6 January 2022

6 January

NEW - Silvana Pampanini - actress and singer

Postwar pin-up who preceded Loren and Lollobrigida

The actress and singer Silvana Pampanini, who starred in more than 50 films and was Italian cinema’s biggest box office draw in the 1950s, died on this day in 2016 in Rome.  She was 90 years old and had been hospitalized for some weeks following abdominal surgery. Her funeral took place at the Basilica di Santa Croce in Gerusalemme, in the Esquilino district to the southeast of the city centre.  Born in Rome into a family of Venetian heritage in 1925, she had ambitions to become an opera singer, inspired by the career of her aunt, Rosetta Pampanini, a noted soprano who sang at many of the world’s great opera houses.  She enrolled at the renowned Conservatorio Santa Cecilia in Rome, where her male teacher was so struck by her physical beauty that without her knowledge he entered her for the 1946 Miss Italy contest, the first to be staged after the end of World War Two.  Though taken aback at first, Pampanini was a confident young woman and went along with it. Indeed, the audience were so appreciative of her curvy figure, green eyes and long legs that when the jury awarded the title to Rossana Martini, another future actress, there was a near riot and police had to be called to restore order. Read more…


Baldassare Verazzi - painter

Piedmontese artist famous for image of uprising in Milan

The painter Baldassare Verazzi, whose most famous work depicts a scene from the anti-Austrian uprising known as The Five Days of Milan, was born on this day in 1819 in Caprezzo, a tiny village in Piedmont, 120km (75 miles) from Turin in the hills above Lake Maggiore.  Something of a revolutionary in that he was an active supporter of the Risorgimento, it is supposed that he was in Milan in 1848 when citizens rose up against the ruling forces of the Austrian Empire, which controlled much of northern Italy.  The Cinque Giornate di Milano, in March of that year, comprised five days of street fighting that eventually resulted in the Austrian garrison being expelled from the city, marking the start of the First Italian War of Independence.  Verazzi’s painting, which is today on display at the Museum of the Risorgimento in the Castello Sforza in Milan, is entitled Episodio delle Cinque Giornate (Combattimento a Palazzo Litta), and shows three figures sheltering behind a barricade while another aims a rifle over the barricade, presumably in the direction of Austrian troops.  Born into a family of humble origins, Verazzi studied at the Brera Academy in Milan.  Read more…


Adriano Celentano – singer and actor

Italy’s biggest-selling recording artist of all time

The pop singer and movie actor Adriano Celentano, who is estimated to have sold in the region of 200 million records in a career spanning 60 years, was born on this day in 1938 in Milan.  One of the most important and influential figures in Italian pop culture, Celentano enjoys such enduring popularity that when he gave his first live performance for 18 years at the Arena di Verona in 2012, screened on the Canale 5 television channel, it attracted an audience of more than nine million viewers.  He has recorded more than 40 albums, among which, Tutti le migliori (All The Best) reviving his collaboration with another veteran Italian star, Mina, was released in 2017 and included new material.  Celentano’s biggest individual hits include Stai lontana di me (Stay away from me, 1962), Si è spento il sole (The sun has gone out, 1962), Pregherò (I will pray, 1962), Il ragazzo della via Gluck (The boy from Gluck Street, 1966), La coppia più bello del mondo (The most beautiful couple in the world, 1967), Azzurro (Blue, 1968), Sotto le lenzuola (Under the sheets, 1971), Ti avrò (I will have you, 1978) and Susanna (1984).  Read more…


Giuseppe Sammartini – oboe player and composer

Musician could make oboe sound like the human voice

Giuseppe Sammartini, a brilliant oboist and composer during the late baroque and early classical era, was born on this day in 1695 in Milan.  The musician - named Giuseppe Francesco Gaspare Melchiorre Baldassare Sammartini in full - spent many years living and working in London, where he was hailed as ‘the greatest oboist the world had ever known.’ He also worked as a music master for Frederick, Prince of Wales and his wife Augusta, when Frederick was heir to the British throne. Frederick was the eldest son of King George II, but he died before his father. Frederick’s own eldest son later became King George III.  Giuseppe’s younger brother, Giovanni Battista Sammartini, also became a well-known composer and oboe player. The brothers had both been given oboe lessons by their French father, Alexis Saint-Martin.  Giuseppe Sammartini, who could also play the flute and recorder, was the oboe player at a church in Milan in about 1717.  He then became oboist at the Teatro Regio Ducale, an opera house in Milan, in 1720.  Sammartini went to live and work in Brussels in 1729 but then moved to London, where he was a great success.  Read more…


First Montessori school opens in Rome

Educationalist Maria Montessori launches Casa dei Bambini

The first of what would become recognised across the world as Montessori schools opened its doors in Rome on this day in 1907.  The Casa dei Bambini, in the working class neighbourhood of San Lorenzo, was launched by the physician and educationalist Maria Montessori.  Montessori - the first woman in Italy to qualify as a physician - had enjoyed success with her teaching methods while working with children as a volunteer at Rome University's psychiatric clinic.  She was convinced that the techniques she had used to help children with learning difficulties and more serious mental health issues could be adapted for the benefit of all children.  The Casa dei Bambini came into being after Montessori had been invited to work on a housing project in San Lorenzo, where her responsibility was to oversee the care and education of the project's children while their parents were at work.  Situated in Via dei Marsi, it catered for between 50 and 60 children aged between two and seven.  The methods Montessori employed, which included many practical activities as well as more conventional lessons.  Read more…


Befana - Italy’s 6 January tradition

A good witch who traditionally sweeps away problems

Children in Italy will be waking up on this day hoping to find that Befana has left them some presents while they have been sleeping.  Although Christmas is almost over, the eve of 6 January is when a kind witch is supposed to visit the good children in Italy and leave them presents.  Traditionally, children who have been naughty are supposed to receive only a lump of coal and those who have been stupid are supposed to receive only a carrot.  But in reality, many children throughout Italy will expect good presents from Befana today.  Befana is also sometimes referred to as La Vecchia (the old woman) and La Strega (the witch). But she is supposed to be a similar character to Saint Nicholas or Santa Claus.  It is believed her name derives from La Festa dell’Epifania (the feast of the Epiphany).  Befana is usually portrayed in illustrations as an old lady riding a broomstick, wearing a black shawl and covered in soot because she enters the children’s homes through the chimney.  Another tradition is that Befana sweeps the floor of the house before she leaves, symbolising the sweeping away of the problems of the previous year.  Read more…


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