7 December 2021

7 December

Azzone Visconti - ruler of Milan

Nobleman who used family power to bring prosperity to the city

Azzone Visconti, a nobleman sometimes described as the founder of the state of Milan and who brought prosperity to the city in the 14th century, was born on this day in 1302 in Ferrara.  The Visconti family ruled Lombardy and Milan from 1277 to 1457 before the family line ended and, after a brief period as a republic, the Sforza family took control.  Azzone was the son of Galeazzo I Visconti and Beatrice d’Este, the daughter of the Marquis of Ferrara.  Galeazzo was descendant from Ottone Visconti, who had first taken control of Milan for the family in 1277, when he was made Archbishop of Milan by Pope Urban IV but found himself opposed by the Della Torre family, who had expected Martino della Torre to be given the title.  Ottone was barred from entering the city until he defeated Napoleone della Torre in a battle and, apart from a brief period in which forces loyal to Guido della Torre drove out Galeazzo’s father, Matteo, the Visconti family held power for the next 170 years.  A crisis faced the Visconti rule in 1328 when Louis IV, the Holy Roman Emperor – known in Italian as Ludovico il Bavaro – had Galeazzo and other members of the family arrested.  Read more…


Gian Lorenzo Bernini – sculptor and architect

Italy's last universal genius

Gian Lorenzo Bernini, who was considered the greatest sculptor of the 17th century, was born on this day in 1598 in Naples.  Bernini developed the Baroque style, leading the way for many other artists that came after him. He was also an outstanding architect and was responsible for much of the important work on St Peter’s Basilica in Rome.  Bernini began his career working for his father, Pietro Bernini, a Florentine who moved to live and work in Rome.  The young Bernini earned praise from the painter Annibale Carracci and patronage from Pope Paul V and soon established himself as an independent sculptor.  His early works in marble show his amazing ability to depict realistic facial expressions.  Pope Urban VIII became his patron and urged Bernini to paint and also to practice architecture. His first major commission was to remodel the Church of Santa Bibiana in Rome.  Bernini was then asked to build a symbolic structure over the tomb of Saint Peter in Rome. The result was the immense gilt-bronze baldachin executed between 1624 and 1633, an unprecedented fusion of sculpture and architecture and the first truly Baroque monument.  Read more…


Giovanni Battista Falda - engraver

Printmaker who found market among Grand Tourists

The engraver and printmaker Giovanni Battista Falda, who turned his artistic talent into commercial success as 17th century Rome welcomed the first waves of Europe’s Grand Tourists, was born on this day in 1643 in Valduggia in Piedmont.  Falda created engravings depicting the great buildings, gardens and fountains of Rome, as well as maps and representations of ceremonial events, which soon became popular with visitors keen to take back pictorial souvenirs of their stay, to remind them of what they had seen and to show their friends.  He took commissions to make illustrations of favourite views and of specific buildings and squares, and because the early Grand Tourists were mainly young men from wealthy families in Britain and other parts of Europe he was able to charge premium prices.  Falda showed artistic talent at an early age and was apprenticed to the painter Francesco Ferrari as a child, before moving to Rome when he was 14 to be mentored by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, the sculptor and architect who had such a huge influence on the look of Rome.  His early draughtsmanship caught the eye of the printmaker and publisher Giovan Giacomo De Rossi.  Read more…


Feast of St Ambrose in Milan

Celebrating the life of a clever and fearless Bishop

The feast day of Milan’s patron saint, St Ambrose (Sant’Ambrogio), is celebrated in the city on this day every year.  A service is held in the Basilica di Sant'Ambrogio to mark the saint's day on December 7.  The day is an official public holiday in Milan. Banks, Government offices and schools are closed along with some shops. Public transport may also be restricted.  A service is held in the Basilica di Sant’Ambrogio, the church built by Ambrose himself. The date also marks the opening of the traditional 'Oh Bej! Oh Bej!' street market, with stalls selling local food, wine and crafts.  Aurelius Ambrosius was born in the year 340. He trained as a lawyer and was a great orator before becoming Bishop of Milan in response to popular demand.  After his ordination he wrote about religion, composed hymns and music and was generous to the poor.  He stood up to the supporters of the alternative Arian religion, who wanted to take over some of Milan’s churches, and he also told a Roman Emperor what he had done wrong and how to atone for his sins.  A famous piece of advice that he gave to his congregation was to follow local liturgical custom rather than to argue against it.  Read more…

