31 January 2022

31 January

Mariuccia Mandelli - fashion designer

'Godmother of Italian fashion' was immortalised by Warhol

Mariuccia Mandelli, the founder of the fashion house Krizia, was born on this day in 1925 in Bergamo in northern Italy.  Although Mandelli trained to be a primary school teacher on the advice of her mother and pursued a teaching career when she was in her twenties, she had a talent for sewing and had always been interested in fashion. It took just one lucky break to get her started. When a friend offered her the use of a flat rent-free for six months, Mandelli went to live there, bought an old sewing machine and started making clothes. She then launched her label, Krizia - a name by which she was sometimes known - by selling the clothes from her small car, a Fiat 500. She used to drive to shops in Milan with suitcases full of samples and by 1954 had established a ready-to-wear fashion house.  Mandelli also went on to establish a popular line of men’s wear, one of the first female fashion designers to do this successfully.  In 1964, Mandelli unveiled her first black-and-white collection at the Palazzo Pitti in Florence, the designs for which earned her a Critica della Moda award. Krizia grew rapidly during the 1960s and 1970s. Read more…

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Bernardo Provenzano - Mafia boss

Head of Corleonesi clan dodged police for 43 years

Bernardo Provenzano, a Mafia boss who managed to evade the Sicilian police for 43 years after a warrant was issued for his arrest in 1963, was born on this day in 1933 in Corleone, the fabled town in the rugged countryside above Palermo that became famous for its association with Mario Puzo's novel The Godfather.  The former farm labourer, who rose through the ranks to become the overall head - il capo di tutti i capi - of the so-called Cosa Nostra, lived for years under the eyes of the authorities in an opulent 18th century villa in a prestigious Palermo suburb, although ultimately he took refuge in the hills, alternating between two remote peasant farmhouses.  He was finally captured and imprisoned in 2006 and died in the prisoners' ward of a Milan hospital 10 years later, aged 83.  Although Provenzano assumed power during one of the bloodiest periods in Mafia history, he was eventually credited with rescuing the organisation from the brink of collapse by turning away from the violent path followed by his predecessor as capo di tutti i capi, Salvatore 'Toto' Riina, and restoring traditional Mafia values. Read more…

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Daniela Bianchi - actress

James Bond’s love interest whose Italian accent was never heard

Daniela Bianchi, an actress best known for her role as a Bond girl in the film From Russia With Love, was born on this day in 1942 in Rome.  She played Russian agent Tatiana Romanova in the hit 1963 film starring Sean Connery as James Bond, although her voice had to be dubbed because of her Italian accent.  Daniela’s parents originally came from Sirolo in Le Marche. Her father was a retired Italian army colonel and one of her grandmothers was a Marchesa. Daniela was raised in Rome, where she studied ballet for eight years, and she then went on to become a fashion model.  She was the winner of Miss Rome in 1960 and then runner-up in the Miss Universe contest the same year, where she was also voted Miss Photogenic by the press.  Daniela was chosen over 200 other actresses by the Bond producers for the role of Tatiana Romanova and, at the age of 21, was the youngest ever main Bond girl. She was also the only Italian to be a main Bond girl.  Her character, Tatiana, was a Russian cipher clerk who had been sent by Soviet Army Intelligence to entrap James Bond.  Before and after making From Russia With Love, Daniela appeared in many French and Italian films.  Read more…

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Ernesto Basile - architect

Pioneer of Stile Liberty - the Italian twist on Art Nouveau

The architect Ernesto Basile, who would become known for his imaginative fusion of ancient, medieval and modern architectural elements and as a pioneer of Art Nouveau in Italy, was born on this day in 1857 in Palermo.  His most impressive work was done in Rome, where he won a commission to rebuild almost completely the Palazzo Montecitorio, the home of the Chamber of Deputies of the Italian parliament.  Yet his most wide-ranging impact was in Sicily, where he followed in the footsteps of his father, Giovan Battista Filippo Basile, in experimenting with the Art Nouveau style.  Basile senior designed the Villa Favaloro, in Piazza Virgilio off Via Dante, and with Ernesto and others, notably Vincenzo Alagna, taking up the mantle, it was not long before entire districts of the city were dominated by Stile Liberty, the Italianate version of the Art Nouveau that took its name from the Liberty and Co store in London's Regent Street, which sold ornaments, fabric and objets d'art to a refined clientele and encouraged modern designers.  Fine examples of Ernesto Basile’s architecture in Palermo include the Villino Florio (1899–1902) in Viale Regina Margherita, and the Hotel Villa Igiea (1899–1901) on the waterfront.  Read more…

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Charles Edward Stuart – royal exile

Bonnie Prince Charlie’s heart will forever be in Frascati 

The Young Pretender to the British throne, sometimes known as Bonnie Prince Charlie, died on this day in 1788 in Rome.  The man who would have been King Charles III was born and brought up in Italy where his father, James, the son of the exiled Stuart King James II, had been given a residence by Pope Clement XI.  Charles Edward Stuart was raised as a Catholic and taught to believe he was a legitimate heir to the British throne.  In 1745 Charles sailed to Scotland hoping to gather an army to help him place his father back on the thrones of England and Scotland.  He defeated a Government army at the Battle of Prestonpans and marched south. He had got as far as Derbyshire when the decision was made by his troops to return to Scotland because of the lack of English support for their cause.  They were pursued by King George II’s son, the Duke of Cumberland, who led troops against them at the Battle of Culloden in 1746. Many of his soldiers were shot and killed and the surviving Jacobites fled. They were pursued by Cumberland ’s men, who committed atrocities against them when they were caught.   Read more…

