4 December 2022

4 December

Gae Aulenti – architect

Designer who made mark in Italy and abroad

The architect Gae Aulenti, who blazed a trail for women in the design world in post-War Italy and went on to enjoy a career lasting more than half a century, was born on this day in 1927 in Palazzolo dello Stella, a small town midway between Venice and Trieste.  In a broad and varied career, among a long list of clients Aulenti designed showrooms for Fiat and Olivetti, furniture for Zanotta, department stores for La Rinascente, a railway station in Milan, stage sets for theatre and opera director Luca Ronconi and villas for wealthy private clients.  She lectured at the Venice and Milan Schools of Architecture and was on the editorial staff of the design magazine, Casabella.  Yet she is best remembered for her part in transforming redundant buildings facing possible demolition into museums and galleries, her most memorable project being the interior of the Beaux Arts-style Gare d'Orsay railway station in Paris, where she turned the cavernous central hall, a magnificent shed lit by arching rooflights, into a minimalist exhibition space for impressionist art.  Aulenti also created galleries at the Pompidou Centre in Paris and the Palau Nacional in Barcelona.  Read more…

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Costantino Rocca - golfer

Italian whose success inspired Open champion

Costantino Rocca, who until recently was the most successful Italian in the history of international golf, was born on this day in 1956 in Almenno San Bartolomeo, near Bergamo in northern Italy.  Rocca, who turned professional at the age of 24 in 1981, enjoyed his best years in the mid-1990s, peaking with second place in the Open Championship at St Andrews in 1995.  He was beaten by the American John Daly in a four-hole play-off but was perhaps as popular a runner-up as there has been in the history of the tournament after the incredible putt he sank on the final green to deny Daly victory inside the regulation 72 holes.  Needing a birdie to be level with Daly at the top of the leaderboard after the American finished six under par, Rocca appeared to have blown his chance when his poorly executed second shot - a chipped approach that was meant to leave him in easy putting distance of the hole - did not even make it safely on to the green, coming to rest in an area known colloquially as ‘the Valley of Sin’.  It left him 65ft - almost 20m - short of the hole, needing somehow to hole a putt that had first to go uphill and then break sharply to the right.  Read more…

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Luigi Galvani - physicist and biologist

Scientist who seemed to give dead frog new life

Luigi Galvani, the first scientist to discover bioelectricity, died on this day in 1798 in Bologna.  Galvani discovered that the muscles in the leg of a dead frog twitched when struck by an electrical spark. This was the beginning of bioelectricity, the study of the electrical patterns and signals of the nervous system.  The word ‘galvanise’, to stimulate by electricity, or rouse by shock and excitement, comes from the surname of the scientist.  Galvani studied medicine at Bologna University and, after graduating in 1759, became an honorary lecturer of surgery and then subsequently of theoretical anatomy.  He became the first scientist to appreciate the relationship between electricity and animation when he was dissecting a frog one day. His assistant touched an exposed nerve in the leg of the frog with a metal scalpel that had picked up an electrical charge. They both saw sparks and the frog’s leg kicked. The phenomenon was dubbed ‘galvanism’.  In 1797 Galvani refused to swear loyalty to the French, who were then occupying northern Italy, and lost his academic position at the university and also his income.  Read more…

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Pope Adrian IV

The warlike conduct of England’s one and only pontiff

The only Englishman to have ever sat on the papal throne, Nicholas Breakspear, became Pope on this day in 1154 in Rome.  Breakspear, who was from Abbots Langley in Hertfordshire, had previously been created Cardinal Bishop of Albano by Pope Eugene III.  After his election as Pope, Breakspear took the name of Adrian IV (also known as Hadrian IV) and immediately set about dealing with the anti-papal faction in Rome.  After Frederick Barbarossa, Duke of Swabia, caught and hanged the leader of the faction, a man known as Arnold of Brescia, Adrian crowned Frederick as Holy Roman Emperor in 1155 to reward him.  He then formed an alliance with the Byzantine Emperor, Manuel Comnenus, against the Normans in Sicily.  Adrian raised mercenary troops in Campania to fight alongside the Byzantine forces and the alliance was immediately successful, with many cities giving in, either because of the threat of force or the promise of gold.  But the Normans launched a counter attack by land and sea and many of the mercenaries deserted leaving the Byzantine troops outnumbered and forced to return home.  Read more…

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Saint Giovanni Calabria

Priest offered himself to God to save a Pope

Giovanni Calabria, who dedicated his life to helping the poor and the sick, died on this day in 1954 in Verona.  Roman Catholics throughout the world will celebrate his feast day today as a result of his canonisation by Pope John Paul II in 1999.  When Pope Pius XII became ill in 1954, Calabria offered himself to God to die in the place of the Pope. Pius XII began to get better and went on to live for another four years, but Calabria died the next day. After the Pope recovered he sent a telegram of condolence to Calabria’s congregation.  Giovanni Calabria was born in 1873 in Verona. He was the youngest of the seven sons of Luigi Calabria, a cobbler, and Angela Foschio, a maid servant.  Calabria was only a young child when his father died but he had to drop out of school to become an apprentice.  However, a rector at his local church saw his potential and gave him private tuition to prepare him for an exam that would determine whether he could begin studying for the priesthood.  But first Calabria had to serve in the army where he converted his fellow soldiers and was renowned for the strength of his faith. Read more…


