18 June 2024

18 June

NEW
- Franco Modigliani – economist

Writer and professor developed theories about spending and saving

Nobel prize winner Franco Modigliani, who was an originator of the economic life-cycle hypothesis that attempts to explain the level of spending in the economy, was born on this day in 1918 in Rome.  He wrote several books outlining his economic theories, became a professor at three American universities, and received the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics in 1985.   Modigliani also formulated the Modigliani-Miller theorem for corporate finances, which is based on the idea that the value of a private firm is not affected by whether it is financed by equity or by debt.  Born and brought up in a Jewish family, Modigliani enrolled in the Faculty of Law at the Sapienza University of Rome at the age of 17. In his second year at Sapienza, his entry in a national economics contest won first prize and he was presented with it by the Fascist dictator, Benito Mussolini.  Modigliani went on to write essays for the Fascist magazine Lo Stato, displaying an inclination for the fascist ideals that were critical of liberalism at the time.  He argued the case for socialism in an article for the magazine about the organisation and management of production in a socialist economy.  Read more…

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Raffaella Carrà - entertainer and TV presenter

Much-loved star with long and varied career

Raffaella Carrà, the singer, dancer, television presenter and actress often simply known as la Carrà or Raffaella, was born in Bologna on this day in 1943.  Carrà has become a familiar face on Italian TV screens as the host of many variety shows and, more recently, as a judge on the talent show The Voice of Italy.  She has also enjoyed a recording career spanning 45 years and was a film actress for the best part of 25 years, having made her debut at the age of nine.  Her best-known screen role outside Italy was alongside Frank Sinatra in the hit American wartime drama, Von Ryan’s Express.  Carrà was born Raffaella Maria Roberta Pelloni. Shew grew up in the Adriatic resort of Bellaria-Igea Marina, just north of Rimini, where her father ran a bar and her maternal grandfather an ice cream parlour.  At the age of eight, she won a place at the National Dance Academy in Rome and from there moved to the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia, Italy’s oldest film school.  Her film career was never more than modestly successful. Although she has a long list of credits, she was cast mainly in small parts.   Read more…

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Bartolomeo Ammannati – sculptor and architect

Florentine artist created masterpieces for his home city

Bartolomeo Ammannati, whose buildings in Italy marked the transition from the Renaissance to the Baroque style, was born on this day in 1511 at Settignano near Florence.  Ammannati began his career as a sculptor, carving statues in a number of Italian cities during the 1530s.  He trained first under Baccio Bandinelli and then under Jacopo Sansovino in Venice, working with him on the Library of St Mark - the Biblioteca Marciana -  in the Piazzetta.  Pope Julius III called Ammannati to Rome in 1550 on the advice of architect and art historian Giorgio Vasari. Ammannati then worked with Vasari and Giacomo da Vignola on the Villa Giulia, which belonged to the Pope.  In the same year, Ammannati married the poet Laura Battiferri and they spent the early years of their marriage in Rome.  Cosimo I de' Medici brought Ammannati back to Florence in 1555, and it was where he was to spend the rest of his career.  His first job was to finish the Laurentian Library begun by Michelangelo. He interpreted a clay model sent to him by Michelangelo to produce the impressive staircase leading from the vestibule into the library.   Read more…

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Ottaviano dei Petrucci – music printer

Pioneer in printing who worked for a Doge and a Pope

Ottaviano dei Petrucci, who was the first person to print a book of polyphonic music from movable type, was born on this day in 1466 in Fossombrone near Ancona.  It is thought that Petrucci was educated at Urbino, possibly at the humanist court of Guidobaldo da Montefeltro, who was Duke of Urbino apart from a brief period from 1482 until his death in 1508.  To learn the art of printing, in 1490 Petrucci went to Venice, then the most advanced centre for printing in Italy.  In 1498, Petrucci petitioned the Doge, Agostino Barbarigo, for the exclusive right to print music for the next 20 years, which was granted. There are no examples of printed music produced by other Venetian printers until 1520.  Over the years, he continued to refine his technique and he held music printing monopolies in Venice until 1511. He produced books of printed music at the rate of a new book every few months.  His collection of 96 chansons, secular songs under the title of Harmonice Musices Odhecaton - One Hundred Songs of Harmonic Music - published in Venice in 1501, was the first book of polyphonic music to be printed from movable type.  Read more…

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Isabella Rossellini - actress and model

Daughter of ‘cinema royalty’ who became star in her own right 

The actress and model Isabella Rossellini, famed for her roles in the David Lynch-directed mystery Blue Velvet and the Oscar-winning black comedy Death Becomes Her and for 14 years the face of luxury perfume brand Lancôme, was born on this day in 1952 in Rome. Her parents were the Swedish triple Academy Award-winning actress Ingrid Bergman and the Italian director Roberto Rossellini, one of the pioneers of the neorealism movement that spawned some of Italy’s finest films. She is the eldest by 34 minutes of twin girls. Resident in the United States since 1979, when she married the American director Martin Scorsese, she has a home on Long Island, New York, where she keeps a number of animals. An active campaigner for various wildlife conservation causes, Rossellini has a MA in Animal Behaviour & Conservation after studying the subject at Hunter College, New York. Although her acting career continues, she moved in a less conventional direction by writing, directing and appearing in a series of short documentary films about sexual and reproductive behaviour in animals entitled Green Porno. Read more…

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Fabio Capello - football manager

