were implicated in a cover-up surrounding sexual abuse allegations against former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick.  Read more…


Niccolò Piccinni – opera composer

Writer drawn into 18th century Paris rivalry

The composer Niccolò Piccinni, one of the most popular writers of opera in 18th century Europe, was born on this day in 1728 in Bari.  Piccinni, who lived mainly in Naples while he was in Italy, had the misfortune to be placed under house arrest for four years in his 60s, when he was accused of being a republican revolutionary.  He is primarily remembered, though, for having been invited to Paris at the height of his popularity to be drawn unwittingly into a battle between supporters of traditional opera, with its emphasis on catchy melodies and show-stopping arias, and those of the German composer Christoph Willibald Gluck, who favoured solemnly serious storytelling more akin to Greek tragedy.  Piccinni’s father was a musician but tried to discourage his son from following the same career. However, the Bishop of Bari, recognising Niccolò’s talent, arranged for him to attend the Conservatorio di Sant’Onofrio in Capuana in Naples.  He was a prolific writer. His first opera, a comedy entitled Le donne dispettose (The mischievous women) was staged at the Teatro dei Fiorentini in Naples in 1755.  Read more…


Count Vittorio Alfieri – playwright and poet

Romantic nobleman inspired the oppressed with his writing

Dramatist and poet Count Vittorio Alfieri was born on this day in 1749 in Asti in Piedmont.  He earned himself the title of ‘the precursor of the Risorgimento’ because the predominant theme of his poetry was the overthrow of tyranny and with his dramas he tried to encourage a national spirit in Italy. He has also been called ‘the founder of Italian tragedy.’  Alfieri was educated at the Military Academy of Turin but disliked military life and obtained leave to travel throughout Europe.  In France he was profoundly influenced by studying the writing of Voltaire, Rousseau and Montesquieu and in England he embarked on a doomed affair with an unsuitable woman.  When he returned to Italy in 1772 he settled in Turin and resigned his military commission.  Soon afterwards, he wrote a tragedy, Cleopatra, which was performed to great acclaim in 1775.  He decided to devote himself to literature and began a methodical study of the classics and of Italian poetry.  Since he expressed himself mainly in French, which was the language of the ruling classes in Turin, he went to Tuscany to familiarise himself with pure Italian.  Read more…


15 January 2021

15 January

Gigi Radice - football coach

Former Milan player steered Torino to only title in 78 years

Luigi 'Gigi' Radice, the only coach to have won the Italian football championship with Torino in the 78 years that have elapsed since the Superga plane crash wiped out the greatest of all Torino teams, was born on this day in 1935 in Cesano Maderno, near Monza, some 24km (15 miles) north of Milan.  Am attacking full-back with AC Milan, where he won the Scudetto three times and was a member of the team that won the 1962-63 European Cup, Radice made five appearances for Italy, including two at the 1962 World Cup finals in Chile.  He switched to coaching in 1965 after a serious knee injury ended his playing career prematurely and achieved immediate success with his local club, Monza, whom he guided to promotion as champions in Serie C.  After leading Cesena to promotion to Serie A for the first time in the Emilia-Romagna club's history in 1972-73 Radice had spells with Fiorentina and Cagliari before Torino owner Orfeo Pianelli hired him in 1975.    Torino had finished third in 1971-72 and in the top six in each of the following three seasons but were not close to breaking the dominance of city rivals Juventus.  Read more…


Giambattista De Curtis – songwriter and artist

Talented Neapolitan became captivated with the beauty of Sorrento

Writer, painter and sculptor Giambattista De Curtis died on this day in 1926 in Naples.  A talented poet and playwright, he also wrote the lyrics for many popular songs.  He is perhaps best known for the song Torna a Surriento, although the English words that have now become famous differ from the original verses for the song that he wrote in Neapolitan dialect.  De Curtis is believed to have written the words for Torna a Surriento while on the terrace of the Imperial Hotel Tramontano in 1902, gazing out at the sea whose beauty he was praising.  De Curtis lived for weeks at a time in the hotel and painted frescoes and canvases to decorate the walls for the owner, Guglielmo Tramontano, who was also Mayor of Sorrento at the time.  One theory is that De Curtis was asked to write the song to mark the stay at the hotel of Italian Prime Minister Guiseppe Zanardelli.  But another school of thought is that he had already written the words to accompany the beautiful music written by his brother, Ernesto, a few years earlier and that he revived it for the occasion.  Torna a Surriento has often been performed and recorded with its original words, sung by such great performers as Giuseppe Di Stefano and Luciano Pavarotti.  Read more…


Paolo Sarpi – writer and statesman

Patriotic Venetian who the Pope wanted dead

Historian, scientist, writer and statesman Paolo Sarpi died on this day in 1623 in Venice.  He had survived an assassination attack 16 years before and was living in seclusion, still preparing state papers on behalf of Venice, writing, and carrying out scientific studies.  The day before his death he had dictated three replies to questions about state affairs of the Venetian Republic.  He had been born Pietro Sarpi in 1552 in Venice. His father died while he was still a child and he was educated by his uncle, who was a school teacher, and then by a monk in the Augustinian Servite order.  He entered the Servite order himself at the age of 13, assuming the name of Fra Paolo. After going into a monastery in Mantua, he was invited to be court theologian to Duke Guglielmo Gonzaga.  He then went to Milan, where he was an adviser to Charles Borromeo, the archbishop of Milan, before being transferred back to Venice to be professor of philosophy at the Servite convent.  At the age of 27, Sarpi was sent to Rome, where he interacted with three successive popes. He then returned to Venice, where he spent 17 years studying.  Read more…


