31 May 2021

31 May

Andrew Grima - royal jeweller

Rome-born craftsman favoured by the Queen of England

The jewellery designer Andrew Grima, whose clients included the British Royal Family, was born on this day in 1921 in Rome.  Grima, whose flamboyant use of dramatically large, rough-cut stones and brilliant innovative designs revolutionised modern British jewellery, achieved an enviable status among his contemporaries.  After the Duke of Edinburgh had given the Queen a brooch of carved rubies and diamonds designed by Grima as a gift, he was awarded a Royal Warrant and rapidly became the jeweller of choice for London’s high society, as well as celebrities and film stars from around the world.  He won 13 De Beers Diamonds International Awards, which is more than any other jeweller, and examples of his work are kept by the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths.  When a private collection of Grima pieces was sold at auction by Bonhams in London in September 2017, some 93 lots realised a total of more than £7.6 million (€8.6m), with one pear-shaped blue diamond alone making £2.685m (€3.034m).  Grima’s father, John Grima, was the Maltese owner of a large international lace-making business.  Read more…

_____________________________________________________________

Tintoretto – painter

Dyer’s son whose work still adorns Venice

Renaissance artist Tintoretto died on this day in 1594 in Venice.  Known for his boundless energy, the painter was also sometimes referred to as Il Furioso.  His paintings are populated by muscular figures, make bold use of perspective and feature the colours typical of the Venetian school.  Tintoretto was an expert at depicting crowd scenes and mythological subjects and during his successful career received important commissions to produce paintings for the Scuola Grande di San Marco and the Scuolo Grande di San Rocco.  Tintoretto was born Jacopo Comin, the son of a dyer (tintore), which earned him the nickname Tintoretto, meaning 'little dyer'.  He was also sometimes known as Jacopo Robusti as his father had defended the gates of Padua against imperial troops in a way that was described as ‘robust’ at the time.  As a child, Tintoretto daubed on his father’s walls so the dyer took him to the studio of Titian to see if he could be trained as an artist.  Things did not work out and Tintoretto was quickly sent home.  Read more…

___________________________________________________________

Angelo Moriondo - espresso machine pioneer

Bar and hotel owner invented way to make coffee faster

Angelo Moriondo, the man credited with inventing the world’s first espresso coffee machine, died on this day in 1914 in Marentino, a town in Piedmont, about 20km (12 miles) east of Turin.  Moriondo, who was 62 when he passed away, was the owner of the Grand-Hotel Ligure in Turin’s Piazza Carlo Felice and the American Bar in the former Galleria Nazionale on Via Roma.  He came up with the idea of a coffee machine essentially in the hope of gaining an edge over his competition at a time when coffee was a hugely popular beverage across Europe and in Italy in particular, but which still depended on brewing methods that required the customer to wait five minutes or more to be able to raise a cup to his mouth.  Moriondo figured that if he could find a way to make multiple cups of coffee simultaneously he would be able to serve more customers more quickly. He hoped that word would then get round in Turin’s commercial district that his bars were the ones to go if the pressures of business did not allow time for leisurely breaks.  He never contemplated industrial-scale production of his invention, his ambitions never extending beyond the needs of his own businesses.  Read more…


Home


30 May 2021

30 May

General Giulio Douhet - military strategist

Army commander was one of first to see potential of air power

The Italian Army general Giulio Douhet, who saw the military potential in aircraft long before others did, was born in Caserta, north of Naples, on this day in 1869.  With the arrival of airships and then fixed-wing aircraft in Italy, Douhet recognized the military potential of the new technology. He advocated the creation of a separate air arm commanded by airmen rather than by commanders on the ground. From 1912 to 1915 Douhet served as commander of the Aeronautical Battalion, Italy’s first aviation unit.  Largely because of Douhet, the three-engine Caproni bomber - designed by the young aircraft engineer Gianni Caproni - was ready for use by the time Italy entered the First World War.  His severe criticism of Italy’s conduct of the war, however, resulted in his court-martial and imprisonment. Only after a review of Italy’s catastrophic defeat in 1917 in the Battle of Caporetto was it decided that his criticisms had been justified and his conviction reversed.  Born into a family of Savoyard exiles who had migrated to Campania after the cession of Savoy to France, Douhet attended the Military Academy of Modena and was commissioned into the artillery of the Italian Army in 1882.  Read more…

___________________________________________________________

Giacomo Matteotti - martyr of freedom

Politician kidnapped and murdered by Fascist thugs

A brave and historic speech made in the Italian parliament on this day in 1924 marked the start of a crisis for Benito Mussolini's Fascist government.  The young socialist politician who delivered the speech, denouncing the Fascist victory in the general election held in April of that year as having been won through fraud and violence, was subsequently kidnapped and murdered.  Giacomo Matteotti, the 29-year-old founder and leader of the Unified Socialist Party, accused Mussolini's party of employing thugs to intimidate the public into voting Fascist and said that changes to electoral law were inherently corrupt in that they were framed to make a Mussolini government almost inevitable.  Matteotti, who had already written a controversial book about the Fascists' rise to power, knew the risk he took in making the speech and is said to have told colleagues they should "get ready to hold a wake for me" as they offered him their congratulations.  Less than two weeks later, on June 10, Matteotti was walking along the banks of the River Tiber close to his home in Rome when he was attacked by five or six assailants who beat him up and bundled him into a car.  Read more…

_________________________________________________________

Andrea Verga - anatomist and neurologist

Professor among founding fathers of Italian psychiatry

The anatomist and neurologist Andrea Verga, who was one of the first Italian doctors to carry out serious research into mental illness, was born on this day in 1811 in Treviglio in Lombardy.  Verga’s career was notable for his pioneering study of the criminally insane, for some of the first research into acrophobia - the fear of heights - which was a condition from which he suffered, and for the earliest known experiments in the therapeutic use of cannabis.  For a number of years, he held the post of Professor of Psychiatry at the Ospedale Maggiore in Milan. He also founded, in conjunction with another physician, Serafino Biffi, the Italian Archives for Nervous Disease and Mental Illness, a periodical in which research findings could be shared and discussed.  Verga also acquired an in-depth knowledge of the anatomy of the bone system and the nervous system, and was the first to identify an anomaly of the brain that occurs in only one in six people, which became known as ‘Verga’s ventricle’.  The son of a coachman, Verga was an enthusiastic student of classics whom his parents encouraged to pursue a career in the church, yet it was medicine that became his calling.  Read more…

