30 November 2023

30 November

Simonetta Stefanelli – actress

Godfather star went on to design bags and shoes

Simonetta Stefanelli, the actress and fashion designer, was born on this day in 1954 in Rome.  Stefanelli is perhaps best-known for her performance as Apollonia Vitelli-Corleone in the 1972 film The Godfather, directed by Francis Ford Coppola.  She also made several films with her former husband, the actor and director Michele Placido.  The couple had three children together, Michelangelo, Brenno and Violante Placido, who is also an actress.  They divorced in 1994 and Stefanelli and her three children went to live in London for a short time.  Before appearing in The Godfather, Stefanelli had small roles in films guided by some of the top Italian directors, such as Gian Luigi Polidoro, Giulio Petroni, Marco Vicario and Dino Risi.  In 1972 she appeared in a German film for television. Then came her role in The Godfather alongside Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, Robert Duvall, James Caan and Diane Keaton.  Her character is the first wife of Pacino's character, Michael Corleone, a local girl Michael marries while in hiding in Sicily, but is then murdered in a bomb attack of which her husband was the intended victim. After her movie career, Stefanelli settled in Rome, where she opened a fashion store, Simo Bloom.  Read more…


Andrea Doria – admiral

Military commander with outstanding tactical talent

Andrea Doria, the most important naval leader of his time, was born on this day in 1466 in Oneglia in Liguria.  Because of his successes on both land and sea he was able to free Genoa from domination by foreign powers and reorganise its government to be more stable and effective.  Doria was part of an ancient aristocratic family but he was orphaned while still young and grew up to become a condottiero, or soldier of fortune.  He served Pope Innocent VIII, King Ferdinand I and his son Alfonso II of Naples, and other Italian princes.  Between 1503 and 1506 he helped his uncle, Domenico, crush the Corsican revolt against the rule of Genoa.  Attracted to the sea, Doria fitted out eight galleys and patrolled the Mediterranean, fighting the Ottoman Turks and Barbary pirates, adding to his wealth and reputation along the way.  He then entered the service of Francis I of France who was fighting the Emperor Charles V in Italy and helped him capture Genoa.  But after becoming disillusioned with French policies in Genoa, Doria transferred his support to Charles V and helped him drive the French out of Genoa.  Charles made him grand admiral of the imperial fleet and gave him the title of Prince of Melfi.  Read more…


Ippolito Nievo - writer and patriot

Risorgimento novel now seen as an overlooked classic

The writer Ippolito Nievo, whose posthumously published Confessions of an Italian is now considered the most important novel about the Risorgimento in Italian literature, was born on this day in 1831 in Padua.  Nievo, who was a passionate supporter of the move to unify Italy in the 19th century, drew inspiration from his participation in Giuseppe Garibaldi’s Spedizione dei Mille - the Expedition of the Thousand - which sought to achieve that goal.  He died for the cause at the age of just 29, perishing in a shipwreck while transporting important documents from Palermo to Naples.  His legacy was preserved in his most famous novel, in which the central character and narrator shares Nievo’s passions. Nievo completed the work in 1858 but it was not until 1867, six years after his death, that it found a publisher.  Nievo was born into comfortable circumstances.  His father was a prominent lawyer and magistrate in Padua and his mother the daughter of a Friulian countess.  Their home in Padua was the Palazzo Mocenigo Querini, a 16th century house overlooking Via Sant’Eufemia, close to the city centre.   Read more…


Veronica Gambara – writer and stateswoman

Politically astute poet wrote an ode to Emperor Charles V

Veronica Gambara, a lyric poet who ruled the state of Correggio for 32 years, was born on this day in 1485 in Pralboino in the province of Brescia.  Under her rule, the court of Correggio became an important literary salon visited by many writers and artists.  Gambara signed a treaty with the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, which guaranteed Correggio would not be besieged and in her political poems she expressed Italy as an entity centuries before unification.  Gambara came from an accomplished family, one of the seven children of Count Gianfrancesco da Gambara and Alda Pio da Carpi.  The humanist poets Ginevre and Isotta Noarola were her great aunts and Emilia Pia, the principal female interlocutor of Baldassare Castiglione’s Il cortegiano, was her aunt.  Gambara studied Latin, Greek, philosophy and theology and by the age of 17 had begun corresponding with the poet, Pietro Bembo, who later became her mentor when she sent him her poetry to read.  When Gambara was 24 she married her cousin, Giberto, Count of Correggio, a widower aged 50, and they had two sons, Ippolito and Girolamo.   Read more…


Beniamino Gigli - opera singer

Tenor’s beautiful voice can still be appreciated today

One of the greatest tenors of the 20th century, Beniamino Gigli, died on this day in Rome in 1957.  Gigli is remembered for the beauty of his voice, which was powerful as well as mellow and smooth. He made many recordings, which have since been converted to CD and can still be enjoyed by opera lovers today. He also made some film appearances.  Gigli was born in Recanati near Ancona in the Marche in 1890. He sang in the choir at Recanati Cathedral as a boy and then went on to study music in Rome.  He won his first singing competition in Parma in 1914 and made his operatic debut in Rovigo in the same year, playing the role of Enzo in Amilcare Ponchielli’s opera, La Gioconda.  Gigli made his debut on the stage of La Scala in Milan in 1918 singing Faust in Boito’s Mefistofele. The orchestra was conducted by Arturo Toscanini. His first appearance at the Metropolitan Opera in New York came two years later.  He became particularly associated with the roles of Rodolfo in Puccini’s La bohème and the title role in Giordano’s Andrea Chenier. His first appearance in London at Covent Garden was in Andrea Chenier in 1930.  Read more…


Book of the Day: The Godfather, by Mario Puzo

Mario Puzo’s The Godfather was originally published in 1969 by G. P. Putnam's Sons. The novel, which has sold more than 21 million copies worldwide, details the story of a fictional Mafia family in New York City and Long Island headed by Vito Corleone, the Godfather of the title. The novel covers the years 1945 to 1955 and includes the backstory of Vito Corleone, born Vittorio Andolini in the central Sicilian town of Corleone, from early childhood to adulthood. The Godfather is noteworthy for introducing Italian words like consigliere, caporegime, Cosa Nostra, and omertà to an English-speaking audience. It inspired a 1972 film of the same name. Two film sequels, including new contributions by Puzo himself, were made in 1974 and 1990.  The action centres on the brutal gang war involving the Five Families of the New York Mafia in the years after World War II and the rise of Vito’s youngest son, Michael, as the new head of the family, desperate to end the family’s association with crime and build a new life on the West Coast.

