24 November 2023

24 November

Vittorio Miele - artist

Painter scarred by Battle of Monte Cassino

The 20th century artist Vittorio Miele, who found a way to express himself in art after losing his family in the Battle of Monte Cassino, was born in Cassino on this day in 1926.  Miele was a teenager when his hometown and the mountain top Benedictine monastery witnessed one of the bloodiest battles of the Second World War as Allied armies attempted to break the Gustav Line of the Axis forces.  Over a three-month period, the Allies made four assaults, each backed up by heavy bombing, and though the objective was eventually achieved it was at a very high price. There were at least 80,000 soldiers killed or  wounded, as well as countless civilians caught in the crossfire.  Miele lost his father, mother and sister. He survived but left the area as soon as he was able, settling 400km (249 miles) north in Urbino in the Marche. It was there, from the age of 19, that he took courses in painting and became part of the city’s artistic life, developing a talent that in his mature years saw him once described as “the poet of silence”.  In the following decades his work began to reach further afield.  Read more…


Pietro Torrigiano – sculptor

Achievements overshadowed by assault on Michelangelo

Pietro Torrigiano, the sculptor credited with introducing Renaissance art to England in the early years of the 16th century but who is best remembered for breaking the nose of Michelangelo in a fight, was born on this day in 1472 in Florence.  The incident with the man who would become the greatest artist of their generation came when both were teenagers, studying in Florence under the patronage of Lorenzo de’ Medici.  Torrigiano was older than Michelangelo by two and a half years and confessed some years later that he found his young rival to be somewhat irritating, especially since it was his habit to peer over the shoulders of his fellow students and make disparaging comments about the quality of their work. On the occasion they clashed, when Michelangelo was said to be about 15, he was with Torrigiano and some others in the church of Santa Maria del Carmine, studying frescoes by Masaccio.  Looking at a sketch Torrigiano was making, the younger boy made some slighting remark and Torrigiano lashed out.  He caught him such a blow that Michelangelo, who was knocked out cold at the time, suffered a broken nose and a disfigurement he would carry for life.  Read more…


Lucky Luciano - Mafia boss

Sicilian who brought order among warring clans

Charles 'Lucky' Luciano, the mobster best known for shaping the structure of Italian-dominated organised crime in the United States, was born Salvatore Lucania on this day in 1897 in Lercara Friddi, a town about 70km (44 miles) south-east of the Sicilian capital, Palermo.  Raised in New York's Lower East Side after his family emigrated in 1906, it was Luciano who famously put the New York underworld into the control of the so-called Five Families and also set up The Commission, which served as a governing body for organised crime nationwide.  After he was jailed in 1936 on extortion and prostitution charges, Luciano is said to have struck a deal with the American authorities to use his criminal connections to help the Allies in their invasion of Sicily, a vital first step in driving the German forces and their supporters out of the Italian peninsula.  In return he was given parole and allowed to return to Sicily at the end of the Second World War.  Luciano, whose father, Antonio, had worked in a sulphur mine in Lercara Friddi, began his life in crime as a teenager, when he set up his own gang and became friends with Jewish gang members Meyer Lansky and his associate Benjamin "Bugsy'' Siegel.  Read more…


Carlo Collodi - journalist and writer

Satirical journalist created Pinocchio to express his own views 

Carlo Collodi, in real life Carlo Lorenzini, was born on this day in 1826 in Florence.  Although he was a satirical journalist who supported the cause of the Risorgimento, Collodi is best remembered for his stories for children about the character, Pinocchio.  The writer was brought up in the small town of Collodi where his mother had been born and he adopted the name of her birthplace as a pen name.  After becoming interested in politics he started the satirical newspaper, Il Lampione, in 1848. This was censored by order of the Grand Duke of Tuscany so in 1854 he started Lo Scaramuccia, which was also controversial.  In 1856 he wrote his first play for the theatre and, after Italian unification in 1861, he turned his attention to writing for children.  Collodi’s stories about his first main character, Giannettino, were a way of expressing his own political ideas through allegory.  He began writing Storia di un Burattino (The Story of a Marionette), in 1880. He went on to contribute regular stories about his character, who he later called Pinocchio, to a newspaper for children.  Pinocchio was created out of wood by a woodcarver, Geppetto, but he became a mischievous boy whose nose grew when he told a lie.   Read more…


Book of the Day: Monte Cassino: Ten Armies in Hell, by Peter Caddick-Adams

The five-month Monte Cassino campaign in central Italy is one of the best-known European land battles of World War Two, alongside D-Day and Stalingrad. It has a particular resonance now, because Cassino, with its multitude of participating armies - most notably the American 5th Army under the controversial General Mark Clark - was perhaps the campaign of the Second World War that most closely anticipates the coalition operations of today, with its ever-shifting cast of players stuck in inhospitable, mountainous terrain, pursuing an objective set by unknowing politicians in distant capitals, where victory is difficult to define.  Monte Cassino was characterised by the destruction of its world famous Abbey: in retrospect, considered an unjustifiable act of cultural vandalism by the allies.  In Monte Cassino: Ten Armies in Hell, Peter Caddick-Adams describes how Cassino was an unusual campaign for World War II in that its outcome was not reliant on sweeping movements or the use of tanks or aircraft - but by old-fashioned boots in the mud, whether capturing the town of Cassino after months of grinding urban warfare (a Stalingrad in miniature) or scrambling up the steep mountain to seize the heights and the religious complex on top of Monte Cassino.

Peter Caddick-Adams is a writer and broadcaster who specialises in military history, defence and security issues. He previously lectured at the UK Defence Academy and for the Royal Air Force. A Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and the Royal Geographical Society, he also spent 35 years as an officer in the UK Regular and Reserve Forces, and has extensive experience of various war zones.

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