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Don Bosco – Saint

Father and teacher who could do magic tricks

Saint John Bosco, who was often known as Don Bosco, died on this day in 1888 in Turin.  He had dedicated his life to helping street children, juvenile delinquents and other disadvantaged young people and was made a saint by Pope Pius XI in 1934.  Bosco is now the patron saint of apprentices, editors, publishers, children, young delinquents and magicians.  He was born Giovanni Bosco in Becchi, just outside Castelnuovo d’Asti in Piedmont in 1815. His birth came just after the end of the Napoleonic Wars that had ravaged the area.  Bosco’s father died when he was two, leaving him to be brought up by his mother, Margherita.  Mama Margherita Occhiena would herself be declared venerable by the Catholic Church in 2006.  Bosco attended Church and grew up to become very devout. Although his family was poor, his mother would share what they had with homeless people who came to the door.  While Bosco was still young, he had the first of a series of dreams that would influence his life.  He saw a group of poor boys who blasphemed while they played together, and a man told him that if he showed meekness and charity he would win over these boys.  Read more…


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Mariuccia Mandelli – fashion designer

'Godmother of Italian fashion' was immortalized by Warhol

Mariuccia Mandelli's trademark bob and red lipstick in Andy Warhol's painting
Mariuccia Mandelli's trademark bob and
red lipstick in Andy Warhol's painting 
Mariuccia Mandelli, the founder of the fashion house Krizia, was born on this day in 1925 in Bergamo in northern Italy.

Although Mandelli trained to be a primary school teacher on the advice of her mother and pursued a teaching career when she was in her twenties, she had a talent for sewing and had always been interested in fashion. It took just one lucky break to get her started.

When a friend offered her the use of a flat rent-free for six months, Mandelli went to live there, bought an old sewing machine and started making clothes. She then launched her label, Krizia - a name by which she was sometimes known - by selling the clothes from her small car, a Fiat 500. She used to drive to shops in Milan with suitcases full of samples and by 1954 had established a ready-to-wear fashion house.

Mandelli also went on to establish a popular line of men’s wear, one of the first female fashion designers to do this successfully.

In 1964, Mandelli unveiled her first black-and-white collection at the Palazzo Pitti in Florence, the designs for which earned her a Critica della Moda award.

The Krizia logo became famous in the 1960s and '70s
The Krizia logo became famous
in the 1960s and '70s
Her fashion house, Krizia, grew rapidly during the 1960s and 1970s. In 1971, Mandelli launched a style of shorts cut very short, which were possibly the first version of hot pants to appear. Her knitwear became instantly recognizable, featuring animals such as elephants, lions, tigers, leopards and giraffes in the designs. During the 1990s, Krizia grew into a multi-million-dollar business and Mandelli’s hairstyle and trademark red lipstick were captured in a portrait by Andy Warhol.

Mandelli stepped down from her leadership of the company in 2014 when it was sold to a Chinese corporation, Shenzhen Marisfrolg, having run Krizia for 60 years.

After Mandelli died at her home in Milan in December 2015 at the age of 90, an obituary in the Guardian newspaper called her the Godmother of Italian fashion.

The Città Alta's elevated position offers views over beautiful rolling countryside
The Città Alta's elevated position offers
views over beautiful rolling countryside
Travel tip:

Mariucccia Mandelli was born in Bergamo’s Città Alta and although she lived in Milan after launching Krizia, she remained proud of her home town and often talked about it in interviews. Bergamo is just under 60km (37 miles) to the northeast of Milan, close to the Italian lakes and alpine skiing resorts and is regarded as Lombardy’s second most important city. Bergamo is an artistic and cultural treasure chest, but also has its own natural beauty, set among hills, mountains, lakes and rolling countryside. The Città Alta is visible in the skyline from both Bergamo airport and the city’s lower town, the Città Bassa. It is an impressive fortified city in its own right, which has retained many of its 12th century buildings and also has some stunning Renaissance and Baroque architecture.  

The Palazzo Pitti became the main Florence residence of the wealthy Medici family
The Palazzo Pitti became the main Florence
residence of the wealthy Medici family
Travel tip:

Palazzo Pitti, in Florence, where Mariuccia Mandelli showed her famous black and white collection in 1964, was originally built for the banker Luca Pitti in 1457 to try to outshine the palaces owned by the Medici family. The Medici eventually bought Palazzo Pitti from Luca Pitti’s bankrupt heirs and made it their main residence in Florence in 1550. Today, visitors can look round the richly decorated rooms and see artistic treasures from the Medici collections. The beautiful Boboli Gardens behind the palace are 16th century formal Italian gardens filled with statues and fountains.

Also on this day:

1788: The death in Rome of Bonnie Prince Charlie, pretender to the British throne

1857: The birth of architect Ernesto Basile

1888: The death of Saint Don Bosco

1933: The birth of Mafia boss Bernardo Provenzano

1942: The birth of actress Daniela Bianchi 


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30 January 2022

30 January

Elsa Martinelli – actress

Tuscan beauty was spotted by Kirk Douglas

Actress and former model Elsa Martinelli was born Elisa Tia on this day in 1935 in Grosseto.  She moved to Rome with her family as a teenager and was discovered by designer Roberto Capucci in 1953 while working as a barmaid in the city.   Her stunning looks helped her to become a successful fashion model and she eventually began playing small parts in films.  As Elsa Martinelli she appeared in Claude Autant-Lara’s Le Rouge et Le Noir in 1954.  Her first important role came a year later when Kirk Douglas is said to have seen her on a magazine cover and told his production company to hire her to appear opposite him in the film, The Indian Fighter.  In 1956 she won the Silver Bear for Best Actress at the Berlin Film Festival for playing the title role in Mario Monicelli’s Donatella.  Martinelli married Count Franco Mancinelli Scotti di San Vito and they had a daughter, Cristiana, in 1958.  Ten years later, after she had split up with her first husband, Martinelli married photographer and furniture designer Willy Rizzo.  In the 1950s and 1960s she attended lavish parties and events in Rome with celebrities.  Read more…