Mario Puzo, born in New York City to immigrants from Campania, was an author and screenwriter. When The Godfather was adapted into a film trilogy directed by Francis Ford Coppola, Puzo won an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for the first film in 1972 and for Part II in 1974. Puzo also wrote the original screenplay for the 1978 Superman film and its 1980 sequel. 

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29 November 2023

29 November

Agostino Chigi - banker and arts patron

Nobleman from Siena became one of Europe’s richest men

The banker Agostino Chigi, who was a major sponsor of artists during the Renaissance, was born on this day in 1466 in Siena.  At its height, Chigi’s banking house in Rome was the biggest financial institution in Europe, employing up to 20,000 people, with branches throughout Italy and abroad, as far apart as London and Cairo.  Chigi invested a good deal of his wealth in supporting the arts, notably providing financial backing to almost all the main figures of the early 16th century, including Perugino, Sebastiano del Piombo, Giovanni da Udine, Giulio Romano, Il Sodoma (Giovanni Bazzi) and Raphael.  Perugino painted The Chigi Altarpiece, dated at around 1506-1507, which hangs in the Chigi family chapel in the church of Sant'Agostino in Siena.  Chigi’s significant legacy to Rome was to have built a chapel in the church of Santa Maria della Pace, another - his mortuary chapel, the Chigi Chapel - in the church of Santa Maria del Popolo, and the superb suburban villa in Trastevere, on the banks of the Tiber, which since 1579 has been known as the Villa Farnesina.  Agostino Chigi was the son of the prominent Sienese banker Mariano Chigi, from an ancient and illustrious Tuscan family.   Read more…


Agostino Richelmy – Cardinal

Former soldier sent priests to say mass for troops

Cardinal Agostino Richelmy, who fought for Garibaldi as a teenager, was born on this day in 1850 in Turin.  He joined the Garibaldi Volunteers during the war of 1866 and is said to have worn his red shirt under his cassock for years afterwards.  When Italy entered the First World War in 1915, Richelmy organised priests to serve as army chaplains in the mountains of Trentino, where they had to carve altars out of snow and say mass in temperatures below zero.  Richelmy was born into an ancient, noble family and his father, Prospero was a hydraulic engineer.  He was educated at the Liceo Classico Cavour and the Archiepiscopal Seminary in Turin and gained a doctorate in theology in 1876. He became a professor of moral and dogmatic theology and then a professor in the faculty of canon law.  Richelmy was elected Bishop of Ivrea in 1886 and named as the Archbishop of Turin in 1897.  He was created cardinal priest of Sant’Eusebio in Rome in 1899 and was then transferred to Santa Maria in Via in Rome in 1911.  Richelmy supported all the social directives of Pope Leo XIII, who worked to encourage understanding between the Church and the modern world during his papacy.  Read more…


Luigi ‘Gigi’ Peronace - football agent

Calabrian facilitated string of transfers to Italy

The football agent Luigi ‘Gigi’ Peronace, who brokered the transfer deals that saw leading British stars from John Charles to Liam Brady play in Italy’s Serie A, was born in the Calabrian seaside town of Soverato on this day in 1925.  Agents are commonplace in football today but they were an almost unknown phenomenon when Peronace set up in business in the 1950s and he is widely accepted as the first of his kind, certainly in terms of building a ‘stable’ of clients.  The charismatic Peronace’s ability to charm all parties in transfer deals - buyer, seller and player - led to him becoming an influential figure in football in both Italy and the United Kingdom over a 25-year period.  Charles, the Welsh giant whose talents persuaded Juventus to almost double the British transfer fee record when they paid Leeds United £65,000 for his services in 1957, remains Peronace’s most famous deal, although he was instrumental in introducing other big-name British players to the Italian game, including the prolific Chelsea and England striker Jimmy Greaves and Scotland’s Denis Law.  Peronace’s first taste of football was as a player in the 1940s with the Calabrian team Reggina.  Read more…


Gaetano Donizetti - opera composer

Birthplace of musical genius has been declared a national monument

Gaetano Donizetti, a prolific composer of operas in the 19th century, was born on this day in 1797 in Bergamo in northern Italy.  Donizetti came into the world in the basement of a house in Borgo Canale just outside the walls of the Città Alta, Bergamo’s upper town. He was the fifth of six children born to a textile worker and his wife.  He once wrote about his birthplace: “…I was born underground in Borgo Canale. One descended the stairs to the basement, where no ray of sunlight had ever been seen. And like an owl I flew forth…”  Donizetti developed a love for music and, despite the poverty of his family, benefited from early tuition in Bergamo. He went on to become a brilliant composer of operas in the early part of the 19th century and is considered to have been a major influence on Verdi, Puccini and many other composers who came after him.  Experts consider some of his work, for example Lucia di Lammermoor and L’elisir d’amore, to be among the greatest lyrical operas of all time.  After a magnificent international career, Donizetti returned to Bergamo, where he died in 1843 in the Palazzo Scotti.  Read more…


Cardinal Andrea della Valle – antiquities collector

Restoration and conservation techniques set example to others

Andrea della Valle, remembered for amassing one of the earliest known collections of Roman antiquities, was born into a noble family on this day in 1463 in Rome.  He was the son of Filippo della Valle and Girolama Margani, and was the second of their four children.  After entering the Church, he was elected Bishop of Crotone in 1496. He was chosen to direct the Apostolic Chancery between 1503 and 1505 and served as Apostolic secretary during the reign of Pope Julius II.  Della Valle was transferred to the titular diocese of Miletus in 1508, but resigned from it to give way to his nephew, Quinzio Rustici, in 1523.  He was created cardinal priest in 1517 and participated in the papal conclaves of 1521 and 1523.  As archpriest of the Basilica Santa Maria Maggiore, Della Valle ceremonially opened and closed the holy door in the Jubilee year of 1525. The door is sealed by mortar and cement from the inside so it cannot normally be opened, but is ceremoniously opened during holy year to allow pilgrims to enter and gain plenary indulgences.  Della Valle had inherited some antiquities collected by his ancestors but was always eager to acquire more.  Read more…