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6 December 2021

6 December

NEW - Piero Piccioni – film music composer and lawyer

Politician’s son gave up legal practice to write movie scores

Pianist, conductor and prolific composer Piero Piccioni was born on this day in 1921 in Turin in the northern region of Piedmont.  A self-taught musician, Piccioni became  a composer of film soundtracks, writing more than 300 scores, themes and songs for top directors such as Francesco Rosi, Luchino Visconti, Bernardo Bertolucci, Roberto Rossellini and Vittoria De Sica.  Piccioni had come into contact with the film industry during the 1950s while practising as a lawyer in Rome and working to secure movie rights for Italian distributors such as Titanus and  De Laurentiis.  His interest in music had started as a result of being taken to concerts by his father, Attillio Piccioni, who was a prominent Christian Democrat politician.  Although Piccioni never studied music formally, he became a talented musician by teaching himself. He had listened to jazz during his childhood  and was a fan of Art Tatum and Charlie Parker. He was also influenced by 20th century classical composers and American cinematography and he started writing songs of his own.  Read more...


Luigi Lablache – opera star

19th century giant was Queen Victoria’s singing coach

The singer Luigi Lablache, whose powerful but agile bass-baritone voice and wide-ranging acting skills made him a superstar of 19th century opera, was born in Naples on this day in 1794.  Lablache was considered one of the greatest singers of his generation; for his interpretation of characters such as Leporello in Mozart’s Don Giovanni, Geronimo in Domenico Cimarosa’s Il matrimonio segreto, Gottardo the Podestà in Gioachino Rossini’s La gazza ladra, Henry VIII in Gaetano Donizetti’s Anna Bolena and Oroveso in Vincenzo Bellini’s Norma he had few peers.  Donizetti created the role of Don Pasquale in his comic opera of the same name specifically for Lablache.  Lablache performed in all of Italy’s major opera houses and was a star too in Vienna, London, St Petersburg and Paris, which he adopted as his home in later life, having acquired a beautiful country house at Maisons-Laffitte, just outside the French capital.  He was approached to give singing lessons to the future Queen Victoria a year before she inherited the English throne, in 1836.  He found the future queen to have a clear soprano voice and a keen interest in music and opera and they developed a close bond.   Read more…


Baldassare Castiglione – courtier and diplomat

Writer left a definitive account of life at court in Renaissance Italy

Baldassare Castiglione, the author of the Italian classic, The Book of the Courtier, was born on this day in 1478 near Mantua in Lombardy.  His book about etiquette at court and the ideal of the Renaissance gentleman, has been widely read over the years and was even a source of material for Shakespeare after it was translated into English.  Castiglione was born into a noble household and was related on his mother’s side to the powerful Gonzaga family of Mantua. After studying in Milan he succeeded his father as head of the family and was soon representing the Gonzaga family diplomatically.  As a result he met Guidobaldo da Montefeltro, Duke of Urbino, and later took up residence in his court, which was regarded as the most refined and elegant in Italy at the time and received many distinguished guests.  The court was presided over by the Duke’s wife, Elisabetta Gonzaga, who impressed Castiglione so much that he wrote platonic sonnets and songs for her.  During this time he also became a friend of the painter, Raphael, who painted a portrait of him.  Castiglione later took part in an expedition against Venice organised by Pope Julius II during the Italian wars.  Read more…


Andrea Agnelli - Juventus chairman

Fourth member of famous dynasty to run Turin club

The businessman Andrea Agnelli, who since 2010 has been chairman of Italy’s leading football club, Juventus, was born on this day in 1975 in Turin.  He is the fourth Agnelli to take the helm of the famous club since 1923, when his grandfather, Edoardo, took over as president and presided over the club’s run of five consecutive Serie A titles in the 1930s.  Andrea’s father, Umberto, and his uncle, the flamboyant entrepreneur Gianni Agnelli, also had spells running the club, which has been controlled by the Agnelli family for 88 years, with the exception of a four-year period between 1943 and 1947. The family still owns 64% of the club.  As well as being chief operating officer of Fiat, which was founded by Andrea’s great-grandfather, Giovanni, Umberto was a Senator of the Italian Republic.  On his mother’s side, Andrea has noble blood.  Donna Allegra Caracciolo di Castagneto is the first cousin of Marella Agnelli - Gianni’s widow - who was born Donna Marella Caracciolo di Castagneto and is the daughter of Filippo Caracciolo, 8th Prince di Castagneto, 3rd Duke di Melito, and a hereditary Patrician of Naples.  Andrea had a private education St Clare's, an independent college in Oxford, England, and at Bocconi University in Milan.  Read more…