Paolo Vaccari - rugby player

Italy’s second all-time highest try scorer

The rugby player Paolo Vaccari, who scored 22 tries for the Italian national team in a 64-cap career, was born on this day in 1971 in Calvisano, a town in Lombardy about 30km (19 miles) southeast of Brescia.  A versatile back equally adept at wing, centre or full-back, Vaccari was regarded as a strong defender and an intelligent and technically-sound back who frequently created scoring opportunities for players around him.  Although he was good enough to be selected for the renowned Barbarians invitational XV against Leicester Tigers in 1998, he played all his domestic rugby in Italy, enjoying great success.  He won the double of Italian Championship and Cup with Milan Rugby in 1994-95 and was a title-winner for the second time with his home club Calvisano 10 years later, during a run in which Calvisano reached the Championship final six years in a row, from 2001-06.  Vaccari had won his second Italian Cup medal with Calvisano in 2003-04.  In international rugby, his proudest moment was undoubtedly scoring Italy’s fourth try in their historic 40-32 victory over reigning Five Nations champions France in the final of the FIRA Cup in Grenoble in 1997.  Read more…


14 January 2021

14 January

NEW - Luca Longhi - artist

‘Quiet’ painter trained his children to be follow in his footsteps

Luca Longhi, a portrait painter also known for his beautiful religious paintings who was working during the late Renaissance and Mannerist periods, was born on this day in 1507 in Ravenna in Emilia-Romagna.  He was the father of the painters Francesco Longhi and Barbara Longhi, who were both trained by him and worked in his workshop.  Little is known about Luca Longhi’s own artistic training, but it is thought he probably attended the Ravenna workshops of local artists Francesco Zaganelli and his brother, Bernardino Zaganelli.  The painter and art historian Giorgio Vasari visited Ravenna in 1548 and wrote about "Master Luca de Longhi" in his book, The Lives of the Artists. He says: “Luca de Longhi is a man of good nature, quiet and (a) scholar (who) has done in his homeland Ravenna, and outside, many beautiful oil pictures and portraits. He has done and still works with patience and study.”  Longhi painted the portraits of many famous and important people of his time, including Giovanni Guidiccione, Bishop of Fossombrone, Giulio della Rovere, Cardinal of Urbino, Alessandro Sforza, Cardinal legate of Romagna and Cristoforo Boncompagni, Archbishop of Ravenna.  Read more…


Giulio Andreotti - political survivor

Christian Democrat spent 45 years in government

Giulio Andreotti, who was Italy's most powerful politician for a period lasting almost half a century, was born on this day in 1919 in Rome.  He was a member of almost every Italian government from 1947 until 1992, leading seven of them.  He would have certainly gone on to be president were it not for the scandals in which he became embroiled in the 1990s, when his Christian Democrat party collapsed as a result of the mani pulite - clean hands - bribery investigations.  Andreotti himself was accused of an historic association with the Mafia and of commissioning the murder of a journalist, although he was acquitted of the latter charge on appeal.  The youngest of three children, Andreotti was brought up in difficult circumstances by his mother after his father, who had taught at a junior school in Segni, about 60km (37 miles) south-east of the capital in Lazio, had died when he was only two years old.  In contrast with the unassuming, mild-mannered persona for which he became known as an adult, the young Andreotti had a fiery temper.  On one occasion, in church, he attacked another altar boy, stubbing out a lit taper in his eye after feeling he had been ridiculed.  Read more…


Nina Ricci – designer

Creative flair of Italian-born founder of famous fashion house

The prestigious fashion designer Nina Ricci was born Maria Nielli in Turin in 1883.  She moved with her family to live in Florence at the age of five and then went to live with them in France when she was 12.  At the age of 13, having acquired the nickname Nina, she began working as a dressmaker’s apprentice.  She continued working in fashion, eventually joining the house of Raffin as a designer.  In 1904 she married an Italian jeweller named Luigi Ricci and they later had a son, Robert.  The house of Nina Ricci was founded in Paris in 1932. Nina became famous for her romantic, feminine, creations and her son, Robert, later helped her manage the business side.  In 1948 the house of Nina Ricci launched  the fragrance ‘L’air du temps’, in a glass bottle decorated with doves, which was co-designed by Marc Lalique. This became a world-wide success. In the 1950s Nina Ricci stepped back from designing and her son continued to run the company with new designers.  Maria (Nina) Ricci died in 1970 at the age of 87.  Read more…


Alberico Gentili – international lawyer

Academic gave the world its first system of jurisprudence

Alberico Gentili, who is regarded as one of the founders of the science of international law, was born on this day in 1552 in San Ginesio in the province of Macerata in Marche.  He was the first European academic to separate secular law from Roman Catholic theology and canon law and the earliest to write about public international law.  He became Regius Professor of Civil Law at the University of Oxford in England and taught there for 21 years.  Gentili graduated as a doctor of civil law in 1572 from the University of Perugia but was exiled from Italy in 1579 and eventually went to live in England because he became a Protestant.  He taught at Oxford from 1581 until his death in 1608 and became well-known for his lectures on Roman law and his writing on legal topics.  In 1588 Gentili published De jure belli commentatio prima - First Commentary on the Law of War. This was revised in 1598 to become Three Books on the Law of War, which contained a comprehensive discussion on the laws of war and treaties.  Gentili believed international law should comprise the actual practices of civilised nations, tempered by moral, but not specifically religious, considerations.  Read more…


