1 July 2024

1 July

Clara Gonzaga – noblewoman

Countess from Mantua founded European dynasties

Clara (Chiara) Gonzaga, the eldest daughter of Federico I Gonzaga and Margaret of Bavaria, was born on this day in 1464 in Mantua.  One of her six children became Charles III, Duke of Bourbon and led the imperial army sent by Emperor Charles V against Pope Clement VII in what was to become the Sack of Rome in 1527.  Clara was also to feature as one of the characters in The Heptameron, a collection of 72 short stories written in French by the sister of King Francis I of France, Marguerite of Angouleme, who had been inspired by Giovanni Boccaccio’s The Decameron.  Clara had five siblings, including Francesco II Gonzaga, who married Isabella d’Este.  She was married at the age of 17 to Gilbert of Bourbon Montpensier. Four years later he succeeded his father as Count of Montpensier and Dauphin of Auvergne.  Clara and Gilbert had six children, but when she was just 32, Gilbert, who had also become Viceroy of Naples and the Duke of Sessa, died of a fever while in Pozzuoli near Naples, leaving her a widow.  Three years later, Clara acted as a mediator on behalf of her brother Francesco, who was trying to form an alliance with King Louis XII of France in order to protect Mantua.  Read more…


Gino Meneghetti - career burglar

Pisa-born criminal became legend in Brazil

Gino Amleto Meneghetti, a small-time thief in Italy who became a romanticised figure for his criminal exploits after emigrating to Brazil, was born on this day in 1878 in Pisa.  His early days were spent in a fishing village outside Pisa, but his father could find only low-paid work and moved the family to a different neighbourhood so he could take a job in a ceramics factory.  It was there that Gino fell in with a gang of boys who regularly engaged in petty crime, stealing fruit or chickens or other objects of minimal worth.  The young Meneghetti was arrested for the first time at 11 years of age.  After teenage years spent largely thieving, he made an attempt to change his life, going back to the classroom to learn to be a mechanic and a locksmith.  He found work and saved money, but then decided to move to Marseilles in France to live with an uncle, who owned a restaurant.  It was not a wise move. Like most large commercial ports, there was a seamier side to Marseilles and Meneghetti again fell into bad company.  His next arrest was for a more serious offence - illegal possession of weapons.  Found guilty, he spent some time in prison before being deported to Italy.  To avoid compulsory military service, Meneghetti feigned madness.  Read more…


Achille Varzi - racing driver

Death on track led to mandatory wearing of crash helmets

Italian motor racing fans were in mourning on this day in 1948 when it was announced that Achille Varzi, whose rivalry with fellow driver Tazio Nuvolari made frequent headlines during the 1930s, had been killed in an accident while practising for the Swiss Grand Prix.  Although the sun was shining, an earlier downpour had left parts of the Bremgarten circuit outside Berne very wet and Varzi’s Alfa Romeo 158 was travelling at 110mph (170kph) when he arrived at a corner that was both wet and oily.  The car spun several times and appeared to be coming to a stop but then flipped over. The helmetless Varzi was crushed beneath the car and died from his injuries at the age of 43.  His death was especially shocking because he was regarded as one of the more cautious drivers. Since beginning his career on two wheels in his teens he had suffered only one major accident, in stark contrast to Nuvolari, whose daredevil tactics led him to have several serious crashes.  Whether Varzi would have survived with better protection is unknown, but his death did prompt motor racing’s governing body, the FIA, to make the wearing of crash helmets by drivers mandatory rather than optional. Read more…


Alberto Magnelli - abstract painter

Self-taught artist whose work became known as Concrete Art

The abstract painter Alberto Magnelli, who became a leading figure in the Concrete Art movement, was born on this day in 1888 in Florence.  Concrete Art is described as abstract art that is entirely free of any basis in observed reality and that has no symbolic meaning. It had strong geometric elements and clear lines and its exponents insisted the form should eschew impressionism and that a painting should have no other meaning than itself.  The movement took its name from the definition of concrete as an adjective rather than a noun, meaning ‘existing in a material or physical form’.  It became Magnelli’s focus after he moved to Paris in 1931. Until then, he had experimented in various genres.  He was born into a comfortable background in Florence, his father coming from a wealthy family of textile merchants.  He never studied art formally but would spend hours in museums and churches looking at paintings and frescoes. He particularly admired the Renaissance artists Andrea del Castagno, Paolo Uccello, and Piero della Francesca.  Magnelli’s first paintings were landscapes, which he began to produce while on holiday in the Tuscan countryside.  Read more…


Claudio Saracini – musician

Baroque songs have survived till modern times

Composer Claudio Saracini was born on this day in 1586 in or close to Siena in Tuscany.  He is one of the most highly regarded composers of his time and is known also to have played the lute and been a singer.  He became famous for composing monody, which is secular music for a single voice, and 133 of the songs he wrote in this style have survived till today.  Some of Saracini’s compositions are still recorded, often in collections along with works by other composers of the same era, such as Monteverdi, who is said to have admired him.  Saracini travelled widely and seems to have established useful connections abroad as he dedicated a lot of his music to foreign aristocrats. He also appeared to have absorbed some of the musical styles of the lands he visited in his own compositions.  A unique feature of his work is the influence of folk music, particularly music from the Balkans, which is rarely heard in early Baroque music.  Saracini’s music was all published in Venice between 1614 and 1624, before his death in 1630.  During the 20th century there was renewed interest in his work after it had been neglected for a long time.  Read more…


Book of the Day: The Renaissance in Italy: A Social And Cultural History Of The Rinascimento, by Guido Ruggiero

The Renaissance in Italy: A Social And Cultural History Of The Rinascimento offers a rich and exciting new way of thinking about the Italian Renaissance as both a historical period and a historical movement. Guido Ruggiero's work is based on archival research and new insights of social and cultural history and literary criticism, with a special emphasis on everyday culture, gender, violence and sexuality. The book offers a vibrant and relevant critical study of a period too long burdened by anachronistic and outdated ways of thinking about the past. Familiar, yet alien; pre-modern, but suggestively post-modern; attractive and troubling, this book returns the Italian Renaissance to center stage in our past and in our historical analysis.

Guido Ruggiero is a preeminent specialist in the history of Italy, from the 14th to 17th centuries. He is Emeritus Professor of History and Cooper Fellow of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Miami.

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