Book of the Day: Understanding Italian Renaissance Painting: A Guide to the Artists, Ideas and Key Works, by Stefano Zuffi

Filled with great masterpieces by such artists as Botticelli, Leonardo, Raphael, Michelangelo, Masaccio, Piero della Francesca, Mantegna and Titian, Understanding Italian Renaissance Painting takes a journey into their world. As in the acclaimed and innovative How to Read a Painting, each spread uses an important painting as a way to explain a key concept, with numerous large details. Here, 180 works illuminate key ideas in Renaissance painting, from perspective and the golden section to grace and symbolism. In addition, there are brief biographies of the major artists. The result is an original, accessible and affordable volume that offers an introduction into the art and culture of the Italian Renaissance.  Described by The Good Book Guide as 'an extremely useful guide to the art and culture of the Renaissance in Italy ... a perfect companion for gallery goers and art lovers'

Stefano Zuffi is an art historian and the author of numerous books on the art of the Italian Renaissance, including Art inVenice (1999). He lives in Milan.

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28 November 2023

28 November

NEW - Umberto Veronesi - oncologist

Pioneered new techniques for treating breast cancer

Umberto Veronesi, an oncologist whose work in finding new methods to treat breast cancer spared many women faced with a full mastectomy, was born on this day in 1925 in Milan.  Along with many other contributions to the knowledge of breast cancer and breast cancer prevention over a 50-year career, Veronese was a pioneer of breast-conserving surgery in early breast cancer as an alternative to a radical mastectomy.  He developed the technique of quadrantectomy, which limits surgical resection to the affected quarter of the breast. This more limited resection became standard practice for the treatment of breast cancer detected early after Veronesi led the first prospective randomised trial of breast-conserving surgery, which compared outcomes from radical mastectomy against his quadrantectomy over a 20-year period.  Veronesi supported and promoted research aimed at improving conservative surgical techniques in general and conducting studies on tamoxifen and retinoids which helped verify their effectiveness in preventing the formation of cancer in the first place.  He is the founder and president of the Umberto Veronesi Foundation.  Read more…


Fabio Grosso - World Cup hero

Unspectacular career illuminated by unforgettable goal

Fabio Grosso, the unlikely hero of Italy's victory in the 2006 World Cup in Germany, was born on this day in 1977 in Rome.  Selected for Marcello Lippi's squad for the Finals as cover for first-choice left-back Gianluca Zambrotta, Grosso eventually secured a place in Lippi's team and went on to score one of the most important goals in Italy's World Cup history as they beat the hosts, Germany, to reach the final.  He then secured his place in azzurri folklore by scoring the winning penalty in the final against France as Italy lifted the trophy for the fourth time, equalling Brazil's record.  Yet Grosso arrived at the finals as a player who, if not an unknown, seldom attracted attention and had enjoyed a career that was respectable but certainly not eye-catching.  Five years before 2006,  he was playing in Serie C for Chieti, in the town in Abruzzo where he grew up, and only two and a half years before the tournament he left Serie A side Perugia to play for Palermo in Serie B.  Nonetheless, Palermo did win promotion to Serie A soon after Grosso arrived and at the same time he quietly established himself as Lippi's first choice at left back in the 2006 World Cup qualifying competition.  Read more…


Alberto Moravia - journalist and writer

Italian novelist recognised as major 20th century literary figure

The novelist Alberto Moravia was born Alberto Pincherle on this day in 1907 in Rome.  He adopted Moravia, the maiden name of his paternal grandmother, as a pen name and became a prolific writer of short stories and novels. Much of his work has been made into films.  Before the Second World War, he had difficulties with the Fascist regime, which banned the publication of one of his novels. But his anti-Fascist novel Il conformista later became the basis for the film The Conformist directed by Bernardo Bertolucci.  In 1941 he married the novelist Elsa Morante and they went to live first on Capri, and then in the Ciociaria area of Lazio before returning to Rome after it was liberated in 1944.  Moravia was once quoted as comparing a childhood illness, which confined him to bed for a long period, with Fascism. He said they had both made him suffer and do things he otherwise would not have done.  He died in Rome in 1990 and is remembered today as an important literary figure of the 20th century.  Read more…


Laura Antonelli - actress

Pin-up star of 1970s sex-comedies

The actress Laura Antonelli, whose career was at its peak while Italian cinema audiences were indulging a taste for sex-comedies during the 1970s, was born on this day in 1941 in Pula, a port city now part of Croatia but then known as Pola, capital of the Italian territory of Istria.  A curvaceous brunette who posed for both the Italian and French editions of Playboy magazine in the early 1980s, Antonelli was mostly remembered for appearing scantily clad opposite male stars such as Marcello Mastroianni and Michele Placido, yet she was a talented actress, winning a Nastro d’Argento - awarded by Italian film journalists - as best actress in Salvatore Samperi’s 1974 comedy-drama Malizia (Malice).  She also worked on several occasions for Luchino Visconti, one of Italy’s greatest directors. Indeed, she starred in 1976 as the wife of a 19th century Roman aristocrat in Visconti’s last film, L’Innocente (The Innocent), based on the novel The Intruder by Gabriele d'Annunzio.  However, the success of her career was largely built on roles in films such as Devil in the Flesh (1969), The Divine Nymph (1975) and Tigers in Lipstick (1979), the content of which outraged Italy’s fledgling feminist movement and shocked the Catholic Church.  Read more…


Alessandro Altobelli - World Cup Winner

Scored Italy’s third goal in 1982 Final

Alessandro Altobelli, one of only four players to score in a World Cup final after starting on the substitutes’ bench, was born on this day in 1955 in Sonnino, a small medieval town in mountainous southern Lazio.  At the age of 26, Altobelli was part of Enzo Bearzot’s squad for the 1982 World Cup finals in Spain, in which Italy triumphed for the first time since their two tournament victories under Vittorio Pozzo in the 1930s.  A striker with Internazionale of Milan, Altobelli did not start a single game in the 1982 finals and had played only a few minutes during Italy’s progress to the knock-out stages.  But he was called on after just seven minutes of the Final against West Germany, replacing Francesco Graziani, stricken with a shoulder injury, and his patience waiting for his chance was rewarded when he finished an Italian counter-attack with their third goal in the second half, giving the azzurri a 3-0 lead that the Germans could not overcome.  Italy’s tournament hero, Paolo Rossi, had scored their opening goal before Marco Tardelli fired home their second, which he celebrated wildly in what became the enduring image of the tournament. Read more…