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3 December 2022

3 December

NEW - Matilde Malenchini – painter

The tempestuous life of a talented Tuscan artist

The painter Matilde Malenchini was born on this day in 1779 in Livorno in Tuscany. She was well-known for her paintings of church interiors but turned to portrait painting later in life to make money to help her survive after her long relationship with Belgian writer Louis de Potter ended. Matilde was born into the Meoni family and married the painter and musician Vincenzo Francesco Malenchini at the age of 16. Although they soon separated, she kept his name for the rest of her life.  In 1807 she went to study at the Accademia di Belle Arte in Florence under the guidance of Pietro Benvenuti. To earn money and practise her art, she copied the works of old Italian and Dutch masters in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.  After being given a four-year annual stipend by Elisa Bonaparte, the Grand Duchess of Tuscany, in 1811, Matilde went to Rome to study at the Pontificia Accademia romana delle belle arti di San Luca, in Rome. There she met the French Governor of the Papal States, General Francois de Mollis, who was an art collector. He bought 18 of her paintings and helped her establish a studio in the convent of Trinità dei Monti.  Read more…

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Nino Rota – composer

Musician and teacher composed soundtrack for The Godfather 

Giovanni ‘Nino’ Rota, composer, conductor and pianist, was born on this day in 1911 in Milan.  Part of a musical family, he started composing with an oratorio based on a religious subject at the age of 11, but he was to go on to produce some of the best-known and iconic music for the cinema of the 20th century.  Rota studied at the Milan Conservatory and then in Rome before he was encouraged by the conductor, Arturo Toscanini, to move to America, where he studied at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia.  When he returned to Milan he took a degree in Literature and then began a teaching career. He became a director of the Liceo Musicale in Bari in 1950 and kept this post until his death. Orchestra conductor Riccardo Muti was one of his students.  Rota wrote film scores from the 1940s onwards for all the noted directors of the time, including Franco Zeffirelli, Luchino Visconti and Eduardo de Filippo. He wrote the music for all Federico Fellini’s films from The White Sheik in 1952 to Orchestral Rehearsal in 1978. He composed the score for Francis Ford Coppola’s film The Godfather and won an Oscar for best original score for The Godfather Part II in 1974.  Read more…

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Angela Luce – actress

Film star and singer was born in Spaccanapoli

Neapolitan actress and singer Angela Luce was born Angela Savino on this day in 1937 in Naples.  She has worked for the theatre, cinema and television, is well-known for singing Neapolitan songs, and has written poetry and song lyrics.  At 14 years old, Angela took her first steps towards stardom when she took part in the annual music festival held at Piedigrotta in the Chiaia district of Naples, singing the Neapolitan song, Zi Carmeli.  Her cinema career began in 1956, when she was only 19, when she appeared in Ricordati di Napoli, directed by Pino Mercanti. Since then she has appeared in more than 80 films and has worked for directors including Luchino Visconti, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Mario Amendola, Luigi Zampa and Pupi Avati.  Angela won a David Donatello award for L’amore molesto directed by Mario Martone and was also nominated for the Palma d’Oro at Cannes.  She has acted opposite such illustrious names as Marcello Mastroianni, Vittorio Gassman, Alberto Sordi, Vittorio de Sica and Totò.  Her voice has been recorded in the historic archives of Neapolitan songs and she has won prizes for her singing.  Read more…

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Nicolò Amati - violin maker

Grandson of Andrea Amati produced some of world's finest instruments

Nicolò Amati, who is acknowledged as the greatest in the line of Amati violin makers in the 16th and 17th centuries, was born on this day in 1596 in Cremona.  The grandson of Andrea Amati, who is credited by most experts with being the inventor of the violin in its four-stringed form, Nicolò followed his father, Girolamo, and uncle, Antonio, into the family business.  Girolamo and Antonio went their separate ways in around 1590, Antonio setting up a different workshop, which was thought to specialize in lutes.  Initially, Nicolò made instruments that were very similar to those created by Girolamo but later began to add refinements of his own, the most significant of which came between 1630 and 1640 when he created the Grand Amati design.  This model, slightly wider and longer than the violins his father had produced, yielded greater power of tone than the smaller instruments and soon became sought after.  The bubonic plague outbreak that swept through Italy between 1629 and 1633 claimed the lives of both Girolamo and Nicolò's mother, Laura, and that of his main rival in violin manufacture at the time, Giovanni Paolo Maggini, from the Brescian school.  Read more…

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Carlo Oriani - cyclist and soldier

Giro winner died in World War One

The champion cyclist Carlo Oriani, winner of the 1913 Giro d’Italia, died on this day in 1917 in the aftermath of the Battle of Caporetto in the First World War.  The battle was a disastrous one for the Italian forces under the command of General Luigi Cadorna, with 13,000 soldiers killed, 30,000 wounded and 250,000 captured by the victorious army of Austria-Hungary. Countless other Italian troops fled as it became clear that defeat was inevitable.  Oriani, who had previously served his country in the Italo-Turkish War in 1912, was a member of the Bersaglieri, the highly mobile elite force traditionally used by the Italian army as a rapid response unit. He had joined the corps in part because of his skill on a bicycle, which had replaced horses as one of the means by which the Bersaglieri were able to get around quickly.  The Battle of Caporetto took place from October 24 to November 19, near the town of Kobarid on the Austro-Italian front, in what is now Slovenia.  Oriani survived the battle but it was during the retreat that Italian soldiers had to cross the Tagliamento, which links the Alps and the Adriatic and in the winter months is a fast-flowing river, with enemy forces in pursuit.  Read more…

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Mario Borghezio – controversial politician