__________________________________________________________

Giovanni Gentile – philosopher

The principal intellectual spokesman for Fascism

Giovanni Gentile, a major figure in Italian idealist philosophy, was born on this day in 1875 in Castelvetrano in Sicily.  Known as ‘the philosopher of Fascism’, Gentile was the ghostwriter of part of Benito Mussolini’s The Doctrine of Fascism in 1932. His own ‘actual idealism’ was strongly influenced by the German philosopher, Georg Hegel.  Gentile's rejection of individualism and acceptance of collectivism helped him justify the totalitarian element of Fascism.  After a series of university appointments, Gentile became professor of the history of philosophy at the University of Rome in 1917.  While writing The Philosophy of Marx – La filosophia di Marx – a Hegelian examination of Karl Marx’s ideas, he met writer and philosopher Benedetto Croce. The two men became friends and co-editors of the periodical La Critica until 1924, when a lasting disagreement occurred over Gentile’s embrace of Fascism.  Gentile was Minister of Education in the Fascist government of Italy from October 1922 to July 1924 carrying out wide reforms, which had a lasting impact on Italian education.  Read more…


Home


29 May 2021

29 May

Franca Rame – actress, writer and politician

Artistic collaborator and wife of Dario Fo

The actress and writer Franca Rame, much of whose work was done in collaboration with her husband, the Nobel Prize-winning actor, playwright and satirist Dario Fo, died in Milan on this day in 2013 at the age of 83.  One of Italy's most admired and respected stage performers, her contribution to Dario Fo’s work was such that his 1997 Nobel prize for literature probably should have been a joint award. In the event, on receipt of the award, Fo announced he was sharing it with his wife.  Rame was also a left-wing militant. A member of the Italian Communist Party from 1967, she was elected to the Italian senate in 2006 under the banner of the Italy of Values party, a centre-left anti-corruption grouping led by Antonio di Pietro, the former prosecutor who had led the Mani pulite (“Clean Hands”) corruption investigation in the 1990s.  Later she was an independent member of the Communist Refoundation Party.  Her political views often heavily influenced her writing, in which her targets tended to be the Italian government and the Roman Catholic Church.  She was also an outspoken champion of women’s rights.  Read more…

___________________________________________________________

Michele Schirru - would-be assassin

Anarchist executed for plotting to kill Mussolini

The Sardinian-born anarchist Michele Schirru was executed by firing squad in Rome on this day in 1931.  Schirru, a former socialist revolutionary who had emigrated to the United States, had been arrested on suspicion of plotting to assassinate the Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini.  Seized at a hotel in Rome in February 1931, having arrived in the capital about three weeks earlier, he was tried by the Special Fascist Court and after he had loudly declared his hatred of both Fascism and communism was found guilty.  A death sentence was handed down at a further hearing on May 28 and the execution was carried out at first light the following day at the Casal Forte Braschi barracks on the western outskirts of Rome, where 24 Sardinian soldiers had answered the call to volunteer for the firing squad.  Schirru died screaming ‘long live anarchy, long live freedom, down with Fascism’, which bizarrely won posthumous praise from Mussolini, who made reference to Schirru’s distinguished service in Italy’s army during the First World War and applauded his bravery for declaring his unwavering conviction to his cause even as the riflemen were about to squeeze the trigger.  Read more…

_________________________________________________________

Virginia de’ Medici – noblewoman

Duchess was driven mad by husband’s infidelity

Virginia de’ Medici, who for a time ruled the duchy of Modena and Reggio, was born on this day in 1568 in Florence.  She protected the autonomy of the city of Modena while her husband was away, despite plots against her, and she was considered to have been a clever and far-sighted ruler.  Virginia was the illegitimate daughter of Cosimo I de’ Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany and his mistress, Camilla Martelli.  Her paternal grandparents were Giovanni dalle Bande Nere and his wife Maria Salviati, who was the granddaughter of Lorenzo the Magnificent. Her maternal grandparents were Antonio Martelli and Fiammetta Soderini, who were both members of important families in Florence.  In 1570, Cosimo I contracted a morganatic marriage with his mistress, Camilla, on the advice of Pope Pius V, which allowed him to legitimise his daughter.  Virginia lived with her parents at the Villa di Castello during the summer and in Pisa in the winter.  Cosimo I’s older children resented his second marriage and after his death in 1574 they imprisoned Camilla in a convent.  Virginia’s older brothers negotiated a marriage for her with a member of the Sforza family.  Read more…

_________________________________________________________

Katie Boyle – actress and television presenter

Daughter of Italian Marquis became the face of Eurovision

Television personality Katie Boyle was born Caterina Irene Maria Imperiali di Francavilla on this day in 1926 in Florence.  The actress, who became known for her appearances on panel games such as What’s My Line?, and also for presenting the Eurovision Song Contest on the BBC, died in 2018 at the age of 91.  She was the daughter of an Italian Marquis, the Marchese Imperiali di Francavilla, and his English wife, Dorothy Kate Ramsden.  At the age of 20, Caterina moved from Italy to the UK to begin a modelling career and she went on to appear in several 1950s films.  In 1947 she had married Richard Bentinck Boyle, the ninth Earl of Shannon, and although the marriage was dissolved in 1955, she kept the surname, Boyle, throughout her career.  Boyle was an on screen continuity announcer for the BBC in the 1950s and then became a television personality who regularly appeared on panel games and quiz programmes.  She was the presenter of the 1960, 1963, 1968 and 1974 Eurovision Song Contests, impressing viewers with her range of European languages.  Boyle has also worked in the theatre and on radio and has been an agony aunt for the TV Times.  Read more…


EN - 728x90

Home


28 May 2021

28 May

NEW
Luigi Capuana - author and journalist

Sicilian was leading figure in verismo movement

The author and journalist Luigi Capuana, one of the most important writers of the verismo movement that flourished in Italy in the late 19th century, was born on this day in 1839 in Mineo, a medieval town in southeast Sicily, in the province of Catania.  Verismo - meaning ‘realism’ - sought to portray society and humanity in the manner of a photograph, objectively representing life as it really was, stripped of romanticism, usually among the lower classes, using explicit descriptive detail and realistic dialogue.  Capuana, who was influenced by the French writers Honoré de Balzac and Emile Zola, and his fellow Sicilian Giovanni Verga were two of the earliest advocates of the movement, which was at its peak in the final quarter of the 19th century.  It declined in popularity in the early 20th century but its principles were revived in the neorealism movement that dominated Italian cinema in the immediate years after World War II and is often cited as a golden age in the Italian film industry.  Capuana, whose best-known works were his novels Giacinta (1879), a psychological study of a wronged woman and Il marchese di Roccaverdina (1901), a study of guilt, was born into a wealthy family in Mineo.  Read more...