Mario Nascimbene - film music composer

First Italian to score for Hollywood

The composer Mario Nascimbene, most famous for creating the music for more than 150 films, was born on this day in 1913 in Milan.  Nascimbene’s legacy in the history of Italian cinema is inevitably overshadowed by the work of Ennio Morricone and the late Nino Rota, two composers universally acknowledged as giants of Italian film music.  Yet the trailblazer for the great Italian composers of movie soundtracks was arguably Nascimbene, whose engagement to score Joseph L Mankiewicz’s 1954 drama The Barefoot Contessa won him the distinction of becoming the first Italian to write the music for a Hollywood production.  It was such an unexpected commission that Nascimbene confessed in an interview in 1986 that when he was first contacted about the film by Mankiewicz’s secretary he shouted down the phone and hung up, suspecting a hoax perpetrated by a friend who only a few months earlier had caught him out in a similar wind-up over the score for the William Wyler movie Roman Holiday.  Only after a third call from the secretary did he reluctantly agree to meet the director and when his doorbell rang he was convinced his friend would be on the other side.  Read more…


Caterina Scarpellini – astronomer and meteorologist

Female ‘assistant’ remembered for her important discoveries

The astronomer Caterina Scarpellini, who discovered a comet in 1854 and was later awarded a medal by the Italian government for her contribution to the understanding of astronomy and other areas of science, died on this day in 1873 in Rome.  Caterina had moved from her native Foligno in Umbria to Rome at the age of 18 to work as an assistant to her uncle, Abbe Feliciano Scarpellini, who was the director of the Roman Campidoglio Observatory. He had been appointed in 1816 by Pope Pius VI to a new chair of sacred physics in the Roman College of the Campidoglio, marking a turning point in the attitude of the Roman Catholic Church to science.  From 1847 onwards, Caterina edited Corrispondenza Scientifica in Rome, a bulletin publishing scientific discoveries. She carried out her observations six times a day and reported on her findings.  She married Erasmo Fabri, who was also an assistant at the observatory, and together they established a meteorological station in Rome in 1856.  Caterina published reports of her astronomical observations and meteorological measurements in Italian, French and Belgian journals and also wrote about electrical, magnetic and geological phenomena.  Read more…


Book of the Day: Umberto Veronesi: L'uomo con il camice bianco, by Alberto Costa (in Italian)

Umberto Veronesi was for fifty years one of the central figures of the Italian scientific world, a symbol of excellence and empathy towards patients, and a great catalyst of energy in research and social policies. In this biography, which also focuses on the most intimate Veronesi, Alberto Costa, also a doctor, personal friend and collaborator of the great oncologist for more than thirty years, recounts Veronesi's career and his passion for the medical profession through a thousand little daily stories: from sleepless nights after a difficult operation, to the smiles of the many women saved from breast cancer. A passion that Veronesi has also demonstrated in his political activity, as Minister of Health and senator, and in the social commitment that has made him become a prominent figure and widely followed by the general Italian public. In the final part of the volume, the author's notes taken from his last meetings with Veronesi are collected in the form of first-person monologues, which offer the reader an enlightening glimpse into the private life of the Milanese doctor. Showing us the public and more personal dimensions of this tenacious dreamer, Umberto Veronesi: The Man in the White Coat draws the portrait of a man who left an indelible mark not only in the approach to cancer treatment, but also in everyone's hearts.

Dr Alberto Costa MD, is the Coordinator of the Breast Surgery Unit at the Maugeri Foundation in Pavia, Italy, and Coordinator of the Canton Ticino Breast Unit. Recognized internationally for his contribution to the advancement of breast cancer treatment, he is the author of more than 250 scientific publications. 


Umberto Veronesi - oncologist

Pioneered new techniques for treating breast cancer

Umberto Veronesi made an important contribution to breast cancer treatment
Umberto Veronesi made an important
contribution to breast cancer treatment 
Umberto Veronesi, an oncologist whose work in finding new methods to treat breast cancer spared many women faced with a full mastectomy, was born on this day in 1925 in Milan.

Along with many other contributions to the knowledge of breast cancer and breast cancer prevention over a 50-year career, Veronese was a pioneer of breast-conserving surgery in early breast cancer as an alternative to a radical mastectomy. 

He developed the technique of quadrantectomy, which limits surgical resection to the affected quarter of the breast. 

This more limited resection became standard practice for the treatment of breast cancer detected early after Veronesi led the first prospective randomised trial of breast-conserving surgery, which compared outcomes from radical mastectomy against his quadrantectomy over a 20-year period.

Veronesi supported and promoted research aimed at improving conservative surgical techniques in general and conducting studies on tamoxifen and retinoids which helped verify their effectiveness in preventing the formation of cancer in the first place. 

The founder and president of the Umberto Veronesi Foundation, he founded and held the role of scientific director and scientific director emeritus of the European Institute of Oncology, was scientific director of the National Cancer Institute of Milan and held the position of Minister of Health from April 2000 to June 2001 in the second government of prime minister Giuliano Amati.

Veronesi grew up in Casoretto, which was then an agricultural suburb of Milan, where his father was a tenant farmer.  He was one of six children. The family home was relatively remote, the only source of heat in the winter a fireplace in the kitchen. Going to school necessitated a 5km (three miles) walk to school and back, but his parents were determined that their five sons and a daughter would enjoy a good education.

Veronesi pictured at a book signing in 2013, still working at the age of 87
Veronesi pictured at a book signing in 2013, still
working at the age of 87
Veronesi’s father died when he was still a child but the memory of beatings handed out by Fascist squadristi meant that his father’s left-wing politics had a more profound effect on him than his mother’s devout Catholicism. He declared himself to be an agnostic at the age of 14.

He began to focus on cancer soon after graduating in medicine and surgery at the University of Milan in 1951 and specialising in surgery at the University of Pavia. He travelled to England and France to broaden his knowledge and joined the National Cancer Institute, of which he would become director-general in 1975, as a volunteer.

