27 June 2022

27 June

Giorgio Vasari - the first art historian

Artist and architect who chronicled lives of Old Masters

Giorgio Vasari, whose 16th century book on the lives of Renaissance artists led to him being described as the world's first art historian, died on this day in 1574 in Florence.  Born in Arezzo in 1511, Vasari was a brilliant artist and architect who worked for the Medici family in Florence and Rome and amassed a considerable fortune in his career.  But he is remembered as much for Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects, from Cimabue to Our Times, a collection of biographies of all the great artists of his lifetime.  The six-part work is remembered as the first important book on art history.  Had it not been written, much less would be known of the lives of Cimabue, Giotto, Donatello, Botticelli, Da Vinci, Giorgione, Raphael, Boccaccio and Michelangelo among many others from the generation known as the Old Masters.  Vasari, who is believed to have been the first to describe the period of his lifetime as the Renaissance, also went into much detail in discussing the techniques employed by the great artists.  It is partly for that reason that the book is regarded by contemporary art historians as "the most influential single text for the history of Renaissance art".  Read more…

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Gianluigi Aponte - shipping magnate

Billionaire started with one cargo vessel

Gianluigi Aponte, the billionaire founder of the Mediterranean Shipping Company, which owns the second largest container fleet in the world and a string of luxury cruise liners, was born on this day in 1940 in Sant’Agnello, the seaside resort that neighbours Sorrento in Campania.  He and his wife, Rafaela, a partner in the business, have an estimated net worth of $11.1 billion, according to Forbes magazine.  The Mediterranean Shipping Company has more than 510 container ships, making it the second largest such business in the world. Only the Danish company Maersk is bigger.  MSC Cruises, meanwhile, has grown into the fourth largest cruise company in the world and the largest in entirely private ownership. With offices in 45 countries, it employs 23,500 people, with a fleet of 17 luxury cruise liners.  Overall, the Mediterranean Shipping Company, which Aponte began in 1970 with one cargo vessel, has more than 60,000 staff in 150 countries.  Aponte has been able to trace his seafaring ancestry back to the 17th century. His family’s roots are on the Sorrentine Peninsula and there are records of his family’s boats ferrying goods between Naples and Castellammare di Stabia, just along the coast.  Read more…

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The Ustica Massacre

Mystery plane crash blamed on missile strike

An Italian commercial flight crashed into the Tyrrhenian Sea between Ponza and Ustica, killing everyone on board on this day in 1980.  The aircraft, a McDonnell Douglas DC9-15 in the service of Itavia Airlines was en route from Bologna to Palermo, flight number IH870. All 77 passengers and the four members of the crew were killed, making this the deadliest aviation incident involving a DC9-15 or 10-15 series.  The disaster became known in the Italian media as the Ustica massacre - Strage di Ustica - because Ustica, off the coast of Sicily, was a small island near the site of the crash.  Many investigations, legal actions and accusations resulted from the tragedy, which continues to be a source of speculation in Italy.  The fragments of the aircraft that were recovered from the sea off Ustica were re-assembled at Pratica di Mare Air Force Base near Rome. In 1989, the Parliamentary Commission on Terrorism issued a statement asserting that “following a military interception action, the DC9 was shot down, the lives of 81 innocent citizens were destroyed by an action properly described as an act of war, real war undeclared, a covert international police action against our country, which violated its borders and rights.”  Read more…

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Giorgio Almirante – politician

Leader who tried to make Fascism more mainstream

Giorgio Almirante, the founder and leader of the neo-fascist Italian Social Movement, was born on this day in 1914 at Salsomaggiore Terme in Emilia-Romagna.  He led his political party for long periods from 1946 until he handed over to his protégé, Gianfranco Fini, in 1987.  Almirante graduated in Literature and trained as a schoolteacher but went to work for the Fascist journal Il Tevere in Rome.  In 1944, he was appointed Chief of Cabinet of the Minister of Culture to the Italian Social Republic, the short-lived German puppet state of which Benito Mussolini was the head after he was thrown out of office as Italy’s prime minister.  After the Fascists were defeated, Almirante was indicted on charges that he had ordered the shooting of partisans, but these were lifted as part of a general amnesty.  He set up his own fascist group in 1946, which was soon absorbed into the Italian Social Movement (MSI).  He was chosen as the party leader to begin with but was forced to give way to August de Marsanich as leader in 1950.   Almirante regained the leadership in 1969 and sought to make his party more moderate by dropping the black shirt and the Roman salute.  Read more…


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26 June 2022

26 June

Alberto Rabagliati - singer and actor

Performer found fame through radio

The singer and movie actor Alberto Rabagliati, who became one of the stars of Italian radio in the 1930s and 40s, was born on this day in 1906 in Milan.  His movie career reached a peak in the post-War years, when he had roles in the Humphrey Bogart-Ava Gardner hit Barefoot Contessa and in Montecarlo, starring Marlene Dietrich.  The son of parents who had moved to Milan from the village of Casorzo, near Asti, in Piedmont, Rabagliati’s career in the entertainment business began when he entered a competition in 1927 to find a Rudolph Valentino lookalike.  To his astonishment he won.  The prize was to be taken to Hollywood to audition, so his life changed overnight.  Later he recalled his own wide-eyed incredulity as he sailed across the Atlantic, bound for a new life.  "For someone like me, who had never been beyond Lake Como or Monza Cathedral, finding myself on board a luxury steamer with three cases full of clothes, a few rolls of dollars, grand-duchesses and countesses flirting with me was something extraordinary".  He lived in America for the next four years but never achieved more than modest success and decided to return to Italy.  Read more…