Veteran Champions League winner with five Serie A titles 

Fabio Capello, one of European club football's most successful managers, was born in San Canzian d'Isonzo, close to the border of Italy and Slovenia, on this day in 1946.  Capello is the winner of five Serie A titles as a coach and four as a player, plus two La Liga titles as manager of Real Madrid, and the Champions League with AC Milan.  At the time he was born, San Canzian d'Isonzo was in an area occupied by Allied forces after the end of the Second World War.  Capello’s uncle, Mario Tortul, who was from the same village near Trieste, had been a professional footballer, playing in Serie A with Sampdoria, Triestina and Padova and making one appearance for the Italian national team.  Capello began his playing career at the Ferrara-based SPAL club and went on to represent Roma, Juventus and AC Milan.  A midfielder with an eye for goal, he was a Serie A champion three times with Juventus and once with Milan, also winning the Coppa Italia with Roma and Milan.  He represented Italy 32 times, playing at the 1974 World Cup finals in West Germany.  He regards scoring the only goal against England in 1973 as Italy won at Wembley for the first time in their history as the highlight of his international career.  Read more…

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Book of the Day: Adventures Of An Economist, by Franco Modigliani

Adventures of an Economist is both an autobiography and an uncommon opportunity to share the thinking of one of the world's most brilliant and influential economists. Franco Modigliani takes the reader on a journey from his childhood in Rome through Fascism, his flight from Nazism, and his arrival in the United States.

Franco Modigliani earned his PhD from the New School University in New York and became a long-standing professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He won the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1985.

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Franco Modigliani – economist

Writer and professor developed theories about spending and saving

Franco Modigliani studied in Rome before emigrating to America
Franco Modigliani studied in Rome
before emigrating to America
Nobel prize winner Franco Modigliani, who was an originator of the economic life-cycle hypothesis that attempts to explain the level of spending in the economy, was born on this day in 1918 in Rome.

He wrote several books outlining his economic theories, became a professor at three American universities, and received the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics in 1985. 

Modigliani also formulated the Modigliani-Miller theorem for corporate finances, which is based on the idea that the value of a private firm is not affected by whether it is financed by equity or by debt.

Born and brought up in a Jewish family, Modigliani enrolled in the Faculty of Law at the Sapienza University of Rome at the age of 17. In his second year at Sapienza, his entry in a national economics contest won first prize and he was presented with it by the Fascist dictator, Benito Mussolini.

Modigliani went on to write essays for the Fascist magazine Lo Stato, displaying an inclination for the fascist ideals that were critical of liberalism at the time.

He argued the case for socialism in an article for the magazine about the organisation and management of production in a socialist economy.

But after racial laws were passed in Italy in 1938, he left Rome, with his girlfriend, Serena Calabi, whose father was a prominent opponent of Mussolini, to join her parents in Paris.

The neoclassical main building of the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology - Modigliani's base for many years
He returned to Rome to discuss his thesis and obtain his diploma in 1939, but afterwards went back to Paris.

Later that year, Modigliani emigrated with his girlfriend’s family to the United States, where he enrolled  at the New School for Social Research in New York. The PhD dissertation he submitted there was judged to be ‘ground breaking’.

Modigliani taught at Columbia University and Bard College in New York between 1942 and 1944 and became a naturalised citizen of the US in 1946. He later taught at the University of Illinois and Carnegie Mellon University before becoming an Institute Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

He developed the hypothesis that consumers aim for a stable level of consumption during their lifetime by saving during their working years and spending during their retirement. Economists believe this was an original theory when he introduced it in a paper written in 1954. 

Modigliani also introduced the concept of the NIRU, the non-inflationary rate of unemployment, which referred to the level of unemployment, below which inflation rises, which he believed should influence policy decisions.

Modigliani in 2000: he continued to teach well into his 80s
Modigliani in 2000: he continued
to teach well into his 80s
Modigliani married Serena Calabi in 1939 in Paris and they had two children, Andre and Sergio. 

With Leah Modigliani, his granddaughter, who followed him in becoming an economist, he developed the Modigliani Risk-Adjusted Performance, a measure of the risk-adjusted returns of an investment portfolio.

His Nobel prize was awarded to him for his pioneering analyses of saving and financial markets and in the same year he received MIT’s James R Killian Faculty Achievement award. 

In 1997, he received an honoris causa degree in Management Engineering from the University of Naples Federico II.

Modigliani became a trustee of the Economists for Peace and Security organisation and was an influential adviser to the Federal Reserve, designing a tool to guide monetary policy in Washington.

A collection of Modigliani’s economic papers is now housed in the Duke University’s Rubenstein Library in Durham, North Carolina.

Modigliani died in 2003 at the age of 85 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he taught until the last six months of his life.  Two years before his death he had written about his life as an economist in his autobiography, Adventures of an Economist.

Marcello Piacentini's modern campus at the Sapienza University of Rome
Marcello Piacentini's modern campus at the
Sapienza University of Rome
Travel tip:

The university Franco Modigliani attended in Rome is often known simply as La Sapienza, which means ‘the wisdom.’  It can trace its origins back to 1303, when it was opened by Pope Boniface VIII as the first pontifical university. In the 19th century the University broadened its outlook and a new campus, designed by Urban theorist and architect, Marcello Piacentini, was built near the Termini railway station in 1935. Rome University now caters for more than 112,000 students.