Niccolò Zucchi – astronomer

Jesuit's invention gave him a clear view of the planets

Niccolò Zucchi, who designed one of the earliest reflecting telescopes, was born on this day in 1586 in Parma.  His invention enabled him to be the first to discover the belts on the planet Jupiter and to examine the spots on the planet Mars. This was before the telescopes designed by James Gregory and Sir Isaac Newton, which, it has been claimed, were inspired by Zucchi’s book, Optica philosophia.  Zucchi studied rhetoric in Piacenza and philosophy and theology in Parma before entering the Jesuit order in Padua at the age of 16.  He taught mathematics, rhetoric and theology at the Collegio Romano in Rome and was then appointed rector of a new Jesuit college in Ravenna. He then served as apostolic preacher (the preacher to the Papal household) for about seven years.  Zucchi published several books about mechanics, magnetism, barometers and astronomy.  When he was sent with other papal officials to the court of Ferdinand II, he met the German mathematician and astronomer, Johannes Kepler, who encouraged his interest in studying the planets. They carried on writing to each other after Zucchi returned to Rome.  Read more…


Piero Piccioni – film composer and lawyer

Politician’s son gave up legal practice to write movie scores

Piccioni gave up a career as a lawyer to compose film music
Piccioni gave up a career as a
lawyer to compose film music
Pianist, conductor and prolific composer Piero Piccioni was born on this day in 1921 in Turin in the northern region of Piedmont.

A self-taught musician, Piccioni became  a composer of film soundtracks, writing more than 300 scores, themes and songs for top directors such as Francesco Rosi, Luchino Visconti, Bernardo Bertolucci, Roberto Rossellini and Vittoria De Sica.

Piccioni had come into contact with the film industry during the 1950s while practising as a lawyer in Rome and working to secure movie rights for Italian distributors such as Titanus and  De Laurentiis.

His interest in music had started as a result of being taken to concerts by his father, Attilio Piccioni, who was a prominent Christian Democrat politician who served several times as deputy prime minister. 

Although Piccioni never studied music formally, he became a talented musician by teaching himself. He had listened to jazz during his childhood  and was a fan of Art Tatum and Charlie Parker. He was also influenced by 20th century classical composers and American cinematography and he started writing songs of his own.

Piccioni played the piano on radio for the first time in 1938 with his ‘013’ Big Band but did not go on air again until after the liberation of Italy in 1944. He had the distinction of being the only Italian pianist ever to play for Charlie Parker after he was called upon to substitute for the pianist Al Haig on a television programme filmed in New York in 1949.

Piccioni's musical ability was entirely self-taught
Piccioni's musical ability was
entirely self-taught
While Piccioni was still a practising lawyer, he was contacted by Michelangelo Antonioni and asked to write a score for a documentary film directed by Luigi Polidoro, one of his apprentices.

His first feature film was Il mondo le condanna in 1952, after which he gave up law to write music full time. He wrote the music for most of the films that comic actor Alberto Sordi either took part in or directed. Many of the themes he composed for Sordi went on to become popular hits.

Piccioni won many prestigious prizes for his music, including the David di Donatello Award for the 1975 film Swept Away and the Nastro d’Argento award for the 1962 film Salvatore Giuliano. He also won the Anna Magnani award in 1975, the Vittorio De Sica Award in 1979 and the Prix International Lumiere in 1991.

In 1953, Piccioni had been implicated in the Montesi scandal, which followed the discovery of a dead Italian woman on a beach near Rome. He was given an alibi for the time of death by the actress Alida Valli who said he was with her at Carlo Ponti’s villa in southern Italy. He was acquitted of any involvement in the death at a trial three years later and a journalist who had written about Piccioni recanted his allegations after legal action was taken against him.

Piccioni died in Rome in 2004 at the age of 82, leaving a widow, the former musical star Gloria Paul, and their two children, Jason and Valentina.