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San Marino is bombed by Britain

British believed the Germans were using rail facilities

The British Royal Air Force bombed the tiny Republic of San Marino on this day in 1944 as a result of receiving incorrect information.  It was recorded at the time that 63 people were killed as a result of the bombing, which was aimed at rail facilities. The British mistakenly believed that the Germans were using the San Marino rail network to transport weapons.  San Marino had been ruled by Fascists since the 1920s but had managed to remain neutral during the war.  After the bombing, San Marino’s government declared that no military installations or equipment were located on its territory and no belligerent forces had been allowed to enter.  However, by September of the same year San Marino was briefly occupied by German forces, but they were defeated by the Allied forces in the Battle of San Marino.  After the war, San Marino was ruled by the world’s first democratically-elected Communist government, which held office between 1945 and 1957.  The Republic of San Marino is not a member of the European Union but uses the euro as its currency.  San Marino, which is on the border between Emilia-Romagna and Marche, remains an independent state within Italy.  Read more…

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Paolo Maldini - football great

Milan defender's record-breaking career spanned 25 years

Paolo Maldini, the AC Milan defender who won the European Cup and Champions League more times than any other player in the modern era, was born on this day in 1968 in Milan.  A Milan player for the whole of his 25-year professional career - plus six years as a youth player before that - Maldini won Europe's biggest club prize five times. Only Francisco Gento, a member of the all-conquering Real Madrid side of the 1950s and 60s, has more winner's medals.  Maldini also won seven Serie A championships plus one Coppa Italia and five Supercoppa Italiana titles in domestic competition, as well as five European Super Cups, two Intercontinental Cups and a World Club Cup.  Only in international football did trophies elude him, although he played on the losing side in the finals of both the World Cup, in 1994, and the European Championships, in 2000.  His European Cup/Champions League triumphs came under the management of Arrigo Sacchi (1989 and 1990), Fabio Capello (1994) and Carlo Ancelotti (2003 and 2007).  The 1994 victory by 4-0 against Barcelona was described as one of the greatest team performances of all time.   Read more…


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25 June 2022

25 June

Aldo Serena - footballer

Azzurri striker left field in tears after penalty miss

Aldo Serena, one of the two Italian players who most felt the agony of defeat after the Azzurri suffered the pain of losing at the semi-final stage when the football World Cup last took place on home soil, was born on this day in 1960 in Montebelluna, a town in the Veneto.  The match that ended the host nation's participation in the Italia '90 tournament took place in Naples against an Argentina side that included the local hero, Diego Maradona. It was decided on penalties after finishing 1-1 over 120 minutes. Italy converted their opening three penalties, as did Argentina.  Then Roberto Donadoni’s shot was saved by the Argentina goalkeeper, Sergio Goycochea.  Up stepped Maradona, who scored, to the delight of many in the crowd who had divided loyalties.  Suddenly, everything was down to Aldo Serena, who could not afford to miss if Italy were to stay alive in a tournament in which they had played football at times that deserved to win.  Serena, the Internazionale striker, had been a fringe player for Italy throughout the tournament, picked only as a substitute, although he had scored in that capacity against Uruguay in the round of 16 – on his 30th birthday.  Read more…

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Marta Abba - actress

Aspiring star who became Pirandello’s muse

Marta Abba, who as a young actress became the stimulus for the creativity of the great playwright Luigi Pirandello, was born on this day in 1900 in Milan.  The two met in 1925 when Pirandello, whose most famous works included the plays Six Characters in Search of an Author (1921) and Henry IV (1922), asked her to see him, having read an enthusiastic appreciation of her acting talents by Marco Praga, a prominent theatre critic of the day.  Abba had made her stage debut in Milan in 1922 in Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull and was noted for the exuberance and passion of her performances. Pirandello was impressed with her and immediately hired her as first actress for his Teatro d’Arte company in Rome.  Over the next nine years until Pirandello’s death in 1936, Abba would become not only his inspiration but his confidante. When Abba was not working with him but was on stage in some other city or country, they would correspond in writing, exchanging hundreds of letters.  There was a considerable age gap between them - Abba was 24 and Pirandello 58 when they met - and their relationship was complex and not always harmonious.   Read more…

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Francesco Domenico Araja - composer

Brilliant musician introduced Italian opera to Russia

Francesco Araja was the first in a long line of Italian composers to work for the Imperial Court in St Petersburg in Russia. Born on this day in 1709 in Naples, then in the Kingdom of Sicily, Araja received a musical education in his native city and was composing operas by the age of 20.  He made history as the composer of the first Italian opera to be performed in Russia and as the composer of the first opera with a Russian text.  It is thought that Araja was probably taught music by his father Angelo Araja and his grandfather Pietro Aniello Araja, who were both musicians. He was appointed maestro di cappella at the church of Santa Maria La Nova in Naples at the age of just 14.  Araja’s early operas were staged in Naples, Florence, Rome, Milan and Venice. His opera Berenice was performed in Florence in 1730, with the famous castrati, Farinelli and Caffarelli, singing the main roles in a new production in Venice in 1734.   He was invited to St Petersburg in 1735 with a large Italian opera company and became the maestro di cappella to Empress Anna Ioannovna, and later to Empress Elizaveta Petrovna.  Read more…

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Elena Cornaro Piscopia – philosopher

