Showing posts with label 1740. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 1740. Show all posts

29 February 2020

Pietro Ottoboni - patron of music and art

Venetian cardinal spent fortune on composers and painters


Francesco Trevisiani's portrait of Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni, painted in around 1689
Francesco Trevisiani's portrait of Cardinal
Pietro Ottoboni, painted in around 1689
Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni, who is remembered as the biggest sponsor of the arts and music in particular in Rome in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, died on this day in 1740 in Rome.

Despite a somewhat licentious lifestyle that reportedly saw him father between 60 and 70 children, Ottoboni, whose great uncle was Pope Alexander VIII, was considered a candidate to succeed Pope Clement XII as pontiff following the death of the latter on 6 February.

However, he developed a fever during the conclave and had to withdraw. He died three weeks later.

Born into a noble Venetian family, Ottoboni was the last person to hold the office of Cardinal-nephew, a tradition dating back to the Middle Ages that allowed a pontiff to appoint members of his own family to key positions. The practice was abolished by Alexander VIII’s successor, Pope Innocent XII, in 1692.

Ottoboni was also made vice-chancellor of the Holy Church of Rome, a position he held until his death, which gave him an annual income that would have been the equivalent today of almost £5 million (€5.79m).  Although he had several positions of responsibility, including superintendent general of the affairs of the Apostolic See, and governor of the cities of Fermo and Tivoli, he was an unashamed seeker of sensual pleasure.

This translated into a considerable number of mistresses but also a great love of music, in the pursuit of which he spent lavishly and, despite his wealth, managed to run up substantial debts.

Arcangelo Corelli's career flourished with Pietro Ottoboni's financial support
Arcangelo Corelli's career flourished with
Pietro Ottoboni's financial support
Soon after he was made a Cardinal, he set about restoring the theatre at the Palazzo della Cancelleria, his residence in Rome.  The theatre had been unused for 15 years but Ottoboni was determined to make it the centre of music in Rome.  Filippo Juvara, his court architect, enlarged the theatre and turned it into one of the most technically advanced opera venues in the city, while Ottoboni hired the finest singers and musicians available. One of his favourites, the castrato Andrea Adami, was made master of the papal choir at the Sistine Chapel.

Operas by Alessandro Scarlatti, Antonio Caldara and many other leading composers were premiered at the Cancelleria.  Ottoboni supported Arcangelo Corelli, the greatest violinist of his generation, and worked with the German musician and composer George Frideric Handel for a period early in the 18th century.

His relationship with Corelli was such that when the musician died in 1713 he left his entire estate to the Cardinal, who in turn distributed it among Corelli’s family and arranged for him to buried at the Pantheon in Rome, his tomb marked with an elaborate memorial. 

Other composers who had Ottoboni to thank for the advancement of their careers included his fellow Venetians Antonio Vivaldi and Tomaso Albinoni.

Ottoboni’s patronage extended beyond his own theatre. He was also the major benefactor of what is now the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, Italy’s premier conservatory, and the Accademia Filarmonica di Bologna. 

The cover of the libretto for Scarlatti's  'The Martyrdom of St Cecilia'
The cover of the libretto for Scarlatti's
 'The Martyrdom of St Cecilia'
He made his own contribution to the advancement of the opera genre as a librettist.  His position in the Church meant he could not publish them under his own name, especially after Clement XI banned all public opera performances in 1701. It is widely thought, for instance, that the libretto for Scarlatti's 1693 opera La Giuditta was written by Ottoboni.

Beyond the world of music, the Sicilian architect Giovanni Battista Vaccarini, who became one of the most prominent figures in the Sicilian Baroque movement that grew after the earthquake of 1693, and painters Sebastiano Conca, Sebastiano Ricci and Francesco Trevisan also benefited from his support. The Seven Sacraments, which he commissioned in 1712 and was executed by Giuseppe Maria Crespi, is now in the Museum of Dresden in Germany.

Ottoboni was a collector of art as well as a sponsor, yet much of his vast collection was lost to Italy when he died, as a result of his debts, which demanded that his possessions be sold and the proceeds shared among his creditors.

