15 November 2023

15 November

NEW - Bernardino Nogara - Vatican financial advisor

Former engineer laid foundations for financial strength of the Papacy

The engineer-turned-investment manager Bernardino Nogara, who in 1929 was appointed by Pope Pius XI to look after the financial dealings of the newly-independent Vatican City, died on this day in 1958 in Milan.  Nogara had returned to his homeland - he was born in Bellano, around 80km (50 miles) north of Milan on the shore of Lake Como - upon retiring from his position as Director of the Special Administration of the Holy See in 1954, at the age of 84. Although details of the Vatican’s finances have traditionally been shrouded in secrecy, Nogara is thought to have swelled the papal coffers by hundreds of millions of dollars during his 25 years in charge.  Yet he is regarded by many commentators as a controversial figure because of the nature of some of his investments. He was alleged to have put money into companies whose businesses could be seen to be incompatible with Catholic Church doctrines, made loans to Mussolini’s Fascists, and clandestinely invested in companies that both enabled and profited from the deadly aggression of the Axis powers in World War Two.  Nogara’s background was in engineering.  Read more…


Enzo Staiola - actor

Child star of neorealist classic Bicycle Thieves

Enzo Staiola, who found international fame as an eight-year-old boy as one of the stars of the Oscar-winning neorealist drama Bicycle Thieves, was born on this day in 1939 in Rome.  Staiola’s character in Vittorio De Sica’s 1948 film was Bruno Ricci, the eldest child in a working class Roman family desperately trying to survive in the hard economic climate that followed the end of the Second World War.  The central character in the film is Bruno’s father, Antonio, who lands a job posting advertising bills around the city but is required to have a bicycle to transport himself, his ladder and bucket to wherever his services are required.  Antonio buys a bicycle after pawning some of the family’s few possessions of value only to have it stolen on his first day at work. The remainder of the film follows Antonio and Bruno as they try to find the bicycle.  The essence of the neorealist genre was that directors achieved authenticity by eschewing the use of professional actors in favour of ordinary people who lived in the city or neighbourhood where the action was set.  De Sica chose Lamberto Maggiorani, a steel factory worker, to play the part of Antonio.  Read more…


The murder of Pellegrino Rossi

Political assassination opened way to creation of Roman Republic

One of the key events during the revolutionary upheaval of 1848 in Italy took place on this day in that year when the politician Count Pellegrino Rossi was murdered at the Palazzo della Cancelleria, the seat of the government of the Papal States in Rome.  The event precipitated turmoil in Rome and led eventually to the formation of the short-lived Roman Republic.  Rossi was the Minister of the Interior in the government of Pope Pius IX and as such was responsible for a programme of unpopular reforms, underpinned by his conservative liberal stance, which gave only the well-off the right to vote and did nothing to address the economic and social disruption created by industrialisation.  Street violence, stirred up by secret societies such as Giuseppe Mazzini’s Young Italy movement, had been going on for weeks in Rome and Rossi had been declared an enemy of the people in meetings as far away as Turin and Florence.  There was also anger in Rome at Pius IX’s decision to withdraw the support of the Papal Army from the First Italian War of Independence, being fought between the Kingdom of Sardinia (Piedmont) and the Austrian Empire.  Read more…


Francesco Rosi - film director

Documentary style put him among greats of Italian cinema

The film director Francesco Rosi, one of Italy's most influential movie-makers over four decades, was born on this day in 1922 in Naples.  Rosi, who made his directing debut in 1958 and filmed his last movie in 1997, built on the fashion for neo-realism that dominated Italian cinema in the immediate post-war years and his films were often highly politicised.  Many of his works were almost pieces of investigative journalism, driven by his revulsion at the corruption and inequality he witnessed in the area in which he grew up, and the dubious relationships between local government and figures from the crime world.  His film Hands Over the City, for example, starring Rod Steiger as an unscrupulous land developer, sought to show how the landscape of Naples was shaped by greed and political interests.  The film's disclaimer stated that “All characters and events narrated in this film are fictitious, but the social reality that created them is authentic.”  The Mattei Affair, which starred Gian Maria Volonté - himself a political activist - tells the story of Enrico Mattei, a former Italian resistance fighter who rose to be head of ENI, the state-owned oil company, and died in a plane crash in Sicily.  Read more…