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Carlo Maderno - architect

Facade of St Peter's among most notable works

The architect Carlo Maderno, who has been described as one of the fathers of Italian Baroque architecture, died on this day in 1629 in Rome.  His most important works included the facades of St Peter’s Basilica and the other Roman churches of Santa Susanna and Sant’ Andrea della Valle.  Although most of Maderno's work was in remodelling existing structures, he had a profound influence on the appearance of Rome, where his designs also contributed to the Palazzo Quirinale, the Palazzo Barberini and the papal palace at Castel Gandolfo.  One building designed and completed under Maderno's full control was the church of Santa Maria della Vittoria in the Sallustiano district.   Maderno was born in 1556 in the village of Capolago, on the southern shore of Lake Lugano in what is now the Ticino canton of Switzerland, part of the finger of Italy's northern neighbouring country that extends between the Italian lakes Como and Maggiore.  Marble was quarried in the mountains around Capolago and as well as a talent for sculpture he had experience as a marble cutter when he moved with four of his brothers to Rome in 1588 to work with his uncle, Domenico Fontana.  Read more…

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Bernardo Bellotto – landscape painter

Venetian artist blessed with uncle Canaletto’s talent

The landscape artist Bernardo Bellotto, a nephew and pupil of the masterful view painter Canaletto, was born on this day in 1721 in Venice, the city that brought fame to his illustrious uncle.  Bellotto painted some Venetian scenes but travelled much more extensively than his uncle and eventually became best known for his work in northern Europe, and in particular his views of the cities of Vienna, Warsaw and Dresden.  His work was notable for his use of light and shadow and his meticulous attention to detail.  His paintings of Warsaw became a point of reference for architects involved with the reconstruction of the city after the Second World War, so precise was he in terms of perspective and scale and the intricacies of architectural features.  Born in the parish of Santa Margherita in Venice, Bellotto was related to Giovanni Antonio Canal – Canaletto’s birth name – through his mother, Canaletto’s sister, Fiorenza Canal, who married Lorenzo Antonio Bellotto.  It was natural for Bernardo to study in his uncle’s workshop and to an extent mimic Canaletto’s style. Sometimes, he would sign a painting with Canaletto’s name, which led to confusion later.   Read more…

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Feast of Saint Martina of Rome

The day Pope Urban VIII’s own hymns are sung

The feast day of Saint Martina of Rome, who was martyred by the Romans in 228, is celebrated every year on this day.  Martina is now a patron saint of Rome and the patron saint of nursing mothers.  She was the daughter of an ex-consul, one of the chief magistrates of the Roman Republic, but became an orphan while still young.  Described at the time as a noble and beautiful virgin who was charitable to the poor, she openly testified to her Christian faith.  She was persecuted during the reign of Emperor Alexander Severus and arrested and commanded to return to idolatry, the worship of false gods.  When she refused she was whipped and condemned to be devoured by wild beasts in the amphitheatre. When she was miraculously untouched by the animals she was thrown on to a burning pyre from which she is also said to have escaped unhurt. Finally she was beheaded.  Afterwards it was claimed some of her executioners converted to Christianity and were also later beheaded.  In 1634 the relics of Martina were rediscovered by the artist Pietro da Cortona. They were in the crypt of a church originally built in the sixth century on the site of the ancient temple of Mars.  Read more…

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Hyacintha Mariscotti – Saint

Noblewoman gave up luxurious lifestyle to help the poor

Hyacintha Mariscotti, an Italian nun of the Third Order Regular of Saint Francis, died on this day in 1640 in Viterbo in Lazio.  Pope Pius VII canonised her in 1807 and her feast day is now celebrated on 30 January every year.  Hyacintha, known as Santa Giacinta Marescotti in Italian, was born in 1585 into a noble family living in the castle of Vignanello in the province of Viterbo and was baptised as Clarice.  Her father was Count Marcantonio Marescotti, her mother Countess Ottavia Orsini, whose father built the famous gardens of Bomarzo.  The young Clarice was sent with her sisters to the monastery of Saint Bernardino to be educated by the nuns of the Franciscan Third Order Regular. When their education was complete, her elder sister, Ginevra, chose to enter the community as a nun. Clarice had set her sights on marrying the Marchese Capizucchi, but he chose her younger sister, Ortensia, instead. Following her disappointment, she entered the monastery at Viterbo taking the name Hyacintha (Giacinta). She admitted later that she did this only because she was upset and was not prepared to give up the luxuries she was used to.  Read more…


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29 January 2022

29 January

Felice Beato – war photographer

Venetian-born adventurer captured some of first images of conflict

Felice Beato, who is thought to be one of the world’s first war photographers, died in Florence on this day in 1909.  He was 76 or 77 years old and had passed perhaps his final year in Italy, having spent the majority of his adult life in Asia and the Far East.  Although he was from an Italian family it was thought for many years that he had been born on the island of Corfu and died in Burma. However, in 2009 his death certificate was found in an archive in Florence, listing his place of birth as Venice and his place of death as the Tuscan regional capital.  Beato photographed the Crimean War in 1855, the aftermath of the Indian Rebellion in 1857 and the final days of the Second Opium War in China in 1860, later travelling with United States forces in Korea in 1871 and with the British in the Sudan in 1884-85.  He also spent many years living in Japan and then Burma, where his photography introduced the people and culture of the Far East to many in the West for the first time.  In addition, he developed photography techniques that put him ahead of his time, despite the crude nature of equipment compared with today’s technology.  Read more…

