1 August 2022

1 August

Cosimo de' Medici

Banker who founded the Medici dynasty

The first of the Medici rulers of Florence, Cosimo di Giovanni de' Medici, died on this day in 1464 in Careggi in Tuscany.  Cosimo had political influence and power because of the wealth he had acquired as a banker and he is also remembered as a patron of learning, the arts and architecture.  Cosimo, who is sometimes referred to as Cosimo the Elder (il Vecchio) was born into a wealthy family in Florence in 1389. His father was a moneylender who then joined the bank of a relative before opening up his own bank in 1397.  The Medici Bank opened branches in Rome, Geneva, Venice and Naples and the Rome branch managed the papal finances in return for a commission.  The bank later opened branches in London, Pisa, Avignon, Bruges, Milan and Lubeck, which meant that bishoprics could pay their money into their nearest branch for the Pope to use.  In 1410, Baldassarre Cossa, who was on one side of a power struggle within the Catholic Church, borrowed money from the bank to buy himself into the office of Cardinal and in return put the Medici in charge of all the papal finances.   This gave the Medici family the power to threaten defaulting debtors with excommunication.  Read more…


Francesca Scanagatta - soldier

Woman pretended to be a man to join Austrian army

Francesca Scanagatta, an Italian woman who served in the Imperial Austrian army for seven years while pretending to be a man, was born on this day in 1776 in Milan.  Scanagatta – sometimes known as Franziska – was a small and apparently rather plain girl, who was brought up in Milan while the city was under Austrian rule. She admired the Austrian soldiers to the extent of wishing she could join the army, yet knew that as a girl she would not be allowed to.  Even so, it did not stop her dreaming and throughout her childhood and teenage years she worked on becoming physically stronger through exercise while reading as much literature as she could about the army.  By contrast, her brother Giacomo hated the idea of joining up. He was rather effeminate in nature and the very thought of becoming a soldier filled him with dread.  Yet his father wanted him to serve and arranged for him to attend a military school in Vienna.  Giacomo confided his fears in Francesca and she suddenly realised she had an opportunity to fulfil her dreams by signing up in his place.  So, in June 1794, dressed as a man, the 17-year-old travelled with Giacomo to Austria.  Read more…


The Arab conquest of Sicily

Fall of Taormina put island in Muslim control

The Arab conquest of Sicily, which began in 827, was completed on this day in 902 with the fall of Taormina, the city in the northeast of the island that was the last stronghold of the Byzantine Empire, which had been in control for more than 350 years.  The island had been coveted by powers around the Mediterranean for centuries and raids by Saracens, as the Muslim Arabs from Roman Arabia became known, had been taking place since the mid-7th century without threatening to make substantial territorial gains.  However, in 827 the commander of the island's fleet, Euphemius, led a revolt against Michael II, the Byzantine Emperor, and when he and his supporters were at first driven from the island by forces loyal to Michael II, he turned to the Aghlabids, the rulers of Ifriqiya, the area of north Africa now known as Tunisia, for help.  The Aghlabids saw this as a strategic opportunity too good to miss and, with Euphemius’s forces to supplement their own, completed a successful landing on the southern coast and began to establish fortresses.  An attempt to capture Syracuse, which was then the capital, was beaten back, but when they turned their attention to Palermo it was a different story.  Read more…


Paolo De Poli – enameller and painter

Artist devoted his life to an ancient technique

A painter who became fascinated with the ancient art of enamelling, Paolo De Poli was born on this day in 1905 in Padua.  At first De Poli experimented with enamelling small, decorative objects but after he mastered his craft he moved on to creating large panels for the interiors of ships, hotels and public buildings.  De Poli trained in drawing and embossing on metal at the art school Pietro Selvatico of Padua and then studied oil painting in Verona. He embarked on a career as a portrait and landscape painter.  In 1926 he participated for the first time in the Biennale di Venezia with the oil painting Still Life.  While travelling in the 1930s he visited art museums and archaeological sites and became interested in the traditional art of working with vitreous enamel.  From 1933 onwards, he devoted himself to creating enamel works on metal, experimenting with refined objects of many shapes in brilliant colours. He continued to improve his technique, reaching the highest level of skill.  In the 1940s, he collaborated with Milanese architect Gio Ponti in the production of furniture and decorative panels.  Read more…


Antonio Cotogni – baritone

Singer who moved the composer Verdi to tears

Antonio ‘Toto’ Cotogni, who achieved international recognition as one of the greatest male opera singers of the 19th century, was born on this day in 1831 in Rome.  Cotogni’s fine baritone voice was particularly admired by the composer Giuseppe Verdi and music journalists wrote reviews full of superlatives after his performances.  Cotogni studied music theory and singing from an early age and began singing in churches and at summer music festivals outside the city.  He made his opera debut in 1852 at Rome’s Teatro Metastasio as Belcore in Donizetti's L’elisir d’amore.  After that he did not sing in public for a while, concentrating instead on building up his repertoire.  After singing in various Italian cities outside Rome he was signed up to sing at Rome’s Teatro Argentina in 1857 in Lucia di Lammermoor and Gemma di Vergy, also by Donizetti. Later that year he performed in Verdi's I due Foscari and Sanelli's Luisa Strozzi at Teatro Rossini in Turin. He met the soprano Maria Ballerini there and married her the following year.  His major breakthrough came in 1858 when he was asked to take the place of the famous baritone Felice Varesi in Nice.  Read more…


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