First woman to graduate from a university

Elena Cornaro Piscopia became the first woman to receive an academic degree from a university on this day in 1678, it is believed, in Padua.  She was awarded her degree in philosophy at a special ceremony in the Duomo in Padua in the presence of dignitaries from the University of Padua and guests from other Italian universities.  Piscopia was born in a palazzo in Venice in 1646. Her father had an important post at St Mark’s and he was entitled to accommodation in St Mark’s Square.  On the advice of a priest who was a family friend, she was taught Latin and Greek when she was a young child. She was proficient in both languages by the time she was seven. She then went on to master other languages as well as mathematics, philosophy and theology.  Her tutor wanted her to study for a degree in theology at Padua University but the Bishop of Padua refused to allow it because she was female, although he allowed her to study philosophy instead.  On the day of her degree ceremony Piscopia demonstrated her brilliance in front of the specially invited audience by explaining difficult passages from Aristotle in faultless Latin.  Read more…

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24 June 2022

24 June

Vittorio Storaro - cinematographer

Triple Oscar winner among best in movie history

Cinematographer Vittorio Storaro, whose work has won three Academy Awards, was born on this day in 1940 in Rome.  Storaro won Oscars for Best Cinematography for Francis Ford Coppola’s 1979 Vietnam War epic Apocalypse Now, for the Warren Beatty-directed historical drama Reds in 1981, and for The Last Emperor, Bernardo Bertolucci’s story of imperial China, in 1987.  Described as someone for whom cinematography was “not just art and technique but a philosophy as well”, Storaro worked extensively with Bertolucci, for whom he shot the controversial Last Tango in Paris and the extraordinary five-hour epic drama 1900.  He filmed many stories for his cousin, Luigi Bazzoni, collaborated with Coppola on three other movies and recently has worked with Woody Allen. Storaro inherited his love of the cinema from his father, who was a projectionist at the Lux Film Studio, which was based in Rome from 1940 having been established in Turin by the anti-Fascist businessman Riccardo Gualino in 1934.  He began studying photography at the age of 11.  Read more…

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Piero Barone – singer

Young tenor found fame on TV talent show

Piero Barone, one of the three singers who make up the Italian opera and pop group, Il Volo, was born on this day in 1993 in Naro, a town in the province of Agrigento in Sicily.  Il Volo hit the headlines after winning the Sanremo Music Festival in 2015. They came third when they represented Italy in the Eurovision Song Contest with their hit Grande Amore later that year in Austria and have since acquired growing popularity worldwide.  In 2016, the group, together with tenor Placido Domingo, released Notte Magica – A Tribute to the Three Tenors, a live album featuring many of the songs performed by the Three Tenors (Domingo, Luciano Pavarotti and Jose Carreras) for their iconic concert held at the Baths of Caracalla in Rome on the eve of the Italia ’90 World Cup.  Piero’s father, Gaetano Barone, is a mechanic and his mother, Eleonora Ognibene, a housewife.  His musical talent was discovered by his grandfather, Pietro Ognibene, when he was just five years of age. Pietro was a blind musician who had written a song in Sicilian and when Piero sang it for him he was amazed by his voice.  Read more…

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Battle of Solferino

Suffering of soldiers led to the founding of the Red Cross

The Battle of Solferino took place on this day in 1859 south of Lake Garda between Milan and Verona.  It was the last battle in world history where all the armies were under the personal command of their monarchs.  The French army under Napoleon III was allied with the Sardinian army commanded by Victor Emmanuel II. Together, they were victorious against the Austrian army led by Emperor Franz Joseph I.  The battle lasted more than nine hours and resulted in thousands of deaths on both sides.  The Austrians were forced to retreat and it was a crucial step towards the eventual unification of Italy under an Italian King.  Jean-Henri Dunant, a Swiss businessman, toured the battlefield afterwards and was horrified by what he saw, joining in with the efforts of local people to care for the injured.  Greatly moved by the suffering of the thousands of wounded and dying soldiers, he wrote a book about what he had seen and set about establishing the International Red Cross.  This battle is also referred to as the Battle of Solferino and San Martino as there was fighting near both of the towns.  Read more…

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Benedetta Tagliabue - architect

Italian half of an acclaimed design partnership

The architect Benedetta Tagliabue, whose work in partnership with her late husband Enric Miralles included the iconic Scottish Parliament Building at Holyrood in Edinburgh, was born on this day in 1963 in Milan.  Tagliabue formed a close friendship with Barcelona-born Miralles when she was a student and he was teaching at Columbia University in New York.  They became business partners in 1991 and married a year later.  Tragically, Miralles died in 2000 at the age of just 45, having been diagnosed with a brain tumour, but Tagliabue has continued to run the business they created.  Tagliabue studied architecture in Switzerland and Venice, attending the Istituto di Architettura di Venezia (IUAV), which is part of the University of Venice. She fell in love with the city of canals and made it her home for several years. Indeed, she first met Miralles in Venice when she interviewed him for a magazine.  They were reacquainted when she went to New York for the final thesis of her degree and stayed in touch. They began a formal collaboration in 1991 and founded the architecture firm Miralles Tagliabue EMBT.  Read more…

