7 June 2024

7 June

Federico da Montefeltro – condottiero

Patron of the arts made money through war

Federico da Montefeltro, one of the most successful of the Italian condottieri, was born on this day in 1422 in Gubbio.  He has been immortalised by the famous portrait painted of him by Piero della Francesca, where he was dressed in red and showing his formidable profile.  Federico ruled Urbino from 1444 until his death, commissioning the building of a large library where he employed his own team of scribes to copy texts.  He was the illegitimate son of Guidantonio da Montefeltro but he was legitimised by the Pope with the consent of Guidantonio’s wife.  Federico began his career as a condottiero - a kind of mercenary military leader - at the age of 16. When his half-brother, who had recently become Duke of Urbino, was assassinated in 1444, Federico seized the city of Urbino.  To bring in money he continued to wage war as a condottiero. He lost his right eye in an accident during a tournament and later commissioned a surgeon to remove the bridge of his nose to improve his field of vision and make him less vulnerable to assassination attempts.  Subsequently, he refused to have his portrait painted in full face, hence he is depicted in profile by Piero della Francesca.  Read more…


Pippo Baudo - TV presenter

Record-breaking host of Sanremo festival

The television presenter Pippo Baudo, who became one of the most recognisable personalities on Italian television in a broadcasting career spanning six decades, was born on this day in 1936 in Militello in Val di Catania, in Sicily.  Baudo has presented numerous shows for the national broadcaster Rai and for private networks but is probably best known as the host of the annual Sanremo Music Festival and the presenter of the immensely popular Sunday afternoon magazine show Domenica In.  He was the face of Sanremo a record 13 times between 1968 and 2008, eclipsing another much-loved TV host, Mike Bongiorno, who presented the prestigious song contest on 11 occasions.  Baudo has anchored or co-hosted Domenica In for 13 seasons.  His appearance in the 2016-17 edition of the show came 37 years after he presented the programme for the first time in 1979.  His other major shows include Settevoci, Canzonissima, Fantastico, Serata d'onore and Novecento.  Pippo - short for Giuseppe - is the son of a lawyer, whose father had ambitions for his son to follow a similar career path.  Read more…


Gaetano Berenstadt – operatic castrato

Italian-born performer who specialised in roles created by Handel

Gaetano Berenstadt, an alto castrato who sang many roles in George Frideric Handel’s operas, was born on this day in 1687 in Florence.  His parents were German and his father played the timpani - kettle drums - for the Grand Duke of Tuscany.  Berenstadt was sent to be a pupil of Francesco Pistocchi, a singer, composer and librettist who founded a singing school in Bologna.  After performing in Bologna and Naples, Berenstadt visited London where he performed the role of Argante in a revival of Handel’s Rinaldo. The composer created three new arias especially for Berenstadt’s voice.  On a later visit to London, Berenstadt sang for the composers of the Royal Academy of Music. On this visit he created the roles of Tolomeo in Handel’s Giulio Cesare, the title role in Flavio, and the role of Adalberto in Ottone.  Back in Italy, he sang music by Italian composers and in two new compositions by Johann Adolph Hasse. He usually took on the role of a villainous tyrant and, despite the quality of his voice, he never portrayed a female character.  His final appearances on stage were in his native Florence.   Read more…


Book of the Day:  The Light of Italy: The Life and Times of Federico da Montefeltro, Duke of Urbino, by Jane Stevenson

The one-eyed mercenary soldier Federico da Montefeltro, lord of Urbino between 1444 and 1482, was one of the most successful condottiere of the Italian Renaissance: renowned humanist, patron of the artist Piero della Francesca, and creator of one of the most celebrated libraries in Italy outside the Vatican. From 1460 until her early death in 1472 he was married to Battista, of the formidable Sforza family, their partnership apparently blissful. In the fine palace he built overlooking Urbino, Federico assembled a court regarded by many as representing a high point of Renaissance culture. For Baldassare Castiglione, Federico was la luce dell'Italia – 'the light of Italy'.  The Light of Italy: The Life and Times of Federico da Montefeltro, Duke of Urbino is an affectionate account of Urbino's flowering and decline casts revelatory light on patronage, politics and humanism in 15th-century Italy. As well as recounting the gripping stories of Federico and his Montefeltro and della Rovere successors, Stevenson considers in details Federico's cultural legacy – investigating the palace itself, the splendours of the ducal library, and his other architectural projects in Gubbio and elsewhere.

Jane Stevenson is a British historian, literary scholar, and author. A former Regius Professor of Humanity at the University of Aberdeen, since 2017 she has been Senior Research Fellow at Campion Hall, Oxford.

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