8 November 2023

8 November

NEW - Andrea Appiani - painter

The master of the fresco technique became court painter to Napoleon

Neoclassical artist Andrea Appiani, who was chosen to paint for the Emperor Napoleon during the time in which he ruled Italy, died on this day in 1817 in Milan.  He is remembered for his fine portraits of some of the famous people of the period, including Napoleon, the Empress Joséphine, and the poet, Ugo Foscolo. He is also well regarded for his religious and classical frescoes.  Born in Milan in 1754, Appiani was intended for a career in medicine, to follow in his father’s footsteps, but he went into the private academy of the painter Carlo Maria Guidici instead, where he received instruction in drawing and copying from sculpture and paintings.  He then joined the class of the fresco painter Antonio de Giorgi at the Ambrosiana picture gallery in Milan and he spent time in the studio of Martin Knoller where he learnt more about painting in oils.  Appiani also studied anatomy at the Ospedale Maggiore in Milan with the sculptor Gaetano Monti and traveled to Rome, Parma, Bologna, Florence and Naples to further his studies.  Read more…


Sandro Mazzola - footballer

Tragedy instilled determination to succeed

The footballer Sandro Mazzola, widely regarded as one of Italy’s greatest players after a glittering career with Internazionale of Milan and the Italian national team, was born on this day in 1942 in Turin.  A forward or attacking midfield player with all the attributes of the world’s best players, Mazzola won four Serie A titles and two European Cups for Inter-Milan, largely under the coaching of Helenio Herrero. His goals tally in Serie A games alone was 116 in 417 appearances. He was capped 70 times by the national team, part of the side that won the 1968 European championships and reached the World Cup final in 1970.  Mazzola always saw his success as a tribute to his father, Valentino, a brilliant player who was captain of the Torino team that was almost entirely wiped out in the Superga air disaster of 1949, when a plane carrying the team back from a friendly in Portugal crashed in thick fog into the rear wall of the Basilica of Superga, which overlooks the city of Turin.  His parents had divorced in 1946 but Valentino won custody of his son and instilled in him a love of football, as well as teaching him the basic skills.  Read more…  


Salvatore Cascio - actor

Child star of classic movie Cinema Paradiso

The actor Salvatore Cascio, who earned fame through his starring role in the Oscar-winning movie Cinema Paradiso, was born on this day in 1979 in Palazzo Adriano, a small town in a mountainous area of western Sicily.  In Guiseppe Tornatore’s nostalgic 1988 drama, Cascio was the eight-year-old child chosen to play the part of the the film’s central character as a small boy in a Sicilian village who loves to watch films at his local cinema and develops a friendship with the cinema’s grumpy but good-hearted projectionist, Alfredo.  His performance was so charming and captivating it won him the prize for best actor in a supporting role at the 1990 BAFTAs. He remains the only Italian to have won such an award. Roberto Benigni, star and director of the 1997 film Life is Beautiful, is the only Italian to have won a BAFTA as best actor.  By coincidence, the lead character in Cinema Paradiso is also called Salvatore and, like Cascio, is known as a boy as Totò, the Sicilian diminutive of Salvatore.  Landing the part was not down to just having the same name, however, although it helped when it came to filming.  Read more…


Paolo Taviani - film director

Half of a successful partnership with brother Vittorio

The film director Paolo Taviani, the younger of the two Taviani brothers, whose work together won great acclaim and brought them considerable success in the 1970s and 80s in particular, was born on this day in 1931 in San Miniato, Tuscany.  With his brother Vittorio, who was two years his senior and died in April of this year, he wrote and directed more than 20 films.  Among their triumphs were Padre Padrone (1977), which won the Palme d’Or and the International Federation of Film Critics (FIPRESCI) prize at the Cannes Film Festival, La notte di San Lorenzo (The Night of the Shooting Stars) 1982, which won the Grand Prix du Jury at Cannes, and Caesar Must Die (2012), which won the Golden Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival.  The brothers famously would work in partnership, directing alternate scenes, one seldom criticising the other, if ever. The actor Marcello Mastroianni, who starred in their 1974 drama Allonsanfàn, is said to have addressed the brothers as “Paolovittorio.”  They were both born and raised in San Miniato by liberal, anti-Fascist parents who introduced them to art and culture.  Read more…


