18 February 2024

18 February

NEWAlessandro Varaldo – crime writer and playwright

The first Italian author of gialli to be accepted by Mondadori

Alessandro Varaldo, the author credited with creating the first fictional Italian police officer, died on this day in 1953 in Rome. His character, the police commissario Ascanio Bonichi, made his first appearance in Varaldo’s novel Il sette bello - the name by which Italians refer to the seven of diamonds in a deck of cards - which was published by Mondadori in 1931. The author had been approached by Arnaldo Mondadori himself and encouraged to create a novel in Italian to appeal to the readers who were already eagerly buying their gialli, the Italian translations of English, American and French detective novels that the firm published.  Gialli take their name from the distinctive yellow - giallo in Italian - covers used by Mondadori for their crime novels in the 1930s.  Varaldo was born in Ventimiglia in Liguria in 1873 and grew up to become a journalist, novelist and playwright. From 1910 onwards he wrote novels, short stories and plays and contributed to newspapers such as Gazzetta del Popolo and Il Caffaro.  He was president of the Italian Society of Authors and Publishers between 1920 and 1928 and director of the Academy of Dramatic Art in Milan from 1943.  Read more…


Blessed Fra Angelico – painter

Talented Friar became patron of Catholic artists

The early Renaissance painter who became known as Fra Angelico died on this day in 1455 in Rome.  Fra Angelico is regarded as one of the greatest painters of the 15th century, whose works reflected his serene religious attitude.   He painted many altarpieces and frescoes for the Church and Priory of San Marco in Florence where he lived for about nine years.   In 1982, more than 500 years after his death, Fra Angelico was beatified by Pope John Paul II in recognition of the holiness of his life. In 1984, Pope John Paul II declared him ‘patron of Catholic artists’.  The artist was born Guido di Pietro at Rupecanina near Fiesole, just outside Florence, towards the end of the 14th century.  The earliest recorded document concerning him dates from 1417 when he joined a religious confraternity at the Carmine Church and it reveals that he was already a painter.  The first record of him as a Friar is dated 1423 and shows him to have been a member of the Dominican order.  It is believed his first paintings were an altarpiece and a painted screen for the Carthusian Monastery in Florence, but these no longer exist.  Read more…


Francesco Redi - biologist and poet

Renaissance scholar who debunked scientific myths

The physician Francesco Redi, famous for challenging a centuries-old belief that certain living things arose through spontaneous generation rather than any reproductive process involving parent organisms, was born on this day in 1626 in Arezzo, Tuscany.  Redi, who enjoyed literary success alongside his work in experimental biology, devoted much of his scientific life to dismantling some of the widely held beliefs in his field that he was sure were incorrect.  The most famous of these was that the maggots frequently discovered in rotting meat occurred spontaneously as a product of the decaying flesh. In order to show that this was a myth, Redi conducted a number of experiments in 1668 involving sets of jars containing dead fish and raw pieces of different meats. In the first, he sealed three of six jars and left the other three open. In the second, he placed raw meat in three jars, plugging one with a cork stopper, placing gauze over the other and leaving the third open.  After a period of time, the flesh in the open jars contained maggots, but in the sealed jars did not.  In the gauze-covered jars, maggots appeared on the surface of the gauze but not in the meat.  Read more…


Roberto Baggio - football icon

Azzurri star regarded as Italy's greatest player

The footballer Roberto Baggio, regarded by fans in Italy and around the world as one of the game's greatest players, was born on this day in 1967 in Caldogno, a small town situated about 10km (6 miles) north of Vicenza in the Veneto.  Baggio's career spanned 22 years, most of them spent at the highest level, with Fiorentina, Juventus, Bologna, both Milan clubs and, finally, Brescia, winning the Serie A title twice, the Coppa Italia and the UEFA Cup.  He played in three World Cups - in 1990, 1994 and 1998 - and achieved the unique distinction among Italian players of scoring at all three.  He scored 318 goals all told, the first Italian for 50 years to top 300 in his career.  Yet he spent almost the whole of his active playing days battling against injury.  Over the course of his career, he had six knee operations, four on his right knee and two on the left, and often could play only with the help of painkillers.  His fans believe that without his injuries, Baggio would have been placed in the same bracket as Pele, Diego Maradona and Lionel Messi as the best players in history.  Italy's most famous football journalist, the late Gianni Brera, said Baggio was the greatest Italian player he ever saw, better than both Giuseppe Meazza and Gianni Rivera.  Read more…