Among his 530 paintings, some of which he inherited from his great uncle but many that he bought himself over half a century, included works by Guido Reni, Tintoretto, Pietro da Cortona, Jacopo Bassani, Giuseppe Cesari and Paolo Veronese.  They were disposed of in four sales and have consequently been distributed around the world.

The Palazzo della Cancelleria in Rome was Cardinal Ottoboni's home as vice-chancellor of the Holy Roman Church
The Palazzo della Cancelleria in Rome was Cardinal Ottoboni's
home as vice-chancellor of the Holy Roman Church
Travel tip:

The Palazzo della Cancelleria, which was Cardinal Ottoboni’s residence in Rome, is situated between Corso Vittorio Emanuele II and the Campo de' Fiori. It is probably the earliest Renaissance palace to be built in Rome, designed by the architect Donato Bramante and constructed between 1489 and 1513, initially as a residence for Cardinal Raffaele Riario, who was treasurer of the Holy Roman Church under Pope Sixtus V, and subsequently evolved as the seat of the Chancellery of the Papal States. It was also used as the parliament building by the short-lived Roman Republic in the mid-19th century.

Rome's ancient Pantheon is the burial place of many famous individuals, including Arcangelo Corelli
Rome's ancient Pantheon is the burial place of many
famous individuals, including Arcangelo Corelli
Travel tip:

Considered to be Rome’s best preserved ancient building, the Pantheon, which can be found in Piazza della Rotonda, was built in AD 118 on the site of a previous building dating back to 27 BC. It was consecrated as a church in the seventh century and many important people are buried there, including the kings Victor Emmanuel II and Umberto I, and Umberto’s wife, Queen Margherita, and the writers Voltaire, Rousseau, Victor Hugo and Émile Zola.

More reading:

How Arcangelo Corelli influenced the development of music

Why Alessandro Scarlatti was ahead of his time

Vaccarini's legacy to the city of Catania

Also on this day:

1792: The birth of composer Gioachino Rossini


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9 May 2018

Giovanni Paisiello - composer

Audience favourite with a jealous streak


Giovanni Paisiello was one of the most  popular Italian composers in the 18th century
Giovanni Paisiello was one of the most
popular Italian composers in the 18th century
The composer Giovanni Paisiello, who wrote more than 90 operas and much other music and was enormously popular in the 18th century, was born on this day in 1740 in Taranto.

Paisiello was talented, versatile and had a big influence on other composers of his day and later, yet he was jealous of the success of rivals and is remembered today primarily as the composer whose passionate fans wrecked the premiere of Gioachino Rossini’s opera Almaviva, which was based on the same French play as Paisiello’s Il barbiere di siviglia, which was regarded as his masterpiece.

Rossini’s opera would eventually be more commonly known as Il barbiere di siviglia, but not until after Paisiello had died.

Nonetheless, Paisiello’s supporters still felt Rossini was attempting to steal their favourite’s thunder and many of them infiltrated the audience at Almaviva’s opening night in Rome and disrupted the performance with constant jeers and catcalls.

History has shown that perhaps they were right to be worried: today, Rossini’s Barber of Seville is one of the world’s most popular operas, yet Paisiello’s is rarely performed.

Paisiello was educated at a Jesuit school in Taranto. His father wanted his son to become a lawyer but noted the beauty of his singing voice and enrolled him at the Conservatory of San Onofrio at Naples.

A poster advertising the premiere of Paisiello's opera Nina
A poster advertising the premiere
of Paisiello's opera Nina
There he displayed a talent for composing too, and the quality of some intermezzi he wrote for the conservatory’s theatre led to him being invited to write his first operas, La Pupilla and Il Marchese Tulissano. These brought him instant recognition and he settled in Naples, producing a series of successful operas, popular for being simple, dramatic, and always fast moving.

He set himself up in rivalry with the established giants of the Neapolitan school, Niccolò Piccinni, Domenico Cimarosa and Pietro Guglielmi. He was known for being bitterly outspoken when one or another of the trio staged a work that received public acclaim, but he enjoyed his own triumphs, in particular with his 1767 comic opera L'ldolo cinese. 

Paisiello left Naples only when he was invited in 1776 by the Russian empress Catherine II to St. Petersburg, where he remained for eight years. It was there that he produced Il barbiere di siviglia, with a libretto by Giuseppe Petrosellini, based on the play by Pierre Beaumarchais.