Lega Nord MEP renowned for extremist views

Mario Borghezio, one of Italy’s most controversial political figures whose extreme right-wing views have repeatedly landed him in trouble, was born on this day in 1947 in Turin.  Borghezio was a member of Lega Nord, the party led by Umberto Bossi that was set up originally to campaign for Italy to be broken up so that the wealthy north of the country would sever its political and economic ties with the poorer south.  He has been a Member of the European Parliament since 1999 and has served on several committees, including Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs and the Committee on Petitions.  He was even undersecretary to the Ministry of Justice from 1994-95.  Yet he had regularly espoused extremist and racist views, to the extent that even the right-wing British party UKIP, with whom he developed strong links, moved to distance themselves from him over one racist outburst.  It was at their behest that he was expelled from the European Parliament’s Europe of Freedom and Democracy group after making racist remarks about Cecile Kyenge, Italy’s first black cabinet minister, whom he said was more suited to being a housekeeper.  Read more…


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Matilde Malenchini – painter

The tempestuous life of a talented Tuscan artist

Vincenzo Camuccini's portrait of Malenchini, from about 1815
Vincenzo Camuccini's portrait of
Malenchini, from about 1815
The painter Matilde Malenchini was born on this day in 1779 in Livorno in Tuscany. She was well-known for her paintings of church interiors but turned to portrait painting later in life to make money to help her survive after her long relationship with Belgian writer Louis de Potter ended.

Matilde was born into the Meoni family and married the painter and musician Vincenzo Francesco Malenchini at the age of 16. Although they soon separated, she kept his name for the rest of her life.

In 1807 she went to study at the Accademia di Belle Arte in Florence under the guidance of Pietro Benvenuti. To earn money and practise her art, she copied the works of old Italian and Dutch masters in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.

After being given a four-year annual stipend by Elisa Bonaparte, the Grand Duchess of Tuscany, in 1811, Matilde went to Rome to study at the Pontificia Accademia romana delle belle arti di San Luca. There she met the French Governor of the Papal States, General Francois de Mollis, who was an art collector. He bought 18 of her paintings and helped her establish a studio in the convent of Trinità dei Monti. 

While painting church and convent interiors, she worked with students from the Academie Francaise who were living in the Villa Medici, as well as the up-and-coming Italian artists Antonio Canova and Vincenzo Camuccini. In 1815, Matilde was named a Professor of Merit at the Accademia di San Luca and in the same year Camuccini painted her portrait. The years she spent in Rome proved to be the most productive of her career.

Malenchini's own portrait of the writer Louis de Potter, her long-time partner
Malenchini's own portrait of the writer
Louis de Potter, her long-time partner
She embarked on a long and intense relationship with Louis de Potter and between 1817 and 1819 they shared a home with the painter Francois-Joseph Navez. The couple attempted to obtain an annulment of Matilde’s previous marriage by appealing to the Roman Curia, but their requests coincided with some scandalous trials involving monks and nuns, which caused the Curia to be more cautious than usual with their decisions. At around the same time, Matilde’s former husband, who was supporting the request, was having problems with the police to further complicate the issue.

In 1820, Matilde had to leave Rome and she returned to Florence where she was named an honorary professor at the Accademia.

De Potter returned to Bruges in 1823 to be with his ailing father, but the following year, after his father’s death, he moved to Brussels and invited Matilde to join him. Their home in the Belgian capital became a meeting place for expatriate Italians and political refugees. With their friend Navez, they organised painting classes. Navez also became a prominent advocate for Belgian independence.

Matilde became restless and travelled for a while before returning to live in Florence. De Potter, who was frustrated at not being able to marry her, ended the relationship in 1826. He later married Sophie van Weydeveldt, 20 years his junior, with whom he had four children.

Although De Potter agreed to give Matilde an annual pension of 1200 francs, the money was spasmodic because of his political problems. He served 18 months in prison after writing a pamphlet denouncing King William I of Belgium and then went into exile in Germany. Matilde turned to portrait painting to make money to keep herself. There was no contact between her and De Potter until 1854, when he wrote her an affectionate letter following the death of his son, and afterwards they maintained contact with each other through letters.

The following year, by which time Matilde was 76, she was accused of pushing one of her maids out of a window after she caught her stealing. She was sentenced to three and a half years detention but the ruling was overturned. However, it was reinstated in 1857 and sadly, one of Matilde’s last paintings was of the interior of the prison in Florence. She died in 1858 in Fiesole in Tuscany at the age of 78.

Livorno, the Tuscan port city where Malenchini was born, has a network of canals
Livorno, the Tuscan port city where Malenchini
was born, has a network of canals
Travel tip:

Livorno, Malenchini’s birthplace, is the second largest city in Tuscany, with a population of almost 160,000. It has a large commercial port and in many respects is the most modern city in the region, yet there are also many remnants of its history.  Designed by the architect Bernardo Buontalenti at the behest of the House of Medici at the end of the 16th century, Livorno was conceived as an "ideal city" of the Italian Renaissance. Notable are the huge Fortezza Vecchia - the Old Fortress - which was built to protect the port, the fortified walls around the city’s pentagonal plan and the dense network of canals, a kind of “Little Venice”, which were originally created to connect the merchants’ residences with their warehouses.  The city has produced many notable painters, including the 19th century landscape and battlefield painter Giovanni Fattori, and the celebrated modernist painter of portraits and nudes, Amedeo Modigliani.  It was also home to the opera composer, Pietro Mascagni.

The remains of a Roman theatre on a hillside near the town of Fiesole in Tuscany
The remains of a Roman theatre on a hillside
near the town of Fiesole in Tuscany
Travel tip:

Fiesole, where Malenchini died, is a town of about 14,000 inhabitants occupying an elevated position about 8km (5 miles) northeast of Florence. Since the 14th century, it has been a popular place to live for wealthy Florentines and even to this day remains the richest municipality in the city. Once an important Etruscan settlement, it was also a Roman town of note, of which the remains of a theatre and baths are still visible.  Fiesole's Romanesque cathedral, built in the 11th century, is supposedly built over the site of the martyrdom of St. Romulus. In the middle ages, Fiesole was as powerful as Florence until it was conquered by the latter in 1125 after a series of wars.

