3 January 2024

3 January

- Beatrice d’Este – Duchess of Milan

The brief life of a politically astute noblewoman from Ferrara

Beatrice d’Este, who became Duchess of Bari and Milan after her marriage to Ludovico Sforza and was an important player in Italian politics during the late 15th century, died on this day in 1497 in Milan.  The Duchess was said to have shown great courage during the Milanese resistance against the French in what was later judged to be the first of the Italian Wars. At the time of the French advance on Milan, with her husband ill, Beatrice made the right decisions on his behalf and helped prevent the Duke of Orleans from conquering her adopted city.  Sadly, she died when she was just 21, after giving birth to a stillborn baby.  Beatrice was born in the Castello Estense in Ferrara in 1475, but spent her early years growing up in her mother’s home city of Naples. When she was 15, her family sent her to marry the 38-year-old Ludovico Sforza, nicknamed Il Moro - The Moor - because of his dark complexion, who was acting as regent of Milan on behalf of his nephew, Gian Galeazzo Sforza.  Ludovico and Beatrice’s wedding celebrations were directed by Leonardo da Vinci, who worked at the Castello Sforzesco in Milan for 17 years.  Read more…


Giovanni Treccani - businessman and patron of culture

Industrialist used his profits to encourage learning and preserve patrimony

Textile entrepreneur and publisher Giovanni Treccani, who founded an Italian encyclopaedia now known as Enciclopedia Treccani, was born on this day in 1877 in Montichiari near Brescia in Lombardy.  Born Giovanni Treccani degli Alfieri, he was the son of a pharmacist and a noblewoman from Brescia. At the age of 17 he emigrated to Germany to work in the textile industry. He returned a few years later with a small amount of capital and the technical knowledge necessary to set up his own textile business in Italy. He began in a small way but went on to become a captain of industry.  In the years after World War I, Treccani was the owner of several cotton mills. In 1919, he was able to give a generous sum of money to help the Accademia dei Lincei in Rome, the oldest scientific institute in Europe, which was in grave difficulties.  In 1923, he donated La Bibbia di Borso d’Este, a rare illustrated manuscript, to the Kingdom of Italy, after paying five million lire to buy it in Paris. This was to prevent a major work of Renaissance art from going overseas. The volume is currently housed in the Biblioteca Estense of Modena.  Read more…


Sergio Leone – film director

Distinctive style of  ‘Spaghetti Western’ creator

Italian film director, producer and screenwriter Sergio Leone was born on this day in 1929 in Rome.  Leone is most associated with the ‘spaghetti western’ genre of films, such as the Dollars trilogy of westerns featuring Clint Eastwood.  He had a distinctive film-making style that involved juxtaposing extreme close-up shots with lengthy long shots.  Leone’s father was a film director and his mother was a silent film actress. He went to watch his father at work on film sets from an early age.  He dropped out of university to begin his own career in the industry at the age of 18 as an assistant to the director Vittorio De Sica.  He began writing screen plays and worked as an assistant director on Quo Vadis and Ben Hur at Cinecittà in Rome.  When the director of The Last Days of Pompeii fell ill, Leone was asked to step in and complete the film.  He made his solo debut as a director with The Colossus of Rhodes in 1961.   Leone turned his attention to making spaghetti westerns in the 1960s and his films, A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly were big financial successes.  Read more…


Renato Carosone – singer-songwriter

Composer revived popularity of the traditional Neapolitan song

Renato Carosone, who became famous for writing and performing Neapolitan songs in modern times, was born Renato Carusone on this day in 1920 in Naples.  His 1956 song Tu vuo’ fa’ l’Americano - 'You want to be American' - has been used in films and performed by many famous singers right up to the present day.  Torero, a song released by him in 1957, was translated into 12 languages and was at the top of the US pop charts for 14 weeks.  Carosone studied the piano at the Naples Conservatory of San Pietro a Majella and obtained his diploma in 1937, when he was just 17. He went to work as a pianist in Addis Ababa and then served in the army on the Italian Somali front. He did not return to Italy until 1946, after the end of the Second World War.  Back home, he had to start his career afresh and moved to Rome, where he played the piano for small bands.  He was asked to put together a group for the opening of a new club and signed Dutch guitarist, Peter van Houten and Neapolitan drummer, Gegè di Giacomo, with whom he launched the Trio Carosone.  When Van Houten left to pursue a solo career, Di Giacomo remained with Carosone and they recruited more musicians to form a new band.  Read more…