____________________________________________________________

The Last Supper goes back on display

Leonardo’s masterpiece put on show again at last

After more than 20 years of careful restoration, the world famous wall painting by Leonardo da Vinci, The Last Supper, was put back on display for visitors on this day in 1999.  The masterpiece, which shows the different expressions on the faces of the disciples at the moment Jesus says the words, ‘One of you will betray me’, was finally back where it belonged on the wall of the refectory of the Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan.  Commissioned by Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan, Leonardo began work on The Last Supper (known as Il Cenacolo in Italian) in 1495 and he completed it four years later. He felt traditional fresco painting techniques would not adequately capture the intensity he wanted so he experimented by painting on to dry plaster on the wall of the refectory.  But his new method was not as durable as the traditional one and the painting deteriorated quickly. By as early as 1556, the painting was described by one commentator as ‘ruined’.  Over the ensuing years it suffered from poor restoration techniques, blatant vandalism by French soldiers, having a doorway cut into it to provide a shortcut for the monks, and wartime bomb damage.  Read more…

_________________________________________________________

Caravaggio and a death in Campo Marzio

Hot-tempered artist killed man in Rome in row over a woman

The brilliant late Renaissance artist Caravaggio committed the murder that would cause him to spend the remainder of his life on the run on this day in 1606.  Renowned for his fiery temperament and history of violent acts as well as for the extraordinary qualities of his paintings, Caravaggio is said to have killed Ranuccio Tomassoni, described in some history books as a ‘wealthy scoundrel’, in the Campo Marzio district of central Rome, not far from the Piazza Monte D'Oro.  The incident led to Caravaggio being condemned to death by order of the incumbent pope, Paul V, and then fleeing the city, first to Naples, eventually landing in Malta.  It was thought that the two had a row over a game of tennis, which was gaining popularity in Italy at the time, and that the dispute escalated into a brawl, which was not unusual for Caravaggio. The story was that Tomassoni wounded the painter in some way, at which Caravaggio drew a sword and lashed out at his rival, inflicting a gash in the thigh from which he bled to death.  This was accepted by historians as a plausible story for almost 400 years until evidence emerged to challenge the theory in 2002.  Read more…

__________________________________________________________

Geminiano Giacomelli – composer

Farnese duke encouraged musician to develop his talent

One of the most popular composers of opera in the early 18th century in Italy, Geminiano Giacomelli (sometimes known as Jacomelli) was born on this day in 1692 at Colorno near Parma.  From 1724, when his opera Ipermestra was performed for the first time, up to his death in 1740, Giacomelli composed 19 operas.  His best known work was Cesare in Egitto (Caesar in Egypt),  which he produced in 1735.  As a young child he had studied singing, counterpoint and the harpsichord with Giovanni Maria Capelli, organist and composer at the Farnese court and maestro di cappella at the cathedral in Parma.  After moving to Piacenza, Giacomelli became maestro di cappella in the ducal parish of San Fermo. In 1719 he became maestro di cappella to the Farnese court and also at the Chiesa della Madonna della Steccata. He wrote sacred music, including eight psalm settings for tenor and bass and some concertos with continuo.  Duke Francesco Farnese became Giacomelli’s protector and made him maestro di cappella for life at the church of San Giovanni in Piacenza with an annual salary.  He also allowed him time off to work on his operas.  Read more…

__________________________________________________________________

Leandro Jayarajah - cricketer

Father was a pioneer of game in Italy

Leandro Jayarajah, the former captain and head coach of Roma Capannelle Cricket Club, was born on this day in 1987 in Rome.  His father, Francis Alphonsus Jayarajah, usually known as Alfonso, is a Sri Lankan national who founded what became the Capannelle club in 1978 and was one of the pioneers of organised cricket in Italy.  Alfonso was co-founder in 1980 of the Federazione Cricket Italiana, under whose auspices an Italian cricket championship has been played since 1983.  Capannelle, which takes its name from the racecourse in Rome, the Ippodromo Capannelle, where the club plays its home matches, have been Serie A champions on five occasions, most recently under Leandro’s leadership in 2013.  The club began life as the Commonwealth Wandering Giants Cricket Club, changing its name when the chance to use the green space in the middle of the racecourse as a permanent home presented itself in 1983.  Leandro, a right-handed batsman who bowls off spin and occasionally keeps wicket has followed his father into international cricket as a member of the Italy team, which is currently 28th in the world rankings.  Read more…


Home


Luigi Capuana - author and journalist

Sicilian was leading figure in verismo movement

Luigi Capuana combined his writing with working as a theatre critic
Luigi Capuana combined his writing
with working as a theatre critic 
The author and journalist Luigi Capuana, one of the most important writers of the verismo movement that flourished in Italy in the late 19th century, was born on this day in 1839 in Mineo, a medieval town in southeast Sicily, in the province of Catania.

Verismo - meaning ‘realism’ - sought to portray society and humanity in the manner of a photograph, objectively representing life as it really was, stripped of romanticism. It tended to focus on the lower levels of society, using explicit descriptive detail and realistic dialogue.

Capuana, who was influenced by the French writers Honoré de Balzac and Emile Zola, and his fellow Sicilian Giovanni Verga were two of the earliest advocates of the movement, which was at its peak in the final quarter of the 19th century.

It declined in popularity in the early 20th century but its principles were revived in the neorealism movement that dominated Italian cinema in the immediate years after World War II and is often cited as a golden age in the Italian film industry.

Capuana, whose best-known works were his novels Giacinta (1879), a psychological study of a wronged woman and Il marchese di Roccaverdina (1901), a study of guilt, was born into a wealthy family in Mineo.