Turin is a city of understated elegance with a vibrant café culture
Turin is a city of understated elegance
with a vibrant café culture
Travel tip:

Turin, the capital city of the region of Piedmont, where Piero Piccioni was born, has some fine architecture that illustrates its rich history as the home of the Savoy Kings of Italy. Piazza Castello, with the royal palace, royal library and Palazzo Madama, which used to house the Italian senate, is at the heart of ‘royal’ Turin.  An elegant, stylish and sophisticated city, Turin has much to commend it, from its many historic cafés to 12 miles of arcaded streets and some of the finest restaurants in Piedmont. In the 19th century, the city’s cafés were popular with writers, artists, philosophers, musicians and politicians among others, who would meet to discuss the affairs of the day.

The 'ancient Rome' set is one of the  highlights of the Cinecittà studio complex
The 'ancient Rome' set is one of the 
highlights of the Cinecittà studio complex
Travel tip:

Rome, where Piero Piccioni lived for many years of his life, became the hub of the Italian film industry because of Cinecittà, a large studio complex to the south of the city, built during the Fascist era under the personal direction of Benito Mussolini and his son, Vittorio. The studios were bombed by the Allies in the Second World War but were rebuilt and used again in the 1950s for large productions, such as Ben Hur. These days a range of productions, from television drama to music videos, are filmed there and Cinecittà has its own dedicated Metro stop.

Also on this day:

1478: The birth of Baldassare Castiglione, courtier, diplomat and writer

1586: The birth of astronomer Niccolò Zucchi

1794: The birth of opera singer Luigi Lablache

1975: The birth of businessman Andrea Agnelli


5 December 2021

5 December

Armando Diaz - First World War general

Neapolitan commander led decisive victory over Austria

Armando Diaz, the general who masterminded Italy's victory over Austrian forces at the Battle of Vittorio Veneto in 1918, was born on this day in 1861 in Naples.  The battle, which ended the First World War on the Italian front, also precipitated the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, ending more than 200 years of Austrian control of substantial parts of Italy.  The general's announcement of the total defeat of the Austrian Army at Vittorio Veneto sparked one of the greatest moments of celebration in the history of Italy, with some Italians seeing it as the final culmination of the Risorgimento movement and the unification of Italy.  Diaz was born to a Neapolitan father of Spanish heritage and an Italian mother. He decided to pursue his ambitions of a military career despite the preference for soldiers of Piedmontese background in the newly-formed Royal Italian Army.  After attending military colleges in Naples and Turin, Diaz served with distinction in the Italo-Turkish War.  Read more…


Maria De Filippi - television presenter

One of the most popular faces on Italian TV

The television presenter Maria De Filippi, who has hosted numerous talk and talent shows in a career spanning 25 years, was born on this day in 1961 in Milan.  De Filippi is best known as the presenter of the long-running talent show Amici de Maria De Filippi, which completed its 17th season this year, having been launched in 2001.  The show’s predecessor, called simply Amici, was hosted by De Filippi from 1993 onwards.  One of the most popular faces on Italian television, De Filippi has been married since 1995 to the veteran talk show host and journalist Maurizio Costanzo, who celebrated his 80th birthday this year.  The daughter of a drugs company representative and a Greek teacher, De Filippi was born in Milan before moving at age 10 to Mornico Losana, a village in the province of Pavia, where her parents owned a vineyard.  A graduate in law, she had ambitions of a career as a magistrate but in 1989, while she was working in the legal department of a video cassette company, she had a chance meeting with Costanzo at a conference in Venice to discuss ways of combating musical piracy.  Costanzo soon invited her to move to Rome to work for his communication and image company.  Read more…


Pope Julius II

Patron of the arts who commissioned Michelangelo's greatest works

Giuliano della Rovere, who was to become Pope Julius II, was born on this day in 1443 at Albisola near Genoa.  He is remembered for granting a dispensation to Henry VIII of England to allow him to marry Catherine of Aragon, the widow of his older brother, Arthur, and for commissioning Michelangelo to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican.  Giuliano was born into an ecclesiastical family. His uncle, Franceso della Rovere, later became Pope Sixtus IV and it was the future pope Francesco who arranged for his nephew to be educated at a Franciscan friary in Perugia. Giuliano became a bishop in 1471 and then a cardinal before being himself elected Pope in 1503.  Giuliano was Pope for nine years until he died of fever in 1513. When Henry VIII later asked for his marriage to Catherine of Aragon to be annulled so that he could marry Anne Boleyn, he claimed that Pope Julius II should never have issued the dispensation to allow him to marry his sister in law. But the Pope at the time, Clement VII, refused to annul the marriage so Henry VIII divorced the Catholic Church instead, leading to the English Reformation.  Read more…