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Bomb destroys Archiginnasio anatomical theatre

Historic facility hit in 1944 air raid

The historic anatomical theatre of the Palazzo Archiginnasio, the original seat of the University of Bologna, was almost completely destroyed in a bombing raid on the city by Allied forces on this day in 1944.  The northern Italian city was a frequent target during the final two years of the conflict because of its importance as a transport hub and communications centre.  The wing of the palazzo housing the anatomical theatre, built between 1636 and 1638, took a direct hit on the night of January 29.  Although it is unlikely that the university - the oldest in the world - was a specific target, bombing was much less precise 75 years ago and collateral damage was common and often widespread.  As well as its importance in the history of medical research, the anatomical theatre was notable as an art treasure, mainly for the 18th century carved wooden statues by Silvestro Gianotti depicting great physicians of history, from the Greek physicians Hippocrates and Galenus onwards, including many who worked at the university, such as Fabrizio Bartoletti, Marcello Malpighi, Mondino de Liuzzi and Gaspare Tagliacozzi.  Read more…

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Fire at La Fenice

Oldest theatre in Venice keeps rising from the ashes

La Fenice, the world famous opera house in Venice, was destroyed by fire on this day in 1996.  It was the third time a theatre had been burnt down in Venice and it took nearly eight years to rebuild.  The theatre had been named La Fenice - the Phoenix - when it was originally built in the 1790s, to reflect that it was helping an opera company rise from the ashes after its previous theatre had burnt down.  Disaster struck again in 1836 when La Fenice itself was destroyed by fire but it was quickly rebuilt and opened its doors again in 1837.  The American writer, Donna Leon, chose La Fenice to be the main location in her first novel featuring Commissario Guido Brunetti, published in 1992.  But in January 1996, approximately four years after Leon’s novel, Death At La Fenice, was published, the theatre burnt down again, making it front page news all over the world.  Arson was immediately suspected and in 2001 a court found two electricians guilty of setting the building on fire.  They were believed to have burnt it down because their company was facing heavy fines because of delays in the repair work they were carrying out.  Read more…

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Luigi Nono - avant-garde composer

Venetian used music as a medium for political protest

The Italian avant-garde composer Luigi Nono, famous for using music as a form of political expression, was born in Venice on this day in 1924.  Nono, whose compositions often defied the description of music in any traditional sense, was something of a contradiction in that he was brought up in comfortable surroundings and had a conventional music background.  His father was a successful engineer, wealthy enough to provide for his family in a large house in Dorsoduro, facing the Giudecca Canal, while his grandfather, a notable painter, inspired in him an interest in the arts.  He had music lessons with the composer Gian Francesco Malipiero at the Venice Conservatory, where he developed a fascination for the Renaissance madrigal tradition, before going to the University of Padua to study law.  Nono appreciated the natural sounds of Venice, in particular how much they were influenced by the water, and as he began to compose works of his own there might have been an expectation that any contemporary influences would have been against a backcloth of ideas rooted in tradition.   Read more…


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28 January 2022

28 January

NEW - Giorgio Lamberti - swimming champion

The first Italian male swimmer to win a World championship gold

Swimming world champion Giorgio Lamberti was born on this day in 1969 in Brescia in Lombardy.  Lamberti won 33 gold medals in the Italian swimming championships, six at the Mediterranean Games and three in the European championships, but the pinnacle of his career came in Perth in 1991, when he became the first Italian male to win a gold at the World championships.  In the 200m freestyle event, which was his speciality, he beat Germany’s Steffen Zesner by just under a second in a time of 1min 47.27 sec.  His success came almost two decades after Novella Calligaris had become the first Italian woman to win a World championship gold when she took the 800m freestyle title.  Lamberti was already a force in 200m freestyle, having two years earlier set a world record for the event of 1:46.69 in winning gold at the European championships in Bonn in 1989.  The record was to stand for 10 years, the longest stretch in the history of the 200m freestyle, until Australia’s Grant Hackett swam 1:46:67 in Brisbane.  Read more…

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Simonetta Vespucci – Renaissance beauty

Noblewoman hailed as embodiment of female perfection

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

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Gianluigi Buffon – goalkeeper

Record-breaking footballer still playing at 44

Former Juventus goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon was born on this day in 1978 in Carrara in Tuscany.  Widely considered by football experts at his peak to be the best goalkeeper in the world, he is known for his outstanding ability to stop shots.  He holds the record for the most clean sheets, both in Serie A and the national side, and he has won numerous awards.  Now aged 44, Buffon retired from international football after Italy failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup finals in Russia, having played a record 176 times for the Azzurri.  Buffon, whose nickname is Gigi, was born into a family of athletes. His mother, Maria, was a discus thrower and his father, Adriano, was a weightlifter. His two sisters both played volleyball for the Italian national team and his uncle was a prominent basketball player.  His grandfather’s cousin, Lorenzo Buffon, was also a top goalkeeper, playing for AC Milan and Italy, representing his country at the 1962 FIFA World Cup.  Gianluigi Buffon began his career with the Parma youth team at the age of 13 as an outfield player. When both of the team’s goalkeepers were injured he was asked to deputise in goal and within two weeks he had been promoted to first team 'keeper.  Read more…

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Giovanni Alfonso Borelli – physiologist and physicist

Neapolitan was the first to explain movement

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

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Paolo Gorini – scientist

Teacher invented technique for preserving corpses

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

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Giorgio Lamberti - swimming champion

The first Italian male swimmer to win a World championship gold

Giorgio Lamberti celebrates his gold medal victory
Giorgio Lamberti celebrates
his gold medal victory
Swimming world champion Giorgio Lamberti was born on this day in 1969 in Brescia in Lombardy.