Franchino Gaffurio – composer

Musician whose name has lived on for centuries in Milan

Renaissance composer Franchino Gaffurio was born on this day in 1451 in Lodi, a city in Lombardy some 40km (25 miles) southeast of Milan.  He was to become a friend of Leonardo da Vinci later in life and may have been the person depicted in Leonardo’s famous painting, Portrait of a Musician.  The oil on wood painting, which Da Vinci is thought to have completed in around 1490, is housed in the Biblioteca Ambrosiana in Milan. Gaffurio was born into an aristocratic family, who sent him to a Benedictine monastery, where he acquired musical training.  He later became a priest and lived in Mantua and Verona before setting in Milan, where he became maestro di cappella (choirmaster) at the Duomo in 1484. He was to retain the post for the rest of his life.  Gaffurio was one of Italy’s most famous musicians in the late 15th and early 16th centuries and as such met composers from all over Europe while working in Milan and wrote books of instruction for young composers.  One of his most famous comments was that the tactus, the tempo of a semibreve, is equal to the pulse of a man who is breathing quietly, at about 72 beats per minute.  Read more…


Luca Longhi – artist

‘Quiet’ painter trained his children to be follow in his footsteps

Luca Longhi's Adoration by the Shepherds can be seen at the Museo d’Arte della Città
Luca Longhi's Adoration by the Shepherds
can be seen at the Museo d’Arte della Città
Luca Longhi, a portrait painter also known for his beautiful religious paintings who was working during the late Renaissance and Mannerist periods, was born on this day in 1507 in Ravenna in Emilia-Romagna.

He was the father of the painters Francesco Longhi and Barbara Longhi, who were both trained by him and worked in his workshop.

Little is known about Luca Longhi’s own artistic training, but it is thought he probably attended the Ravenna workshops of local artists Francesco Zaganelli and his brother, Bernardino Zaganelli.

The painter and art historian Giorgio Vasari visited Ravenna in 1548 and wrote about "Master Luca de Longhi" in his book, The Lives of the Artists. He says: “Luca de Longhi is a man of good nature, quiet and (a) scholar (who) has done in his homeland Ravenna, and outside, many beautiful oil pictures and portraits. He has done and still works with patience and study.”

Longhi painted the portraits of many famous and important people of his time, including Giovanni Guidiccione, Bishop of Fossombrone, Giulio della Rovere, Cardinal of Urbino, Alessandro Sforza, Cardinal legate of Romagna and Cristoforo Boncompagni, Archbishop of Ravenna.

The Lady and the Unicorn is said to depict Giulia Farnese
The Lady and the Unicorn is said
to depict Giulia Farnese
Among his well-known works are The Lady and the Unicorn, which is a portrait of Giulia Farnese, who was mistress to Pope Alexander VI and the sister of Pope Paul III, Adoration by the Shepherds and Virgin and Child with Saints Sebastian and Rocco.

He painted a Marriage at Canna for the Church of the Camaldolese in Ravenna with his son, Francesco. In the picture there are portraits of Francesco, his daughter, Barbara, and the Abbot of the church’s convent, Don Pietro Bagnolo da Bagnacavallo.

Longhi’s daughter, Barbara Longhi, was much admired as a portrait painter as well. She also assisted her father on large altarpieces and modelled for him. She was depicted by her father as Saint Barbara in his 1570 painting Virgin and Child Enthroned with Saints.

Her self-portrait, in which she is dressed as Saint Catherine of Alexandria, bears a strong resemblance to her father’s depictions of her. The painting was intended originally for the monastery of Sant’Apollinare in Classe, but it was acquired by the Museo d’Arte della Città di Ravenna in the 19th century and restored in 1980.

Lucca Longhi died in his home town of Ravenna in 1580 after succumbing to what was described as a catarrhal illness that had spread throughout Italy after arriving from Paris.

The Basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna is a UNESCO world heritage site
The Basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna is
a UNESCO world heritage site
Travel tip:

Ravenna in Emilia-Romagna, where Luca Longhi and his children lived and worked, was the capital city of the western Roman empire in the fifth century. It is known for its well-preserved late Roman and Byzantine architecture and mosaics and has eight UNESCO world heritage sites. The Basilica of San Vitale is one of the most important examples of early Christian Byzantine art and architecture in Europe.

The museum is housed in the cloister of the Basilica di Santa Maria in Porto
The museum is housed in the cloister of the
Basilica di Santa Maria in Porto
Travel tip:

There are works by Luca Longhi and his children, Francesco and Barbara, on display in the Museo d’Arte della Città di Ravenna, which is in Via di Roma in the centre of the city, housed in the cloister of the abbey of the Basilica of Santa Maria in Porto. The museum is open from Tuesday to Sunday from 9am to 6pm. During the Covid 19 pandemic the museum is asking visitors to book appointments in advance.  Also on display are works by the Zaganellis and many Venetian artists.

