21 December 2022

21 December

Giovanni Boccaccio – writer and scholar

Renaissance humanist who changed literature

One of the most important literary figures of the 14th century in Italy, Giovanni Boccaccio, died on this day in 1375 in Certaldo in Tuscany.  The greatest prose writer of his time in Europe, Boccaccio is still remembered as the writer of The Decameron, a collection of short stories and poetry, which influenced not only Italian literary development but that of the rest of Europe as well, including Geoffrey Chaucer in England and Miguel de Cervantes in Spain.  With the writers Dante Alighieri (Dante) and Francesco Petrarca (Petrarch), Boccaccio is considered one of the three most important figures in the history of Italian literature and, along with Petrarch, he raised vernacular literature to the level and status of the classics of antiquity.  Boccaccio is thought to have been born in about 1313.  He was the son of a merchant in Florence, Boccaccino di Chellino, and an unknown woman. His father later married Margherita dei Mardoli who came from a well off family. Boccaccio received a good education and an early introduction to the works of Dante from a tutor.  His father was appointed head of a bank in 1326 and the family moved to live in Naples.  Read more…


Masaccio – Renaissance artist

Innovative painter had brief but brilliant career

The 15th century artist Masaccio was born on this day in 1401 in Tuscany.  He is now judged to have been the first truly great painter of the early Renaissance in Italy because of his skill at painting lifelike figures and his use of perspective.  Christened Tommaso di Ser Giovanni di Simone, the artist came into the world in a small town near Arezzo, which is now known as San Giovanni Valdarno.  Little is known about his early life but it is likely he would have moved to Florence to be apprenticed to an established artist while still young.  The first evidence of him definitely being in the city was when he joined the painters’ guild in Florence in 1422.  The name Masaccio derives from Maso, a shortened form of his first name, Tommaso. Maso has become Masaccio, meaning ‘clumsy or messy Maso’. But it may just have been given to him to distinguish him from his contemporary, Masolino Da Panicale.  Massaccio’s earliest known work is the San Giovenale Triptych painted in 1422, which is now in a museum near Florence . He went on to produce a wealth of wonderful paintings over the next six years.  Read more…


Moira Orfei - circus owner and actress

‘Queen of the Big Top’ became cultural icon

Moira Orfei, an entertainer regarded as the Queen of the Italian circus and an actress who starred in more than 40 films, was born on this day in 1931 in Codroipo, a town in Friuli-Venezia Giulia about 25km (16 miles) southwest of Udine.  She had a trademark look that became so recognisable that advertising posters for the Moira Orfei Circus, which she founded in 1961 with her new husband, the circus acrobat and animal trainer Walter Nones, carried simply her face and the name 'Moira'. As a young woman, she was a strikingly glamorous Hollywood-style beauty but in later years she took to wearing heavy make-up, dark eye-liner and bright lipstick, topped off with her bouffant hair gathered up in a way that resembled a turban.  Her camped-up appearance made her an unlikely icon for Italy’s gay community.  Born Miranda Orfei, she spent her whole life in the circus. Her father, Riccardo, was a bareback horse rider and sometime clown; her mother, part of the Arata circus dynasty, gave birth to her in the family’s living trailer.  Growing up, she performed as a horse rider, acrobat and trapeze artist.  Read more…


Strife-torn Rome turns to Vespasian

Elevation of military leader ends Year of Four Emperors

The ninth Roman emperor, Vespasian, began his 10-year rule on this day in 69AD, ending a period of civil war that brought the death of Nero and encompassed a series of short-lived administrations that became known as the Year of the Four Emperors.  Nero committed suicide in June 68 AD, having lost the support of the Praetorian Guard and been declared an enemy of the state by the Senate.  However, his successor, Galba, after initially having the support of the Praetorian Guard, quickly became unpopular.  On his march to Rome, he imposed heavy fines on or vengefully destroyed towns that did not declare their immediate allegiance to him and then refused to pay the bonuses he had promised the soldiers who had supported his elevation to power.  After he then had several senators and officials executed without trial on suspicion of conspiracy, the Germanic legions openly revolted and swore allegiance to their governor, Vitellius, proclaiming him as emperor.  Bribed by Marcus Salvius Otho, the Roman military commander, members of the Praetorian Guard set upon Galba in the Forum on January 15, 69AD and killed him.  Read more…


Lorenzo Perosi - priest and composer

Puccini contemporary chose sacred music over opera

Don Lorenzo Perosi, a brilliant composer of sacred music who was musical director of the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican for almost half a century, was born on this day in 1872 in the city of Tortona in Piedmont.  A devoutly religious man who was ordained as a priest at the age of 22, Perosi was a contemporary of Giacomo Puccini and Pietro Mascagni, both of whom he counted as close friends, but was the only member of the so-called Giovane Scuola of late 19th century and early 20th century composers who did not write opera.  Instead, he concentrated entirely on church music and was particularly noted for his large-scale oratorios, for which he enjoyed international fame.  Unlike Puccini and Mascagni, or others from the Giovane Scuola such as Ruggero Leoncavallo, Umberto Giordano and Francesco Cilea, Perosi's work has not endured enough for him to be well known today.  Yet at his peak, which music scholars consider to be the period between his appointment as Maestro of the Choir of St Mark's in Venice in 1894 and a serious mental breakdown suffered in 1907, he was hugely admired by his fellows in the Giovane Scuola and beyond.  Read more…



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