The Via della Conciliazione, also designed by Marcello Piacentini, frames St Peter's Basilica
The Via della Conciliazione, also designed by
Marcello Piacentini, frames St Peter's Basilica
Travel tip:

Architect Marcello Piacentini studied arts and engineering in Rome and afterwards worked for the Fascist Government. He developed a simplified neoclassicism which became the mainstay of Fascist architecture and as well as designing the new campus for  La Sapienza, he was responsible for the redesign of the road approaching St Peter’s in Rome, Via della Conciliazione. Roughly 500m long, Via della Conciliazione connects St Peter's Square to the Castel Sant'Angelo on the western bank of the Tevere (Tiber) river. A great many buildings, many of them residential, had to be requisitioned and demolished to create space for the road, which was constructed between 1936 and 1950 as the primary access route to St Peter's Square.

Also on this day:

1466: The birth of music printer Ottaviano dei Petrucci

1511: The birth of sculptor and architect Bartolomeo Ammannati

1943: The birth of actress, singer and TV presenter Raffaella Carrà

1946: The birth of football manager Fabio Capello

1952: The birth of actress Isabella Rossellini


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17 June 2024

17 June

Giovanni Paolo Panini – artist

Painter who preserved scenes of Rome

Giovanni Paolo Panini, an artist mainly known for his views of Rome, was born on this day in 1691 in Piacenza, in Emilia-Romagna.  He is particularly remembered for his view of the interior of the Pantheon, commissioned by the Venetian collector, Francesco Algarotti, in around 1734.  The Pantheon was as much a tourist attraction in Panini’s day as it is today and Panini manipulated the proportions and perspective to include more of the interior that is actually visible from any one vantage point.  Indeed, many of his works, especially those of ruins, have slightly unreal embellishment. He sought to meet the needs of visitors for painted postcards depicting scenes of Italy and his clients were often happy with minor distortions of reality if it meant they could show off a unique picture.   As a young man, Panini trained in Piacenza but then moved to Rome where he studied drawing. His work was to influence other painters, such as Canaletto, who resolved to do for Venice what Panini had done for Rome and, of course, enjoyed enormous fame and success.  Much in demand, Panini also became famous as the decorator of Roman palaces.  Read more...

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Sergio Marchionne - business leader

Man who saved Fiat divides opinions in Italy

Controversial business leader Sergio Marchionne was born on this day in 1952 in the city of Chieti in the Abruzzo region of Italy.  The former chief executive of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, who died in 2018, was credited with saving the iconic Italian motor manufacturer from potential extinction in 2004, when Fiat was on the verge of being taken into the ownership of the banks that were keeping it afloat.  It had suffered cumulative losses of more than $8 billion over the previous two years and a strategic alliance with General Motors had failed. Its share of the European car market had shrunk to an historic low of just 5.8 per cent.  Yet after the little known Marchionne was appointed chief executive at the company's Turin headquarters it took him only just over a year to bring Fiat back into profit.  When Fiat opened a new assembly line at the Mirafiori plant outside Turin in 2006, Marchionne was hailed as a hero.  The inauguration celebrations were attended by politicians of all parties and trade union leaders.  Soon, the new Fiat 500 was launched, tapping into Italian nostalgia by reprising the name that was synonymous with the optimistic years of the 1950s and ‘60s.  Read more…

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Rinaldo ‘Dindo’ Capello - endurance racing driver

Three times winner of the Le Mans 24 Hours 

Rinaldo ‘Dindo’ Capello, one of Italy’s most successful endurance racing drivers, was born on this day in 1964 in Asti, in Piedmont.  During a period between 1997 and 2008 in which there was an Italian winning driver in all bar two years, Capello won the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the most prestigious endurance race on the calendar, three times.  Only Emanuele Pirro, his sometime Audi teammate and rival during that period, has more victories in the race among Italian drivers, with five. Pirro won in 2000, 2001, 2002, 2006 and 2007, Capello in 2003, 2004 and 2008.  Capello’s career record also includes two championship wins in the American Le Mans Series and five victories in the 12 Hours of Sebring. He is also the record holder for most wins at Petit Le Mans, the race run annually at Atlanta, Georgia to Le Mans rules, with five.  Alongside teammates Tom Kristensen and Allan McNish, he was regarded as the quiet man of the all-conquering Audi sports car team, although his contribution was every bit as impressive.   Capello’s ambitions when he began his single-seater career were the same as other young drivers - to work his way up to Formula One.  Read more…

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Saint Joseph of Copertino

Flying friar now protects aviators

Saint Joseph, a Franciscan friar who became famous for his miraculous levitation, was born Giuseppe Maria Desa on this day in 1603 in Copertino, a village in Puglia that was then part of the Kingdom of Naples.  Joseph was canonised in 1767, more than 100 years after his death, by Pope Clement XIII and he is now the patron saint for astronauts and aviation.  Joseph’s father, Felice Desa, had died before his birth leaving large debts. After the family home was seized to settle what was owed, his mother, Francesca Panara, was forced to give birth to him in a stable.  Joseph experienced ecstatic visions as a child at school. When he was scorned by other children he had outbursts of anger.  He was apprenticed to a shoemaker but when he applied to join the Franciscan friars he was rejected because of his lack of education.  He was accepted in 1620 as a lay brother by the Capuchin friars only to be dismissed because his constant ecstasies made him unfit to carry out his required duties.  Forced to return home he pleaded with the Franciscan friars near Copertino to be allowed to work in their stables.  Read more…

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Book of the Day:  The Pantheon: Design, Meaning and Progeny, by William L MacDonald

The Pantheon in Rome is one of the grand architectural statements of all ages. This richly illustrated book isolates the reasons for its extraordinary impact on Western architecture, discussing the Pantheon as a building in its time but also as a building for all time.   William MacDonald traces the history of the structure since its completion and examines its progeny - domed rotundas with temple-fronted porches built from the 2nd century to the 20th - relating them to the original. He analyzes the Pantheon's design and the details of its technology and construction, and explores the meaning of the building on the basis of ancient texts, formal symbolism, and architectural analogy. He sees the immense unobstructed interior, with its disk of light that marks the sun's passage through the day, as an architectural metaphor for the ecumenical pretensions of the Roman Empire.  Past discussions of the Pantheon have tended to center on design and structure. These are but the starting point for The Pantheon: Design, Meaning and Progeny, in which MacDonald goes on to show why it ranks - along with Cheops's pyramid, the Parthenon, Wren's churches andf Mansard's palaces - as an architectural archetype.