In the course of what would be a brilliant career, his far-sighted ideas were not well received initially and he had to fight to convince others.  Yet in time his scientific projects opened new boundaries in cancer treatment.  His belief in joining forces with patients, communicating with them clearly about their treatment and enlisting their help in campaigns to raise funds helped change attitudes towards the disease.

Veronesi too was instrumental in removing regulatory barriers in the management of terminal cancer patients, making opioid painkillers available to those whose cancer could not be cured.

Veronesi (right) with then president Giorgio Napolitano in 2011
Veronesi (right) with then president
Giorgio Napolitano in 2011
Away from the main focus of his life, Veronesi became politically active when the left-wing politician Bettino Craxi invited him to become a member of the national assembly of the Italian Socialist Party (PSI).  In April 2000 he was Minister of Health in the second Amato government, using his platform to campaign for an anti-smoking law.  He was later elected to the Senate as a member of the Democratic Party.

President of the Italian Nuclear Safety Agency from 2010-11, he resigned from that position in protest at the Berlusconi government for failing to provide the agency with even the minimum structures to carry out its activities.

He was a strong advocate of animal rights, believed in voluntary euthanasia and, controversially, supported the genetic modification of food because of its possibilities for helping parts of the world prone to crop failures and famine, and for removing naturally occurring carcinogens. 

His outspoken opposition to doctors’ strikes in the 1980s, however, caused him to fall foul of the Red Brigades, whose death threats left him looking over his shoulder in public for several years.

Veronesi died at home in November 2016 not long before what would have been his 91st birthday. After a secular funeral at Palazzo Marino, Milan’s city hall, where his son, Alberto, a conductor, led two musical pieces by Beethoven and Puccini, his body was cremated. 

Via Casoretto, looking towards the church of Santa Maria Bianca della Misericordia
Via Casoretto, looking towards the church of
Santa Maria Bianca della Misericordia
Travel tip:

The Casoretto of today is a neighbourhood in the northeastern suburbs of Milan, forming part of an area locally known as NoLo, an acronym for North of Loreto. The area is multicultural with a vibrant nightlife, art galleries and restaurants. Casoretto is notable for colourful houses and an unusually high number of cycle repair shops, reflecting local beliefs in eco-friendly travel.  The neighbourhood fans out from the central Via Casoretto and the church of Santa Maria Bianca della Misericordia, which is sometimes known as the Abbey of Casoretto. Until the start of the 20th century and industrialisation, the area was characterised by farmhouses and cultivated fields, with no significant residential areas apart from a few farmhouses and other buildings around the Abbey.

Palazzo Marino, with the entrace to the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II to the right of the picture
Palazzo Marino, with the entrace to the Galleria
Vittorio Emanuele II to the right of the picture
Travel tip:

Palazzo Marino, where Veronesi’s secular funeral was held, is a 16th-century palace located in Piazza della Scala, in the centre of Milan. Standing opposite the world-famous opera house, Teatro alla Scala, and next to the northern entrance to the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, it has been Milan’s city hall since 1861. Designed by architect Galeazzo Alessi, it was built between 1557 and 1563 for Tommaso Marino, a wealthy Genovese banker and merchant.  After Marino died, leaving his family bankrupt, the palace became the property of the state before being sold to another banker, Carlo Omodei, who did not live there himself but rented it out to other notable Milanese, before reverting to state ownership in 1781. After being established as the seat of Milan’s municipal government in 1861, the palace was given a new facade to coincide with the creation of Piazza della Scala, undergoing a second major restoration after it was badly damaged by bombing in World War Two. 

Also on this day:

1873: The death of astronomer Caterina Scarpellini

1907: The birth of novelist Alberto Moravia

1913: The birth of composer Mario Nascembene

1941: The birth of actress Laura Antonelli

1955: The birth of footballer Alessandro Altobelli

1977: The birth of World Cup hero Fabio Grosso


27 November 2023

27 November

Jacopo Sansovino – architect

Death of the designer praised by Palladio

Jacopo d’Antonio Sansovino, the sculptor and architect renowned for his works around Piazza San Marco, died on this day in 1570 in Venice.  He designed the Libreria Sansoviniana - also known as the Biblioteca Marciana - in the Piazzetta, which was later praised by the architect Andrea Palladio as ‘the finest building erected since antiquity’.  Sansovino had been born Jacopo Tatti in 1486 in Florence and was apprenticed to the sculptor Andrea Sansovino, whose surname he subsequently adopted.  He was commissioned to make a marble sculpture of St James for the Duomo and a Bacchus, which is now in the Bargello in Florence.  However, his designs for sculptures to adorn the façade of the Church of San Lorenzo were rejected by Michelangelo, who was in charge of the scheme.  In 1529 Sansovino became chief architect to the Procurators of San Marco, making him one of the most influential artists in Venice.  His first Venetian building was the Palazzo Corner della Ca’ Grande, a huge classical palace for one of the richest families in Venice.  Sansovino designed the Loggetta and its sculptures adjoining the Campanile and statues for the Basilica of San Marco. He also helped rebuild many of the churches and palaces in Venice.  Read more…


Senesino - operatic castrato

Sienese singer who worked with composer Handel

The acclaimed contralto castrato singer Senesino, who enjoyed a long professional relationship with the composer George Frideric Handel, died on this day in 1758 in Siena.  During the 18th century, when opera’s popularity was at its height, the castrati singers - male singers castrated as boys to preserve their prepubescent vocal range - were the highest paid members of the cast and the likes of Carlo Broschi, who sang under the stage name Farinelli, Giovanni Carestini (“Cusanino”), Gaetano Majorano ("Caffarelli") and Gaspare Pacchierotti were the genre’s first superstars.  Senesino could be added to that list.  When he made his first appearance for Handel in his three-act opera Radamisto in 1720 his salary was reported as between 2000 and 3000 guineas, which today would be worth around £250,000 to £365,000 (€280,000-€400,000).  Born Francesco Bernardi in 1686, Senesino took his name from his home town, Siena. His father was a barber in the Tuscan city.  He joined the choir of Siena’s Duomo - the Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta - in 1695 and was castrated at the comparatively late age of 13.  Read more…