He was given every opportunity to take advantage of the best education available, although to a large extent he was self-taught. He dropped out of the prestigious Royal College of Bronte on the grounds of ill health and left the Faculty of Law in Catania to take part in the revolt in Sicily inspired by Garibaldi and the Risorgimento movement, becoming secretary of the Secret Committee of Insurrection in Mineo.

Capuana's friend, Giuseppe Verga,
was also prominent in the movement
The experience inspired his first published work Garibaldi: A Dramatic Legend in Three Cantos, released in 1861. Three years later, he left Sicily to settle in Florence, intent on a literary adventure. 

There he struck up friendships with the most famous writers of the time, including Aleardo Aleardi and Gino Capponi and found regular work as a theatre critic on the newspaper La Nazione.

In 1868 he returned to Sicily, intending only to stay for a brief period, although in the event the death of his father and a change in his own economic circumstances meant he remained in Mineo for the next seven years, working as a schools inspector and later served on the town council, where he was eventually elected mayor.

In 1875 Capuana resumed his literary adventure, moving first to Rome and then, on the advice of his friend, Giuseppe Verga, to Milan, where in 1979 he published Giacinta, regarded by some as the manifesto of the verismo movement.  His experience writing for La Nazione helped open doors at the Milan newspaper, Corriere della Sera, where he again worked as a theatre and literary critic.

From Milan he moved back to Rome, where he was editor of the literary review Fanfulla della Domenica and published several volumes of fairy tales, short stories as well as a number of novels, including Il marchese di Roccaverdina. 

Rome’s literary scene enabled him to meet and form friendships with Gabriele D’Annunzio and Luigi Pirandello among others, while his own success earned him a good living. His novel Giacinta was adapted as a five-act comedy, which was performed at the Teatro Sannazaro in Naples.

In 1902, Capuana returned to Sicily, continuing to write while lecturing in lexicography and stylistics at the University of Catania. He died in Catania in 1915 at the age of 76.

Capuana's house in Mineo now contains a museum
Capuana's house in Mineo
now contains a museum
Travel tip:

Mineo is a town of medieval origins, characterised by a network of narrow streets clinging to a hillside in western Catania, about 64km (40 miles) southwest of Catania, 56km (35 miles) north of Ragusa and 22km (14 miles) east of Caltagirone.  With a population of approximately 5,500, it has a number of churches and other buildings of historical and artistic value, including the churches of Santa Maria Maggiore and Sant’Agrippina. The Palazzo Capuana, where Luigi Capuana was born, now houses a museum commemorating his life, while his resting place at the cemetery of Mineo is marked by a funeral monument by the sculptor Michele La Spina.

The port city of Catania sits in the shadow of Sicily's active volcano, Mount Etna
The port city of Catania sits in the shadow of
Sicily's active volcano, Mount Etna
Travel tip:

The city of Catania, which is located on the east coast of Sicily facing the Ionian Sea, is one of the 10 biggest cities in Italy, with a population including the environs of 1.12 million. A little like Naples, which is in the shadow of Vesuvius, it lives with the constant threat of a natural catastrophe, having been virtually destroyed by earthquakes twice, in 1169 and 1693, and regularly witnesses volcanic eruptions from nearby Mount Etna. As such it has always been a city for living life to the full. In the Renaissance, it was one of Italy's most important cultural, artistic and political centres and enjoys a rich cultural legacy today, with numerous museums and churches, theatres and parks and many restaurants.

Also on this day:

1606: The painter Caravaggio flees Rome after allegedly murdering Ranuccio Tomassoni

1692: The birth of composer Gemiano Giacomelli

1999: Da Vinci’s Last Supper goes back on display in Milan after 20 years of restoration

(Picture credit: Catania photo by Herbert Aust via Pixabay

Home







27 May 2021

27 May

Giuseppe Tornatore - writer and director

Oscar winner for Cinema Paradiso

The screenwriter and director Giuseppe Tornatore, the creator of the Oscar-winning classic movie Cinema Paradiso, was born on this day in 1956 in Bagheria, a small town a few kilometres along the coast from the Sicilian capital Palermo.  Known as Nuovo Cinema Paradiso in Italy, Tornatore’s best-known work won the award for Best Foreign Language Film at the 62nd Academy Awards following its release in 1988.  The movie, written by Tornatore, tells the story of Salvatore, a successful film director based in Rome who returns to his native Sicily after hearing of the death of the man who kindled his love of the cinema, the projectionist at the picture house in his local village, who became a father figure to him after his own father was killed on wartime national service.  Much of the film consists of flashbacks to Salvatore’s life as a child in the immediate post-war years and there is a memorable performance by Salvatore Cascio as the director’s six-year-old self, when he was known as Toto, as he develops an unlikely yet enduring friendship with Alfredo, the projectionist, played by the French actor Philippe Noiret.  Read more…

____________________________________________________________

Bruno Vespa – television journalist

TV host opened the door to late night political debate

Bruno Vespa, the founding host of the television programme Porta a Porta, was born on this day in 1944 in L’Aquila in Abruzzo.  Vespa has fronted the late night television talk show, which literally means ‘Door to Door’ in English, since Italy's state broadcaster Rai launched the programme in 1996.  Vespa became a radio announcer with Rai when he was 18 and began hosting the news programme Telegiornale RAI a few years later.  He had begun his career in journalism by writing sports features for the L’Aquila edition of the newspaper, Il Tempo, when he was just 16 years old.  On television, he became well known for interviewing influential world figures just before they became famous, an example being his programme featuring Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, the year before he was elected as Pope John Paul II.  In June 1984, Vespa was the official commentator for the live televised broadcast of the state funeral for Enrico Berlinguer, the former leader of the Italian Communist party.  Vespa has won awards for his journalism and television programmes and has also written many books.  Read more…