The late William L MacDonald was an American architectural historian, specializing in Roman architecture. He held the position of Alice Pratt Brown Professor of Art History at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. 

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16 June 2024

16 June

Giacomo Agostini - world motorcycle champion

Brescia-born rider enjoyed record-breaking career 

Giacomo Agostini, 15 times Grand Prix world motorcycling champion, was born on this day in 1942 in Brescia. Agostini moved with his family to the lakeside town of Lovere, which overlooks the picturesque Lago d'Iseo, when he was 13.   Riding for the Italian MV Agusta team, Agostini won the 500cc class seven times in a row from 1966 to 1972 and the 350cc class seven times in succession from 1968 to 1974, adding a further 500cc title on a Yamaha in 1975.  His total of 122 Grand Prix wins from 1965 to 1976 is the highest by any rider in the history of the sport. Agostini, considered perhaps the greatest motorcycle racer of all time, was at the peak of his powers between 1967 and 1970.  In 1967, he won an epic duel with his former MV Agusta teammate, Britain's Mike Hailwood, who was riding for Honda.  They were tied on five race wins each going into the final GP of the season in Canada, where Hailwood won, with his rival second.  That meant they were tied on points and wins, but Agostini had a greater number of second place finishes and so he was crowned champion.  For the next three seasons, after Hailwood left motorcycle racing to race cars,  Agostini dominated.  Read more…

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Mario Rigoni Stern – author

Brave soldier became a bestselling novelist

The novelist Mario Rigoni Stern, who was a veteran of World War II, died on this day in 2008 in Asiago in the Veneto region.  His first novel, Il sergente della neve - The Sergeant in the Snow - was published in 1953. It drew upon his experiences as a sergeant major in the Alpine corps during the disastrous retreat from Russia in the Second World War. It became a best seller and was translated into English and Spanish.  Rigoni Stern had been a sergeant commanding a platoon in Mussolini’s army in the Soviet Union during the retreat of the Italians in the winter of 1942.  His book was inspired by how he succeeded in leading 70 survivors on foot from Ukraine into what was then White Russia - now part of Belarus - and back to Italy.  It won the Viareggio Prize for best debut novel and went on to sell more than a million copies.  At the time the author said it was not written to claim a role for him as a hero, but as a tribute to his fellow soldiers and the ordinary Russians who gave them shelter.  Rigoni Stern was born in Asiago in the Veneto and became a cadet at the military academy at Aosta in 1938.  Read more…

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Pietro Bracci - sculptor

Artist best known for Oceanus statue at Trevi Fountain

The sculptor Pietro Bracci, who left his mark on the architectural landscape of Rome with the colossal six-metre high statue Oceanus that towers over the Trevi Fountain, was born on this day in 1700 in Rome.  The monumental figure is shown standing on a chariot, in the form of a shell, pulled by two winged horses flanked by two tritons. Bracci worked from sketches by Giovanni Battista Maini, who died before he could execute the project.  He also completed work on the fountain itself, built in front of Luigi Vanvitelli’s Palazzo Poli. This was started by Bracci’s close friend Nicola Salvi, who had been commissioned by Pope Clement XII to realize plans drawn up by Gian Lorenzo Bernini that had been shelved in the previous century. Salvi died in 1751, before he could complete the work. Giuseppe Pannini was also involved for a while before Bracci took over in 1761.  The work confirmed Bracci as a major talent of his time in the field of sculpture, one of the greatest of the late Baroque period, continuing in the tradition established by Bernini in the previous century that gave the city of Rome so many wonderful monuments.  Read more…

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Achille Lauro - shipping magnate and politician

Businessman once dubbed the ‘Neapolitan Onassis’

The businessman and politician Achille Lauro, who at his peak controlled the largest private shipping fleet in the Mediterranean and whose achievements as Mayor of Naples included building the San Paolo football stadium and the city’s main railway station, was born on this day in 1887 in Piano di Sorrento in Campania.  Lauro inherited a small number of ships from his father, Gioacchino, but lost them at the start of the First World War, when they were requisitioned by the government. When the conflict ended he had no money but managed to launch another fleet by creating a company that was essentially owned by its employees, who invested their savings in return for a share of the profits and a guarantee of employment.  Within little more than a decade, Flotta Lauro consisted of 21 vessels. Lauro's business plan avoided the union problems that were prevalent in the 1920s as his staff concentrated on making the business profitable, knowing that they would benefit too.  The company became renowned both for reliable service and punctuality and grew rapidly. By the 1930s Lauro owned the largest private fleet in the Mediterranean basin.  Read more…

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Book of the Day: Giacomo Agostini: A Life in Pictures, by Giacomo Agostini and Mario Donnini

Giacomo Agostini won 15 world championships in the 350 cc and 500 cc classes, 18 Italian national titles (175, 250, 350 and 500 cc), 311 victories in world championship races of which 123 were world championship counters and 10 wins in the legendary TT. That is the incredible record the Italian achieved between 1962, the year in which he won his first race at Bologna-San Luca on a Morini Settebello, and 1977 when he took the win at Hockenheim on a Yamamoto in the 750 cc class. Agostini - just about everyone calls him Ago - was the greatest racing motorcyclist ever, and he decided to review his magnificent career by bringing together the greatest, most significant photographs of his life in a book. The debut on the Morini, the golden years with MV and the less dazzling period with Yamaha, his experience as a team manager as well as his family, friends and his fleeting appearance on four wheels; these are the chapters that comprise Giacomo Agostini: A Life in Pictures, a unique record of an unparalleled career. 