Roberto Mancini - footballer and manager

Skilful player now highly successful coach

Roberto Mancini, a former Italy player who went on to become head coach of the Italian national team, was born on this day in Iesi in Marche in 1964.  Roberto Mancini enjoyed huge success with Internazionale in Italy and Manchester City in England.  Mancini, an elegant and creative forward, was capped 36 times by Italy between 1984 and 1994.  After a highly successful playing career, in which he was part of title-winning teams at Sampdoria and Lazio, he enjoyed immediate success as a manager, winning the Coppa Italia in his first season as Fiorentina boss in 2000. He repeated the feat in his second season at his next club, Lazio.  Mancini then made his mark emphatically at Internazionale, guiding the Milan club to a club record three consecutive Serie A titles, as well as winning the Coppa Italia and the Supercoppa (a pre-season match between the Serie A champions and the Coppa Italia winners) twice. This made him the club's most successful manager for 30 years.  While at Inter, he also set a Serie A record by winning 17 consecutive matches.  He was out of football for a year after being dismissed by Inter in 2008, despite his domestic success.  Read more…


Horace - Roman poet

Writer who ‘seized the day’ and left his vivid account of it

Quintus Horatius Flaccus, better known as Horace, died on this day in 8 BC in Rome.  He had become a leading poet during the reign of the Emperor Augustus and acquired a farm near Rome which he made famous through his poetry.  His Odes and his more informal Satires and verse Epistles vividly portrayed contemporary Roman society, with the background themes of love, friendship and philosophy.  Horace’s career coincided with Rome’s momentous change from a republic to an empire and he became a spokesman for the new regime.  He is said to have revealed far more about himself and his way of life in his writings than any other poet in antiquity. His most famous two words are ‘carpe diem’ – taken from his first book of Odes – which are usually translated as ‘seize the day’.  Horace was born in 65 BC in Venusia in southern Italy, a town that lay on a trade route between Apulia and Basilicata. Horace’s father had been a slave but had managed to gain his freedom and improve his social position.  He spent money on his son’s education and eventually took him to Rome to find him the best school.  At the age of 19 Horace went to Athens to enrol in the Academy founded by Plato.  Read more…


Gianni Vernetti – politician and writer

Ecologist who now provides support for emerging economies

Former centre-left politician Gianni Vernetti was born on this day in 1960 in Turin, the capital city of the Piedmont region of Italy.  While serving in the Chamber of Deputies of the Italian parliament he promoted initiatives on renewable energies and, after he was elected to the Senate, he served as Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs in Romano Prodi’s government between 2006 and 2008.  Vernetti is married to the television journalist Laura De Donato and they have four children.  In 1985, Vernetti graduated in architecture from the University of Turin and in 1989 obtained a PhD in urban ecology at the University of Milan. For 10 years, between 1985 and 1995, he worked as an architect and urban planner.  As the child of politically active parents - his father, a philosophy professor and ex-partisan and his mother, an architect, were both former members of the Italian Communist Party - it was always likely he would enter politics himself.   Vernetti was a student protester in the late 1970s and founder-member of the anti-nuclear committee of the town of Trino Vercellese in Piedmont, later becoming a founder-member of the Federation of Italian Greens.  Read more…


Book of the Day: Art of Renaissance Venice, 1400-1600, by Loren Wayne Partridge

Chronicling the 15th and 16th centuries and journeying from the Piazza San Marco to the villas of the Veneto, this vivid and authoritative survey of architecture, sculpture, and painting offers a rich perspective on the history and artistic achievements of Renaissance Venice. Distinguished scholar Loren Partridge examines the masterpieces of Venice's urban design, civic buildings, churches, and palaces within their distinctive cultural and geographic milieus, exploring issues of function, style, iconography, patronage, and gender. Readers will also discover fascinating in-depth analyses of major works of such artists as Giovanni Bellini, Carpaccio, Giorgione, Palladio, Tintoretto, Titian, and Veronese. Designed to appeal to students and travellers alike, Art of Renaissance Venice is an essential guide to the art and architecture of La Serenissima, bringing it to life as never before.

Dr. Loren W. Partridge is Professor of the Art of the Italian Renaissance at the University of California, Berkeley. His many books include Michelangelo, Last Judgment: A Glorious Restoration, The Art of Renaissance Rome, 1400-1600, and Michelangelo: The Sistine Chapel Ceiling. He has been honoured by Fulbright, Kress, Guggenheim, and Getty fellowships.

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26 November 2023

26 November

Charles Forte - businessman and hotelier

Multi-billion pound empire started with a single café

Businessman Charles Forte - later Sir Charles and then Baron Forte of Ripley - was born Carmine Forte in the hamlet of Mortale in the Frosinone province of southern Lazio on this day in 1908.  Forte was most famous for his hotels empire, which once numbered more than 800 properties ranging from Travelodge motels to the high-end luxury of the Grosvenor House in London and the George V in Paris.  Starting with a single milk bar in London, opened in 1935, he grew a business that became so vast that, when it changed hands 61 years later, it was valued at £3.9 billion.  Charles Forte was brought up largely in Scotland, where his family emigrated in 1911 after his father, Rocco, decided to follow the lead of his brother by abandoning farming in his impoverished homeland to try his luck in the catering business abroad.   Rocco ran a café and ice cream parlour in Alloa, a town in central Scotland about an hour's drive north-east of Glasgow and a similar distance to the north-west of Edinburgh.  Charles went to school in Alloa and nearby Dumfries before completing his education at the Mamiani High School in Rome.  Read more…


Letizia Moratti – politician and businesswoman

First woman to be Mayor of Milan and head of RAI

Letizia Moratti, one of Europe’s best-known businesswomen and a successful politician, was born on this day in 1949 in Milan.  Married to the oil magnate Gianmarco Moratti, she was chair of the state television network RAI between 1994 and 1996, a minister in former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s second and third administrations, and Mayor of Milan between 2006 and 2011.  Born Letizia Maria Brichetto Arnaboldi, her antecedents are the Brichetto family from Genoa, who founded the first insurance brokerage company in Italy, and the noble Arnaboldi family from Milan.  Her grandmother, Mimona Brichetto Arnaboldi, was a society hostess in the 1930s and an outspoken opponent of Fascism.  Letizia attended a private school in Milan and had classical dance classes at the Carla Strauss Academy in the Brera district.  She attended the University of Milan and graduated in political science.  At around the same time, she met Gianmarco Moratti, an oil contractor whose brother, Massimo, a petrochemicals tycoon, is the former chairman of Internazionale.  With funding from the Moratti family, Letizia launched her first business at the age of 25.  Read more…