Gianfranco Fini – politician

Party leader who moved away from fascism

Gianfranco Fini, former leader of the Alleanza Nazionale (National Alliance), the post-fascist political party in Italy, was born on this day in 1952 in Bologna.  Fini has been President of the Italian Chamber of Deputies and was Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs in Silvio Berlusconi’s Government from 2001 to 2006.  His father, Argenio ‘Sergio’ Fini, was a volunteer with the Italian Social Republic, a fascist state in Northern Italy allied with Germany between 1943 and 1945.  His maternal grandfather, Antonio Marani, took part in the march on Rome, which signalled the beginning of Italian Fascism in 1922.  Fini’s first name, Gianfranco, was chosen in memory of his cousin, who was killed at the age of 20 by partisans after the liberation of northern Italy on 25 April, 1945.  Fini became interested in politics at the age of 16, after he was involved in a clash with communist activists and he went on to join the Italian Social Movement (MSI), a neo-fascist political party.  After graduating from La Sapienza University in Rome he became involved with the party’s newspaper, Il Secolo d’Italia.   Read more…


Pietro Metastasio – poet and librettist

From street entertainer to leading libretto writer

Pietro Metastasio, who became Europe’s most celebrated opera librettist in the 18th century, was born on this day in 1698 in Rome.  He was christened Pietro Antonio Domenico Trapassi, one of four children born to Felice Trapassi, from Assisi and Francesca Galasti from Bologna. His father served in the papal forces before becoming a grocer in Via dei Cappellari.  While still a child, Pietro could attract crowds by reciting impromptu verses. On one occasion, in 1709, Giovanni Vincenzo Gravina, director of the Arcadian Academy, stopped to listen. He was so impressed that he made the young boy his protégé and later adopted him, changing his surname to Metastasio.  He provided the young Metastasio with a good education and encouraged him to develop his talent.  When Gravina was on his way to Calabria on a business trip, he exhibited Metastasio in the literary circles of Naples, but after the young boy became ill, he placed him in the care of a relative to help him recuperate.  Gravina decided Metastasio should never improvise again but should concentrate on his education and reserve his talent for nobler efforts.  Read more…


Baldassare Galuppi – opera composer

Musician from Burano had a talent for comic opera

The prolific Venetian composer Baldassare Galuppi, who worked alongside the playwright Carlo Goldoni, died on this day in 1785 in Venice.  At the height of his career, Galuppi achieved international success, working at different times in Vienna, London and Saint Petersburg, but his main base was Venice, where he held a succession of prestigious posts during his life. Galuppi was born on the island of Burano in the Venetian lagoon and was sometimes referred to as Il Buranello, a signature he used on his music manuscripts. His father was a barber who also played the violin in an orchestra, and is believed to have been his first music teacher.  At the age of 15, Galuppi wrote his first opera, which was performed at Chioggia and Vicenza. He then became harpsichordist at the Teatro della Pergola in Florence.  In the early part of his career, Galuppi was successful in the opera seria genre, but after 1749 many of his operas were comic collaborations with the Venetian dramatist Carlo Goldoni. The most popular of his comic operas was his 1754 composition Il filosofo di campagna – The Country Philosopher.  Read more…


Cicero - politician and philosopher

Roman writer and orator revered by Renaissance scholars

Marcus Tullius Cicero, the Roman lawyer, politician, philosopher and great orator whose rediscovered works were an important driver of the Renaissance in the 14th century, was born on this day in 106BC in Arpinum, a hill town about 100km (62 miles) southeast of Rome known today as Arpino.  A loyal supporter of the Roman Republic, Cicero’s brilliance as a student of Roman law and his effectiveness as a speaker led to his rapid rise in Roman politics, which saw him become the youngest citizen to attain the rank of consul, the highest political office of the republic, without hailing from a political family.  Although his political career foundered after his opposition to the secret alliance between Caesar, Pompey and Crassus known as the First Triumvirate, forced him into exile, Cicero turned to writing, producing many works relating to philosophy, as well as hundreds of letters and speeches.  Much of his work disappeared after his death, but was rediscovered by 14th century scholars, most notably Francesco Petrarca - Petrarch - as academics sought to enhance their knowledge by seeking out ancient Greek and Roman texts. Read more…


Book of the Day: The Italian Wars 1494-1559: War, State and Society in Early Modern Europe, by Christine Shaw and Michael Mallett

The Italian Wars 1494–1559 outlines the major impact that these wars had, not just on the history of Italy, but on the history of Europe as a whole. It provides the first detailed account of the entire course of the wars, covering all the campaigns and placing the military conflicts in their political, diplomatic, social and economic contexts.  Throughout the book, new developments in military tactics, the composition of armies, the balance between infantry and cavalry, and the use of firearms are described and analysed. How Italians of all sectors of society reacted to the wars and the inevitable political and social change that they brought about is also examined, offering a view of the wars from a variety of perspectives.  Fully updated and containing a range of maps as well as a brand-new chapter on propaganda and images of war, this second edition of The Italian Wars 1494–1559 is essential reading for all students of Renaissance and military history.

Christine Shaw is a Research Fellow at the European Humanities Research Centre at the University of Warwick and in the Department of Economics at the University of Reading. Her main writing and research interests are in Italian Renaissance political history and in modern business history.  The late Michael Mallett was professor of history at the University of Warwick. He is best known for his outstanding books on Renaissance Italy.

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