Mario Donnini is a journalist with Autosprint, Italy's motor sport weekly magazine. He is the author of books on Tazio Nuvolari, Giacomo Agostini, Ayrton Senna, Formula 1, Momo Italy and the Tourist Trophy motorcycle classic.

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15 June 2024

15 June

Hugo Pratt – comic book creator

Talented writer and artist travelled widely

The creator of the comic book character, Corto Maltese, was born Hugo Eugenio Pratt on this day in 1927 in Rimini.  Pratt became a famous comic book writer and artist and was renowned for combining strong storytelling with extensive historical research.  His most famous character, Corto Maltese, came into being when he started a magazine with Florenzo Ivaldi.  Pratt spent most of his childhood in Venice with his parents, Rolando Pratt and Evelina Genero. His paternal grandfather, Joseph Pratt, was English and Hugo Pratt was related to the actor, Boris Karloff, who was born William Henry Pratt.  Hugo Pratt moved to Ethiopia with his mother in the late 1930s to join his father, who was working there following the conquest of the country by Benito Mussolini.  Pratt’s father was later captured by British troops and died from disease while he was a prisoner of war.  Pratt and his mother were interned in a prison camp where he would regularly buy comics from the guards.  After the war, Pratt returned to Venice where he organised entertainment for the Allied troops. He later joined what became known as ‘the Venice group’ with other Italian cartoonists, including Alberto Ongaro and Mario Faustinelli.  Read more…

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Lisa del Giocondo – the Mona Lisa

Florentine wife and mother who became a global icon

Merchant’s wife Lisa del Giocondo, who has been identified as the model for the Mona Lisa, was born on this day in 1479 in Florence.  Her enigmatic beauty was immortalised by Leonardo da Vinci in the early part of the 16th century when he painted her portrait, a major work of art known as the Mona Lisa, which is now in the Louvre in Paris.  The painting, sometimes known as La Gioconda, has become a global icon that has been used in other works of art, illustrations and advertising.  The face of the Mona Lisa belongs to a woman who was born as Lisa Gherardini into a well-off Tuscan family. When she was still in her teens she was married to Francesco di Bartolomeo di Zanobi del Giocondo, a successful cloth and silk merchant who was much older than her. They had five children together.   In 1503, when the couple were living in the Via della Stufa, it is thought Leonardo da Vinci started work on her portrait.  Francesco later became an official in Florence and is believed to have had connections with the Medici family.  In June 1537 he made provision for Lisa in his will, referring to the ‘affection and love of the testator towards Mona Lisa, his beloved wife.’  Read more…

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Carlo Cattaneo - philosopher and writer

Intellectual who became a key figure in Milan uprising

Carlo Cattaneo, the philosopher and political writer who emerged as a leader in the so-called Five Days of Milan, the 1848 rebellion against the harsh rule of Austria, was born on this day in 1801 in Milan.  An influential figure in academic and intellectual circles in Milan, whose ideas helped shape the Risorgimento, Cattaneo was fundamentally against violence as a means to achieve change.  Yet when large-scale rioting broke out in the city in March 1848 he joined other intellectuals bringing organisation to the insurrection and succeeded in driving out Austria's occupying army, at least temporarily.  The uprising happened against a backcloth of social reform in other parts of the peninsula, in Rome and further south in Salerno, Naples and Sicily.  By contrast, the Austrians, who ruled most of northern Italy, sought to strengthen their grip by imposing harsh tax increases on the citizens and sent out tax collectors, supported by the army, to ensure that everybody paid.  Cattaneo, who published his philosophical and political ideas in a journal entitled Il Politecnico, considered negotiation was the best way to represent the grievances of Milanese citizens.  Read more…

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Carlo Scorza - politician and journalist

Blackshirt who was last party secretary of Mussolini’s Fascists 

Carlo Scorza, who rose to prominence with the Fascist paramilitary group known as the Blackshirts and was the last party secretary of Benito Mussolini’s regime, was born on this day in 1897 in Paolo, a seaside town in Calabria.  Scorza fought with the Italian Army’s Bersaglieri corps during World War One. After the war he became a member of Mussolini’s fasci italiani di combattimento, the organisation that was the forerunner of the National Fascist Party.  Such was his loyalty to Mussolini even as the course of the Second World War turned against Italy that the dictator appointed him secretary of the party in April 1943, although the position ceased to exist when the party was dissolved in July of that year after Mussolini was deposed as leader and arrested.  After growing up on his father’s small farm in Calabria, Scorza moved with his family to Lucca in Tuscany, where ultimately he studied to be an accountant. He supported Italy’s involvement in the First World War and after joining the Bersaglieri, a highly mobile infantry corps, he rose to the rank of tenente (Lieutenant).  When the conflict ended, Scorza returned to the Lucca area. He joined Mussolini’s party and became involved in acts of violence against communists and socialists.  Read more…