Also on this day:

1451: The birth of Renaissance composer Franchino Gaffurio

1552: The birth of international lawyer Alberico Gentili

1883: The birth of fashion designer Nina Ricci

1919: The birth of seven-times prime minister Giulio Andreotti


13 January 2021

13 January

Marco Pantani - tragic cycling champion

Rider from Cesenatico won historic 'double'

Marco Pantani, the last rider to have won cycling's Giro d'Italia and the Tour de France in the same year, was born on this day in 1970.  Recognised as one of the sport's greatest hill climbers, Pantani completed the historic 'double' in 1998 and remains one of only seven riders to achieve the feat.  A single-mindedly fierce competitor, Pantani had won the amateur version of the Giro - the Girobio - in 1992, after which he turned professional.  Winner of the Young Rider classification at the Tour de France in 1994 and 1995, he might have enjoyed still greater success.  But Pantani's career was blighted by physical injuries and later by scandal after he was disqualified from the 1999 Giro d'Italia just two days from the finish - and with a clear lead - after a blood test revealed irregular results. He died tragically young in 2004.  Growing up, Pantani's home town was the port of Cesenatico, on the Adriatic Coast, about 30 minutes' drive away from Cesena, in Emilia-Romagna.  His mother worked as a chambermaid in hotels in Cesenatico and in neighbouring Bellaria, while his father, Paolo, was an engineer.  Read more…


Veronica De Laurentiis - actress and author

Turned personal torment into bestselling book

The actress and author Veronica De Laurentiis, the daughter of legendary film producer Dino De Laurentiis and actress Silvana Mangano, was born on this day in 1950 in Rome.  Although she still works in film and TV, she is best known as a campaigner against domestic violence and the author of the bestselling book Rivoglio la mia vita (I Want My Life Back), which revealed details of the attacks she was subjected to in her first marriage. Her then-husband was subsequently jailed for 14 years.  Veronica De Laurentiis was cast in the blockbuster movie Waterloo - produced by her father - when she was just 18, alongside the great actors Rod Steiger and Christopher Plummer.  She married young, however, and after the birth of her first child, Giada - now well known as a TV cook in the United States - decided to suspend her acting career in order to focus on parenthood.  With her husband, she lived in Italy until after the birth of her third child, at which point they moved to America, living first in Florida, then New York and finally in Los Angeles.  They divorced four years after the birth of their fourth child, after which Veronica sustained herself by setting up a fashion design studio in Los Angeles.  Read more…


Renato Bruson – operatic baritone

Donizetti and Verdi specialist rated among greats

The opera singer Renato Bruson, whose interpretation of Giuseppe Verdi’s baritone roles sometimes brought comparison with such redoubtable performers as Tito Gobbi, Ettore Bastianini and Piero Cappuccili, was born on this day in 1936 in the village of Granze, near Padua.  Bruson’s velvety voice and noble stage presence sustained him over a career of remarkable longevity. He was still performing in 2011 at the age of 75, having made his debut more than half a century earlier.  Since then he has devoted himself more to teaching masterclasses, although he did manage one more performance of Verdi’s Falstaff, which was among his most famous roles, at the age of 77 in 2013, having been invited to the Teatro Verdi in Busseto, the composer’s home town in Emilia-Romagna, as part of a celebration marking 200 years since Verdi’s birth.  Today he is director of the Accademia Lirica at Teatro alla Scala in Milan, a role he combines with a professorship at the Accademia Chigiana in Siena and a post at the lyrical academy in Spoleto.  It was at the Teatro Lirico Sperimentale in Spoleto, the ancient city in Umbria, that Bruson made his stage debut.  Read more…


Prince Emanuele Filiberto – Duke of Aosta

Savoy prince who became a brilliant soldier

Prince Emanuele Filiberto, who became the second Duca d'Aosta - Duke of Aosta - was born on this day in 1869 in Genoa.  The Prince successfully commanded the Italian Third Army during World War I, earning himself the title of the ‘Undefeated Duke.’ After the war he became a Marshall of Italy.  Emanuele Filiberto was the eldest son of Prince Amedeo of Savoy, Duca d'Aosta, and his first wife, Donna Maria Vittoria dal Pozzo della Cisterna, an Italian noblewoman.  In 1870 Prince Amedeo was elected to become King of Spain but he resigned after three years on the throne and returned to Italy, declaring Spain ‘ungovernable’. In 1890 Emanuele Filiberto succeeded his father to the title of Duca d'Aosta.  The Duke began his army career in Naples in 1905 as a Commander. His record while in command of the Italian Third Army led to his troops being nicknamed ‘armata invitta’ - undefeated army - despite some of the heavy losses suffered by Italian troops under other commanders during World War I.  After the war, in 1926, he was promoted to the rank of Marshal of Italy by Benito Mussolini in recognition of his long and successful service to his country.  Read more…


Carlo Tagliabue – opera singer

Powerful performer remembered for his Don Carlo

A leading Italian baritone in the middle of the last century, Carlo Tagliabue was born on this day in 1898 in Mariano Comense near Como in Lombardy.  He particularly excelled in Verdi roles at the height of his career and continued to perform on stage and make recordings when he was well into his fifties.  After studying in Milan, Tagliabue made his debut on stage at a theatre in Lodi in 1922 singing Amonasro, King of Ethiopia, in Aida.  He went on to sing in Richard Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, when it was performed in Italian at theatres in Genoa, Turin , Milan , Rome and Naples. He later became known for his performances in Giuseppe Verdi operas, particularly La forza del destino, Rigoletto, La traviata, Nabucco and Otello and he was consistently praised for the power of his voice.  Tagliabue is also remembered for creating the role of Basilio in the world premiere of Ottorino Respighi’s La fiamma in 1934.  He went on to sing in Buenos Aires, New York, San Francisco and London but his final performance was in 1955 on the stage of La Scala in Milan as Don Carlo in La forza del destino, singing alongside Maria Callas playing Donna Leonora.  Read more…