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Battle of Custoza

Austrians thwart Italy’s hopes of unifying the peninsula

An army of the recently unified Kingdom of Italy was driven out of Custoza in the Veneto region by Austrian troops on this day in 1866.  Although the Italians had twice the number of soldiers, the Austrians were victorious strategically and drove the Italians back across the Mincio river and out of the area then known as Venetia.  King Victor Emmanuel II’s younger son, Amadeo, was severely wounded in the battle but he survived his injuries and went on to reign briefly as King of Spain from 1870 to 1873.  The German Kingdom of Prussia had declared war on the Austrian Empire and the Kingdom of Italy seized the opportunity to join forces with Prussia, with the intention of annexing Venetia and uniting the Italian peninsula. The Austrian Imperial army joined up with the Venetian army.  The Italians divided their troops into two armies, one led by General Alfonso Ferrero La Marmora, accompanied by the King, and the other led by Enrico Cialdini.  La Marmora’s troops crossed the Mincio river and invaded Venetia. The Austrians led by Archduke Albrecht of Habsburg marched west from Verona to the north of the Italian position, so as to cut them off from the rear.  Read more…

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23 June 2022

23 June

NEW
- Arnaldo Pomodoro - sculptor

Romagnolo artist best known for his Sphere within Sphere series

The avant-garde sculptor Arnaldo Pomodoro, who became famous for a series of monumental spherical bronze sculptures with their outer surface cracked to reveal intricate interiors, was born in Morciano di Romagna, a small town just inland from the Adriatic coast, on this day in 1926. Pomodoro’s first Sphere within Sphere (Sfera con Sfera) was installed in the Cortile della Pigna courtyard at the Vatican Museums in Roma in the 1960s and he has subsequently produced versions for many locations around the world.  These include Trinity College, Dublin, the United Nations Plaza and Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, museums in Washington D.C., Tehran and Tokyo and on the beach front at Pesaro, another Adriatic resort not far from Pomodoro’s birthplace.  Broadly speaking, the sculptures, which contain a smaller sphere at the centre of the larger, broken sphere, separated by layers of what look a little like the inner workings of a watch, represent the fragility of the world or of society and the complexities that lie beneath the surface.  He was interested in art from a young age, when he was inspired by the countryside and architecture of Montefeltro, an historical region close to where he grew up. Read more…

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Giuseppina Tuissi - partisan

Key figure in capture and execution of Mussolini

Giuseppina Tuissi, who was among a group of partisans who captured the deposed Fascist leader Benito Mussolini as he tried to escape to Switzerland in 1945, was born on this day in 1923 in Abbiategrasso, near Milan.  Tuissi and her comrades seized Mussolini at Dongo, a small town on the shores of Lake Como, on April 27, 1945, along with his mistress Claretta Petacci.  Having heard that Hitler was preparing to surrender to the Allies, Mussolini was trying to reach Switzerland before flying on to Spain in the hope of finding refuge under Franco’s nationalist dictatorship.  He and Petacci and their entourage were executed at the village of Giulino di Mezzegra the following day before the partisan group took their bodies to be put on public display in Milan.  Tuissi, however, would herself be killed less than a couple of months later, probably at the hands of fellow partisans who suspected her of betraying comrades during a period earlier in the year in which she had been held captive and tortured by Fascist militia and handed over to the Nazis but was then released.  Although she was born in Abbiategrasso, about 30km (19 miles) southwest of Milan, Tuissi lived and worked in Baggio, a suburb of Milan.  Read more…

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Francesca Schiavone – tennis player

First Italian woman to win a Grand Slam

Tennis champion Francesca Schiavone was born on this day in 1980 in Milan.  When she won the French Open at Roland Garros in 2010 she became the first Italian woman to win a Grand Slam event in singles. She was the runner-up in the French Open final the following year.  To date she is also the last one-handed backhand player to win a Grand Slam title on the women’s tour.  Schiavone has won six titles on the WTA tour and has also been the runner up in events 11 times.  Her highest career ranking is World Number Four, which she achieved in January 2011.  She has helped Italy win the Federation Cup in 2006, 2009 and 2010 and she has had the most wins for the Italian team.  She also appeared in the women’s doubles final at the 2008 French Open.  At the 2016 French Open in May it was mistakenly announced that Schiavone was retiring from tennis after she was defeated in the first round of the competition.  She retired from tennis after the 2018 US Open. In December 2019, Schiavone revealed she had been diagnosed with cancer earlier in the year but after successful treatment she was free of the disease.  Read more…

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Claudio Capone – actor and dubber

The Italian voice of a host of stars

Italy lost one of its most famous voices on this day in 2008 with the premature death of Claudio Capone.  The Rome-born actor was working in Scotland when he suffered a stroke. He was admitted to hospital in Perth but despite the best efforts of doctors he died two days later, at the age of only 55.  Although he began his career with the ambitions of any actor to reach the top of his profession, he was offered an opportunity only a few years out of drama school to do some voice-over work and found the flow of work in dubbing to be so consistent he ultimately made it his career.  Unlike some countries, Italian cinema and TV audiences have always preferred to watch imported films and TV shows with dubbed Italian voices rather than subtitles, which meant that a talented dubbing actor was seldom unemployed.  Capone was among the best and it was down to him that many foreign stars became famous in Italy, even though many did not speak a word of Italian.  The biggest example of this was the American actor Ronn Moss, who played the part of fashion magnate Ridge Forrester in the CBS soap opera The Bold and the Beautiful.  Read more…


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Arnaldo Pomodoro - sculptor

Romagnolo artist best known for his Sphere within Sphere series

Arnaldo Pomodoro, pictured in 1975, is regarded  as one of Italy's most influential sculptors
Arnaldo Pomodoro, pictured in 1975, is regarded 
as one of Italy's most influential sculptors
The avant-garde sculptor Arnaldo Pomodoro, who became famous for a series of monumental spherical bronze sculptures with their outer surface cracked to reveal intricate interiors, was born in Morciano di Romagna, a small town just inland from the Adriatic coast, on this day in 1926.