Francesco Gemianini - composer and violinist

Tuscan played alongside Handel in court of George I

The violinist, composer and music theorist Francesco Saverio Geminiani, who worked alongside George Frederic Handel in the English royal court in the early 18th century and became closely associated with the music of the Italian Baroque composer Arcangelo Corelli, was baptised on this day in 1687 in Lucca, Tuscany.  Although he composed many works and at his peak was renowned as a virtuoso violinist, he is regarded as a significant figure in the history of music more for his writings, in particular his 1751 treatise Art of Playing on the Violin, which explained the 18th-century Italian method of violin playing and is still acknowledged as an invaluable source for the study of performance practice in the late Baroque period.  Geminiani himself was taught to play the violin by his father, and after showing considerable talent at an early age he went to study the violin under Carlo Ambrogio Lonati in Milan, later moving to Rome to be tutored by the aforementioned Corelli.  Returning to Lucca, he played the violin in the orchestra at the Cappella Palatina for three years, after which he moved to Naples to take up a position as Leader of the Opera Orchestra and concertmaster.  Read more…


4 December 2021

4 December

Costantino Rocca - golfer

Italian whose success inspired Open champion

Costantino Rocca, who until recently was the most successful Italian in the history of international golf, was born on this day in 1956 in Almenno San Bartolomeo, near Bergamo in northern Italy.  Rocca, who turned professional at the age of 24 in 1981, enjoyed his best years in the mid-1990s, peaking with second place in the Open Championship at St Andrews in 1995.  He was beaten by the American John Daly in a four-hole play-off but was perhaps as popular a runner-up as there has been in the history of the tournament after the incredible putt he sank on the final green to deny Daly victory inside the regulation 72 holes.  Needing a birdie to be level with Daly at the top of the leaderboard after the American finished six under par, Rocca appeared to have blown his chance when his poorly executed second shot - a chipped approach that was meant to leave him in easy putting distance of the hole - did not even make it safely on to the green, coming to rest in an area known colloquially as ‘the Valley of Sin’.  It left him 65ft - almost 20m - short of the hole, needing somehow to hole a putt that had first to go uphill and then break sharply to the right.  Read more…


Gae Aulenti – architect

Designer who made mark in Italy and abroad

The architect Gae Aulenti, who blazed a trail for women in the design world in post-War Italy and went on to enjoy a career lasting more than half a century, was born on this day in 1927 in Palazzolo dello Stella, a small town about midway between Venice and Trieste.  In a broad and varied career, among a long list of clients Aulenti designed showrooms for Fiat and Olivetti, furniture for Zanotta, department stores for La Rinascente, a railway station in Milan, stage sets for theatre and opera director Luca Ronconi and villas for wealthy private clients.  She lectured at the Venice and Milan Schools of Architecture and was on the editorial staff of the design magazine, Casabella.  Yet she is best remembered for her part in transforming redundant buildings facing possible demolition into museums and galleries, her most memorable project being the interior of the Beaux Arts-style Gare d'Orsay railway station in Paris, where she turned the cavernous central hall, a magnificent shed lit by arching rooflights, into a minimalist exhibition space for impressionist art.  Aulenti also created galleries at the Pompidou Centre in Paris and the Palau Nacional in Barcelona.  Read more…


Pope Adrian IV

The warlike conduct of England’s one and only pontiff

The only Englishman to have ever sat on the papal throne, Nicholas Breakspear, became Pope on this day in 1154 in Rome.  Breakspear, who was from Abbots Langley in Hertfordshire, had previously been created Cardinal Bishop of Albano by Pope Eugene III.  After his election as Pope, Breakspear took the name of Adrian IV (also known as Hadrian IV) and immediately set about dealing with the anti-papal faction in Rome.  After Frederick Barbarossa, Duke of Swabia, caught and hanged the leader of the faction, a man known as Arnold of Brescia, Adrian crowned Frederick as Holy Roman Emperor in 1155 to reward him.  He then formed an alliance with the Byzantine Emperor, Manuel Comnenus, against the Normans in Sicily.  Adrian raised mercenary troops in Campania to fight alongside the Byzantine forces and the alliance was immediately successful, with many cities giving in, either because of the threat of force or the promise of gold.  But the Normans launched a counter attack by land and sea and many of the mercenaries deserted leaving the Byzantine troops outnumbered and forced to return home.  Read more…