12 January 2021

12 January

Revolution in Sicily

January revolt meant the beginning of the end for the Bourbons

The Sicilian uprising on this day in 1848 was to be the first of several revolutions in Italy and Europe that year.  The revolt against the Bourbon government of Ferdinand II in Sicily started in Palermo and led to Sicily becoming an independent state for 16 months.  It was the third revolution to take place on the island against Bourbon rule and signalled the end for the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies.  Naples and Sicily had been formally reunited to become the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies in 1815. Back in medieval times they had both been part of a single Kingdom of Sicily.  The 1848 revolt was organised in Palermo and deliberately timed to coincide with King Ferdinand’s birthday.  News of the revolt spread and peasants from the countryside arrived to join the fray and express their frustration about the hardships they were enduring.  Sicilian nobles revived the liberal constitution based on the Westminster system of parliamentary government, which had been drawn up for the island in 1812.  The Bourbon army took back full control of Sicily by force in May 1849 but the revolt proved to be only a curtain raiser for the events to come in 1860.  Read more…


Ferdinand I of the Two Sicilies

Despotic ruler presided over chaos in southern Italy

The Bourbon prince who would become the first monarch of a revived Kingdom of the Two Sicilies was born in Naples on this day in 1751.  Ferdinando, third son of King Carlos (Charles) III of Spain, was handed the separate thrones of Naples and Sicily when he was only eight years old after his father’s accession to the Spanish throne required him to abdicate his titles in Spanish-ruled southern Italy.  In a 65-year reign, he would preside over one of the most turbulent periods in the history of a region that was never far from upheaval, which would see Spanish rule repeatedly challenged by France before eventually being handed to Austria.  Too young, obviously, to take charge in his own right when his reign began officially in 1759, he continued to enjoy his privileged upbringing, alternating between the palaces his father had built at Caserta, Portici and Capodimonte.  Government was placed in the hands of Bernardo Tanucci, a Tuscan statesman from Stia, near Arezzo, in whom King Charles had complete trust.  Tanucci fully embraced the enlightened ideas that were gaining popularity with the educated classes across Europe.  Read more…


John Singer Sargent - painter

Celebrated portraitist had lifelong love for Italy

The painter John Singer Sargent, who was hailed as the leading portraitist of his era but was also a brilliant painter of landscapes, was born on this day in 1856 in Florence.  Although he became an American citizen at the first opportunity, both his parents being American, he spent his early years in Italy and would regularly return to the country throughout his life.  At his commercial peak during the Edwardian age, his studio in London attracted wealthy clients not only from England but from the rest of Europe and even from the other side of the Atlantic, asking him to grant them immortality on canvas.  His full length portraits, which epitomised the elegance and opulence of high society at the end of the 19th century, would cost the subject up to $5,000 - the equivalent of around $140,000 (€122,000; £109,000) today.  Sargent was born in Italy on account of a cholera pandemic, the second to hit Europe that century, which caused a high number of fatalities in London in particular. His parents, who were regular visitors to Italy, were in Florence and decided it would be prudent to stay.  Although his parents had a home in Paris, Italy, with its wealth of classical attractions, was a favourite destination.  Read more…


Charles Emmanuel I – Duke of Savoy

Rash ruler who led catastrophic attack on Geneva 

Charles Emmanuel I, who developed a reputation for being hot-headed, was born on this day in 1562 in the Castle of Rivoli in Piedmont.  Renowned for his rashness and military aggression in trying to acquire territory, Charles Emmanuel has gone down in history for launching a disastrous attack on Geneva in Switzerland.  In 1602 he led his troops to the city during the night and surrounded the walls. At two o’clock in the morning the Savoy soldiers were ordered to dismount and climb the city walls in full armour as a shock tactic.  However the alarm was raised by a night watchman and Geneva’s army was ready to meet the invaders.  Many of the Savoy soldiers were killed and others were captured and later executed.  The heavy helmets worn by the Savoy troops featured visors with the design of a human face on them. They were afterwards called Savoyard helmets and the Swiss army kept some of them as trophies. Geneva’s successful defence of the city walls is still celebrated during the annual festival of L’Escalade, in which confectionery shops sell a cauldron known as a marmite made from chocolate.  Read more…


11 January 2021

11 January

Galeazzo Ciano - ill-fated Fascist politician

The son-in-law Mussolini had shot as a traitor

Galeazzo Ciano, part of the Fascist Grand Council that voted for Benito Mussolini to be thrown out of office as Italy faced crushing defeat in the Second World War, was killed by a firing squad in Verona on this day in 1944 after being found guilty of treason.  The 40-year-old former Foreign Minister in Mussolini's government was also his son-in-law, having been married to Edda Mussolini since he was 27.  Yet even his position in the family did not see him spared by the ousted dictator, who had been arrested on the orders of King Victor Emmanuel III but, after being freed by the Nazis, later exacted revenge against those he felt had betrayed him.  Ciano, a founding member of the Italy's National Fascist Party whose marriage to the Duce's daughter certainly helped him advance his career, had largely been supportive of Mussolini and was elevated to Foreign Minister in part because of his role in the military victory over Ethiopia, in which he was a bomber squadron commander. Yet he expressed doubts from the start over Italy's readiness to take part in a major conflict. In his diaries, which Edda was later to use without success as a bargaining tool as she tried to save her husband's life, Ciano recalled that he had tried to persuade Mussolini against committing to an alliance with Hitler.  Read more…