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Book of the Day: Corto Maltese: Under the Sign of Capricorn, by Hugo Pratt

This book, the first of 12 volumes, launches the definitive English-language edition of Hugo Pratt's masterpiece, presented in the original oversized black and white format and with new translations made from Pratt's original Italian scripts. Long before the term "graphic novel" entered the popular lexicon - 10 years before Will Eisner's A Contract with God - Hugo Pratt pioneered the long-form "drawn literature" story. Corto Maltese set the standard for all adult adventure comics in Europe. By the mid-1970s, Corto was the continent's most popular series and Hugo Pratt the world's leading graphic novelist. Pratt's peripatetic sailor was featured in a series of 29 stories. The adventures of this modern Ulysses are set during the first 30 years of the 20th Century in such exotic locales as Pratt's native Venice, the steppes of Manchuria, the Caribbean islands, the Danakil deserts, the Amazon forests, and the waves of the Pacific. Corto Maltese: Under the Sign of Capricorn collects the first six interconnected short stories Pratt created in France in the early 1970s: The Secret of Tristan Bantam, Rendez-vous in Bahia, Sureshot Samba, The Brazilian Eagle, So Much for Gentlemen of Fortune and The Seagull's Fault.

Hugo Pratt is considered one of the great graphic novelists in the history of the medium. His strips, graphic works, and watercolours have been exhibited at the Grand Palais in Paris and the Vittoriano in Rome, and a landmark show in 2011 at the Pinacotheque in Paris drew 215,000 visitors, hailing Pratt as "the inventor of the literary comic strip."

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14 June 2024

14 June

NEW
- Francesco Morlacchi - composer


Umbrian popularised Italian opera in Dresden

The composer Francesco Morlacchi, who spent much of his career working for the Saxon court in Dresden and helped popularise Italian opera not only in Germany but further afield, was born on this day in 1784 in Perugia.  Morlacchi composed more than 20 operas, the most successful of which is Tebaldo e Isolina, a romantic melodrama around a love affair between members of rival families, which had its premiere in Venice in 1822.  A contemporary of Gioachino Rossini, Morlacchi had the opportunity in the same year to succeed Rossini as maestro di cappella of the royal theatres in Naples. However, he chose to remain in Dresden.  Morlacchi was born into a family of musicians. His father, Alessandro, was a violinist at Perugia’s Cattedrale di San Lorenzo, where his maternal great-uncle, Giovanni Mazzetti, was the organist.  He began composing at a young age, studying first under Mazzetti and later with the cathedral’s maestro di cappella, the Neapolitan Luigi Caruso. He furthered his education in Loreto in Marche with Niccolò Zingarelli, another Neapolitan. Eventually, he secured a place at the school of Stanislao Mattei in Bologna, where he met Rossini.  Read more…

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Giovanni Borgia - murdered son of Pope

Killing still unsolved after 500 years despite plenty of suspects

Giovanni Borgia, the brother of Cesare and Lucrezia and son of Pope Alexander VI, was murdered on this day in 1497 in Rome.  There was no shortage of possible suspects but the murder was never solved. The grief-stricken Pope launched an immediate murder inquiry, but mysteriously closed down the investigation after just one week, leading to speculation that the perpetrator could have been a member of Giovanni’s own family.  The case has fascinated historians and writers for the last 500 years and been the subject of many books, including Mario Puzo’s historical novel, The Family, and it has featured in many films and televisions programmes. Giovanni was born in Rome in either 1474 or 1476 to the then Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia and his mistress, Vanozza dei Cattanei. He is thought to have been  the eldest of the children fathered by Pope Alexander VI with his mistress, but this is disputed.  He was married to Maria Enriquez de Luna, who had been betrothed to his older half-brother, Pedro Luis, who had died before the marriage could take place.  Read more…

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Antonio Sacchini - composer

Masterpiece widely acknowledged only after tragic death

The composer Antonio Sacchini, whose operas brought him fame in England and France in the second half of the 18th century and found favour with the Queen of France, Marie Antoinette, among others, was born on this day in 1730 in Florence.  His 1785 work Oedipe à Colone, which fell into the opera seria genre as opposed to the more light-hearted opera buffa, in which he also specialised, has best stood the test of time among his works, although it did not achieve popularity until after his death after initially falling victim to the political climate in the French court.  Sacchini came from humble stock. His father, Gaetano, was thought to be a cook, and it was through his work that the family moved to Naples when he was four, Gaetano having been employed by the future Bourbon King of Naples, Don Carlos, then the Duke of Parma and Piacenza.  This provided the opportunity for Sacchini to receive tuition at the Conservatorio di Santa Maria di Loreto, under the supervision of the composer Francesco Durante, where he learned the basics of composition, harmony and counterpoint, also developing impressive skills as a violinist and studying singing.  Read more…

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Salvatore Quasimodo - Nobel Prize winner

Civil engineer wrote poetry in his spare time

Salvatore Quasimodo, who was one of six Italians to have won a Nobel Prize in Literature, died on this day in 1968 in Naples.  The former civil engineer, who was working for the Italian government in Reggio Calabria when he published his first collection of poems and won the coveted and historic Nobel Prize in 1959, suffered a cerebral haemorrhage in Amalfi, in Campania, where he had gone to preside over a poetry prize.  He was taken by car to Naples but died in hospital a few hours later, at the age of 66.  He had suffered a heart attack previously during a visit to the Soviet Union.  The committee of the Swedish Academy, who meet to decide each year’s Nobel laureates, cited Quasimodo’s “lyrical poetics, which with ardent classicism expresses the tragic experiences of the life of our times". The formative experiences that shaped his literary life began when he was a child when his father, a station master in Modica, the small city in the province of Ragusa in Sicily, where Salvatore was born in 1901, was transferred in 1909 to Messina, to supervise the reorganisation of train services in the wake of the devastating earthquake of December 1908.  Read more…