Luigi Galvani - physicist and biologist

Scientist who seemed to give dead frog new life

Luigi Galvani, the first scientist to discover bioelectricity, died on this day in 1798 in Bologna.  Galvani discovered that the muscles in the leg of a dead frog twitched when struck by an electrical spark. This was the beginning of bioelectricity, the study of the electrical patterns and signals of the nervous system.  The word ‘galvanise’, to stimulate by electricity, or rouse by shock and excitement, comes from the surname of the scientist.  Galvani studied medicine at Bologna University and, after graduating in 1759, became an honorary lecturer of surgery and then subsequently of theoretical anatomy.  He became the first scientist to appreciate the relationship between electricity and animation when he was dissecting a frog one day. His assistant touched an exposed nerve in the leg of the frog with a metal scalpel that had picked up an electrical charge. They both saw sparks and the frog’s leg kicked. The phenomenon was dubbed ‘galvanism’.  In 1797 Galvani refused to swear loyalty to the French, who were then occupying northern Italy, and lost his academic position at the university and also his income.  Read more…


Saint Giovanni Calabria

Priest offered himself to God to save a Pope

Giovanni Calabria, who dedicated his life to helping the poor and the sick, died on this day in 1954 in Verona.  Roman Catholics throughout the world will celebrate his feast day today as a result of his canonisation by Pope John Paul II in 1999.  When Pope Pius XII became ill in 1954, Calabria offered himself to God to die in the place of the Pope. Pius XII began to get better and went on to live for another four years, but Calabria died the next day. After the Pope recovered he sent a telegram of condolence to Calabria’s congregation.  Giovanni Calabria was born in 1873 in Verona. He was the youngest of the seven sons of Luigi Calabria, a cobbler, and Angela Foschio, a maid servant.  Calabria was only a young child when his father died but he had to drop out of school to become an apprentice.  However, a rector at his local church saw his potential and gave him private tuition to prepare him for an exam that would determine whether he could begin studying for the priesthood.  But first Calabria had to serve in the army where he converted his fellow soldiers and was renowned for the strength of his faith. Read more…


3 December 2021

3 December

Grandson of Andrea Amati produced some of world's finest instruments

Nicolò Amati, who is acknowledged as the greatest in the line of Amati violin makers in the 16th and 17th centuries, was born on this day in 1596 in Cremona.  The grandson of Andrea Amati, who is credited by most experts with being the inventor of the violin in its four-stringed form, Nicolò followed his father, Girolamo, and uncle, Antonio, into the family business.  Girolamo and Antonio went their separate ways in around 1590, Antonio setting up a different workshop, which was thought to specialize in lutes.  Initially, Nicolò made instruments that were very similar to those created by Girolamo but later began to add refinements of his own, the most significant of which came between 1630 and 1640 when he created the Grand Amati design.  This model, slightly wider and longer than the violins his father had produced, yielded greater power of tone than the smaller instruments and soon became sought after.  The bubonic plague outbreak that swept through Italy between 1629 and 1633 claimed the lives of both Girolamo and Nicolò's mother, Laura, and that of his main rival in violin manufacture at the time, Giovanni Paolo Maggini, from the Brescian school.  Read more…


Nino Rota – composer

Musician and teacher composed soundtrack for The Godfather 

Giovanni ‘Nino’ Rota, composer, conductor and pianist, was born on this day in 1911 in Milan.  Part of a musical family, he started composing with an oratorio based on a religious subject at the age of 11, but he was to go on to produce some of the best-known and iconic music for the cinema of the 20th century.  Rota studied at the Milan Conservatory and then in Rome before he was encouraged by the conductor, Arturo Toscanini, to move to America, where he studied at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia.  When he returned to Milan he took a degree in Literature and then began a teaching career. He became a director of the Liceo Musicale in Bari in 1950 and kept this post until his death. Orchestra conductor Riccardo Muti was one of his students.  Rota wrote film scores from the 1940s onwards for all the noted directors of the time, including Zeffirelli, Visconti and de Filippo. He wrote the music for all Federico Fellini’s films from The White Sheik in 1952 to Orchestral Rehearsal in 1978. He composed the score for Francis Ford Coppola’s film The Godfather and won an Oscar for best original score for The Godfather Part II in 1974.  Read more…