The 1693 Sicily earthquake

Devastation that led to architectural rebirth

A huge earthquake destroyed or severely damaged scores of towns and cities in Sicily on this day in 1693, killing more than 60,000 people.  Records say the tremor struck at around 9pm local time and lasted about four minutes.  It was mainly confined to the southeast corner of the island, with damage also reported in Calabria on the Italian mainland and even on Malta, 190km (118 miles) away.  Although it is an estimate rather than a verifiable figure, the earthquake has been given a recorded magnitude of 7.4, which makes it the most powerful in Italian history, although in terms of casualties it was eclipsed by the earthquake that destroyed much of Messina and Reggio Calabria in 1908, with perhaps up to 200,000 killed.  At least 70 towns and cities - including Catania, Syracuse (Siracusa), Noto and Acireale - were either very badly damaged or destroyed, with an area of 5,600 sq km (2,200 sq mi) affected.  The earthquake is indirectly responsible for the wonderful Baroque architecture that makes the cities of southeast Sicily so attractive, commissioned by the island’s wealthy Spanish aristocracy.  Read more…


The Giannini sextuplets

The multiple birth that made history

History was made on this day in 1980 when a schoolteacher from the Casentino valley in Tuscany gave birth to sextuplets in a hospital in Florence.  The babies – four boys and two girls – delivered between 4.17am and 4.22am at the Careggi Hospital, on the northern outskirts of the Tuscan capital, grew to become the first sextuplets in Europe to survive beyond infancy and only the second set in the world.  Their arrival turned the Gianninis - mum Rosanna and dad Franco - into instant celebrities and their house in Soci, a village in the municipality of Bibbiena, 60km (37 miles) east of Florence, was besieged by the world’s media, seeking pictures and interviews.  In Italy, the event was celebrated with particular enthusiasm, heralded as the good news the nation craved after a particularly difficult year marked by a series of catastrophes, including the Ustica plane crash, the bombing of Bologna railway station and the Irpinia earthquake.  The family eventually signed an exclusive deal with the best-selling Italian magazine Gente for access rights.  Photographs of the children appeared around the time of their birthday for a number of years.  Read more…


Matteo Renzi – politician

Italy's youngest Prime Minister was inspired by the scout movement

Matteo Renzi, the former Prime Minister of Italy, was born on this day in 1975 in Florence.  When he became Prime Minister in February 2014, he was the youngest person to hold the office since Italian unification in 1861. His father, Tiziano Renzi was a Christian Democrat local councillor in Rignano sull’Arno, where Renzi was brought up as part of an observant Catholic family.  He went to school in Florence and was a scout in the association of Catholic Guides and Scouts of Italy.  On Renzi’s personal website he carries a quote from Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the Scout Movement: “Lasciare il mondo un po’ migliore di come lo abbiamo trovato - Leave the world a bit better than how you found it.”  In government, Renzi reformed labour and employment laws to boost economic growth and abolished some small taxes.  Renzi became interested in politics while still at school. He graduated from the University of Florence with a degree in Law and at the age of 21 joined the Italian People’s Party. After being elected as President of Florence Province in 2004, he joined the Democratic Party and was elected as Mayor of Florence in 2009.  Read more…


10 January 2021

10 January

- Giorgio Mondadori - publisher

Helped launch La Repubblica after family split

The publisher Giorgio Mondadori, who was president of the famous publishing house set up by his father, Arnoldo Mondadori, until an acrimonious split in 1976, died on his 92nd birthday on this day in 2009 in a clinic in Tuscany.  Mondadori commissioned the Brazilian architect, Oscar Niemeyer, to build the company’s eye-catching headquarters in Segrate, near Milan, in 1975, which remains his legacy to the family business.  At around the same time that he left the company, for whom he had worked for 38 years, he set up a joint venture with another publishing group, L’Espresso, that resulted in the launch of La Repubblica, a new, centre-left national newspaper that was to grow into one of the most popular daily newspapers in Italy, with a circulation topped only by the long-established Corriere della Sera.  Born in Ostiglia, a small town in the province of Mantua, Lombardy, in 1917, Giorgio was the second of four children born to Arnoldo Mondadori and Andreina Monicelli, some 10 years after his father founded Arnoldo Mondadori Editore.  After completing his education, Giorgio began working for the company in 1938 at the age of 21.  Read more…


Flaminio Bertoni - sculptor and car designer

Visionary ideas turned Citroën into style icon

The sculptor and automobile designer Flaminio Bertoni, the creative genius behind the groundbreaking Citroën cars of the 1930s, 40s and 50s, was born on this day in 1903 in what is now the Masnago district of Varese.  Bertoni, who lived in or near Paris from 1931 until his death in 1964, designed bodies for the stylish Traction Avant luxury executive car and the enduring workhorse 'Deux Chevaux' - the 2CV - which became almost a symbol of France.  Yes both of these were eclipsed, some would say, by the brilliance of Bertoni's aerodynamic, futuristic Citroën DS - also known as 'the Goddess' - which was named the most beautiful car of all time by the magazine Classic and Sports Car and was described by the Chicago Institute of Design soon after its launch as among the '100 most beautiful things in the world'.  Bertoni was fêted in France, where he was made a Knight of Arts and Letters by the government of Charles de Gaulle in 1961 but it was not until almost 40 years after his death that his achievements were given recognition in his home country, where his son, Leonardo, set up a museum in Varese to celebrate his work.  Read more…