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Giacomo Leopardi – poet and philosopher

The tragic life of a brilliant Italian writer

One of Italy’s greatest 19th century writers, Giacomo Leopardi, died on this day in 1837 in Naples.  A brilliant scholar and philosopher, Leopardi led an unhappy life in Recanati in the Papal States, blighted by poor health, but he left as a legacy his superb lyric poetry.  By the age of 16, Leopardi had independently mastered Greek, Latin and several modern languages and had translated many classical works. He had also written some poems, tragedies and scholarly commentaries.  He had been born deformed and excessive study made his health worse. He became blind in one eye and developed a cerebrospinal condition that was to cause him problems for the rest of his life.  He was forced to suspend his studies and, saddened by an apparent lack of concern from his parents, he poured out his feelings in poems such as the visionary work, Appressamento della morte - Approach of Death - written in 1816 in terza rima, in imitation of Petrarch and Dante.  His frustrated love for his married cousin, and the death from consumption of the young daughter of his father’s coachman, only deepened his despair. The death of the young girl inspired perhaps his greatest lyric poem, A SilviaRead more…

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Battle of Marengo

Napoleon works up an appetite driving out the Austrians

Napoleon was victorious in battle against the Austrians on this day in 1800 in an area near the village of Marengo, about five kilometres south of Alessandria in Piedmont.  A chicken dish named after the battle, Pollo alla Marengo, keeps the event alive by continuing to appear on restaurant menus and in cookery books.  It was an important victory for Napoleon, who effectively drove the Austrians out of Italy by forcing them to retreat.  Initially French forces had been overpowered by the Austrians and had been pushed back a few miles. The Austrians thought they had won and retired to Alessandria.  But the French received reinforcements and launched a surprise counter-attack, forcing the Austrians to retreat and to have to subsequently sign an armistice.  This sealed a political victory for Napoleon and helped him secure his grip on power.  There are various stories about the origin of the chicken dish named after the battle. Some say Napoleon ate it after his victory, while others say a restaurant chef in Paris invented it and named it after the battle in Napoleon’s honour.  There is also a story that Napoleon refused to eat before the battle but eventually came off the field with a ferocious hunger.  Read more…

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Book of the Day: The Borgias: History's Most Notorious Dynasty, by Mary Hollingsworth

The Borgias have become a byword for pride, lust, cruelty, avarice, splendour and venomous intrigue. An inspiration for many works of fiction, most famously Mario Puzo's The Family, they have aroused abomination and fascination in almost equal measure, while their patronage of the arts created some of the great masterpieces of the Renaissance. From the powerful, merciless Rodrigo Borgia, better known as Pope Alexander VI, to the beautiful Lucrezia and the debauched and murderous Cesare, Mary Hollingsworth's The Borgias: History's Most Notorious Dynasty, provides an account of the dynasty's dramatic rise from its Spanish roots to the heights of Renaissance society and forms a compelling tale of brutality, incest, unparalleled corruption and extortionate greed.

Mary Hollingsworth’s doctoral thesis dealt with the role of the architect in Italian Renaissance building projects and led to research on the role of the patron in the development of Renaissance art and architecture.

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Francesco Morlacchi - composer

Umbrian popularised Italian opera in Dresden

Francesco Morlacchi's work in Dresden furthered the popularity of Italian opera
Francesco Morlacchi's work in Dresden
furthered the popularity of Italian opera
The composer Francesco Morlacchi, who spent much of his career working for the Saxon court in Dresden and helped popularise Italian opera not only in Germany but further afield, was born on this day in 1784 in Perugia.

Morlacchi composed more than 20 operas, the most successful of which is Tebaldo e Isolina, a romantic melodrama around a love affair between members of rival families, which had its premiere in Venice in 1822.

A contemporary of Gioachino Rossini, Morlacchi had the opportunity in the same year to succeed Rossini as the maestro di cappella of the royal theatres in Naples, including the Teatro di San Carlo opera house. However, he chose to remain in Dresden.

Morlacchi was born into a family of musicians. His father, Alessandro, was a violinist at Perugia’s Cattedrale di San Lorenzo, where his maternal great-uncle, Giovanni Mazzetti, was the organist.

He began composing at a young age, studying first under Mazzetti and later with the cathedral’s maestro di cappella, the Neapolitan Luigi Caruso. He furthered his education in Loreto in Marche with Niccolò Zingarelli, another Neapolitan. Eventually, he secured a place at the school of Stanislao Mattei in Bologna, where he met Rossini.

Morlacchi’s first significant success was the drama Corradino, which was staged at the Teatro Imperiale in Parma during the 1808 carnival. 

This success led to commissions from opera houses in Rome and Milan and it was another drama, Le Danaidi, which was performed at the Teatro Argentina in Rome in 1810 that attracted the attention of a music periodical in Leipzig.

A photograph of the original score of Tebaldo e Isolina, published by Ricordi in Milan in 1822
A photograph of the original score of Tebaldo
e Isolina
, published by Ricordi in Milan in 1822
The composer was encouraged by a singer of his acquaintance, the contralto Marietta Marcolini, to go to Dresden, where he was appointed deputy Kapellmeister in 1810. Following the success of his Raoul de Crequi at the court theatre in 1811, he was appointed music director for life.