Pomodoro’s first Sphere within Sphere (Sfera con Sfera) was installed in the Cortile della Pigna courtyard at the Vatican Museums in Roma in the 1960s and he has subsequently produced versions for many locations around the world.

These include Trinity College, Dublin, the United Nations Plaza and Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, museums in Washington D.C., Tehran and Tokyo and on the beach front at Pesaro, another Adriatic resort not far from Pomodoro’s birthplace.

Broadly speaking, the sculptures, which contain a smaller sphere at the centre of the larger, broken sphere, separated by layers of what look a little like the inner workings of a watch, represent the fragility of the world or of society and the complexities that lie beneath the surface.

Although he was interested in art from a young age, when he was inspired by the countryside and architecture of Montefeltro, an historical region close to where he grew up, Pomodoro’s career initially followed a different path.

Pomodoro's first Sfera con Sfera, which is at the  centre of the Cortile della Pigna at the Vatican
Pomodoro's first Sfera con Sfera, which is at the
 centre of the Cortile della Pigna at the Vatican
He studied at the Technical Institute for Surveyors in Rimini and secured a job in the Public Works Office in Pesaro, both resorts being within 30km (19 miles) of his home. His work involved the restoration of public buildings.

Yet his curiosity with forms of art led him to study subjects from stage set design to jewellery design in his spare time.

It was after he moved to Milan in 1954, when the city was seen to be at the cutting edge of theatre, art and music, that he began to pursue his interest more vigorously. He started to frequent the Jamaica Bar in the Brera district, a popular meeting place for artists and intellectuals.

His earliest sculptures were shown at the Galleria del Naviglio in Milan in 1955. Arnaldo’s younger brother, Giò, was similarly keen to develop his talent for sculpture and the two participated in the Venice Biennale.

Pomodoro spent the early part of the 1960s in the United States after obtaining a grant to study American art. He exhibited at a number of festivals, in 1964 winning the International Prize for Sculpture at the São Paulo Biennale and also the National Prize for Sculpture at the XXXII Venice Biennale.

He remained in the United States, becoming an artist in residence at Stanford University, and then at University of California, Berkeley.

Disco Grande in Milan is one of Pomodoro's personal favourites
Disco Grande in Milan is one of
Pomodoro's personal favourites
In the 1970s, Pomodoro gained renown for his work with geometric shapes, with disks, pyramids and cubes but in particular spheres.  His Sfera con Sfera at the Vatican Museums attracted huge interest, leading to commissions to create versions of the same sculpture for locations around the world, around 20 in total.

Other works by Pomodoro to have found permanent homes include a large fibreglass crucifix for the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in Wisconsin, which features a 14-foot (4.27m) diameter crown of thorns which hovers over the figure of Christ.

In Copenhagen, Denmark, a decorative pillar with a sphere on its top, called Solar Form, in the Amaliehaven park close to Amalienborg Palace, was sculpted by Pomodoro, who is also responsible for a pyramid named Forms of Myth, which was bought by the city of Brisbane in Australia after being unveiled at Brisbane's World Expo. Another pyramid sculpture, Wing Beat: Homage to Boccioni, sits in the centre of a large fountain in Los Angeles.

Pomodoro, now 96, has described his Disco Grande, which can be found in Piazza Filippo Meda in the centre of Milan, as one of the works that has given him the most personal pride.  The 4.5m (15ft) bronze disc, which weighs around seven tons and has two faces, has five large cracks extending to its outer edges, with a design that evokes an exploding sun or star at the centre.

The sculptor talks of Milan as the city that adopted him and the disc, which has echoes of Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man, the drawing he made in the late 15th century of a male figure within a circle, as representing the dynamism, optimism and solar strength of the city.

Pomodoro's Sfera con Sfera on the promenade in Pesaro, where he worked as a young man
Pomodoro's Sfera con Sfera on the promenade
in Pesaro, where he worked as a young man
Travel tip:

Pesaro, where Pomodoro worked after graduating from college, is a coastal city in Le Marche with a 15th century Ducal Palace, commissioned by Alessandro Sforza. It has become known as the city of music because the opera composer Gioachino Rossini was born there in 1792. The Rossini Opera Festival has taken place in Pesaro every summer since 1980 and the town is home to the Conservatorio Statale di Musica Gioachino Rossini, which was founded from a legacy left by the composer.  In addition to its long stretch of sandy beach, which extends for around 7km (4.3 miles), the city, which has a population of almost 100,000, is dubbed the Città della Bicicletta (the City of the Bicycle) for its extensive network of cycle paths.

A characteristic narrow street in Milan's fashionable Brera district
A characteristic narrow street in
Milan's fashionable Brera district
Travel tip:

The Brera district of Milan is thought to derive its name from the Lombardic word ‘brayda’, which was ninth century military terminology for ‘an area cleared of trees’.  Today, it is one of Milan’s most fashionable neighbourhoods, its narrow streets lined with trendy bars and restaurants. It has been traditionally home to the city’s artists and writers, which gives it a  Bohemian feel that has brought comparisons with Montmartre in Paris.  The Brera is home to the Brera Academy of Fine Arts and the Brera Art Gallery. The Jamaica dal 1911 Ristorante, where Pomodoro and his artist friends were regulars, can be found in Via Brera, the street that dissects the area, between Via Pontaccio and Via Fiori Chiari.