Also on this day:

1596: The birth of violin maker Nicolò Amati

1911: The birth of composer Nino Rota

1917: The death in World War One of cycling champion Carlo Oriani

1937: The birth of actress Angela Luce

1947: The birth of politician Mario Borghezio


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2 December 2022

2 December

Maria Bricca - war hero

Humble cook whose actions helped end siege of Turin in 1706

The unlikely war hero Maria Bricca, whose actions would precipitate a major victory for the Duchy of Savoy in the War of the Spanish Succession, was born on this day in 1684 in Pianezza, then a village about 12km (7 miles) northwest of the city of Turin.  Maria, who was born Maria Chiaberge but changed her name after she married Valentino Bricco in 1705, became an important figure in the ending of the four-month siege of Turin by the French in 1706.  She hated the French, who had sacked Pianezza in 1693 when she was just eight years old, killing villagers and looting property before her eyes. In 1706. when they took control of the castle at Pianezza, which occupied a strategic position overlooking the Dora Riparia river, it brought back memories of the scenes she had witnessed as a child.  When Maria, who was nicknamed La Bricassa, heard that Prince Eugene of Savoy had dispatched a force of 9,000 Prussian soldiers led by his ally, Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Dessau, to try to take control of the castle, she knew she had information that could help them.  As a cook, she had previously worked at the castle and knew of the existence of a secret underground passage that led from the village - possibly from her own house - directly into the castle.  Read more…

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Gianni Versace – designer

Meteoric rise of the talented son of a dressmaker

Gianni Versace, the founder of the international fashion house Versace, was born on this day in 1946 in Reggio di Calabria in the south of Italy. He went on to start a highly successful clothing label and also designed costumes for the theatre and films. He was a personal friend of the late Princess Diana and numerous celebrities, including Elton John and Madonna.  Christened Giovanni Maria Versace, the designer literally learnt his trade at his mother’s knee as she was herself a dressmaker and employed him as an apprentice in her business from an early age.  He moved north to Milan to work in the fashion industry for other designers and, after presenting his own first signature collection in the city, opened a boutique in Via della Spiga in 1978. His career immediately took off and his exclusive designs were highly sought after.  He became one of the top designers of the 1980s and 90s and employed his brother, Santo, and his sister, Donatella, in his successful and profitable business.  One of his most famous creations was a black dress held together by safety pins, worn by the actress, Elizabeth Hurley, to a film premiere.  Read more…

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Paolo Tosti - composer

How a poor boy from Abruzzo became an English knight

Paolo Tosti, the composer of the popular Neapolitan song, Marechiare, died on this day in 1916 in Rome.  Many of the light, sentimental songs he composed were performed by the top opera singers of the time and are still regularly recorded by the stars of today.  At the height of his career, Tosti was singing professor to Princess Margherita of Savoy, who later became the Queen of Italy. He then went to live in England, where his popularity grew even more.  He was appointed singing master to the British Royal Family and was eventually knighted by King Edward VII, who had become one of his personal friends.  Born Francesco Paolo Tosti in Ortona in the Abruzzo region, the composer received an early musical education in his home town and then moved on to study at the Naples Conservatory.  His teachers there were so impressed with him that they appointed him a student teacher, which earned him a small salary.  Ill health forced Tosti to return to Ortona, but while he was confined to bed, he began composing songs.  Once he had recovered from his illness he moved to live in Ancona where, it is said, he was so impoverished that he had to exist on stale bread and oranges.  Read more…

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Ferdinando Galiani - economist and philosopher

Leading figure in the Neapolitan Enlightenment

The economist and philosopher Ferdinando Galiani, whose theories on market economics are considered to be years ahead of his time, was born on this day in 1728 in Chieti, now in Abruzzo but then part of the Kingdom of Naples.  Galiani spent much of his life in the service of the Naples government, spending 10 years as secretary to the Neapolitan ambassador in Paris before returning to Naples in the role of councillor of the tribunal of commerce, being appointed administrator of the royal domains in 1777.  A fine writer and wit as well as a talented economist, Galiani wrote a number of humorous works as well as two significant treatises, the first of which, Della Moneta, was written while he was still a student, at the age of 22.  Initially published anonymously, Della Moneta - On Money - was ostensibly a work about the history of money and the monetary system, but Galiani used it as an opportunity to intervene in the Neapolitan debate on economic reform, his opinions on the development of the Neapolitan economy evolving into a theory of market value based on utility and scarcity.  Read more...

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Roberto Capucci - fashion designer

'Sculptor in cloth' who rejected ready-to-wear

The fashion designer Roberto Capucci, whose clothes were famous for their strikingly voluminous, geometric shapes and use of unusual materials, was born on this day in 1930 in Rome.  Precociously talented, Capucci opened his first studio in Rome at the age of 19 and by his mid-20s was regarded as the best designer in Italy, particularly admired by Christian Dior, the rising star of French haute-couture.  It was during this period, towards the end of the 1950s, that Capucci revolutionised fashion by inventing the Linea a Scatola – the box-line or box look – in which he created angular shapes for dresses and introduced the concept of volume and architectural elements of design into clothing, so that his dresses, which often featured enormous quantities of material, were almost like sculpted pieces of modern art, to be not so much worn as occupied by the wearer.  Growing up in Rome, Capucci was artistically inclined from an early age. He attended the Accademia di Belle Arti di Roma and wanted to become either an architect or a film director, designing clothes initially as no more than a diversion.  Read more…

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1 December 2022

1 December

Lorenzo Ghiberti – sculptor

Goldsmith renowned for 'Gates of Paradise'