Giorgio Cini - heroic entrepreneur

Name lives on in cultural life of Venice

Giorgio Cini, the man whose name was given to a major cultural institution on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore in Venice was born on this day in 1918 in Rome.  The eldest child of Vittorio Cini, who in the early 20th century was one of Italy’s wealthiest industrialists, and the celebrated silent movie actress Lyda Borelli, Giorgio took on an entrepreneurial role in his father’s businesses, which encompassed a broad range of interests, in the financial and insurance sector, steel and electrical, maritime and tourism. Vittorio was born in Ferrara, owned a castle in Monselice near Padua, but adopted Venice as his home and devoted much of his energy to enhancing the wealth of the city. A key figure in the development of the port of Marghera, he was a close friend and business partner of Giuseppe Volpi, the businessman and politician who founded the Venice Film Festival.  Giorgio’s life was tragically cut short when he was killed in a plane crash in 1949 at the age of just 30, shortly after taking off from the small airport of Saint-Cassien near Cannes, where he had been with his fiancee, the American-born actress Merle Oberon.  Read more…


Amelita Galli-Curci - soprano

Singer’s beautiful voice lives on thanks to early recordings

Amelita Galli-Curci, one of the most popular Italian opera singers and recording artists of the early 20th century, died on this day in 1963.  Galli-Curci was a ‘coloratura’ soprano and her voice has been described as ‘florid, vibrant, agile and able to perform trills.’  Although she was largely self-taught her voice was much admired and it has been claimed she was encouraged to become an opera singer by composer Pietro Mascagni, who was a family friend.  She was born Amelita Galli in Milan in 1881 and studied the piano at the Milan Conservatory, which is in the centre of the city close to the Duomo. She made her stage debut as a soprano at Trani in 1906, singing Gilda in Verdi’s Rigoletto. She was widely acclaimed and her career took off from there.  In 1908 she married an Italian nobleman, the Marchese Luigi Curci and she subsequently attached his surname to hers. She remained known as Amelita Galli-Curci even after they divorced.  She sang in just two performances of Donizetti’s Lucia di Lamermoor with Enrico Caruso in Buenos Aires in 1915 but they went on to make wonderful recordings together.  Read more…


Enrico Bombieri – Mathematician

Brilliant professor who won top award in his field at just 34

The mathematician Enrico Bombieri, one of the world’s leading authorities on number theory and analysis, which has practical application in the world of encryption and data transmission, was born on this day in 1940 in Milan.  Bombieri, who is also an accomplished painter, won the Fields Medal, an international award for outstanding discoveries in mathematics regarded in the field of mathematical sciences as equivalent to a Nobel Prize, when he was a 34-year-old professor at the University of Pisa in 1974.  As well as analytic number theory, he has become renowned for his expertise in other areas of highly advanced mathematics including algebraic geometry, univalent functions, theory of several complex variables, partial differential equations of minimal surfaces, and the theory of finite groups.  Mathematics textbooks now refer to several discoveries named after him in his own right or with fellow researchers, including the Bombieri-Lang conjecture, the Bombieri norm and the Bombieri–Vinogradov theorem.  He has been described as a "problem-oriented" scholar - one who tries to solve deep problems rather than to build theories.  Read more…


Book of the Day: Newcomers' Lives: The Story of Immigrants as Told in Obituaries from The Times, edited by Peter Unwin

To mention the names Ernst Gombrich, Nikolaus Pevsner, Joseph Conrad, Nancy Astor, CLR James and Lucian Freud is to give but a brief glimpse of the impact immigrants to this country have made on our national culture and character. Indeed, these people have been crucial to the development of recent British history and have been indispensable in shaping the way we live now. This collection of obituaries from The Times of some of the most important of these people gives the reader a unique view of their contribution. It becomes clear that this contribution has been a determinant factor in British history.  Newcomers’ Lives covers politics, business, art, architecture, music and sport, as well as philosophy and religion. The breadth and depth of the influence of immigrants is thus reinforced.  The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, contributes a fascinating introduction surveying our historical and cultural landscape.

Peter Unwin, PhD, is a Principal Lecturer at the University of Worcester, UK, where he teaches on the MA and BA in Social Work.

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25 November 2023

25 November

Giorgio Faletti – writer and entertainer

Comedian who became best-selling novelist

Giorgio Faletti, who became a best-selling thriller writer, was born on this day in 1950 in Asti in Piedmont.  He was a successful actor, comedian, and singer-songwriter before he turned his hand to writing fiction. His first thriller, I Kill (Io uccido), sold more than four million copies.  Faletti’s books have now been published in 25 languages throughout Europe, South America, China, Japan, Russia and the US.  Faletti graduated from law school but then began a career as a comedian at the Milanese Club ‘Derby’.  In 1983 he made his debut on local television before appearing alongside the popular hostess and former actress, Raffaella Carrà, on RAI’s daytime game show, Pronto, Raffaella? He was cast as a comedian in the popular variety show, Drive In, which was followed by other television successes.  He wrote the soundtrack for a TV series in which he was one of the main actors and then released an album of his songs.  In 1992 he took part in the Sanremo Music Festival with Orietta Berti with the song Rumba di tango.  In 1994, performing his own song, Signor tenente, he came second at Sanremo.  Read more…


Stefano Boeri - architect

Milan urban planner famous for Vertical Forest

The architect Stefano Boeri, a specialist in environmentally sustainable developments and best known for his Bosco Verticale - Vertical Forest - project in Milan, was born on this day in 1956 in Milan.  The Bosco Verticale consists of two residential tower blocks in the Isola neighbourhood in the north of the city, just beyond the Porta Garibaldi railway station.  The two towers, one of 111m (364 ft), the other of 76m (249 ft), incorporate 8,900 sqm (96,000 sq ft) of terraces that are home to approximately 800 trees, 5,000 shrubs and 11,000 perennial plants.  The vegetation - the equivalent of what might be found in three hectares of woodland but with a footprint of just 3,000 sqm - mitigates against urban pollution, absorbing dust and carbon dioxide while producing oxygen. The trees also provide natural climate control for the inhabitants, shading the interior from sun in the summer and blocking cold winds in the winter.  Boeri incorporated other features to make the building self-sufficient, generating energy from solar panels and using filtered waste water to irrigate the plants.  Construction of the towers began in late 2009 and the project was completed in 2014.  Read more…