Also on this day:

1945: The birth of partisan Giuseppina Tuissi

1980: The birth of tennis champion Francesca Schiavone

2008: The death of actor and voice dubber Claudio Capone


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22 June 2022

22 June

Walter Bonatti - mountaineer

Climber's outstanding career marred by 50-year row

Walter Bonatti, the Italian who some would argue is the greatest alpine mountain climber that ever lived, was born on this day in 1930 in Bergamo in Lombardy.  He was the first to complete some of the most demanding climbs in the Alps and the Himalayas, including the first solo climb in winter of the North face of the Matterhorn.  But those achievements were marred for half a century by the bitter row that sprang from the part he played in the 1954 Italian expedition to conquer K2, the 8,611-metre peak north-east of the Himalayas that is the second highest in the world - behind Mount Everest (8,848 metres) - but is regarded as the more difficult climb.  Incredibly fit and able to survive at high altitudes without oxygen, he was already such an accomplished climber at just 24 years of age that he was chosen to join the expedition, which aimed to succeed where five previous attempts over 52 years had failed.  The row stemmed from the decision taken by expedition leader Ardito Desio as the party neared the summit that the more experienced Lino Lacedelli and Achille Compagnoni should be the climbers to make the final ascent, even though Bonatti was in better physical condition than either.  Read more…

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Lucrezia Tornabuoni - political adviser

Medici wife one of most powerful women of the Renaissance

Lucrezia Tornabuoni, who became one of the most influential and therefore powerful women in 15th century Italy through family connections and her own political and business acumen, was born on this day in 1427 in Florence.  Connected by birth to the powerful Tornabuoni family on her father’s side and the Guicciardini through her mother, Lucrezia entered a third powerful family when she married Piero di Cosimo de’ Medici.  Yet she was an important figure in her own right, revealing political skill and a talent for diplomacy during her husband’s time as de facto leader of Florence, and when their son, Lorenzo, succeeded him.  She was also a successful property owner, buying houses, shops and farms in and around Pisa and Florence, which she would then lease out. She bought and renovated a hot spring, Bagno a Morba, turning it into a resort and spa for paying guests.  And she enhanced her popularity in Florence by supporting religious convents and working with them to help widows and orphans. She would draw on her own income to provide dowries for women from poor families so that they could marry and use her influence to help family members obtain good positions in the church or government.  Read more…

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Galileo Galilei convicted of heresy

'Father of Science' forced to deny that earth revolves around sun

One of the more bizarre episodes in the history of human intellectual advancement took place in Rome on this day in 1633 when Galileo Galilei, the brilliant astronomer, mathematician, philosopher and engineer – often described as ‘the father of science’ - was convicted of heresy.  His crime was to support the view – indeed, to confirm it with scientific proof – that the sun rather than the earth was the centre of the solar system, as had been theorised by the Polish scientist Nicolaus Copernicus in the previous century.  This flew completely in the face of a major plank of orthodox Roman Catholic beliefs, within which the contention that the sun moved around the earth was regarded as a fact of scripture that could not be disputed.  Galileo, something of a celebrity in his day who won the patronage of such powerful Italian families as the Medici and the Barberini following the discoveries he made with his astronomical telescope, had been essentially under surveillance by the Church since 1609 after publishing details of observations he had made that supported Copernicus’s theory of heliocentrism.  Read more…


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21 June 2022

21 June

Paolo Soleri - architect

Italian greatly influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright

The groundbreaking architect and ecologist Paolo Soleri was born on this day in 1919 in Turin.  Soleri is largely remembered for the Arcosanti project, an experiment in urban design in the Arizona desert that was like no other town on the planet, a unique fusion of architecture and ecology.  Originally conceived as providing a completely self-sufficient urban living space for 5,000 people when it began in 1970, only about five per cent of the proposed development was ever completed.  At its peak, Arcosanti’s population barely exceeded 200 yet the buildings Soleri erected in accordance with his vision are still there, rising from the desert as an assortment of concrete blocks, domes and soaring vaults, resembling a cross between the remains of some ancient civilisation and a set from Star Wars.  It has never been abandoned, however, and although Soleri died in 2013 the project is still home to between 50 and 100 of his most ardent disciples, still seeking to live as Soleri envisaged.  Although Soleri grew up in Italy, it was a visit to the United States in 1946 that had the most profound influence on his life.  Read more…

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Pope Paul VI

Pontiff who helped wartime prisoners

Giovanni Battista Enrico Antonio Maria Montini was elected as Pope Paul VI on this day in 1963 in Rome.  He succeeded Pope John XXIII and immediately re-convened the Second Vatican Council which had automatically closed after Pope John’s death.  Pope Paul then implemented its various reforms and as a result had to deal with the conflicting expectations of different Catholic groups.  Following his famous predecessor Saint Ambrose of Milan, Pope Paul named Mary as the Mother of the Church.  He described himself as ‘a humble servant for a suffering humanity’ and demanded changes from the rich in North America and Europe in favour of the poor in the third world.  Pope Paul had been born in Concesio near Brescia in 1897 and was ordained a priest in Brescia in 1920. He took a doctorate in Canon Law in Milan and afterwards studied at various universities, therefore never working as a parish priest.  He had one foreign posting, to the office of the papal nuncio in Poland.  After the outbreak of the Second World War, he created an information office for prisoners of war and refugees, producing more than 11 million replies to enquiries about missing persons.  Read more…

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Pier Luigi Nervi - architect