Caesar crosses the Rubicon

Act of defiance that started a civil war and coined a phrase

The Roman general Julius Caesar led his army across the Rubicon river in northern Italy in an act of military defiance that would plunge the Roman Republic into civil war on this day in 49BC.  The course of the Rubicon, which can still be found on maps of Italy today, entering the Adriatic between Ravenna and Rimini in northeast Italy, represented the border between the Roman province of Cisalpine Gaul, over which Caesar had command, and what was by then known as Italia, the area of the peninsula south of the Alps directly governed by Rome.  One of the most powerful politicians in the Roman Republic after forming an alliance with Pompey and Crassus known as the First Triumvirate, Caesar had spent much of the previous decade expanding his territory through the Gallic Wars, taking control of much of modern-day France and northern Italy and extending the borders of the Republic as far as the Rhine.  He was the first Roman general to invade Britain.  The troops under his command - the 13th Legion - numbered more than 20,000 men who had seen Caesar’s military skills develop and were fiercely loyal.  Read more...


Pina Menichelli – silent movie star

Screen diva who enjoyed worldwide fame

The actress Pina Menichelli, who became one of the most celebrated female stars of the silent movie era, was born on this day in 1890 in Castroreale, a village in northeast Sicily.  Menichelli’s career was brief – she retired at the age of just 34 – but in her last eight or nine years on screen she enjoyed such popularity that her films played to packed houses and she commanded a salary that was the equivalent of millions of euros in today’s money.  Without words, actors had to use facial expressions and body movements to create character in the parts they were playing and Menichelli, a naturally beautiful woman, exploited her elegance and sensuality to the full, at times pushing the limits of what was acceptable on screen.  In fact, one of her films, La Moglie di Claudio (Claudio’s Wife) was banned by the censors for fear it would offend sensitivities, particularly those of the Catholic Church.  Generally cast in the role of femme fatale, Menichelli thus became something of a sex symbol in the years after the First World War and there was considerable shock when she announced abruptly in 1924 that she was quitting the film industry for good.  Read more…


Maurizio Sarri - football manager

Former coach of Juventus and Chelsea

The football coach Maurizio Sarri  was born on this day in 1959 in Naples.  Sarri, who has an unusual background for a professional football coach in that he spent more than 20 years in banking before devoting himself to the game full-time, took over as Chelsea manager in the summer of 2017, succeeding another Italian, Antonio Conte.  Previously, he had spent three seasons as head coach at SSC Napoli, twice finishing second and once third in Serie A.  He never played professionally, yet he has now held coaching positions at 20 different clubs.  Sarri was born in the Bagnoli district of Naples, where his father, Amerigo, a former professional cyclist, worked in the sprawling but now derelict Italsider steel plant.  It was not long, however, before the family moved away, however, first to Castro, a village on the shore of Lago d’Iseo, near Bergamo, and then to Figline Valdarno, in Tuscany, his father’s birthplace. It was there that Sarri grew up and played football for the local amateur team. A centre half, he had trials with Torino and Fiorentina but was deemed not quite good enough for the professional game.  Read more…


San Pietro Orseolo – Doge of Venice and monk

Rich and powerful Doge made a life-changing decision

Pietro Orseolo, a former Venetian Doge who joined the Benedictine order, died on this day in 987.  He was canonised by Pope Clement XII in 1731 and his feast day is celebrated on the anniversary of his death on 10 January each year.  Pietro Orseolo became Doge of Venice in 976 but after just two years in office he left his palace in the middle of the night to go to France to become a monk.  Orseolo was originally from a powerful family in Udine and at the age of 20 became commander of the Venetian fleet waging successful campaigns against pirate ships.  He was elected Doge after the previous ruler of Venice had been killed in a revolt. Orseolo restored order to the city, built much needed hospitals and cared for widows and orphans.  He started to rebuild the Doge’s palace and St Mark’s Basilica using his own money. But he suddenly left Venice to travel to southern France with three other Venetians to join a Benedictine abbey. It is believed he told no one about his decision in advance, not even his wife and family.  After some years living as a monk performing menial tasks at the abbey, Orseolo went to live in the surrounding forest as a hermit. Read more…


Giorgio Mondadori - publisher

Helped launch La Repubblica after family split

Giorgio Mondadori followed his father into publishing
Giorgio Mondadori followed his
father into publishing
The publisher Giorgio Mondadori, who was president of the famous publishing house set up by his father, Arnoldo Mondadori, until an acrimonious split in 1976, died on his 92nd birthday on this day in 2009 in a clinic in Tuscany.

Mondadori commissioned the Brazilian architect, Oscar Niemeyer, to build the company’s eye-catching headquarters in Segrate, near Milan, in 1975, which remains his legacy to the family business.

At around the same time that he left the company, for whom he had worked for 38 years, he set up a joint venture with another publishing group, L’Espresso, that resulted in the launch of La Repubblica, a new, centre-left national newspaper that was to grow into one of the most popular daily newspapers in Italy, with a circulation topped only by the long-established Corriere della Sera.