Michelangelo – Renaissance painter and sculptor

‘Greatest artist of all time’ left amazing legacy of work

Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni - generally known simply as Michelangelo - died on this day in 1564 in Rome.   His death came three weeks before his 89th birthday while he was still working on his last sculpture, the Rondanini Pietà, a version of the Virgin Mary with the body of the dead Christ.  Michelangelo had been a sculptor, painter, architect and poet who had exerted an enormous influence on the development of art. During his lifetime he was considered to be the greatest living artist and he is now considered to be one of the greatest - if not the greatest - artists of all time.  Michelangelo was born in 1475 in the small town of Caprese near Arezzo in Tuscany, which is now known as Caprese Michelangelo.  He was sent to Florence to be educated but preferred to spend his time with painters, trying to copy the pictures in the churches, rather than be at school.  At the age of 13 he was apprenticed to the artist Ghirlandaio and was asked to produce sculptures for Lorenzo dè Medici.  Eventually he moved to Rome where he was commissioned to carve his first Pietà, a sculpture showing the Virgin Mary grieving over the dead body of Jesus.  Read more…


Roberta Vinci - tennis champion

Won five Grand Slam doubles titles with partner Sara Errani

The tennis player Roberta Vinci, one half of the most successful Italian women’s doubles partnerships of all time and one of only four Italian women to rank in the world’s top 10 at singles, was born on this day in 1983 in the major port city of Taranto in Puglia.  Vinci and partner Sara Errani reached the women’s doubles final at eight Grand Slam tournaments between 2012 and 2014, winning five of them.  They were the champions at the French Open and United States Open in 2012 and the Australian Open in 2013 and again in 2014. When they won the Wimbledon title in 2014 they became one of only five women’s doubles partnerships to complete a career Grand Slam of all the four majors.  The pair, who reached No 1 in the world rankings in 2012, unexpectedly ended their five-year partnership in 2015, after which Vinci focussed on singles.  Vinci’s finest achievement in singles came at the US Open in 2015, when she defeated world No 1 Serena Williams in the semi-finals before facing her compatriot and childhood friend Flavia Pennetta in the final, the first in a Grand Slam in the open era to pit one Italian against another.  Read more…


Book of the Day: Politics and Society in Italian Crime Fiction: An Historical Overview Paperback, by Barbara Pezzotti 

This is the first book in English that comprehensively spans the history of the crime genre in Italy from the origins to the most recent writers. By taking as its point of departure the privileged relationship between the detective novel and its social setting, this book is a wide-ranging examination of the way in which Italian crime fiction has become a means to articulate the social and political changes of the country. Politics and Society in Italian Crime Fiction concentrates in particular on famous writers, such as Augusto de Angelis (1888-1944), Leonardo Sciascia (1921-1989), Giorgio Scerbanenco (1911-1969), Loriano Macchiavelli (b. 1934), Andrea Camilleri (b. 1925), Massimo Carlotto (b. 1956),and Marcello Fois (b. 1960) thus covering the history of Italian crime fiction from its origins to the 2000s. While it is widely recognised that Italy's popular culture is in the frontline in tackling everyday problems and conflicts, crime fiction has seldom been studied in its political and social aspects. Through the analysis of writers belonging to different and crucial periods of Italy's history, this book articulates the different ways in which individual authors exploit the genre to reflect the social transformations and dysfunctions of contemporary Italy.

Barbara Pezzotti, PhD (Victoria University of Wellington, NZ), teaches Italian Studies at Monash University, Melbourne, Australia. She is also an honorary research associate of the Australasian Centre for Italian Studies (ACIS). Resident in New Zealand, she is the author of several books about Italian crime fiction.

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