Striking designs from football stadiums to churches

The brilliant structural engineer and architect Pier Luigi Nervi was born on this day in 1891 in Sondrio, an Alpine town in northern Lombardy at the heart of the Valtellina.  Nervi made his mark with a number of strikingly original designs at home and abroad and was noted both for his innovative use of reinforced concrete and his multi-dimensional designs, which enabled him to create structures that were both strong and elegant.  His major works in Italy include the Palazzo del Lavoro in Turin, the bell tower of the Chiesa del Sacro Cuore in Florence and the Papal Audience Hall at the Vatican City, as well as a number of important sports facilities.  The Stadio Artemio Franchi (formerly the Stadio Communale) in Florence - home of the Fiorentina football club - was one of his first important projects and he designed several stadia for the Rome Olympics in 1960, including the Stadio Flaminio and the Palazzo dello Sport EUR.  Around the world, the UNESCO headquarters in Paris, the George Washington Bridge Bus Station in New York, the Stock Exchange Tower in Montreal, St Mary's Cathedral in San Francisco and the Italian Embassy in Brasilia are among Nervi's legacy.  Read more…


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20 June 2022

20 June

Armando Picchi - footballer

Star defender captained ‘La Grande Inter’

The footballer Armando Picchi, who was captain of the Inter-Milan team of the 1960s known as La Grande Inter and one of Italian football’s most accomplished players in the libero position, was born on this day in 1935 in the Tuscan port of Livorno.  Under his captaincy, the Inter side managed by the Argentina-born coach Helenio Herrera won the European Cup twice as well as three Serie A titles and two Intercontinental Cups between 1963 and 1966.  After retiring as a player at 34, Picchi embarked on a coaching career of his own, but after his progress with Varese and hometown club AS Calcio Livorno earned him the chance to take the helm at Juventus his life was cut tragically short in 1971, when he developed an aggressive form of cancer and died just three months after being diagnosed.  Picchi grew up 30km (19 miles) south of Livorno in the coastal resort of Vada.  He had the good fortune to have a brother, Leo, who was already a professional footballer when he was growing up. Leo, 14 years’ his senior, nurtured Armando’s early development and recommended him to Livorno, then playing in Serie C.  Read more…

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Gian Galeazzo Sforza - Duke of Milan

Ruler who never truly held power

Gian Galeazzo Sforza, the third member of the Sforza family to have the title Duke of Milan, was born on this day in 1469 in Abbiategrasso, a town in the Po Valley about 22km (14 miles) north of Milan.  He was the sixth Duke of Milan in all, the title having previously been the property of the Visconti family.  However, Gian Galeazzo had only a short life and never truly held any power, having inherited the Duchy at the age of seven when his father, Galeazzo Maria Sforza, was assassinated in the porch of Basilica di Santo Stefano Maggiore in Milan, on December 26, 1476, where he was attending a celebration for the Festa di San Stefano.  Gian Galeazzo could not legally inherit the Duchy until he reached the age of majority, which in Renaissance times was 14. Until then, Milan would be ruled by his mother, Galeazzo Maria’s widow, Bona of Savoy.  But Gian Galeazzo’s uncle, Ludovico Sforza, had designs on the Duchy as Galeazzo Maria’s brother and the next five years encompassed a bitter struggle for the regency.  With the help of her powerful counsellor, the ducal secretary Cicco Simonetta, Bona managed to repel Ludovico’s first bid to seize power, but not for long.  Read more…

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Popular and progressive Mayor of Naples

Luigi de Magistris, who was Mayor of Naples for 10 years following a shock win in the 2011 local elections, was born on this day in 1967.  A former public prosecutor with a reputation for standing up against corruption and organised crime, De Magistris was the Member of the European Parliament for Southern Italy between 2009 and 2011, when he ran for Italy of Values, the centre-left party founded by another former magistrate, Antonio di Pietro.  He stood in the 2011 mayoral elections in Naples with the support of minor parties on the left and the right and won in the second round of voting with 65 per cent of the vote, defeating Gianni Lettieri, the candidate for a centre right coalition led by Silvio Berlusconi’s People of Freedom party.  In office, De Magistris faced difficult times because of the city’s precarious financial situation, which at times saw local transport suspended because fuel bills were not paid and rubbish piling up in the streets because of continuing problems with the disposal of domestic refuse that had reached a peak in 2008.  De Magistris claims year-on-year improvements in refuse collection as one of his success stories.  Read more…

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Giannina Arangi-Lombardi – opera singer

Soprano’s superb voice was captured in early recordings

Soprano Giannina Arangi-Lombardi was born on this day in 1891 in Marigliano near Naples in Campania.  She studied singing at the Conservatory of San Pietro a Majella in Naples and made her debut on the stage in Rome in 1920. Arangi-Lombardi sang mezzo-soprano roles for the next three years at theatres in Rome, Sicily, Parma, Florence and Naples.  She then underwent further study and returned to the stage as what is known as a spinto soprano, a singer who can reach the high notes of the lyric soprano but can also achieve dramatic climaxes with her voice.  Arangi-Lombardi’s second debut, this time as a soprano, was in 1923. The first time she sang the role of Aida in Verdi's opera of the same name the audience was stunned by her voice and her fame quickly spread.  She appeared on stage at Teatro alla Scala in Milan for the first time in 1924 singing Elena in Boito’s Mefistofele. The orchestra for her debut performance was conducted by Arturo Toscanini.  She sang regularly at La Scala until 1930 and appeared at many other opera houses in Europe as well as in South America.  Read more…