Born in Ostiglia, a small town in the province of Mantua, Lombardy, in 1917, Giorgio was the second of four children born to Arnoldo Mondadori and Andreina Monicelli, some 10 years after his father founded Arnoldo Mondadori Editore.

After completing his education, Giorgio began working for the company in 1938 at the age of 21.

After the Second World War, his position in the company alongside his older brother, Alberto, became increasingly important. Indeed, after Arnoldo had decided to relocate the family to Switzerland, Giorgio and Alberto were the first to return to Milan, where the company had been based before relocating to Verona to escape the bombing of the city.

Giorgio Mondadori (right) with his father, Arnoldo
(left), flanking former PM Aldo Moro
Arnoldo sent Giorgio to the United States to study the latest industrial and commercial innovations with the aim of modernising the company, which had already become a leading publisher of both books and magazines but which needed to keep ahead of the competition as Italy’s economic recovery began to gather pace.

Nonetheless, Arnoldo remained in charge until well into his 70s, and it was not until 1968, when his father stepped back into the role of honorary president, Giorgio became president and chairman.

By this time, Giorgio was already a high-profile figure both in publishing and the sporting world, in which he was president of Verona’s football club, AC Verona, which under his charge won promotion to Serie A for the first time for the 1957-58 season.

As president of Arnoldo Mondadori Editore, Giorgio was instrumental in the decision to move the company’s headquarters away from Via Bianca di Savoia in central Milan because of constraints on necessary expansion plans.

After commissioning a number of architects to submit plans without finding one that matched their expectations, Giorgio and Alberto looked farther afield and it was on a visit to Brasilia, the federal capital of Brazil, that Giorgio came across the work of Oscar Niemeyer, who had designed many important buildings in the city.

La Repubblica is now one of Italy's most popular newspapers
La Repubblica is now one of
Italy's most popular newspapers
He was particularly taken with the design of the Foreign Ministry, also known as the Palace of the Arches, and commissioned Niemeyer to build something along similar lines for Mondadori. Giorgio acquired an area of land in Segrate, which he subsequently sold to the insurance company, Assicurazioni Generali, who paid for the construction of the building and leased it back to Mondadori. The project, incorporating a lake, began in 1971 and was completed in 1975.

It was in 1975 that Giorgio Mondarori hosted a meeting at his villa in  Sommacampagna, a town about 15km (9 miles) west of Verona, with the journalist Eugenio Scalfari and publisher Carlo Carraciolo, the aristocratic founder of Gruppo Editoriale L’Espresso, which led to the foundation of La Repubblica, which at the start broke with tradition by including no business or sports sections, devoting itself solely to news.  Mondadori was appointed the newspaper’s first president.

However, in 1976, the year of La Repubblica’s newsstand debut, Mondadori found himself ousted from Arnoldo Mondadori Editore by his sisters, Cristina and Mimma, whose decision to merge their shareholdings left Giorgio with only a minority share. The presidency passed instead to Mario Formenton, Christina’s husband.

A bitter Giorgio soon left the company altogether, selling his 25 per cent holding, and teamed up with Caraciolo to form a new company, Giorgio Mondadori e Associati.

His new company flourished, specialising in publishing in the areas of travel and other leisure pursuits, building up a portfolio that included the magazines Airone, Bell'Italia, Bell'Europa, In Viaggio, Gardenia and Arte e Antiquariato.  He sold the company to entrepreneur and publisher Urbano Cairo in 1999, at which point he retired. 

He died at a private clinic in Figline Valdarno, Tuscany, a town about 35km (22 miles) southeast of Florence in the direction of Arezzo. He left a wife, Nara Panconesi, and children Claudia, Nicolò and Paolo. His ashes are buried in the Mondadori family tomb, at the Monumental Cemetery in Milan.

Travel tip:

The Palazzina Mondadori in Ostiglia now houses Arnoldo Mondadori's book collection
The Palazzina Mondadori in Ostiglia now
houses Arnoldo Mondadori's book collection
Ostiglia, where Giorgio Mondadori was born, is a town rich in history. Situated about 160 km (99 miles) southeast of Milan and about 30 km (19 miles) southeast of Mantua, in Roman times, when it was called Hostilia, its location on the Via Claudia Augusta Padana saw it become a trade hub linking Emilia with northern Europe.  In the Middle Ages it was a stronghold of Verona before being acquired in turn by the Scaliger, Visconti and Gonzaga families. The Palazzina Mondadori, an elegant Art Nouveau-style building that was the first Arnoldo printing house, hosts Arnoldo Mondadori’s private library consisting of about 1,000 books, many signed by the authors.

Piazza Marsilio Ficino, the beautiful square
at the heart of Figline Valdarno
Travel tip:

Figline Valdarno, where Mondadori died, is famous for its literary and artistic heritage. The birthplace of renowned artists and writers such as Masaccio, Poggio Bracciolini and Benedetto Varchi, the town was mentioned by Dante in Paradise, the third part of his Divine Comedy.  At the centre of Figline Valdarno is the beautiful Piazza Marsilio Ficino, at one end of which is the Collegiate Church of Santa Maria, which contains works of art by Giovanni Andrea de Magistris and Andrea della Robbia among others.

Also on this day:

49BC: Julius Caesar crosses the Rubicon river, sparking civil war

987: The death of Pietro Orseolo, Doge of Venice

1890: The birth of Pina Menichelli, silent movie star

1903: The birth of sculptor and car designer Flaminio Bertoni

1959: The birth of football coach Maurizio Sarri