7 July 2024

7 July

NEW - Michele Amari – politician, historian, and writer

Scholarly revolutionary became a leading translator of mediaeval Arabic

Patriotic Sicilian revolutionary Michele Amari was born on this day in 1806 in Palermo.  Amari published a history in 1842 of the War of the Sicilian Vespers, was a minister in the Sicilian revolutionary government in 1848, and was part of Garibaldi’s revolutionary cabinet in Sicily in 1860.  He embraced the cause of Italian unification and helped prepare Sicilians for the annexation of Sicily by the Kingdom of Sardinia. During his later years, he served as a Senator of the new Kingdom of Italy.  A grandson of the third Count Amari of Sant’Adriano, he grew up in an aristocratic household. The title had been acquired in 1772 by one of his ancestors, who had held the hereditary office of the administrator of the royal tobacco monopoly.  Michele Amari lived with his grandfather in the centre of Palermo after his father, Ferdinando, had financial problems caused by his gambling. Amari was educated in Palermo and one of his teachers was a leading Sicilian historian.  Amari’s father later introduced him to Francophile democratic circles in Palermo and secured him a position at the Ministry of the Interior in 1820.  Read more…


Vittorio De Sica - film director

Oscar-winning maestro behind 1948 classic Bicycle Thieves

Vittorio De Sica, the director whose 1948 film Bicycle Thieves is regarded still as one of the greatest movies of all time, was born on this day in 1901 in Sora in Lazio.  Bicycle Thieves, a story set in the poverty of post-War Rome, was a masterpiece of Italian neorealism, the genre of which the major figures, in addition to De Sica, were Luchino Visconti, Roberto Rossellini and Giuseppe de Santis and, to a smaller degree, Federico Fellini.  The movie was one of four that landed Academy Awards for De Sica. Another of his great neorealist movies, Shoeshine (1948), won an honorary Oscar, while Bicycle Thieves won a special award as an outstanding foreign language film in the days before the Best Foreign Language Film category was introduced.  De Sica would later win Oscars in that section for Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow (1963) – a comedy starring Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni – and The Garden of the Finzi-Continis (1970).  His Marriage Italian Style (1964), also starring Loren and Mastroianni, also earned a nomination as Best Foreign Language Film and for Loren as Best Actress. Loren did win Best Actress for her role in his 1961 movie La Ciociara, which was released outside Italy as Two Women.  Read more…


Gian Carlo Menotti - composer and librettist

Founded Spoleto festival after finding fame in the United States

Gian Carlo Menotti, who wrote more than two dozen operas and founded the annual Festival dei Due Mondi in Spoleto, was born on this day in 1911 in the village of Cadegliano-Viconago, on the Swiss-Italian border.  A prodigiously talented child who began to write music at the age of seven, Menotti was sent to study at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia as a teenager and settled in the United States.  For many years he was the partner - professionally and in life - of the brilliant American composer, Samuel Barber.  Menotti wrote the libretto for Barber’s 1957 work Vanessa, which is regarded as one of the 20th century’s finest operas.  Two of Menotti’s own operas, The Consul (1950) and The Saint of Bleecker Street (1955), won Pulitzer Prizes.  He created the Festival dei Due Mondi in 1957 out of a desire to make his mark in the country of his birth but also because he was intrigued by the idea of creating an event in which he and his friends could showcase their own work and to which he could also invite some of the great names of music and the arts to perform before a less traditional audience.  Read more…


Giacomo Barozzi da Vignola - architect

Legacy of beautiful Renaissance buildings throughout Italy

One of the great architects of the 16th century, Giacomo Barozzi da Vignola, died on this day in 1573 in Rome.  Often referred to simply as Vignola, the architect left the world with a wealth of beautiful buildings and two acknowledged masterpieces, the Villa Farnese at Caprarola and the Church of the Gesù in Rome.  Along with Andrea Palladio and Sebastiano Serlio, Vignola was responsible for spreading the style of the Italian Renaissance throughout Europe.  He was born at Vignola near Modena in Emilia-Romagna in 1507. He began his career as an architect in Bologna and then went to Rome to make drawings of Roman temples. He was invited to Fontainebleau  to work for King Francois I, where it is believed he first met the Bolognese architect, Serlio.  Back in Italy he designed the Palazzo Bocchi in Bologna and then moved to Rome to work for Pope Julius III. He later worked alongside the artist Michelangelo, who greatly influenced his architectural style.  From 1564 onwards, Vignola worked on the new St Peter’s Basilica, following the plans Michelangelo had drawn up for the domes.  Read more…


1990 World Cup - Italy’s consolation prize

Azzurri beat England for third place

Italy beat England 2-1 in Bari to claim third place in the World Cup finals, of which they were the host nation, on this day in 1990.  It was a small consolation for the team, managed by Azeglio Vicini, who had played some of the best football of all the competing nations to reach the semi-finals, only to be held to a 1-1 draw by Argentina in Naples and then lose the match on a penalty shoot-out.  Their heartbreak mirrored that suffered by England, who had also suffered a defeat on penalties in their semi-final against West Germany in Turin.  Many neutrals believed that Italy and England would have been more worthy finalists, particularly in retrospect after West Germany had beaten Argentina by a penalty five minutes from the end of 90 minutes in a match of cynical fouls and attritional football that is seen as the poorest World Cup final in the competition’s history.  The play-off for third place lacked the intensity of a final, reflecting the heavy weight of disappointment each set of players was carrying.  Yet it was important to the Azzurri to finish on a high note and a crowd of 51,426 inside the Stadio San Nicola - a new stadium built specially for Italia ‘90 - saw the game decided with three goals in the final quarter.  Read more…


Book of the Day: Vittorio De Sica. The Art of Stage and Screen, by Flavio De Bernardinis

While Roberto Rossellini and Luchino Visconti came into being with neorealism, Vittorio De Sica matured through neorealism. As an already established artist, he put himself wholly on the line and played a gambit that revolutionized Italian and world cinema. From 1923, the year he made his debut in a minor role with Tatiana Pavlova’s theatre company, and over the following 20 years of his career in Italian theatre and cinema, he sowed the seeds of the neorealism that would lead to his 1943 film I bambini ci guardano (The Children are Watching Us). Vittorio De Sica. The Art of Stage and Screen tells his whole story, before, during and after neorealism. From the early days in theatre to his role behind the camera, De Sica runs the gauntlet of the history of the performing arts in Italy at a crucial point in time: the years straddling the decline of the theatre of the great stars of the 19th century tradition to the birth of the director’s theatre, the “talkies”, songs and gramophone records, up to the formidable season of “Sciuscià” (Ragazzi) (Shoeshine, 1946) and Ladri di biciclette (Bicycle Thieves, 1948). This is what makes De Sica unique. He was an actor, singer, and director. To tell De Sica’s story is also to narrate how the young Italy, a kingdom that had been united for only 50 years, aimed to represent itself in the theatre and on screen, showing how the Italian character was portrayed – in what light, with what colours and tones, and how the Italian middle classes attempted to assume the cultural hegemony of the country through comedy.  De Sica was a unique figure in this representation of the ethos of Italy, its customs and traditions, its strengths and weaknesses, its glories and its miseries.

Flavio De Bernardinis is a scholar of the history and aesthetics of cinema and entertainment. He is the author of a number of books and teaches Film History and the Analysis of Film Language at the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia. 

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