Lamberti won 33 gold medals in the Italian swimming championships, six at the Mediterranean Games and three in the European championships, but the pinnacle of his career came in Perth in 1991, when he became the first Italian male to win a gold at the World championships.

In the 200m freestyle event, which was his speciality, he beat Germany’s Steffen Zesner by just under a second in a time of 1min 47.27 sec.

His success came almost two decades after Novella Calligaris had become the first Italian woman to win a World championship gold when she took the 800m freestyle title.

Lamberti was already a force in 200m freestyle, having two years earlier set a world record for the event of 1:46.69 in winning gold at the European championships in Bonn in 1989.

The record was to stand for 10 years, the longest stretch in the history of the 200m freestyle, until Australia’s Grant Hackett swam 1:46:67 in Brisbane.

Novella Calligaris was the first Italian to win a world title
Novella Calligaris was the first
Italian to win a world title
Lamberti took up swimming as a six-year-old boy after his parents were advised by a doctor concerned about his slight physique that he might benefit from a sport that would help build some muscle mass.

He showed natural ability in the pool and by his teenage years had developed much more strength. As a 16-year-old he joined the Leonessa Nuoto club in Brescia, where he was coached by Pietro Santi, who entered him for the European youth championships, where he won two medals.

After Santi left, Lamberti was taken under the wing of a new coach, Alberto Castagnetti, who would be his mentor for the rest of his career. At 17, in 1986, he won the first of his Italian championships, reaching the B final of the 200m freestyle of the World championships of the same year. 

In 1988 it became clear that Lamberti was becoming a force to be reckoned with, setting world record times in both the 200m and 400m short course freestyle events, and the following year enjoyed triple gold medal success at the European championships in Bonn.

In addition to his world record performance in the 200m free, he also won gold in the 100m free and the four by 200m freestyle relay.

Lamberti's eldest son, Michele, is also a world champion
Lamberti's eldest son, Michele,
is also a world champion
The disappointment in Lamberti’s career was that he failed to get on the podium at either of the Olympics in which he participated, in 1988 in Seoul, South Korea, or in 1992 in Barcelona, where fifth place in the 4 x 200m freestyle final was his best result.

He retired from competition in 1993 at the age of just 24, having struggled with shoulder problems. In 1998, he married Tanya Vannini, a teammate in the Italy national swimming team. They have three children, all of whom have followed them into the pool.

The eldest, 23-year-old Michele, is already a world champion, having won the 50m short course backstroke title in Abu Dhabi in December, and younger brother Matteo, who is based in Livorno and like his father is a freestyler, is seeking to emulate him. Their sister, Noemi, is still at high school but is also a regular swimmer.

Lamberti insists that he and his wife have not pushed them to swim competitively, despite their own pedigree, introducing them to the water at an early age only to help them stay safe in the sea on holiday.

Now 52 and a former city councillor in Brescia, Lamberti champions swimming in a different way, as a vocal advocate for the sport as a way for Italians of all ages to improve their health and wellbeing.

Despite suffering a serious bout of Covid-19 in March 2021, which put him in hospital and required many months of rehabilitation, he regularly campaigned for public swimming pools to be allowed to open with safety measures in place during Italy’s lockdown, rather than be closed completely, worried that the inability to access sports facilities would reverse the healthy habits adopted by many Italians and have consequences for the nation’s physical health long after the pandemic had passed.

Inducted to the Hall of Fame of international swimming in 2004, the second Italian swimmer to be afforded that honour after Novella Calligaris, Lamberti is a figure held in high esteem throughout the swimming world in Italy. For example, even though he is from Lombardy, swimmers for Team Veneto in regional competition wear a cap badge said to depict Lamberti in celebratory pose at the end of his world title-winning race.

The elegant Piazza della Loggia in Brescia, where the clock tower shows Venetian influence
The elegant Piazza della Loggia in Brescia, where
the clock tower shows Venetian influence

Travel tip:

Brescia, where Giorgio Lamberti was born, tends not to attract many tourists compared with nearby Bergamo or Verona, yet is a city of artistic and architectural importance. Brescia became a Roman colony before the birth of Christ and you can see remains from the forum, theatre and a temple. The town came under the protection of Venice in the 15th century and there is a Venetian influence in the architecture of the Piazza della Loggia, an elegant square, which has a clock tower similar to the one in Saint Mark’s square. Next to the 17th century Duomo is an older cathedral, the unusually shaped Duomo Vecchio, also known as la Rotonda.  The Santa Giulia Museo della Città, a museum that covers more than 3,000 years of Brescia’s history, is housed within the Benedictine Nunnery of San Salvatore and Santa Giulia in Via Musei.


A canal in Livorno's historic Venetian quarter, one of the attractions of the Tuscan city
A canal in Livorno's historic Venetian quarter,
one of the attractions of the Tuscan city
Travel tip:

The port of Livorno, where Lamberti’s son, Matteo, trains, is the second largest city in Tuscany after Florence, with a population of almost 160,000. Although it is an important commercial port with much related industry, it has many attractions, including an elegant sea front – the Terrazza Mascagni - and the historic Venetian quarter, which has its own network of  canals, and a tradition of serving excellent seafood.  The Terrazza Mascagni is named after the composer Pietro Mascagni, famous for the opera Cavalleria rusticana, who was born in Livorno.