__________________________________________________________

Lucrezia Crivelli – lady in waiting

Mystery of the beautiful woman in painting by Leonardo

Lucrezia Crivelli, mistress of Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan, who was for a long time believed to be the subject of a painting by Leonardo da Vinci, died on this day in 1508 in Canneto sull’Oglio in Lombardy.  Crivelli served as a lady in waiting to Ludovico Sforza’s wife, Beatrice d’Este, from 1475 until Beatrice’s death in 1497.  She also became the Duke’s mistress and gave birth to his son, Giovanni Paolo, who went on to become the first Marquess of Caravaggio and a celebrated condottiero.  Crivelli lived for many years in the Castello of Canneto near Mantua under the protection of Isabella d’Este, the elder sister of Beatrice, until her death in 1508.  Coincidentally, her former lover, Ludovico Sforza, is believed to have died on the same day in 1508 while being kept prisoner in the dungeons of the castle of Loches en Touraine in France, having been captured by the French during the Italian Wars.  It was never proved, but it was assumed for many years that Crivelli may have been the subject of Leonardo da Vinci’s painting La belle Ferronnière, which is displayed in the Louvre in Paris.  Read more…


Home


26 May 2021

26 May

Napoleon becomes King of Italy

French Emperor places Iron Crown of Lombardy on his own head

Napoleon Bonaparte was declared King of Italy on this day in 1805 in Milan.  He crowned himself at a ceremony in the Duomo using the Iron Crown of Lombardy.  The title King of Italy signified that Napoleon was the head of the new Kingdom of Italy, which was at that time a vassal state of the French Empire. The area controlled by Napoleon had previously been known as a republic, with Napoleon as its president.  But Napoleon had become the Emperor of France the year before and had decided Italy should become a Kingdom ruled by himself, or a member of his family.  Before the ceremony, the Iron Crown had to be fetched from Monza. The crown consisted of a circlet of gold with a central iron band, which according to legend was beaten out of a nail from Christ’s true cross, found by Saint Helena in the Holy Land. The crown is believed to have been given to the city of Monza in the sixth century.  During his coronation, Napoleon is reported to have picked up the precious relic, announced that God had given it to him, and placed it on his own head.  After the coronation there were celebratory fireworks in Milan.  Read more…

___________________________________________________________

Alberto Ascari - racing driver

F1 champion killed amid eerie echoes of father's death

Racing driver Alberto Ascari, who was twice Formula One champion, died on this day in 1955 in an accident at the Monza racing circuit in Lombardy, just north of Milan.  A hugely popular driver, his death shocked Italy and motor racing fans in particular.  What many found particularly chilling was a series of uncanny parallels with the death of his father, Antonio Ascari, who was also a racing driver, 30 years previously.  Alberto had gone to Monza to watch his friend, Eugenio Castellotti, test a Ferrari 750 Monza sports car, which they were to co-drive in the 1000 km Monza race.  Contracted to Lancia at the time, although he had been given dispensation to drive for Ferrari in the race, Ascari was not supposed to test drive the car, yet he could not resist trying a few laps, even though he was dressed in a jacket and tie, in part to ensure he had not lost his nerve after a serious accident a few days earlier.  When he emerged from a fast curve on the third lap, however, the car inexplicably skidded, turned on its nose and somersaulted twice. Ascari was wearing Castellotti’s white helmet but he suffered multiple injuries nonetheless.  Read more…

__________________________________________________________

Luca Toni - World Cup winner

Striker one of stars of 2006 triumph in Germany

The footballer Luca Toni, who played an important role in Italy’s achievement in winning the soccer World Cup in Germany in 2006, was born on this day in 1977 in the small town of Pavullo nel Frignano in Emilia-Romagna.  Toni scored twice in Italy’s 3-0 victory over Ukraine in the quarter-finals before starting as the Azzurri’s main striker in both the semi-final triumph over the hosts and the final against France, in which they eventually prevailed on penalties. Toni hit the bar with one header and saw another disallowed for offside in the final.  The goals were among 16 he scored in 47 appearances for the national team but it was his remarkable club career that makes him stand out in the history of Italian football.  A muscular 6ft 4ins in height and hardly the most mobile of forwards, he was never seen as a great player, more an old-fashioned centre forward of the kind rarely seen in today’s game.  Yet between his debut for his local club, Modena, in 1994 and his retirement in 2016 following his final season with Hellas Verona, Toni found the net 322 times in club football, which makes him the fourth most prolific goalscorer among all Italian players.  Read more…


Home


25 May 2021

25 May

Gaetano Scirea - footballer

Multiple champion who died tragically young

The World Cup-winning footballer Gaetano Scirea, one of the most accomplished players in the history of the game, was born on this day in 1953 in the town of Cernusco sul Naviglio in Lombardy.  Scirea, who became an outstanding performer in the so-called libero role, was a key member of the Italy team that won the 1982 World Cup in Spain and enjoyed huge success also in club football.  In a career spent mostly with Juventus, he won every medal that was available to a club player in Italy, some several times over.  During his time there, the Turin club won the scudetto - the popular name for the Serie A championship - seven times and the Coppa Italia twice.  He also won the UEFA Cup, the European Cup-Winners’ Cup, the European Cup (forerunner of the Champions League), the UEFA Super Cup and the Intercontinental Cup.  Scirea retired in 1988 but continued to work for Juventus. Tragically, while visiting Poland in 1989 to make a scouting report on an upcoming opponent in a UEFA Cup match, the car he was travelling in collided head-on with a truck in heavy rain and he was killed, along with two fellow passengers.   Read more…

____________________________________________________________

Enrico Berlinguer - Communist politician

Popular leader turned left-wing party into political force

Enrico Berlinguer, who for more than a decade was Western Europe's most powerful and influential Communist politician, was born on this day in 1922 in the Sardinian city of Sassari.  As secretary-general of the Italian Communist Party from March 1972 until his death in 1984, he led the largest Communist movement outside the Eastern Bloc, coming close to winning a general election in 1976.  He achieved popularity by striving to establish the Italian Communists as a political force that was not controlled from Moscow, pledging a commitment to democracy, a parliamentary system, a mixed economy, and Italian membership of the Common Market and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.  At its peak, Berlinguer's Westernized brand of Communism appealed to nearly a third of Italian voters.  His policies were adopted by other left-wing parties in Europe under what became known as Eurocommunism.  As support for the previously dominant Christian Democrats waned in the 1970s, he proposed a ''historic compromise'' with other parties, rejecting the traditional left-wing vision of violent revolution, and declared that the Italian Communists would be happy to enter into a coalition with Christian Democrats and others.  Read more…