Francis I of the Two Sicilies

Death of the king who failed to impress Lady Blessington 

Francis I died in Naples on this day in 1830 after having been King of the Two Sicilies for five years.  The Two Sicilies was the largest of all the Italian states before unification, originally formed as a union between the Kingdom of Sicily and the Kingdom of Naples.  It lasted until 1860 when it was annexed by the Kingdom of Sardinia, which became Italy in 1861.  The Two Sicilies originated when the Kingdom of Sicily was divided in 1283. The King at the time lost the island of Sicily but kept control of his part of southern Italy, which was also referred to as Sicily. The Two Sicilies had capitals in Palermo and Naples.  After Francis succeeded his father Ferdinand I in 1825 he took little part in government and lived with his mistresses in constant fear of assassination.  He is remembered for getting the Austrian occupation force removed from Naples, where it had been billeted at the expense of the treasury, and for founding the Royal Order of Francis I to reward civil merit.  We are fortunate to have been left with an impression of him by Lady Blessington, an English aristocrat, who lived in Naples between 1823 and 1826 and kept a fascinating diary of her time there.   In July 1823 she encountered Francis while he was still Prince of Salerno and heir presumptive to the throne.  Read more…


Virna Lisi - actress

Screen siren turned back on glamour roles to prove talent

The actress Virna Lisi, born on this day in 1936, might have become the new Marilyn Monroe if she had allowed Hollywood to shape her career in the way the movie moguls had planned.  She was certainly blessed with all the physical attributes to fulfil their commercial ambitions - no less a screen goddess than Brigitte Bardot called her 'the most beautiful woman in the world' - but decided she was too good an actress to be typecast as mere window dressing or eye candy and ultimately rejected their advances.  In time she proved to herself that she made the right decision when her portrayal of the manipulative Catherine de' Medici, the Italian who was Queen of France between 1547 and 1559, in Patrice Chéreau’s 1994 film La Reine Margot won her three awards - Best Actress at the Cannes Film Festival, a César (the French equivalent of an Oscar) and the Italian film critics' award, the Nastro d'Argento (Silver Ribbon).  Born Virna Pieralisi in the town of Jesi, in the province of Ancona  in Marche, where her father had a marble importing business, she moved with her family to Rome in the early 1950s.  Read more…


Francesco Molinari – golfer

Second win in Italian Open gave him unique status

Francesco Molinari, one of two golfing brothers who have advanced the cause of the sport in Italy more than anyone in the modern era, was born on this day in 1982 in Turin.  He and Edoardo, who is 21 months’ his senior, won the Mission Hills World Cup in China in 2009, the first time Italy had won the two-player team event.  And when he sank a 5ft (1.5m) putt to beat the Masters champion Danny Willett to win the Italian Open in Monza in September 2016, Francesco became the first Italian to win his country’s open championship twice since it became part of the European tour in 1972.  He had won it for the first time in 2006 at the Castello di Tolcinasco course just outside Milan, which gave him his first European tour victory at the age of 23 and made him the first Italian to win the tournament since Massimo Mannelli in 1980.  The success made such an impact in Italy, and in Turin in particular, that Francesco was asked to be one of the official torch carriers on behalf of the host nation at the 2006 Winter Olympics, which were staged in Turin. Francesco had yet to win a major at the time this was originally posted but went close in the 2017 PGA Championship at the Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, North Carolina, before winning the Open Championship at Carnoustie in Scotland in 2018.  Read more…


Book of the Day: The Day Italian Football Died: Torino and the Tragedy of Superga, by Alexandra Manna and Mike Gibbs

AT just after 5pm on 4 May 1949, a Fiat aircraft carrying 31 people, among them the Torino football squad, crashed into a 2,200ft-high peak called Superga on the outskirts of Turin. In an instant the dominant force in Italian football was destroyed. It was a tragedy unparalleled in sporting history and still affecting the club today. Unlike Manchester United after Munich, the Torino club has never been able to recover from that awful moment. Fifty years after the tragedy of Superga, Alexandra Manna and Mike Gibbs revisited Turin to see an entire city pay homage to the memory of those who died. The experience made a profound impression upon them and they resolved to find out more. The Day Italian Football Died: Torino and the Tragedy of Superga is the result.

Alexandra Manna went to school in Italy. As Alexandra Manna-Gibbs she now runs a fashion printing business in Bristol called Fashionmoda, specialising in direct-to-garment printing. 

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