Also on this day:

1453: The birth of Simonetta Vespucci, the artist’s model thought to have been the inspiration for the Botticelli masterpiece, The Birth of Venus

1608: The birth of physiologist Giovanni Alfonso Borelli

1813: The birth of scientist Paolo Gorini

1978: The birth of record-breaking goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon


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27 January 2022

27 January

Trajan - Roman emperor


Military expansionist with progressive social policies

Marcus Ulpius Traianus succeeded to the role of Roman Emperor on this day in 98 AD.  The 13th ruler of the empire and known as Trajan, he presided over the greatest military expansion in Roman history, the consequence of which was that in terms of physical territory the empire was at its largest during his period in office.  Despite his taste for military campaigns - he conquered Dacia (the area now called Romania), Armenia, Mesopotamia, and the Sinai Peninsula - Trajan was seen as the second of the so-called Good Emperors to rule during the years known as Pax Romama, a long period of relative peace and stability.  He was credited with maintaining peace by working with rather than against the Senate and the ruling classes, introducing policies aimed at improving the welfare of citizens, and engaging in massive building projects that were to the benefit of ordinary Romans.  Marcus Ulpius Traianus was born in the Roman province of Baetica, which approximates to the area now known as Andalusia in southern Spain. His father was a provincial governor who then turned soldier, commanding a legion in the Roman war against Jews. Read more…

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Italy elects its first parliament

1861 vote preceded proclamation of new Kingdom

Italians went to the polls for the first time as a nation state on this day in 1861 to elect a government in anticipation of the peninsula becoming a unified country.  The vote was a major milestone in the Risorgimento - the movement to bring together the different states of the region as one country - enabling there to be a parliament in place the following month and for deputies to declare Victor Emmanuel II of Sardinia as the first King of Italy in March.  The first parliament convened in Turin as Rome remained under the control of the Papal States until it was captured by the Italian army in 1870.  The body comprised 443 deputies representing 59 provinces. Some provinces, such as Benevento, near Naples, elected just one deputy, whereas the major cities elected many more. Turin, for example, chose 19 deputies, Milan and Naples 18 each.  The eligibility rules were so specific that of a population of around 22 million, only 418,696 people were entitled to vote.  In line with the procedures set down in the electoral laws of the Kingdom of Sardinia, only men could vote - women were not fully enfranchised in Italy until 1945 - and only men aged 25 and above who were literate and paid a certain amount of taxes.  Read more…

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Giovanni Arpino - writer and novelist 

Stories inspired classic Italian films

The writer Giovanni Arpino, whose novels lay behind the Italian movie classics Divorce, Italian Style and Profumo di donna – later remade in the United States as Scent of a Woman – was born on this day in 1927 in the Croatian city of Pula, then part of Italy.  His parents did not originate from Pula, which is near the tip of the Istrian peninsula about 120km (75 miles) south of Trieste. His father, Tomaso, was a Neapolitan, while his mother, Maddalena, hailed from Piedmont, but his father’s career in the Italian Army meant the family were rarely settled for long in one place.  In fact, they remained in Pula only a couple of months. As Giovanni was growing up, they lived in Novi Ligure, near Alessandria, in Saluzzo, south of Turin, and in Piacenza in Emilia-Romagna. His father imposed a strict regime on Giovanni and his two brothers, who were required to spend a lot of their time studying.  In fact, Giovanni was separated from his family for a while during the Second World War, when his mother returned to the Piedmontese town of Bra, not far from Saluzzo in the province of Cuneo, to deal with the estate of her father, who passed away in 1940.  Read more…

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Giuseppe Verdi – composer

How Italy mourned the loss of a national symbol

Opera composer Giuseppe Verdi died on this day at the age of 87 in his suite at the Grand Hotel et de Milan in 1901.  The prolific composer who had dominated the world of opera for a large part of the 19th century was initially buried privately at Milan’s Cimitero Monumentale.  But a month later Verdi’s body was moved to its final resting place in the crypt of a rest home for retired musicians that he had helped establish in Milan.  An estimated crowd of 300,000 people are reported to have turned out to bid Verdi farewell and ‘Va, pensiero’, a chorus from his 1842 opera Nabucco, was performed by a choir conducted by Arturo Toscanini.  Verdi meant a great deal to the Italian people because his composition, ‘Va, pensiero’ had been the unofficial anthem for supporters of the Risorgimento movement, which had sought the unification of Italy.  In his early operas Verdi had demonstrated sympathy with the cause of the Risorgimento and people had come to associate him with the movement’s ideals.  But as he became older and more prosperous he had chosen to withdraw from public life and had established himself on a country estate just outside Busseto, the town of his birth, near Parma in Emilia-Romagna.  Read more…

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Frank Nitti - mobster

Barber who became Al Capone’s henchman

The mobster who achieved notoriety as Frank Nitti was born Francesco Raffaele Nitto it is thought on this day in 1881, although some accounts put the year of his birth as 1886.  Nitti, who was raised in Brooklyn, New York, where he and Al Capone - his cousin - grew up, would eventually become Capone’s most trusted henchman in the Chicago mob he controlled.  After Capone was jailed for 11 years for tax evasion, Nitti was ostensibly in charge of operations.  Unlike many of the American Mafia bosses in the early part of the 20th century, Nitti was not a Sicilian.  His roots were in the heart of Camorra territory in the shadow of Vesuvius, his birthplace the town of Angri, 8km (5 miles) from nearby Pompei.  Angri was also the hometown of Capone’s parents.  Francesco’s father died while he was still a small child. His mother, Rosina, married again within a year to Francesco Dolengo, who emigrated to the United States in 1890.  Nitti, his mother and his sister, Giovannina, left Italy to join him in 1893, settling in Navy Street, Brooklyn.  He was enrolled in a local school but left at around age 13, taking a job as a pinsetter in a bowling alley before becoming a barber.  Read more…