___________________________________________________________

Stefano Baldini - Olympic marathon champion

Won gold medal over historic course in Athens

Stefano Baldini, the marathon runner who was Olympic champion in Athens in 2004 and twice won the European marathon title, was born on this day in 1971 in Castelnovo di Sotto, about 14km (nine miles) north-west of the city of Reggio Emilia.  Although Baldini’s class was not doubted, his Olympic gold was slightly tarnished by an incident seven kilometres from the finish when a spectator broke through the barriers and attacked the Brazilian runner, Vanderlei de Lima, who was leading the field.  The spectator, an Irishman called Conelius Horan who had disrupted the British Grand Prix motor race the previous year, was wrestled off de Lima by another spectator but the incident cost the Brazilian 15 to 20 seconds and much momentum. He was passed subsequently by Baldini and finished third.  Baldini finished the race, which followed the historic route from Marathon to Athens, in two hours 10 minutes and 55 seconds, although this was not the fastest time of his career.  His best was the 2:07:56 he clocked at the 1997 London Marathon, when he finished second, in what is still the fastest time by an Italian over the marathon distance.  Read more…

_________________________________________________________

Padre Pio – Saint

Capuchin friar is claimed to have cured cancer

Padre Pio, who has become one of the world’s most famous and popular saints, was born on this day in 1887 in Pietrelcina in Campania.  He was well-known for exhibiting stigmata, marks corresponding to the crucifixion wounds of Jesus, constantly making him the subject of controversy.  Padre Pio has said that at five years old he decided to dedicate his life to God and as a youth he reported experiencing heavenly visions and ecstasies. At the age of 15 he was admitted to the novitiate of the Capuchin Order, taking the name of Fra Pio, in honour of Pope Pius I.  He suffered from poor health for most of his life and fellow friars say he often appeared to be in a stupor during prayers. One claimed to have seen him in ecstasy, levitating above the ground.  In 1910 he was ordained a priest and moved to a friary in San Giovanni Rotondo in Foggia.  He was called up to serve in the Italian army during the First World War and assigned to the medical corps in Naples, but because of his poor health he was declared unfit for service and discharged.  In 1918 he exhibited stigmata for the first time while hearing a confession. This was to continue until his death 50 years later.  Read more…


EN - 728x90


Home


24 May 2021

24 May

NEW - Aurelio De Laurentiis - entrepreneur

Film producer who owns SSC Napoli

The film producer and football club owner Aurelio De Laurentiis was born on this day in 1949 in Rome.  The nephew of Dino De Laurentiis, the producer credited with giving Italian cinema an international platform with his backing for Federico Fellini’s Oscar-winning 1954 movie La Strada, Aurelio teamed up with his father, Luigi, to form the production company Filmauro in 1975.  The company has produced or distributed more than 400 films in Italy and around the world, working with directors such as Mario Monicelli, Ettore Scola, Pupi Avati, Damiano Damiani and Roberto Benigni among the greats of Italian cinema, as well as internationally-acclaimed names such as Blake Edwards, Peter Weir, Luc Besson, Eduardo Sanchez and Ridley Scott.  Aurelio has won numerous honours for his achievements in the film industry. Filmauro is also the company behind a sequence of Christmas comedies that have proved massively popular with Italian audiences since they were launched in the 1980s.   Yet he is perhaps even better known for buying up a bankrupt SSC Napoli football club in 2004 and taking it from Serie C - the third tier of Italian football - to the Champions League in just five years.  Read more...

__________________________________________________________

Gian Gastone de' Medici – Grand Duke of Tuscany

The last Medici to rule Florence

Gian Gastone de' Medici, the seventh and last Grand Duke of Tuscany, was born on this day in 1671 in the Pitti Palace in Florence.  He was the second son of Grand Duke Cosimo III and Marguerite Louise d’Orleans.  Because his elder brother predeceased him he succeeded his father to the title in 1723.  He had an unhappy arranged marriage and the couple had no children so when he died in 1737 it was the end of 300 years of Medici rule over Florence.  He spent the last few years of his reign confined to bed, looked after by his entourage.  One of his final acts was to order the erection of a statue to Galileo in the Basilica of Santa Croce.  He was buried in the Basilica of San Lorenzo and Francis Stephen of Lorraine succeeded to the title of Grand Duke of Tuscany.  The Palazzo Pitti, known to English visitors as the Pitti Palace, is on the south side of the River Arno, a short distance from the Ponte Vecchio. It became the main residence of the rulers of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany and is now the largest museum complex in Florence.  Read more…

__________________________________________________________

Jacopo Carucci da Pontormo – artist

Painter’s expressive style was the start of Mannerism

Painter Jacopo Carucci, often referred to simply as Pontormo, was born on this day in 1494 in Pontorme near Empoli in Tuscany.  Pontormo is considered to be the founder of the Mannerist style of painting in the later years of the Italian high renaissance, as he was capable of blending Michelangelo’s use of colour and monumental figures with the metallic rigidity of northern painters such as Albrecht Dürer. His work represents a distinct stylistic shift from the art typical of the Florentine Renaissance.  According to Giorgio Vasari in his book, The Lives of the Artists, Pontormo’s father was also a painter but he became an orphan at the age of ten. As a young art apprentice he moved around a lot, staying with Leonardo da Vinci, Mariotto Albertinelli, Piero di Cosimo and Andrea del Sarto.  Pope Leo X, passing through Florence in 1515 on a journey, commissioned the young Pontormo to fresco the Pope’s Chapel in the church of Santa Maria Novella.  Pontormo also participated in the decoration of the nuptial chamber of Pierfrancesco Borgherini with his Stories of Joseph, four paintings that are now in the National Gallery in London.  Read more…

__________________________________________________________

Simone Rugiati - celebrity chef

Popular presenter found fame early in career

The chef and TV presenter Simone Rugiati was born on this day in 1981 in Santa Croce sull’ Arno, midway between Pisa and Florence in Tuscany.  He became a famous face on TV in Italy with a seven-year run on the hit cookery show La Prova del Cuoco - the Test of the Cook - a hugely popular daytime programme on Rai Uno based on the BBC show Ready Steady Cook, fronted by Antonella Clerici.  Rugiati has also presented numerous programmes on the satellite TV food channel Gambero Rosso and since 2010 he has been the face of Cuochi e Fiamme  - Cooks and Flames - a cookery contest on the La7 network in which two non-professional chefs cook the same dish and see their efforts marked by a panel of judges.  He has also taken part in reality TV shows, including the 2010 edition of L’Isola dei Famosi, an Italian version of the American show Survivor.  Rugiati reached the semi-final of another reality show, Pechino Express, in which the competitors, paired in couples, complete an epic 7,900km (4,900 miles) journey from Haridwar in the northern Indian state of Uttarakhand to Beijing in China, undertaking various challenges along the way.  Read more…