Sculptor, goldsmith and architect Lorenzo Ghiberti died on this day in 1455 in Florence.  Part of his legacy were the magnificent doors he created for the Baptistery of the Florence Duomo that have become known as the Gates of Paradise.  Ghiberti had become a man of learning, living up to the image of the early 15th century artist as a student of antiquity, who was investigative, ambitious and highly creative.  His Commentaries - I Commentarii - which he started to write in 1447, include judgements on the great contemporary and 14th century masters as well as his scientific theories on optics and anatomy.  Ghiberti was born in 1378 in Pelago near Florence and was trained as a goldsmith by Bartolo di Michele, whom his mother had married in 1406 but had lived with for some time previously.  Ghiberti took his name from his mother’s first husband, Cione Ghiberti, although he later claimed that Di Michele was his real father.  He moved to Pesaro in 1400 to fulfil a painting commission from the city's ruler, Sigismondo Malatesta, but returned to Florence when he heard about a competition that had been set up to find someone to make a pair of bronze doors for the Baptistery of the cathedral.  Read more…

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Eugenio Monti - bobsleigh champion

Olympic winner who was honoured for sportsmanship

The double Olympic bobsleigh champion Eugenio Monti, who became the first athlete to be awarded the Pierre de Coubertin Medal for sportsmanship, died on this day in 2003 in Belluno.  Monti was recognised with the award after the 1964 Winter Games in Innsbruck, during which he twice made gestures of selfless generosity towards opponents, both of which arguably cost him the chance of a gold medal.  The preeminent bobsleigh driver in the world going into the 1964 Games and an eight-time world champion in two and four-man events, Monti was desperate to add Olympic golds to his medal collection.  He had won silver in both his specialisations when Italy hosted the Winter Olympics in 1956 and was denied the opportunity to improve on that four years later when the 1960 Games at Squaw Valley in California went ahead with no bobsleigh events, due to the organisers running out of time and money to build a track.  In Innsbruck, Monti and his brakeman Sergio Siorpaes were favourites in the two-man event,  After two runs on the first day, Britain’s Tony Nash and Robin Dixon led the field. Read more…

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Salvatore 'Toto' Schillaci - footballer

Golden boy of Italia ‘90 now coaches future players

The star of Italy’s 1990 World Cup campaign, Salvatore 'Toto' Schillaci, was born on this day in Palermo in Sicily in 1964.  Schillaci was born into a struggling, working class household. He began his football career with Messina in Sicily, playing in Serie B, but his goals earned him a move to Serie A giants Juventus in 1989.  He hit  21 goals in his first season for Juventus, earning a call-up to the national team. He made his debut in a friendly in March, just three months before the World Cup finals began.  Despite his status as a novice in terms of international football, coach Azeglio Vicini named him for the Italy squad seeking to win the World Cup as hosts.  Schillaci was the sensation of the tournament, coming off the bench to score the only goal in Italy's opening match against Austria.  He made his first start against Czechoslovakia in the third of their group games and scored again. Schillaci grabbed further goals against Uruguay in the first knock-out round and Ireland in the quarter-finals, taking his team to a semi-final against Argentina in Naples, where he scored again but Italy's adventure ended in a penalty shoot-out.  He retired in 1999, returning to his native Palermo, where he set up his own football academy.  Read more…

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Alberto Cova - Olympic champion

Los Angeles gold completed 10k hat-trick

Alberto Cova, the athlete who won the 10,000 metres gold medal at the 1984 Olympics, was born on this day in 1958 in Inverigo, a small town not far from Lake Como and a little under 40km (25 miles) north of Milan.  Cova's triumph at the 1984 Los Angeles Games completed a golden hat-trick of 10,000m titles, following on from his gold medals over the distance at the 1982 European Championships in Athens and the 1983 World Championships in Helsinki.  He was not able to maintain that form, however.  He was run out of the gold on the final lap of the 10,000m by fellow Italian Stefano Mai at the European Championships in Stuttgart in 1986 and failed to qualify for the final at the Seoul Olympics in 1988, which proved to be his last international competition.  Cova's chief asset was his devastating sprint finish, which could be nullified in a race run at a strong pace throughout but often was not.  He was an outsider when he sprang a surprise in Athens in 1982, when his finishing speed enabled him to charge through to beat the favourite, Werner Schildhauer from East Germany, to win his first international championship title.  His disciplined running style enabled him to triumph again in Helsinki the following year.  Read more…

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30 November 2022

30 November

Beniamino Gigli - opera singer

Tenor’s beautiful voice can still be appreciated today

One of the greatest tenors of the 20th century, Beniamino Gigli, died on this day in Rome in 1957.  Gigli is remembered for the beauty of his voice, which was powerful as well as mellow and smooth. He made many recordings, which have since been converted to CD and can still be enjoyed by opera lovers today. He also made some film appearances.  Gigli was born in Recanati near Ancona in the Marche in 1890. He sang in the choir at Recanati Cathedral as a boy and then went on to study music in Rome.  He won his first singing competition in Parma in 1914 and made his operatic debut in Rovigo in the same year, playing the role of Enzo in Amilcare Ponchielli’s opera, La Gioconda.  Gigli made his debut on the stage of La Scala in Milan in 1918 singing Faust in Boito’s Mefistofele. The orchestra was conducted by Arturo Toscanini. His first appearance at the Metropolitan Opera in New York came two years later.  He became particularly associated with the roles of Rodolfo in Puccini’s La bohème and the title role in Giordano’s Andrea Chenier. His first appearance in London at Covent Garden was in Andrea Chenier in 1930.  Read more…