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Valerio Evangelisti - novelist

Writer's stories of the Inquisition are bestsellers

The bestselling novelist Valerio Evangelisti, best known for his science fiction, fantasy, historical novels and horror stories, was born in Bologna on this day in 1952.  He is famous in Italy for his series of novels featuring the inquisitor Nicolas Eymerich and for the Magus trilogy, all of which have been translated into many languages.  Eymerich is a real historical character, a member of the order of the Dominicans and of the Spanish Inquisition who was born in 1320 in Girona, Catalonia.  Evangelisti portrays him as a cruel and ruthless man who acts without mercy to protect the Catholic Church against threats of both natural and supernatural origin.  Evangelisti uses the Eymerich novels to investigate the mysterious phenomena in medieval Europe that strategically influenced the great historical events of the time, creating a dark and nightmarish picture of the epoch.  The Magus trilogy is a romanticized biography of the famous Middle Ages writer of prophecies, Nostradamus. The three novels, Il presagio (The Omen), L’inganno (The Deceit) and L'abisso (The Abyss) were also bestsellers in Italy.  Read more…

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19 June 2022

19 June

Pier Angeli - Hollywood star

Actress hailed for talent and beauty died tragically young

The actress Pier Angeli, a Hollywood star in the 1950s and 60s, was born on this day in 1932 in Cagliari, Sardinia.  She won awards in Italy and in America at the start of her career, when she was likened by some critics to the Swedish-born star Greta Garbo.  Described by the actor Paul Newman as "the most beautiful Italian actress of the century", Angeli was also a fixture in the gossip columns.  Linked romantically with a number of Hollywood's leading male actors, she dated Kirk Douglas and became close to the celebrated 'rebel' James Dean before marrying another star, the Italian-American actor and singer, Vic Damone.  It would be the first of two marriages.  She had a son, Perry, with Damone but they divorced after four years.  A second marriage, to the Italian composer, Armando Trovaioli, produced another son, Andrew, but they also divorced.  Born Anna Maria Pierangeli, the daughter of an architect, she had a twin sister, Maria Luisa, who would also become an actress.  Her mother, Enrica, used to dress the girls to resemble the American child star, Shirley Temple. The family moved to Rome when she was three.  Read more…

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Francesco Baracca – flying ace

Italy’s most successful First World War fighter pilot

Italy’s top fighter pilot of the First World War, Francesco Baracca, died in action on this day in 1918.  He had been flying a strafing mission against Austro-Hungarian ground troops in support of an Italian attack on the Montello Hill, about 17km (11 miles) north of Treviso in the Veneto, on which he was accompanied by a rookie pilot, Tenente Franco Osnago.  They split from one another after being hit by ground fire but a few minutes later, Osnago saw a burning plane falling from the sky.  Witnesses on the ground saw it too. Osnago flew back to his base but Baracca never returned.  Only when the Austro-Hungarian troops were driven back was the wreckage of Baracca’s Spad VII aircraft found in a valley.  His body was discovered a few metres away.  A monument in his memory was later built on the site. Osnago, fellow pilot Ferruccio Ranza and a journalist recovered his body. It was taken back to his home town of Lugo in the province of Ravenna, where a large funeral was held.  It is thought that Barocca was seeking to provide Osnago with cover from above as he swooped on enemy trenches when he was attacked by an Austrian plane.  Read more…

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Francesco Moser - Giro d’Italia winner

Only two riders have won more road races

The cycling champion Francesco Moser, winner of the 1984 Giro d’Italia and the 1977 World road racing championship among 273 road victories in his career, was born on this day in 1951 in Palù di Giovo, a village about 10km (6 miles) north of Trento in northern Italy.  Only the great Belgians Eddy Merckx (525) and Rik Van Looy (379) won more road races than Moser, who was at his peak during the late 1970s and early 1980s.  One of his proudest achievements was to break Merckx’s record for the greatest distance covered in one hour.  He became renowned as a specialist in the so-called Monuments, the five road races among what are generally termed the Classics considered to be the oldest, hardest and most prestigious one-day events in cycling.  Of those events, Moser won the Paris-Roubaix three times, the Giro di Lombardia twice and the Milan-San Remo once.  Moser attributed his cycling prowess to growing up on the family farm in Val di Cembra, working in steep-sided vineyards in an era when most of the work was carried out by hand, rather than machinery.  Family members used bicycles to move around the estate.  Read more…

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Marisa Pavan - actress

Twin sister of tragic star Pier Angeli

The actress Marisa Pavan, whose twin sister Pier Angeli was a Hollywood star in the 1950s and 1960s, was born on this day in 1932 as Maria Luisa Pierangeli in Cagliari, Sardinia.  Pavan’s career ran parallel with that of her sister, who was born 20 minutes before her, but she rejected the re-invention as an ultra-glamorous starlet that Pier Angeli underwent within the Hollywood studio system.  She turned roles down when she felt they did not have enough substance and did not hesitate to sack agents if she felt they were putting her forward for unsuitable parts.  She refused to sign up to any one studio.  Her biggest success was The Rose Tattoo, the 1955 film adaptation of a Tennessee Williams play in which she played the daughter of the central character, played by Anna Magnani - with whom she is pictured - one of postwar Italian cinema’s most respected actresses.  Magnani won an Oscar for Best Actress for her portrayal of a Sicilian widow, with Pavan receiving a nomination for best supporting actress at the Academy Awards and although that award went to someone else she did have the substantial compensation of winning a Golden Globe for the role.  Read more…

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