____________________________________________________________

Charles Emmanuel IV – King of Sardinia

Monarch who was descended from Charles I of England

Charles Emmanuel IV, who was King of Sardinia from 1796 until he abdicated in 1802 and might once have had a claim to the throne of England, was born on this day in 1751 in Turin.  Born Carlo Emanuele Ferdinando Maria di Savoia, he was the eldest son of Victor Amadeus III, King of Sardinia, and of his wife Infanta Maria Antonia Ferdinanda of Spain. From his birth he was known as the Prince of Piedmont.  In 1775, he married Marie Clotilde of France, the daughter of Louis, Dauphin of France, and Princess Marie-Josèphe of Saxony, and sister of King Louis XVI of France.  Although it was essentially a political marriage over which they had little choice, the couple became devoted to one another.  With the death of his father in October 1796, Charles Emmanuel inherited the throne of Sardinia, a kingdom that included not only the island of Sardinia, but also the whole of Piedmont and other parts of north-west Italy.  He took on a difficult political situation along with the throne, only months after his father had signed the disadvantageous Treaty of Paris with the French Republic following the four-year War of the First Coalition, in which Napoleon’s army prevailed.  Read more…


Home


Aurelio De Laurentiis - entrepreneur

Film producer who owns SSC Napoli

Aurelio De Laurentiis followed his father and uncle into the movie industry
Aurelio De Laurentiis followed his father
and uncle into the movie industry
The film producer and football club owner Aurelio De Laurentiis was born on this day in 1949 in Rome.

The nephew of Dino De Laurentiis, the producer credited with giving Italian cinema an international platform with his backing for Federico Fellini’s Oscar-winning 1954 movie La Strada, Aurelio teamed up with his father, Luigi, to form the production company Filmauro in 1975.

The company has produced or distributed more than 400 films in Italy and around the world, working with directors such as Mario Monicelli, Ettore Scola, Pupi Avati, Damiano Damiani and Roberto Benigni among the big names of Italian cinema, as well as internationally-acclaimed names such as Blake Edwards, Peter Weir, Luc Besson, Eduardo Sanchez and Ridley Scott.

Aurelio has won numerous honours for his achievements in the film industry, including, in 2005, the Nastro d'Argento as Best Producer for What Will Become of Us - What Will Become of Us?- and all in that night (released in America as Adventures in Babysitting).  

Filmauro is also the company behind a sequence of Christmas comedies that have proved massively popular with Italian audiences since they were launched in the 1980s. 

Yet he is perhaps even better known for buying up a bankrupt SSC Napoli football club in 2004 and taking it from Serie C - the third tier of Italian football - to the Champions League in just five years.

The badge of the Serie A club
SSC Napoli, rescued by De Laurentiis
With roots in Torre Annunziata, the historic former Roman city on the Bay of Naples where his father and uncle were born, De Laurentiis always regarded Naples as his spiritual home, even though he was born in Rome.

When SSC Napoli went bust after 78 years of history, with debts of 70 million euros, it was De Laurentiis who stepped in with dreams of restoring the club to its glory years of the 1980s, when Diego Maradona was the fulcrum of a team that became Italian champions for the first time in 1987 and won a second title three years later, landing a first major European trophy via the UEFA Cup in between.

He had to start at a lowly level, launching a new club called Napoli Soccer after the Italian football federation banned the use of the historic SSC Napoli name and placing the new entity in Serie C1, the third tier in the Italian football pyramid.

But after hiring Edoardo Reja, a coach who had won promotion for Brescia, Vicenza and Cagliari, the new club gained promotion from Serie C at the second attempt and Serie B at the first, returning to Serie A at the start of the 2007-08 season.

Walter Mazzarri, the manager who won a Champions League place for Napoli
Walter Mazzarri, the manager who took
Napoli back into Europe
By then, De Laurentiis had bought the rights to use the SSC Napoli name and proved himself a shrewd judge of coaches by appointing Walter Mazzarri in October 2009 and signing the attacking trio of Ezequiel Lavezzi, Edinson Cavani and Marek Hamšík. 

Under Mazzari’s guidance, Napoli finished third in Serie A in 2011 to qualify for the Champions League and won the Coppa Italia for the first time since the Maradona era the following season.

The Spaniard Rafael Benitez, famous for winning the UEFA Cup with Valencia and the Champions League with Liverpool, followed Mazzari and brought De Laurentiis a second Coppa Italia and a Supercoppa Italia as well as two more seasons in the Champions League.

Benitez’s successor Maurizio Sarri steered them to runners-up spot in Serie A twice in four seasons between 2015 and 2018, each time behind Juventus, and third in the other, before giving way to three-times Champions League winner Carlo Ancelotti, under whom they were second again in 2019 and won a third Coppa Italia in 2020.

With Gennaro Gattuso in charge, Napoli missed out on a Champions League place in 2020-21 and will have to be content with a Europa League spot again in 2021-22 after finishing fifth in the season just ended, after which De Laurentiis announced that Gattuso is to leave the club.

In 2018, De Laurentiis expanded his football empire by acquiring another bankrupt former Serie A club in Bari, once Napoli’s rivals for superiority in southern Italy.

Should Bari, currently in Serie C, find their way back to Serie A after an exile of more than 10 years, De Laurentiis may face a problem as the Italian federation (FIGC) does not permit the ownership of more than once top-flight club, although the club president is actually Luigi De Laurentiis junior, Aurelio’s eldest son by his Swiss-born second wife, Jacqueline Baudit.

In September 2020, De Laurentiis revealed that he had tested positive for Covid-19, raising fears for his health given his age. Happily, the illness was short-lived and he has since made a full recovery.