Il barbiere premiered in St Petersburg in 1782 and its fame spread quickly around Europe. Among those influenced by the artistry of his score and the beauty of the melodies was Mozart, whose Marriage of Figaro made its debut four years later as a sequel to Paisiello’s Barbiere.

Paisiello left Russia in 1784, initially going to Vienna before returning to Naples to enter the service of King Ferdinand IV, where he enjoyed more success, composing what many regard as his best operas, including Nina and La Molinara, the latter featuring perhaps the best-known tune that Paisiello wrote in his lifetime, the duet Nel cor più non mi sento, which inspired works by Beethoven, Paganini and many others.

Domenico Cimarosa was a target for  Paisiello's outspoken comments
Domenico Cimarosa was a target for
Paisiello's outspoken comments
His decline began after he was invited to Paris in 1802 by Napoleon, for whom he had composed a march for the funeral of General Hoche. This time his rivals were Luigi Cherubini and Etienne Méhul, towards whom he displayed similar jealousy to that he once aimed at Cimarosa, Guglielmi and Piccinni.

However, the Parisian public was unimpressed and in 1803 he obtained permission to return to Italy, citing his wife's ill health. He kept his job in Naples even after the fall of Ferdinand IV, who was replaced as king by Napoleon’s brother, Joseph, and in turn by Joachim Murat.

But by then he was beginning to lose his touch and his fortunes declined just as the power of the Bonapartes was collapsing. His wife died in 1815 and his own health failed quickly thereafter. He died in 1816 at the age of 76.

In addition to his operas, Paisiello wrote a good deal of church music and instrumental works that include symphonies, harp and piano concerti, string quartets, sonatas for harp, violin and cello.

The 20th century saw his Barbiere and La Molinara revived along with a number of other operas and instrumental pieces.

The Castello Aragonese is a landmark in Taranto
The Castello Aragonese is a landmark in Taranto
Travel tip:

Taranto, situated at the top of the inside of the ‘heel’ of Italy, where Paisiello was born, is a large city - population in excess of 200,000 - of two distinct sections, divided by a swing bridge. The bridge links the small island containing the Città Vecchia, the old city, guarded by the imposing 15th century Castello Aragonese castle, which protects an area of Greek origins which has not been overdeveloped and has an authentic atmosphere of old southern Italy.  On the southern side of the bridge is the modern, new city, full of wide boulevards and carrying a much more prosperous air.  The city is heavily industrialised with a huge steel industry and a large naval base but its National Museum contains one of the most important collections of Greek and Roman artefacts in Italy.

The Conservatorio of San Onofrio
The Conservatorio of San Onofrio
Travel tip:

The Conservatorio of San Onofrio a Porta Capuana was one of the four original Naples conservatories, founded in 1588 and developed first as an orphanage. Almost one fifth of the students at the Conservatory of San Onofrio were castrati, which gave it a different identity.  Its popularity declined during the Napoleonic period, and only 30 students remained when the conservatory merged with that of Santa Maria di Loreto in 1797.

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17 August 2017

Pope Benedict XIV

Erudite, gentle, honest man was chosen as a compromise


Pope Benedict XIV succeeded Clement XII as a compromise candidate after a six-month conclave
Pope Benedict XIV succeeded Clement XII as a
compromise candidate after a six-month conclave
Prospero Lorenzo Lambertini began his reign as Pope Benedict XIV on this day in 1740 in Rome.

Considered one of the greatest ever Christian scholars, he promoted scientific learning, the baroque arts and the study of the human form.

Benedict XIV also revived interest in the philosophies of Thomas Aquinas, reduced taxation in the Papal States, encouraged agriculture and supported free trade.

As a scholar interested in ancient literature, and who published many ecclesiastical books and documents himself, he laid the groundwork for the present-day Vatican Museum.

Lambertini was born into a noble family in Bologna in 1675. At the age of 13 he started attending the Collegium Clementinum in Rome, where he studied rhetoric, Latin, philosophy and theology. Thomas Aquinas became his favourite author and saint. At the age of 19 he received a doctorate in both ecclesiastical and civil law.