Annunzio Mantovani - conductor

Orchestra leader brought light relief during World War Two

Conductor and composer Annunzio Paolo Mantovani - best known simply as Mantovani - was born on this day in Venice in 1905.  The music produced by his orchestras, which became known as ‘the Mantovani sound', brought pleasure to millions and his recordings were best sellers in Britain and the US before the Beatles came on the scene.  Mantovani’s father, Benedetto Paolo Mantovani, who was known as ‘Bismarck’, was a violinist and leader of the orchestra of Teatro alla Scala opera house in Milan, at the time Arturo Toscanini was conductor.  The Mantovani family moved to England in 1912 after Bismarck was appointed conductor of the orchestra at Covent Garden.  Young Annunzio Mantovani studied the violin and piano in London before joining a touring orchestra. He quickly became a violin soloist and then a conductor.  He went on to form his own orchestra, which toured the country, made radio broadcasts and recorded albums for Columbia and Decca.  His music was popular with the troops, who danced to it with their sweethearts when they came home on leave during the Second World War. Read more…


Roberto Cavalli – fashion designer

Florentine who conceived the sand-blasted look for jeans

The designer Roberto Cavalli was born on this day in 1940 in Florence.  Cavalli has become well-known in high-end Italian fashion for his exotic prints and for creating the sand-blasted look for jeans. From an artistic family, Cavalli has a grandfather, Giuseppe Rossi, who was a talented painter whose work is on show in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.  As a student, Cavalli attended an art institute where he learnt about printing textiles and in the early 1970s he invented and patented a printing process for leather and began creating patchworks of different materials.  When he took samples of his work to Paris he received commissions from such fashion houses as Hermes and Pierre Cardin. At the age of 32, Cavalli presented the first collection in his name in Paris and then showed it in Florence and Milan.  He opened his first boutique in Saint Tropez in 1972 and added further boutiques in Italy and other parts of France.  In 1994 he showed the first sand-blasted jeans in his autumn/winter collection and then worked with Lycra to invent stretch jeans in 1995.  In 2001 he opened his first café store in Florence and this was followed by the opening in Milan of the Just Cavalli café and another boutique on the fashionable Via della Spiga.  Read more…


Book of the Day: God's Bankers: A History of Money and Power at the Vatican, by Gerald Posner

Based on an investigation nine years in the making, God’s Bankers traces the political intrigue of the Catholic Church and shines a light into the Vatican’s legendary secrecy, its accumulation of wealth and its byzantine financial entanglements across the world. Told through 200 years of prelates, bishops, cardinals, and the Popes who oversee it all, Gerald Posner uncovers an eyebrow-raising account of money and power in one of the world’s most influential organisations. God’s Bankers is a revelatory and astounding saga marked by poisoned business titans, murdered prosecutors, and mysterious deaths written off as suicides; a carnival of characters from Popes and cardinals, financiers and mobsters, kings and prime ministers; and a set of moral and political circumstances that clarify not only the church’s aims and ambitions, but reflect the larger tensions of more recent history. In a narrative as exciting as a mystery thriller, Posner reveals with extraordinary precision how the Vatican has evolved from a foundation of faith to a corporation of extreme wealth and power.

Gerald Posner was one of the youngest attorneys ever hired by the Wall Street law firm of Cravath, Swaine & Moore. As an investigative journalist, he is the author of 11 books, including New York Times bestsellers, and one a finalist for the Pulitzer in History. Two of his best-known titles are Case Closed: Lee Harvey Oswald and the Assassination of JFK, and Killing the Dream: James Earl Ray and the Assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.

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