Visitors to Torre Annunziata can see the remains of the Villa Oplontis, an ancient Roman complex
Visitors to Torre Annunziata can see the remains of
the Villa Oplontis, an ancient Roman complex
Travel tip:

Torre Annunziata, where De Laurentiis has family roots, is a city in the metropolitan area of Naples. Close to Mount Vesuvius, the original city was destroyed in the eruption of 79 AD and a new one built over the ruins. Its name derives from a watch tower - torre - built to warn people of imminent Saracen raids and a chapel consecrated to the Annunziata (Virgin Mary). It became a centre for pasta production - in which Dino De Laurentiis worked before entering the movie business - in the early 19th century. The Villa Poppaea, also known as Villa Oplontis, believed to be owned by Nero, was discovered about 10 metres below ground level just outside the town and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

A view of Piazza Ferrarese, which overlooks the harbour in the older part of the city of Bari
A view of Piazza Ferrarese, which overlooks the
harbour in the older part of the city of Bari
Travel tip:

Bari is the second largest urban area after Naples in the south of the Italy. It has a busy port and some expansive industrial areas but plenty of history, too, especially in the old city - Bari Vecchia - which sits on a headland between two harbours.  Fanning out around two Romanesque churches, the Cattedrale di San Sebino and the Basilica of St Nicholas, the area is a maze of medieval streets with many historical buildings and plenty of bars and restaurants.  There is also a castle, the Castello Svevo.  The more modern part of the city is known as the Centro Murattiano, or the Murat quarter, in that it was built during the period in the early 19th century in which Joachim Murat, for a long time Napoleon's most trusted military strategist, ruled the Kingdom of Naples, of which Bari was a part.

Also on this day:

1494: The birth of painter Jacopo Carucci da Pontormo

1671: The birth of Gian Gastone de’ Medici, the last of the dynasty to rule Florence

1751: The birth of Charles Emmanuel IV, King of Sardinia

1981: The birth of celebrity chef Simone Rugiati


Home


23 May 2021

23 May

Girolamo Savonarola executed

Death of the friar who was to inspire best-selling novel by Tom Wolfe

The hellfire preacher Girolamo Savonarola was hanged and burned on this day in 1498 in Piazza della Signoria in Florence.  By sheer force of personality, Savonarola had convinced rich people to burn their worldly goods in spectacular bonfires in Florence during 1497, but within a year it was Savonarola’s burning corpse that the crowds turned out to see.  Savonarola had become famous for his outspoken sermons against vice and corruption in the Catholic Church in Italy and he encouraged wealthy people to burn their valuable goods, paintings and books in what have become known as ‘bonfires of the vanities.’  This phrase inspired Tom Wolfe to write The Bonfire of the Vanities, a novel about ambition and politics in 1980s New York.  Savonarola was born in 1452 in Ferrara. He became a Dominican friar and entered the convent of Saint Mark in Florence in 1482. He began preaching against corruption and vice and prophesied that a leader would arrive from the north to punish Italy and reform the church.  When Emperor Charles VIII invaded from the north many people thought Savonarola’s prediction was being fulfilled.  Read more…

___________________________________________________________

Sergio Gonella - football referee

First Italian to referee a World Cup final

Sergio Gonella, the first Italian football referee to take charge of a World 1978 final was born on this day in 1933 in Asti, a city in Piedmont best known for its wine production.  Gonella was appointed to officiate in the 1978 final between the Netherlands and the hosts Argentina in Buenos Aires and although he was criticised by many journalists and football historians for what they perceived as a weak performance lacking authority, few matches in the history of the competition can have presented a tougher challenge.  Against a backcloth of political turmoil in a country which had suffered a military coup only two years earlier and where opponents of the regime were routinely kidnapped and tortured, or simply disappeared, this was Argentina’s chance to build prestige by winning the biggest sporting event in the world, outside the Olympics.  Rumours of subterfuge surrounded most of Argentina’s matches and when the final arrived the atmosphere in the stadium was as intimidating as anything Gonella would have experienced in his whole 13-year professional career.  The match began with an unprecedented delay, caused first by the Argentine team’s deliberate late arrival on the field. Read more…

__________________________________________________________

Giuseppe Parini – writer

Satirist avenged bad treatment though his poetry

Poet and satirist Giuseppe Parini was born on this day in 1729 in Bosisio in Lombardy.  A writer associated with the Age of Enlightenment in Europe, he is remembered for his series of Horatian odes and for Il giorno - The Day - a satirical poem in four books about the selfishness and superficiality of the aristocracy in Milan.  The son of a silk trader, Parini was sent to Milan to study under the religious order, the Barnabites. In 1752 his first volume of verse introduced him to literary circles and the following year he joined the Milanese Accademia dei Trasformati - Academy of the Transformed - which was located at the Palazzo Imbonati in the Porta Nuova district.  He was ordained a priest in 1754 - a condition of a legacy made to him by a great aunt - and entered the household of Duke Gabrio Serbelloni at Tremezzo on Lake Como to be tutor to his eldest son.  Parini was unhappy there and felt he was badly treated, but he twice got his revenge on his employer through his writing. In 1757 he wrote his Dialogo sopra la nobilità, a discussion between the corpse of a nobleman and the corpse of a poet about the true nature of nobility.   Read more…

__________________________________________________________

Ferdinando II de’ Medici – Grand Duke of Tuscany

Technology fan who supported scientist Galileo

Inventor and patron of science Ferdinando II de’ Medici died on this day in 1670 in Florence.  Like his grandmother, the dowager Grand Duchess Christina, Ferdinando II was a loyal friend to Galileo and he welcomed the scientist back to Florence after the prison sentence imposed on him for ‘vehement suspicion of heresy’ was commuted to house arrest.  Ferdinando II was reputed to be obsessed with new technology and had hygrometers, barometers, thermometers and telescopes installed at his home in the Pitti Palace.  He has also been credited with the invention of the sealed glass thermometer in 1654.  Ferdinando II was born in 1610, the eldest son of Cosimo II de’ Medici and Maria Maddalena of Austria.  He became Grand Duke of Tuscany in 1621 when he was just 10 years old after the death of his father.  His mother, Maddalena, and paternal grandmother, Christina, acted as joint regents for him. Christina is said to have been the power behind the throne until her death in 1636.  Ferdinando II was patron and friend to Galileo, who dedicated his work, Dialogue Concerning the two Chief World Systems, to him.  Read more…


Home