Benedict XIV's monument by Pietro Bracci in  St Peter's Basilica in Rome
Benedict XIV's monument by Pietro Bracci in
St Peter's Basilica in Rome
Lambertini was consecrated a bishop in Rome in 1724, was made Bishop of Ancona in 1727 and Cardinal-Priest of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme in 1728.

Following the death of Pope Clement XII, Lambertini was elected pope on the evening of August 17, 1740, having been put forward as a compromise candidate after a papal conclave that had lasted six months.

During his reign he carried out many religious reforms and issued a papal bull against the enslavement of the indigenous peoples of the Americas.

He also set in motion the cataloguing of the contents of the Vatican Library.

At the University of Bologna, he revived the practice of anatomical studies and established a chair of surgery and he was one of the first popes to voice displeasure about the use of castrated males in church choirs.

After a battle with gout, Benedict XIV died in 1753 at the age of 83. His final words to the people surrounding his deathbed were: ‘I leave you in the hands of God.’ He was buried in St Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

Horace Walpole later described him as ‘a priest without insolence or interest, a prince without favourites, a pope without nephews.’

The anatomical theatre in the Archiginnasio at the University of Bologna
The anatomical theatre in the Archiginnasio
at the University of Bologna
Travel tip:

The world’s first university was established in Bologna in 1088 and attracted popes and kings as well as students of the calibre of Dante, Copernicus and Boccaccio. Benedict XIV revived anatomical studies and established a chair of surgery there while he was pope. You can visit the university’s former anatomy theatre in the oldest university building, the Archiginnasio, in Piazza Galvani. It is open Monday to Saturday from 9am to 1pm, admission free.

Travel tip:

The monument to Benedict XIV in St Peter’s Basilica in Rome was created by Pietro Bracci in 1769 in the late baroque tradition. It shows the Pope standing and blessing his flock with statues of Wisdom and Unselfishness at his feet, to reflect his character.


16 February 2016

Giambattista Bodoni - type designer


 Celebrity printer whose name lives on in type


A portrait of Giambattista Bodoni
by Giuseppe Lucatelli circa 1805
Typographer, printer and publisher Giambattista Bodoni was born on this day in 1740 in Saluzzo in the region of Piedmont.

At the height of his career he became internationally famous and was complimented by the Pope and paid a pension by Napoleon.

Bodoni designed a modern typeface that was named after him and is still in use today.

His father and grandfather were both printers and as a child he played with their leftover equipment. He learnt the printing trade at his father’s side and at the age of 17 travelled to Rome to further his career.

Bodoni served an apprenticeship at the press of the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith, the missionary arm of the Catholic Church.

In 1768 he was asked to assume management of the Duke of Parma’s Royal Press, where he produced Italian, Greek and Latin books.

He started using modern typefaces of his own design and came up with the typeface that retained the Bodoni name in 1790.

He became well known and important travellers visited his press to see him at work. Bodoni produced fine editions of the writings of Horace and Virgil in 1791 and 1793 respectively and Homer’s Iliad in 1808.

He died in 1813 in Parma , but his widow, Margherita, completed his work on a series of classics for his new patron, Joachim Murat.

Five years after his death she published a manual of all his typefaces.

Travel tip:

Saluzzo, the birthplace of Bodoni, is a town in the province of Cuneo in the region of Piedmont. Once named Saluces and part of France, it was ceded to the House of Savoy in 1601 and eventually became part of Piedmont . As well as a 15th century Cathedral, which has a Baroque high altar, the town has a 14th century church, dedicated to San Giovanni, which has a striking Gothic façade and Cloister.



Parma's baptistery, one of many historic
sights in city in Emilia-Romagna
Photo: Philip Schafer (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Travel tip:

Parma, where Bodoni worked and eventually died, is an historic city in the Emilia-Romagna region, famous for its ham (Prosciutto di Parma) and cheese (Parmigiano-Reggiano), the true ‘parmesan’. In 1545 the city was given as a duchy to the illegitimate son of Pope Paul III, whose descendants ruled Parma till 1731. The composer, Verdi, was born near Parma at Bussetto and the city has a prestigious opera house, the Teatro Regia. 

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