Angela Luce – actress

Film star and singer was born in Spaccanapoli

Neapolitan actress and singer Angela Luce was born Angela Savino on this day in 1937 in Naples.  She has worked for the theatre, cinema and television, is well-known for singing Neapolitan songs, and has written poetry and song lyrics.  At 14 years old, Angela took her first steps towards stardom when she took part in the annual music festival held at Piedigrotta in the Chiaia district of Naples, singing the Neapolitan song, Zi Carmeli.  Her cinema career began in 1956, when she was only 19, when she appeared in Ricordati di Napoli, directed by Pino Mercanti. Since then she has appeared in more than 80 films and has worked for directors including Luchino Visconti, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Mario Amendola, Luigi Zampa and Pupi Avati.  Angela won a David Donatello award for L’amore molesto directed by Mario Martone and was also nominated for the Palma d’Oro at Cannes.  She has acted opposite such illustrious names as Marcello Mastroianni, Vittorio Gassman, Alberto Sordi, Vittorio de Sica and Totò.  Her voice has been recorded in the historic archives of Neapolitan songs and she has won prizes for her singing.  Read more…


Carlo Oriani - cyclist and soldier

Giro winner died in World War One

The champion cyclist Carlo Oriani, winner of the 1913 Giro d’Italia, died on this day in 1917 in the aftermath of the Battle of Caporetto in the First World War.  The battle was a disastrous one for the Italian forces under the command of General Luigi Cadorna, with 13,000 soldiers killed, 30,000 wounded and 250,000 captured by the victorious army of Austria-Hungary. Countless other Italian troops fled as it became clear that defeat was inevitable.  Oriani, who had previously served his country in the Italo-Turkish War in 1912, was a member of the Bersaglieri, the highly mobile elite force traditionally used by the Italian army as a rapid response unit. He had joined the corps in part because of his skill on a bicycle, which had replaced horses as one of the means by which the Bersaglieri were able to get around quickly.  The Battle of Caporetto took place from October 24 to November 19, near the town of Kobarid on the Austro-Italian front, in what is now Slovenia.  Oriani survived the battle but it was during the retreat that Italian soldiers had to cross the Tagliamento, which links the Alps and the Adriatic and in the winter months is a fast-flowing river, with enemy forces in pursuit.  Read more…


Mario Borghezio – controversial politician

Lega Nord MEP renowned for extremist views

Mario Borghezio, one of Italy’s most controversial political figures whose extreme right-wing views have repeatedly landed him in trouble, was born on this day in 1947 in Turin.  Borghezio was a member of Lega Nord, the party led by Umberto Bossi that was set up originally to campaign for Italy to be broken up so that the wealthy north of the country would sever its political and economic ties with the poorer south.  He has been a Member of the European Parliament since 1999 and has served on several committees, including Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs and the Committee on Petitions.  He was even undersecretary to the Ministry of Justice from 1994-95.  Yet he had regularly espoused extremist and racist views, to the extent that even the right-wing British party UKIP, with whom he developed strong links, moved to distance themselves from him over one racist outburst.  It was at their behest that he was expelled from the European Parliament’s Europe of Freedom and Democracy group after making racist remarks about Cecile Kyenge, Italy’s first black cabinet minister, whom he said was more suited to being a housekeeper.  Read more...

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2 December 2021

2 December

NEWFerdinando Galiani - economist and philosopher

Leading figure in the Neapolitan Enlightenment

The economist and philosopher Ferdinando Galiani, whose theories on market economics are considered to be years ahead of his time, was born on this day in 1728 in Chieti, now in Abruzzo but then part of the Kingdom of Naples.  Galiani spent much of his life in the service of the Naples government, spending 10 years as secretary to the Neapolitan ambassador in Paris before returning to Naples in the role of councillor of the tribunal of commerce, being appointed administrator of the royal domains in 1977.  A fine writer and wit as well as a talented economist, Galiani wrote a number of humorous works as well as two significant treatises, the first of which, Della Moneta, was written while he was still a student, at the age of 22.  Initially published anonymously, Della Moneta - On Money - was ostensibly a work about the history of money and the monetary system, but Galiani used it as an opportunity to intervene in the Neapolitan debate on economic reform, his opinions on the development of the Neapolitan economy evolving into a theory of market value based on utility and scarcity.  Read more...