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Roberto Paci Dalò – composer and film maker

Music maker coined the definition ‘media dramaturgy’

The award-winning contemporary musician and composer Roberto Paci Dalò was born on this day in 1962 in Rimini.  Paci Dalò is the co-founder and director of the performing arts ensemble Giardini Pensili and has composed music for theatre, radio, television and film.  After completing musical, visual and architectural studies in Fiesole, Faenza and Ravenna, Paci Dalò focused on sound and design and their use in film, theatre and collaborative projects.  He has been a pioneer in the use of digital technologies and telecommunication systems in art and has been particularly interested in performing arts as a meeting point of languages.  Since 1985 he has written, composed and directed more than 30 groundbreaking music-theatre works which have been presented worldwide.  Paci Dalò has composed music for acoustical ensembles, electronics and voices and has produced radio works for the main European broadcasting corporations.  His films and videos have been regularly presented in international festivals.  Paci Dalò taught Media Dramaturgy at the University of Siena.  Read more…


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26 January 2022

26 January

Valentino Mazzola – footballer


Tragic star may have been Italy’s greatest player

The footballer Valentino Mazzola, captain of the mighty Torino team of the 1940s, was born on this day in 1919 in Cassano d’Adda, a town in Lombardy about 30km (19 miles) northeast of Milan.  Mazzola, a multi-talented player who was primarily an attacking midfielder but who was comfortable in any position on the field, led the team known as Il Grande Torino to five Serie A titles in seven seasons between 1942 and 1949. He scored 109 goals in 231 Serie A appearances for Venezia and Torino and had become the fulcrum of the Italy national team, coached by the legendary double World Cup-winner Vittorio Pozzo.  In just over a decade at the top level of the Italian game he achieved considerable success and some who saw him play believe he was the country’s greatest footballer of all time.  His life was cut short, however, when he and most of the Grande Torino team – and at the same time the Italian national team – were killed when a plane carrying them home from a friendly in Portugal crashed in thick fog on its approach to Turin airport on May 4, 1949.  The Superga Disaster – so-called because the aircraft collided with the rear wall of the Basilica of Superga, which stands on a hill overlooking the city – claimed the lives of 18 players.  Read more…

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Giovanni Lanfranco - painter

Artist from Parma whose technique set new standards

The painter Giovanni Lanfranco, whom some critics regard as the equal of Pietro da Cortona and Guercino (Giovanni Francesco Barbieri) among the leading masters of High Baroque painting in Rome, was born on this day in 1582 in Parma.  A master of techniques for creating illusion, such as trompe l'oeil and foreshortening, he had a major influence on 17th century painting in Naples also, inspiring the likes of Mattia Preti, Luca Giordano and Francesco Solimena.  Lanfranco is best known for his Assumption of the Virgin (1625-7) in the duomo of Sant’Andrea della Valle in Rome, the altar fresco of the Navicella (1627-28) in St Peter’s Basilica, the cupola of the Gesù Nuovo church (1634-36) in Naples and the fresco of the Cappella del Tesoro, in Naples Cathedral (1643).  His St Mary Magdalen Transported to Heaven (c.1605), currently housed in the Capodimonte Museum in Naples, is another outstanding example of his work, as is The Ecstasy of the Blessed Margaret of Cortona (1622), in the Pitti Palace in Florence.  Lanfranco’s dome frescoes were influenced by the work of Antonio da Correggio, the master of chiaroscuro.  Read more…

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Gabriele Allegra – friar and scholar

Sicilian who learnt Chinese to carry out his life’s work

The Blessed Gabriele Allegra, a Franciscan friar who translated the entire Catholic Bible into Chinese, is remembered on this day every year.  He was born Giovanni Stefano Allegra in San Giovanni la Punta in the province of Catania in Sicily in 1907 and he entered the Franciscan seminary in Acireale in 1918.  Gabriele Allegra was inspired to carry out his life’s work after attending a celebration for another Franciscan who had attempted a translation of the Bible into Chinese in the 14th century. For the next 40 years of his life the friar devoted himself to his own translation.  Gabriele Allegra was ordained a priest in 1930 and set sail for China. On his arrival he started to learn Chinese.  With the help of his Chinese teacher he prepared a first draft of his translation of the Bible in 1947 but it was not until 1968 that his one volume Chinese Bible was published for the first time.  Gabriele Allegra died on 26 January 1976 in Hong Kong. Although he was primarily a scholar, he had also helped the poor, the sick and lepers along the way.  He was declared Venerable in 1994.  Read more…

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Hebrew Bible in print for first time

Bologna printer makes history

The first printed edition of the Hebrew Bible was completed in Bologna on this day in 1482.  Specifically, the edition was the Pentateuch, or Torah, which consists of the first five books of the Christian and Jewish Bibles - Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.  Torah, in Hebrew, means 'instruction'.  The book was given that name because the stories within it, which essentially form the opening narrative of the history of the Jewish people, and the interpretations offered of them, were intended to set out the moral and religious obligations fundamental to the Jewish way of life.  The book was the work of the Italian-Jewish printer Abraham ben Hayyim dei Tintori, from Pesaro.  The text consisted of large, clear square letters, accompanied by a translation in the Jewish biblical language Aramaic and a commentary by Rashi, who had been the foremost biblical commentator of the Middle Ages.  It was published and financed by Joseph ben Abraham, a member of the Caravita banking family in Bologna. The editor was the Hebrew scholar Yosef Hayyim ben Aaron, of Strasbourg.  The printing press had been invented in Germany in 1439.  Read more…