His new duties slowed down his opera production to a degree. He was also expected to prepare much sacred music and occasional cantatas for ceremonial occasions. He was also faced with trying simultaneously to satisfy the conflicting desires of the court and those of the paying public. He was often given a hard time by the critics, who took the opportunity to attack the court’s favouring of the traditional over the innovations being introduced in German opera. 

His work in Dresden between 1816 and 1817 exemplified this in a series of operas written in the 18th century comic-style, including a Barber of Seville (1816) based on the old text set to music by Giovanni Paisiello in 1782. This contrasted sharply with Rossini’s Barber of Seville, which also debuted in 1816, in which the music was set to a more casual and progressive text by Cesare Sterbini.

Morlacchi’s personal circumstances changed in 1816 when his wife, Anna Fabrizi, whom he had married in Perugia in 1805 and who moved with him to Dresden in 1810, decided she was tired of life in Germany and returned home.  Morlacchi established a new relationship with a woman called Augusta Bauer, with whom he is thought to have had four children in addition to the son he fathered with Anna. 

Morlacchi worked on several operas with the acclaimed 19th century librettist Felice Romani
Morlacchi worked on several operas with the
acclaimed 19th century librettist Felice Romani
Alongside his work for the court in Dresden, Morlacchi toured with his operatic works, including Boadicea at Teatro di San Carlo in Naples (1818), Gianni di Parigi and Donna Aurora at Teatro alla Scala in Milan (1818 and 1821).

For Teatro La Fenice in Venice, he wrote Tebaldo and Isolina (1822), Ilda d'Avenel (1824) and I Saraceni in Sicilia(1828), as well as Colombo for the inaugural season of the Teatro Carlo Felice in Genoa (1828). 

The libretti for I Saraceni in Sicilia and Colombo were among several written for him by Felice Romani, a poet and scholar of literature and mythology who wrote for Gaetano Donizetti and Vincenzo Bellini and was considered to be a librettist comparable with Pietro Metastasio and Arrigo Boito.

The opera that enjoyed the most lasting success was Tebaldo e Isolina, appreciated by the public for the libretto by Gaetano Rossi and the masterful interpretation by the singers, in particular the tenor Gaetano Crivelli and the castrato Giovanni Battista Velluti. Over the next 10 years, the opera was performed in around 40 cities in Italy and abroad.

Morlacchi’s health declined in his later years but he continued to travel and was in Naples in 1839. By 1841 he was seriously ill but attempted to journey to Italy again, apparently wishing to see his wife again in Perugia. However, the journey proved too taxing and he died while staying in a hotel in Innsbruck in October, at the age of 57. 

He was interred in Innsbruck but in January 1842, a funeral was held in Perugia cathedral that included an address by Antonio Mezzanotte, the Perugian friend to whom the composer left all his music. 

In 1874, Perugia’s Verzaro theatre was renamed after him. In 1951 the remains were moved from Innsbruck to the cathedral of Perugia.

The Fontana Maggiore sits in front of Perugia's cathedral in Piazza IV Novembre
The Fontana Maggiore sits in front of Perugia's
cathedral in Piazza IV Novembre
Travel tip:

Perugia, where Francesco Morlacchi was born and where his remains are buried in the Cattedrale di San Lorenzo, is an ancient city that sits on a high hilltop midway between Rome and Florence. In Etruscan times it was one of the most powerful cities of the period.  The capital of the Umbria region, It is also a university town with a long history, the University of Perugia having been founded in 1308.  The presence of the University for Foreigners and a number of smaller colleges gives Perugia a student population of more than 40,000.  The centre of the city, Piazza IV Novembre, which is where the cathedral is situated, has a mediaeval fountain, the Fontana Maggiore, which was sculpted by Nicolo and Giovanni Pisano.  The city’s imposing Basilica di San Domenico, built in the early 14th century also to designs by Giovanni Pisano, is the largest church in Umbria, with a distinctive 60m (197ft) bell tower and a 17th-century interior, designed by Carlo Maderno, lit by enormous stained-glass windows. The basilica contains the tomb of Pope Benedict XI, who died from poisoning in 1304.  The Teatro Morlacchi is about 300m from the Cattedrale di San Lorenzo in Piazza Francesco Morlacchi.

With a history of catastrophic fires, Venice's Teatro La Fenice is aptly named
With a history of catastrophic fires, Venice's
Teatro La Fenice is aptly named
Travel tip:

Teatro La Fenice in Venice, for which Morlacchi wrote his most successful opera, Tebaldo and Isolina, has had a fascinating history. The theatre, in Campo San Fantin, which is not far from Piazza San Marco, was named La Fenice, the Phoenix, when it was originally built in the 1790s, to reflect the fact it was helping an opera company rise from the ashes after its previous theatre had burnt down. But in 1836, La Fenice itself was destroyed by fire, although it was quickly rebuilt. Then in 1996, when the theatre burnt down again, arson was suspected, leading to a long criminal investigation. La Fenice had to be rebuilt once more at a cost of more than 90 million euros and was not able to reopen for performances until 2003.

Also on this day:

1497: The murder of Giovanni Borgia

1730: The birth of composer Antonio Sacchini

1800: The Battle of Marengo

1837: The death of poet and philosopher Giacomo Leopardi

1968: The death of Nobel Prize-winning poet Salvatore Quasimodo


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