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Andrea Doria – admiral

Military commander with outstanding tactical talent

Andrea Doria, the most important naval leader of his time, was born on this day in 1466 in Oneglia in Liguria.  Because of his successes on both land and sea he was able to free Genoa from domination by foreign powers and reorganise its government to be more stable and effective.  Doria was part of an ancient aristocratic family but he was orphaned while still young and grew up to become a condottiero, or soldier of fortune.  He served Pope Innocent VIII, King Ferdinand I and his son Alfonso II of Naples, and other Italian princes.  Between 1503 and 1506 he helped his uncle, Domenico, crush the Corsican revolt against the rule of Genoa.  Attracted to the sea, Doria fitted out eight galleys and patrolled the Mediterranean, fighting the Ottoman Turks and Barbary pirates, adding to his wealth and reputation along the way.  He then entered the service of Francis I of France who was fighting the Emperor Charles V in Italy and helped him capture Genoa.  But after becoming disillusioned with French policies in Genoa, Doria transferred his support to Charles V and helped him drive the French out of Genoa.  Charles made him grand admiral of the imperial fleet and gave him the title of Prince of Melfi.  Read more…

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Simonetta Stefanelli – actress

Godfather star went on to design bags and shoes

Simonetta Stefanelli, the actress and fashion designer, was born on this day in 1954 in Rome.  Stefanelli is perhaps best-known for her performance as Apollonia Vitelli-Corleone in the 1972 film The Godfather by Francis Ford Coppola.  She also made several films with her former husband, the actor and director Michele Placido.  The couple had three children together, Michelangelo, Brenno and Violante Placido, who is also an actress.  They divorced in 1994 and Stefanelli and her three children went to live in London for a short time.  Before appearing in The Godfather, Stefanelli had small roles in films guided by some of the top Italian directors, such as Gian Luigi Polidoro, Giulio Petroni, Marco Vicario and Dino Risi.  In 1972 she appeared in a German film for television. Then came her role in The Godfather alongside Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, Robert Duvall, James Caan and Diane Keaton.  Her character is the first wife of Pacino's character, Michael Corleone, a local girl Michael marries while in hiding in Sicily, but is then murdered in a bomb attack of which her husband was the intended victim. After her movie career, Stefanelli settled in Rome, where she opened a fashion store, Simo Bloom.  Read more…

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Ippolito Nievo - writer and patriot

Risorgimento novel now seen as an overlooked classic

The writer Ippolito Nievo, whose posthumously published Confessions of an Italian is now considered the most important novel about the Risorgimento in Italian literature, was born on this day in 1831 in Padua.  Nievo, who was a passionate supporter of the move to unify Italy in the 19th century, drew inspiration from his participation in Giuseppe Garibaldi’s Spedizione dei Mille - the Expedition of the Thousand - which sought to achieve that goal.  He died for the cause at the age of just 29, perishing in a shipwreck while transporting important documents from Palermo to Naples.  His legacy was preserved in his most famous novel, in which the central character and narrator shares Nievo’s passions. Nievo completed the work in 1858 but it was not until 1867, six years after his death, that it found a publisher.  Nievo was born into comfortable circumstances.  His father was a prominent lawyer and magistrate in Padua and his mother the daughter of a Friulian countess.  Their home in Padua was the Palazzo Mocenigo Querini, a 16th century house overlooking Via Sant’Eufemia, close to the city centre.   Read more…

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Veronica Gambara – writer and stateswoman

Politically astute poet wrote an ode to Emperor Charles V

Veronica Gambara, a lyric poet who ruled the state of Correggio for 32 years, was born on this day in 1485 in Pralboino in the province of Brescia.  Under her rule, the court of Correggio became an important literary salon visited by many writers and artists.  Gambara signed a treaty with the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, which guaranteed Correggio would not be besieged and in her political poems she expressed Italy as an entity centuries before unification.  Gambara came from an accomplished family, one of the seven children of Count Gianfrancesco da Gambara and Alda Pio da Carpi.  The humanist poets Ginevre and Isotta Noarola were her great aunts and Emilia Pia, the principal female interlocutor of Baldassare Castiglione’s Il cortegiano, was her aunt.  Gambara studied Latin, Greek, philosophy and theology and by the age of 17 had begun corresponding with the poet, Pietro Bembo, who later became her mentor when she sent him her poetry to read.  When Gambara was 24 she married her cousin, Giberto, Count of Correggio, a widower aged 50, and they had two sons, Ippolito and Girolamo.   Read more…


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29 November 2022

29 November

NEWLuigi ‘Gigi’ Peronace - football agent

Calabrian facilitated string of transfers to Italy

The football agent Luigi ‘Gigi’ Peronace, who brokered the transfer deals that saw leading British stars from John Charles to Liam Brady play in Italy’s Serie A, was born in the Calabrian seaside town of Soverato on this day in 1925.  Agents are commonplace in football today but they were an almost unknown phenomenon when Peronace set up in business in the 1950s and he is widely accepted as the first of his kind, certainly in terms of building a ‘stable’ of clients.  The charismatic Peronace’s ability to charm all parties in transfer deals - buyer, seller and player - led to him becoming an influential figure in football in both Italy and the United Kingdom over a 25-year period.  Charles, the Welsh giant whose talents persuaded Juventus to almost double the British transfer fee record when they paid Leeds United £65,000 for his services in 1957, remains Peronace’s most famous deal, although he was instrumental in introducing other big-name British players to the Italian game, including the prolific Chelsea and England striker Jimmy Greaves and Scotland’s Denis Law.  Peronace’s first taste of football was as a player in the 1940s with the Calabrian team Reggina.  Read more…

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Agostino Chigi - banker and arts patron