Roberto Capucci - fashion designer

'Sculptor in cloth' who rejected ready-to-wear

The fashion designer Roberto Capucci, whose clothes were famous for their strikingly voluminous, geometric shapes and use of unusual materials, was born on this day in 1930 in Rome.  Precociously talented, Capucci opened his first studio in Rome at the age of 19 and by his mid-20s was regarded as the best designer in Italy, particularly admired by Christian Dior, the rising star of French haute-couture.  It was during this period, towards the end of the 1950s, that Capucci revolutionised fashion by inventing the Linea a Scatola – the box-line or box look – in which he created angular shapes for dresses and introduced the concept of volume and architectural elements of design into clothing, so that his dresses, which often featured enormous quantities of material, were almost like sculpted pieces of modern art, to be not so much worn as occupied by the wearer.  Growing up in Rome, Capucci was artistically inclined from an early age. He attended the Accademia di Belle Arti di Roma and wanted to become either an architect or a film director, designing clothes initially as no more than a diversion.  Read more…


Maria Bricca - war hero

Humble cook whose actions helped end siege of Turin in 1706

The unlikely war hero Maria Bricca, whose actions would precipitate a major victory for the Duchy of Savoy in the War of the Spanish Succession, was born on this day in 1684 in Pianezza, then a village about 12km (7 miles) northwest of the city of Turin.  Maria, who was born Maria Chiaberge but changed her name after she married Valentino Bricco in 1705, became an important figure in the ending of the four-month siege of Turin by the French in 1706.  She hated the French, who had sacked Pianezza in 1693 when she was just eight years old, killing villagers and looting property before her eyes. In 1706. when they took control of the castle at Pianezza, which occupied a strategic position overlooking the Dora Riparia river, it brought back memories of the scenes she had witnessed as a child.  When Maria, who was nicknamed La Bricassa, heard that Prince Eugene of Savoy had dispatched a force of 9,000 Prussian soldiers led by his ally, Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Dessau, to try to take control of the castle, she knew she had information that could help them.  As a cook, she had previously worked at the castle and knew of the existence of a secret underground passage that led from the village - possibly from her own house - directly into the castle.  Read more…


Gianni Versace – designer

Meteoric rise of the talented son of a dressmaker

Gianni Versace, the founder of the international fashion house, Versace, was born on this day in 1946 in Reggio di Calabria in the south of Italy. He went on to start a highly successful clothing label and also designed costumes for the theatre and films. He was a personal friend of the late Princess Diana and numerous celebrities, including Elton John and Madonna.  Christened Giovanni Maria Versace, the designer literally learnt his trade at his mother’s knee as she was herself a dressmaker and employed him as an apprentice in her business from an early age.  He moved north to Milan to work in the fashion industry for other designers and, after presenting his own first signature collection in the city, opened a boutique in Via della Spiga in 1978. His career immediately took off and his exclusive designs were highly sought after.  He became one of the top designers of the 1980s and 90s and employed his brother, Santo, and his sister, Donatella, in his successful and profitable business.  One of his most famous creations was a black dress held together by safety pins, worn by the actress, Elizabeth Hurley, to a film premiere.  Read more…


Paolo Tosti - composer

How a poor boy from Abruzzo became an English knight

Paolo Tosti, the composer of the popular Neapolitan song, Marechiare, died on this day in 1916 in Rome.  Many of the light, sentimental songs he composed were performed by the top opera singers of the time and are still regularly recorded by the stars of today.  At the height of his career, Tosti was singing professor to Princess Margherita of Savoy, who later became the Queen of Italy. He then went to live in England, where his popularity grew even more.  He was appointed singing master to the British Royal Family and was eventually knighted by King Edward VII, who had become one of his personal friends.  Born Francesco Paolo Tosti in Ortona in the Abruzzo region, the composer received an early musical education in his home town and then moved on to study at the Naples Conservatory.  His teachers there were so impressed with him that they appointed him a student teacher, which earned him a small salary.  Ill health forced Tosti to return to Ortona, but while he was confined to bed, he began composing songs.  Once he had recovered from his illness he moved to live in Ancona where, it is said, he was so impoverished that he had to exist on stale bread and oranges.  Read more…