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25 January 2022

25 January


NEW
- Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza - explorer

Italian whose name is commemorated in an African capital

The explorer Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza, from whom Brazzaville, capital of the Republic of Congo took its name, was born on this day in 1852 in Castel Gandolfo, a town 25km (16 miles) southeast of Rome.  His birth name was Pietro Paolo Savorgnan di Brazzà but he became a French citizen in 1874 after obtaining sponsorship from the French government to help fund his African expeditions, and adopted a French version of his name.  Although it was because of de Brazza that much of Congo became a French colony, the transference of sovereignty took place without bloodshed and de Brazza was well liked for his friendly nature and commitment to peace. Its capital, founded in 1880, was named Brazzaville in his honour and the name was retained even after the Republic of Congo became fully independent in 1960.  De Brazza was born into a noble family, the seventh of 13 children. His father, Ascanio Savorgnan di Brazzà, was a sculptor and painter who had studied under Antonio Canova; his mother, Giacinta Simonetti, hailed from a Roman family with Venetian roots. The family also owned houses in what is now Friuli Venezia Giulia at Brazzacco and Soleschiano, near Manzano, in the province of Udine.  Read more…

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Antonio Scotti - baritone

Neapolitan singer who played 35 seasons at the Met

The operatic baritone Antonio Scotti, who performed at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York for a remarkable 35 consecutive seasons, was born on this day in 1866 in Naples.  Scotti's career coincided with those of many fine baritones and experts did not consider his voice to be among the richest. Yet what he lacked in timbre, he compensated for in musicality, acting ability and an instinctive grasp of dramatic timing.  Later in his career, he excelled in roles that emerged from the verismo movement in opera in the late 19th century, of which the composer Giacomo Puccini was a leading proponent, drawing on themes from real life and creating characters more identifiable with real people.  For a while, Scotti's portrayal of the chief of police Baron Scarpia in Puccini's Tosca, for example, was the yardstick against which all performances were measured, at least until Tito Gobbi's emergence in the 1930s.  Indeed, in 1924 the Met chose a gala presentation of Tosca as a fitting way for Scotti to mark the 25th anniversary of his debut there.  Scotti's parents in Naples were keen for him to enter the priesthood but he chose to pursue his ambitions in music. Read more…

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Noemi - singer-songwriter

Debut album topped Italian charts

The singer-songwriter Noemi - real name Veronica Scopelliti - was born in Rome on this day in 1982.  Noemi’s first album, Sulla Mia Pelle, released in 2009, sold more than 140,000 copies, topping the Italian album charts.  It followed her appearance in the second series of the Italian version of The X-Factor, the television talent show that was launched in the United Kingdom in 2004.  Although she did not win the competition, Noemi proved to be the most popular singer, finishing fifth overall.  Soon afterwards, she landed her first recording contract, with Sony Music, and released a single, Briciole, which reached number two in the Italian singles chart.  Heavily influenced by soul music, Noemi established immediately the style that has seen her nicknamed the ‘lioness of Italian pop’.  The elder of two daughters of Armando and Stefania Scopelliti, Noemi - Veronica as she was then - had early experience of appearing in the spotlight - at 19 months she was chosen to model nappies in a TV commercial for Pampers.  She inherited her love for music from her father, who played guitar in a group, and began learning the piano at seven and the guitar at 11.  Read more…

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Friuli earthquake

First of two disasters to rock Italy in the same year

A devastating earthquake hit the area now known as Friuli Venezia Giulia on this day in 1348.  With a seismic intensity believed to be the equivalent of 6.9 on the Richter scale, the effects of the quake were felt right across Europe.  According to contemporary sources, houses and churches collapsed and there were numerous casualties. It was recorded that even as far away as Rome, buildings had been damaged.  The epicentre is believed to have been north of Udine to the east of the small towns of Tolmezzo, Venzone and Gemona.  The earthquake happened on 25 January early in the afternoon and its effects were immediately felt in Udine, where the castle and cathedral were both damaged.  In Austria the town of Villach was later hit by a landslide caused by the earthquake. Buildings in Carniola, part of present day Slovenia, and in Vicenza, Verona and Venice were also damaged.  It was recorded that the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome was damaged by the earthquake and an ancient tower nearby developed a permanent tilt. Aftershocks were felt in different parts of Italy for several weeks.  Read more…

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Paolo Mascagni – physician

Scientist was first to map the human lymphatic system

The physician Paolo Mascagni, whose scientific research enabled him to create the first map of the complete human lymphatic system, was born on this day in 1755 in Pomarance, a small town in Tuscany about 40km (25 miles) inland from the western coastline.  Mascagni described his findings in a book with detailed illustrations of every part of the lymphatic system he had identified, which was to prove invaluable to physicians wanting to learn more about a part of the human body vital to the regulation of good health. He also commissioned the sculptor Clemente Susini to create a full-scale model in wax of the lymphatic system, which can still be seen at the Museum of Human Anatomy at the University of Bologna.  Later he created another significant tome, his Anatomia Universa, which comprises 44 enormous copperplate illustrations that set out to bring together in one book the full extent of human knowledge about the anatomy of the human body.  The ‘book’ in the event was so large it was never bound, each plate measuring more than 3ft 6ins (1.07m) by 2ft 6ins (0.76m), designed in such a way that those from the same plane of dissection can be placed together and show the whole body in life size.  Read more…


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