Nobleman from Siena became one of Europe’s richest men

The banker Agostino Chigi, who was a major sponsor of artists during the Renaissance, was born on this day in 1466 in Siena.  At its height, Chigi’s banking house in Rome was the biggest financial institution in Europe, employing up to 20,000 people, with branches throughout Italy and abroad, as far apart as London and Cairo.  Chigi invested a good deal of his wealth in supporting the arts, notably providing financial backing to almost all the main figures of the early 16th century, including Perugino, Sebastiano del Piombo, Giovanni da Udine, Giulio Romano, Il Sodoma (Giovanni Bazzi) and Raphael.  Perugino painted The Chigi Altarpiece, dated at around 1506-1507, which hangs in the Chigi family chapel in the church of Sant'Agostino in Siena.  Chigi’s significant legacy to Rome was to have built a chapel in the church of Santa Maria della Pace, another - his mortuary chapel, the Chigi Chapel - in the church of Santa Maria del Popolo, and the superb suburban villa in Trastevere, on the banks of the Tiber, which since 1579 has been known as the Villa Farnesina.  Agostino Chigi was the son of the prominent Sienese banker Mariano Chigi, from an ancient and illustrious Tuscan family.   Read more…

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Gaetano Donizetti - opera composer

Birthplace of musical genius has been declared a national monument

Gaetano Donizetti, a prolific composer of operas in the 19th century, was born on this day in 1797 in Bergamo in northern Italy.  Donizetti came into the world in the basement of a house in Borgo Canale just outside the walls of the Città Alta, Bergamo’s upper town. He was the fifth of six children born to a textile worker and his wife.  He once wrote about his birthplace: “…I was born underground in Borgo Canale. One descended the stairs to the basement, where no ray of sunlight had ever been seen. And like an owl I flew forth…”  Donizetti developed a love for music and, despite the poverty of his family, benefited from early tuition in Bergamo. He went on to become a brilliant composer of operas in the early part of the 19th century and is considered to have been a major influence on Verdi, Puccini and many other composers who came after him.  Experts consider some of his work, for example Lucia di Lammermoor and L’elisir d’amore, to be among the greatest lyrical operas of all time.  After a magnificent international career, Donizetti returned to Bergamo, where he died in 1843 in the Palazzo Scotti.  Read more…

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Restoration and conservation techniques set example to others

Andrea della Valle, remembered for amassing one of the earliest known collections of Roman antiquities, was born into a noble family on this day in 1463 in Rome.  He was the son of Filippo della Valle and Girolama Margani, and was the second of their four children.  After entering the Church, he was elected Bishop of Crotone in 1496. He was chosen to direct the Apostolic Chancery between 1503 and 1505 and served as Apostolic secretary during the reign of Pope Julius II.  Della Valle was transferred to the titular diocese of Miletus in 1508, but resigned from it to give way to his nephew, Quinzio Rustici, in 1523.  He was created cardinal priest in 1517 and participated in the papal conclaves of 1521 and 1523.  As archpriest of the Basilica Santa Maria Maggiore, Della Valle ceremonially opened and closed the holy door in the Jubilee year of 1525. The door is sealed by mortar and cement from the inside so it cannot normally be opened, but is ceremoniously opened during holy year to allow pilgrims to enter and gain plenary indulgences.  Della Valle had inherited some antiquities collected by his ancestors but was always eager to acquire more.  Read more…

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Agostino Richelmy – Cardinal

Former soldier sent priests to say mass for troops

Cardinal Agostino Richelmy, who fought for Garibaldi as a teenager, was born on this day in 1850 in Turin.  He joined the Garibaldi Volunteers during the war of 1866 and is said to have worn his red shirt under his cassock for years afterwards.  When Italy entered the First World War in 1915, Richelmy organised priests to serve as army chaplains in the mountains of Trentino, where they had to carve altars out of snow and say mass in temperatures below zero.  Richelmy was born into an ancient, noble family and his father, Prospero was a hydraulic engineer.  He was educated at the Liceo Classico Cavour and the Archiepiscopal Seminary in Turin and gained a doctorate in theology in 1876. He became a professor of moral and dogmatic theology and then a professor in the faculty of canon law.  Richelmy was elected Bishop of Ivrea in 1886 and named as the Archbishop of Turin in 1897.  He was created cardinal priest of Sant’Eusebio in Rome in 1899 and was then transferred to Santa Maria in Via in Rome in 1911.  Richelmy supported all the social directives of Pope Leo XIII, who worked to encourage understanding between the Church and the modern world during his papacy.  Read more…


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Luigi ‘Gigi’ Peronace - football agent

Calabrian facilitated string of transfers to Italy

Luigi 'Gigi' Peronace is seen by some as football's original players' agent
Luigi 'Gigi' Peronace is seen by some
as football's original players' agent
The football agent Luigi ‘Gigi’ Peronace, who brokered the transfer deals that saw leading British stars from John Charles to Liam Brady play in Italy’s Serie A, was born in the Calabrian seaside town of Soverato on this day in 1925.

Agents are commonplace in football today but they were an almost unknown phenomenon when Peronace set up in business in the 1950s and he is widely accepted as the first of his kind, certainly in terms of building a ‘stable’ of clients.

The charismatic Peronace’s ability to charm all parties in transfer deals - buyer, seller and player - led to him becoming an influential figure in football in both Italy and the United Kingdom over a 25-year period.

Charles, the Welsh giant whose talents persuaded Juventus to almost double the British transfer fee record when they paid Leeds United £65,000 for his services in 1957, remains Peronace’s most famous deal, although he was instrumental in introducing other big-name British players to the Italian game, including the prolific Chelsea and England striker Jimmy Greaves and Scotland’s Denis Law.

Peronace’s first taste of football was as a player in the 1940s with the Calabrian team Reggina, for whom he kept goal despite being quite a small man. Evidence of his skills as a Mr Fixit were emerging even then, as a teenager, when he arranged football matches between English and Australian soldiers and local Calabrian teams.