Rosanna Schiaffino – actress

Dramatic life of Italian screen goddess

Film star Rosanna Schiaffino, who for more than 20 years, between the 1950s and the 1970s, starred opposite the most famous actors of the period, was born on this day in 1939 in Genoa in Liguria.  Schiaffino worked for some of Italian cinema’s greatest directors, but in the 1980s turned her back on the cinema world to marry the playboy and steel industry heir, Giorgio Falck, entering a relationship that descended into acrimony after she was diagnosed with breast cancer.  Born into a wealthy family, Schiaffino was encouraged in her acting ambitions by her mother, who paid for her to go to a drama school.  She entered beauty contests and won the title of Miss Liguria when she was just 14.  She also took some modelling jobs and her photograph appeared in many magazines. She was spotted by the film producer Franco Cristaldi, who paired her with Marcello Mastroianni in Un ettaro di cielo (Piece of the Sky) in 1959.  Schiaffino made her name in her second film for Cristaldi, La Sfida (The Challenge), directed by Francesco Rosi, in which she gave a powerful, but sensitive performance as a Neapolitan girl, inspired by the real life character of Pupetta Maresca, a former beauty queen who became a famous Camorra figure.  Read more…


Amalfi destroyed by tsunami

Quake beneath Tyrrhenian Sea sparked killer wave

The former maritime republic of Amalfi, which once had a population of 70,000 people, was effectively wiped out when a massive earthquake that occurred under the Tyrrhenian Sea on this day in 1343 sparked a devastating tsunami along the coast of southern Italy.  The tremor itself caused deaths but not on the scale of the tsunami that followed, as a stretch of coastline from north of Naples to south of the Cilento National Park bore the brunt of a huge killer wave.  The towns of Bussanto and Blanda, near the present-day resorts of Sapri and Maratea, were among communities that disappeared completely, while Amalfi and Minori on what we know now as the Amalfi Coast were decimated.  Amalfi’s harbour and all the boats in it were destroyed, while the lower town fell into the sea. Where there had once been a thriving city, only a village remained, the population of which has never grown much beyond about 6,000 people. Its days as a significant maritime power were over.  Salerno and Naples suffered considerable damage, although the death toll was never recorded, it can be assumed it ran into tens of thousands.  Read more…


Bruno Tonioli - dance show judge

Dancer and choreographer who starred in Strictly Come Dancing

Dancer, choreographer and television dance show judge Bruno Tonioli was born on this day in 1955 in Ferrara in north-east Italy.  Tonioli was one of the judging panel of Strictly Come Dancing on British TV and on its US equivalent Dancing With the Stars, which required him to divide his time between London and New York when seasons overlap.  He began his show business career in the 1980s as a member of the Paris-based dance company La Grande Eugène before moving into the music industry as a choreographer.  Among the artists he has worked with are Tina Turner, Sting, Elton John, the Rolling Stones, Freddie Mercury, Sinitta, Boy George, Dead or Alive, and Duran Duran.  Tonioli has also worked on numerous films and television shows including Little Voice, The Gathering Storm, Dancin' thru the Dark and Enigma.  He also has a number of acting credits, including the role of Peppino, manservant to Michael Gambon's Oscar Wilde in the BBC production Oscar.  Tonioli appeared as himself in the movie version of the BBC comedy Absolutely Fabulous.  Renowned for his flamboyantly wild gestures and amusingly extravagant comments, Tonioli became a member of the Strictly Come Dancing team on the show's launch in 2004.  Read more…


Pope John XXIII

Farmer’s son went on to become ‘the Good Pope’

Pope John XXIII was born on this day in 1881 at Sotto il Monte near Bergamo.  He was originally named Angelo Roncalli and was part of a large farming family but he went on to become a much loved Pope and respected world leader.  Angelo was tutored by a local priest before entering the Seminary in Bergamo at the age of 12. He went on to study theology in Rome and rose to become Cardinal Patriarch of Venice before being elected Pope in 1958.  His religious studies had been interrupted by a spell in the Italian army, but he was ordained in 1904. He served as secretary to the Bishop of Bergamo for nine years before becoming an army chaplain in World War One.  After the war he worked in Bulgaria, Turkey and Greece on behalf of the church helping to locate and repatriate prisoners of war.  In 1944 he was appointed nuncio to Paris to help with the post war effort in France. He became a Cardinal in 1953 and expected to spend his last years serving the church in Venice.  But when he was elected Pope by his fellow cardinals in the conclave of 20 October 1958, it was a turning point in the church’s history.  Read more…


Book of the Day: The Killer in My Eyes, by Giorgio Faletti

A murderer obsessed with comic strips... When Mayor Marsalis's son, Gerald, is found dead in his studio, his body is stained red and arranged like the cartoon character Linus - with a blanket next to his ear and his thumb stuck in his mouth. Desperate, Marsalis asks his ex-cop brother, Jordan, to investigate the murder. Yet the killer strikes again. This time Chandelle Stuart, a film producer with strange sexual predilections, is found leant against a piano like Lucy, listening to Shroeder playing. Meanwhile, a beautiful young detective Maureen Martini has moved from Rome to New York to forget the brutal murder of her boyfriend. After undergoing a corneal transplant, she starts having distressing visions that somehow seem connected with the grisly murders. Thrown together, Maureen and Jordan race against time to unmask this killer. But who is Snoopy? And who is Pig Pen? And why does this killer find pleasure in arranging his victims like comic-strip characters? In New York nothing is ever quite what it seems. The Killer in My Eyes demonstrates Faletti's sure touch for pace and the unexpected, with a string of neat, bizarre twists. 

Giorgio Faletti was was an actor and writer, whose first novel appeared in 1994 and who became internationally known when his first thriller, I Kill, published in 2002, became a bestseller.  Three of his books - Notte prima degli esami (The Night before the Exams), The Killer in My Eyes and Crimes - were turned into TV mini-series. 

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