8 June 2023

8 June

- Beatrice Portinari – Dante’s inspiration

Florentine beauty was immortalised in verse

Beatrice ‘Bice’ di Folco Portinari, who has been identified as the lifelong love of the important poet Dante Alighieri, died on this day in 1290 in Florence, at the age of 25.  Dante is believed to have met Beatrice only twice, but was said to have been so affected by the encounters that he loved her for the rest of his life.  Many scholars believe Beatrice was the inspiration for Dante’s work, Vita Nuova, and that she also acted as his guide in the last book of his narrative poem, the Divine Comedy, and was the symbol of divine grace and theology in his poetry.  Beatrice was the daughter of a rich banker, Folco Portinari, and she lived in a house near Dante’s home in Florence. Dante first met Beatrice when they were both just nine years old at a May Day party given by her family.  But by the time Dante was 12, he had been promised by his parents in marriage to Gemma di Manetto Donati, who was from another powerful, local family.  Years after his marriage to Gemma, Dante claimed he met Beatrice again and he wrote several sonnets to her, without ever getting to know her properly, which were examples of the mediaeval notion of courtly love.  Read more…


Luigi Comencini – film director

Movies helped create an international audience for Italian cinema

Award winning director and screenwriter Luigi Comencini was born on this day in 1916 in Salò, a town on the banks of Lake Garda in Lombardy.  He is considered to have been one of the masters of the commedia all’italiana genre, a type of film produced between the 1950s and the 1970s that dealt with social issues such as divorce, contraception and the influence of the Catholic Church in a sardonically humorous way.  After Comencini studied architecture in Milan he went to work as a newspaper film critic. He began his career as a filmmaker in 1946 with a short documentary, Bambini in città, about the hard life of children in post-war Milan.  His first successful movie was L’imperatore di Capri in 1949, featuring the comedian Totò.  Comencini’s 1953 film, Pane, amore e fantasia, starring Vittorio De Sica and Gina Lollobrigida, is considered a prime example of neorealismo rosa -  pink neorealism. It was followed by Pane, amore e gelosia in 1954.  His masterpiece is considered to be Tutti a casa, starring Alberto Sordi, which was a bitter comedy about Italy after the armistice of 1943, when Italy surrendered to the Allies.  Read more…


Benedetto Alfieri – architect

Talented designer behind the Teatro Regio in Turin

Baroque architect Benedetto Innocenzo Alfieri was born on this day in 1699 in Rome.  He was a member of the Alfieri family who originated in Piedmont and he became the uncle of the dramatist, Vittorio Alfieri. Benedetto was also the godson of Pope Innocent XII.  Alfieri was sent to be educated in mathematics and design by the Jesuits. He later moved to Piedmont and lived in both Turin and Asti, where he practised as a lawyer and an architect.  Charles Emmanuel III, King of Sardinia, one of his patrons, commissioned him to design the Royal Theatre in Turin, originally assigned to Filippo Juvara, but who died before work began. The building was acknowledged as his masterpiece, but it burned down in 1936 and the theatre did not reopen until 1973.  Benedetto also helped with the decoration of the interior of the Basilica of Corpus Domini in Turin and the interior of Palazzo Chiablese next to the Royal Palace in Turin. In recognition, Charles Emmanuel III made him Count of Sostegno.  Alfieri also completed the bell tower of the Church of Sant’Anna in Asti and the façade of Vercelli Cathedral.  Read more…


Giuseppe Fiorelli - archaeologist

The man whose painstaking work saved Pompeii

Giuseppe Fiorelli, the archaeologist largely responsible for preserving the ruins of Pompeii, was born on this day in 1823, in Naples.  It was due to Fiorelli’s painstaking excavation techniques that much of the lost Roman city on the Neapolitan coast was preserved as it had looked when, in 79 AD, it was totally submerged under volcanic ash following the eruption of Vesuvius.  He also hit upon the idea of filling the cavities in the hardened lava and solidified ash left behind by long-rotted bodies and vegetation with plaster to create a model of the person or plant that had been engulfed.  This became known as the Fiorelli process.  Little is known of Fiorelli’s early life apart from some details of his academic career, which clearly show him to be precociously clever.  He studied law from the age of 11 and obtained a degree in legal studies at the age of 18. He was also a student of italic languages, numismatics – the study of coins, paper money and medals -- and epigraphy – the study and interpretation of ancient inscriptions.  Having chosen to pursue his interest in archaeology and the study of ancient civilisations, he wrote an article on numismatics that won him membership of a number of academies at the age of 20.  Read more…


Tomaso Albinoni - Venetian composer

Prolific writer of operas and instrumental music

The composer Tomaso Albinoni, perhaps best known for the haunting and powerful Adagio in G Minor, was born on this day in 1671 in Venice.  Albinoni was a contemporary of two other great Venetian composers, Arcangelo Corelli and Antonio Vivaldi, and was favourably compared with both.  It is his instrumental music for which he is popular today, although during his own lifetime he was famous for his operas, the first of which was performed in Venice in 1694.  He is thought to have composed some 81 operas in total, although they were not published at the time and the majority were lost.  His first major instrumental work also appeared in 1694. With the support of sponsorship from noble patrons, he published nine collections - in Italy, Amsterdam and London - beginning with Opus 1, the 12 Sonate a Tre, which he dedicated to his fellow Venetian, Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni, the grand-nephew of Pope Alexander VIII.  It was this work that established his fame.  He followed it with another collection of instrumental pieces, dedicated to Charles IV, Duke of Mantua, who may have employed him as a violinist.  Read more…


Guido Banti – physician

Doctor was the first to define leukaemia

The innovative physician and pathologist Guido Banti was born on this day in 1852 in Montebicchieri in Tuscany.  His work on the spleen led him to discover that a chronic congestive enlargement of the spleen resulted in the premature destruction of red blood cells. Closely related to leukaemia, this was later named 'Banti’s disease' in his honour.  Banti’s father was a physician and sent him to study medicine at the University of Pisa and the Medical School in Florence.  He graduated in 1877 and was appointed an assistant at the Hospital of Santa Maria Nuova and also as an assistant in the laboratory of Pathological Anatomy.  The ability to observe patients in bed and then carry out post mortem examinations was to prove fundamental to his work.  Within five years he had become chief of medical services. In 1895, after a five year spell in a temporary post he was appointed Ordinary Professor of Pathological Anatomy in the medical school in Florence. He remained in this post for 25 years.  Banti published the first textbook in Italy on the techniques of bacteriology in 1885.  He studied and also wrote about heart enlargement.  Read more…


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