After the end of the Second World War, Peronace moved to Turin to study engineering. Already with good English, he took a job with Juventus, who needed an interpreter to help their new Scottish coach, William Chalmers. When Chalmers was dismissed after one season, the Turin club hired an Englishman, Jesse Carver, to look after the team.

John Charles, who joined Juventus
from Leeds United in 1957
Carver likewise did not stay long, despite winning the Serie A title in his first season in charge. He soon returned to England to manage West Bromwich Albion. But he was back in Italy a year later and invited Peronace to work with him again at Lazio. It was Carver who first told Peronace about John Charles, a tall, powerfully built man who had been converted from a centre-half by Leeds United to one of the most prolific centre-forwards in England.

Intrigued, as soon as his time at Lazio had ended Peronace travelled to England to see Charles in person, contacted the Juventus president Umberto Agnelli and persuaded the Turin club that they should spend whatever it took to sign him.

It took Peronace two years to convince Leeds to sell and Charles to move, but in August 1957, the deal was done. It made headlines, of course, not just for the size of transfer fee but for what the player himself was offered. Juventus gave him an apartment for his family, a Fiat car and a £10,000 signing-on fee - this at a time when the signing-on fee for players moving between English clubs could be as little as £10.

The Charles deal was not Peronace’s first. While wooing Charles and Leeds, he had arranged for South African-born Eddie Firmani, who had Italian heritage, to join Sampdoria from Charlton Athletic. But it was the Charles transfer that gave him credibility.

The Welshman would go on to score 108 goals in 155 matches for Juventus, helping them win the scudetto - the colloquial name for the Serie A trophy - three times and the domestic cup competition, the Coppa Italia, twice.

Peronace helped Charles settle in Turin but in 1961 he returned to England, moved into a plush apartment in Knightsbridge and from there pulled off more headline-making deals. He helped Aston Villa’s Gerry Hitchens move to Inter-Milan, persuaded AC Milan to sign Jimmy Greaves, and Torino to take both Denis Law and the English-born, Scottish-raised striker Joe Baker.

Peronace's close friend, the  pipe-smoking Enzo Bearzot
Peronace's close friend, the 
pipe-smoking Enzo Bearzot
While Hitchins, like Charles, enjoyed significant success, the last-named trio failed to settle in Italy, although it was to the advantage of Peronace, who negotiated their transfers again, helping Greaves return to London with Tottenham, Law team up with Matt Busby at Manchester United and Baker make a fresh start with Arsenal.

Always immaculately dressed in the most expensive Italian clothes, Peronace’s natural charm enabled him to befriend the most powerful figures in both English and Italian football, which opened doors in both countries. This was especially useful to him after the abolition of English maximum wage lessened the attraction to players of moving abroad.

A close friend of Sir Denis Follows, the secretary of the English Football Association, he used his contacts to help establish the Anglo-Italian Cup competition.

In Italy, he became a close friend of Enzo Bearzot and worked with him for the Italian Football Federation at the 1978 World Cup in Argentina.

Peronace would doubtless have been alongside Bearzot when Italy’s pipe-smoking coach guided the azzurri to their World Cup triumph in Spain 1982 had fate not tragically intervened 18 months earlier.

As the national team prepared to leave for a tournament in Montevideo, Uruguay in December 1980, Peronace was at a hotel in Rome when he suffered a fatal heart attack, dying in Bearzot’s arms at the age of just 55, leaving a wife and five children.  Liam Brady's move to Juventus from Arsenal earlier that year was the last high-profile deal in which he was involved.

The coast around Soverato is famed for an abundance of white, sandy beaches
The coast around Soverato is famed for an
abundance of white, sandy beaches
Travel tip:

Soverato, where Gigi Peronace was born, is situated on the Ionian coast of Calabria, about 37km (23 miles) south of the city of Catanzaro. If the map of Italy is seen as a leg, Soverato is at the point on the underside of the foot at the beginning of the big toe. With a population of fewer than 10,000 and an area of less than eight square kilometres, it is a small town yet thanks to its location on the Gulf of Squillace, notable for its white, sandy beaches, has become the wealthiest town per capita in Calabria with a bright modern promenade, apartment buildings and hotels and a botanical garden established on a reclaimed waste site in 1980. There is little of historical note save for a Pietà sculpted by Antonello Gagini from a block of Carrara marble in 1521, which was recovered from the nearby convent of Santa Maria della Pietà after an earthquake in 1783 and is now kept in the town’s church of Maria Santissima Addolorata. 

John Charles scoring a goal at a packed Stadio Comunale, which was Juventus's home ground
John Charles scoring a goal at a packed Stadio
Comunale, which was Juventus's home ground
Travel tip:

Juventus today play at the modern Allianz Stadium, their 41,500-capacity home in the Vallette borough of Turin, about 6km (3.7 miles) northwest from the city centre. When John Charles signed for them in 1957, Juventus shared the Stadio Comunale with city rivals Torino.  Situated around four kilometres south of the centre in the Santa Rita district, it was known as the Stadio Municipale Benito Mussolini after it was opened in 1933, being renamed Stadio Comunale after World War II, and further renamed the Stadio Olimpico after being chosen to host the opening and closing ceremonies at the Winter Olympics in 2006.  Torino left the stadium with Juventus in 1990 to play at the Stadio delle Alpi, forerunner of the Allianz, but returned to the Olimpico in 2006.

Also on this day:

1463: The birth of antiquities collector Cardinal Andrea della Valle

1466: The birth of banker Agostino Chigi

1797: The birth of opera composer Gaetano Donizetti

1850: The birth of soldier and cardinal Agostino Richelmy


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