Showing posts with label 1837. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 1837. Show all posts

14 June 2017

Giacomo Leopardi – poet and philosopher

The tragic life of a brilliant Italian writer

Giacomo Leopardi, depicted in a portrait in 1820
Giacomo Leopardi, depicted in a portrait in 1820
One of Italy’s greatest 19th century writers, Giacomo Leopardi, died on this day in 1837 in Naples.

A brilliant scholar and philosopher, Leopardi led an unhappy life in Recanati in the Papal States, blighted by poor health, but he left as a legacy his superb lyric poetry.

By the age of 16, Leopardi had independently mastered Greek, Latin and several modern languages and had translated many classical works. He had also written some poems, tragedies and scholarly commentaries.

He had been born deformed and excessive study made his health worse. He became blind in one eye and developed a cerebrospinal condition that was to cause him problems for the rest of his life.

He was forced to suspend his studies and, saddened by an apparent lack of concern from his parents, he poured out his feelings in poems such as the visionary work, Appressamento della morte - Approach of Death - written in 1816 in terza rima, in imitation of Petrarch and Dante.

His frustrated love for his married cousin, and the death from consumption of the young daughter of his father’s coachman, only deepened his despair. The death of the young girl inspired perhaps his greatest lyric poem, A Silvia.

The scholar and patriot Pietro Giordani visited Leopardi in 1818 and urged him to leave home. Leopardi then spent a few unhappy months in Rome, but returned to live in Recanati.

After accepting an offer to edit Cicero’s works in Milan in 1825, he left home again.

Giacomo Leopoldi on his death bed in 1837
He spent the next few years travelling between Bologna, Pisa and Florence while he wrote a collection of poems and a philosophical work.

His frustrated love for a Florentine beauty, Fanny Targioni-Tozzetti, inspired some of his saddest poetry.

Leopardi finally settled in Naples in 1833, where he wrote the long poem, Ginestra.

The death he had long regarded as the only escape from his unhappiness came to him suddenly in 1837 during a cholera epidemic.

His genius and frustrated hopes during his life had found their way into his poetry which has long been admired for its intensity and musicality.

Casa Leopardi: The poet's home in Recanati is now a museum
Casa Leopardi: The poet's home in Recanati is now a museum
Travel tip:

Leopardi was born and lived for most of his life in Recanati, a town in the province of Macerati in the Marche region of Italy.The great tenor Beniamino Gigli was born in Recanati in 1890 and sang in the choir at Recanati cathedral as a boy. The Italian paternal ancestors of the Argentine footballer Lionel Messi are also believed to have originated from Recanati. Leopardi's house is now a museum.

The monument at Leopaldi's tomb in Parco Vergiliano, Naples
Travel tip:

Leopardi was buried at first in the atrium of the church of San Vitale at Fuorigrotta but in 1898 his tomb was moved to the Parco Virgiliano in Naples and declared a national monument.

22 March 2016

'La Castiglione' – model and secret agent

Beautiful woman helped the cause of Italian unification

This portrait of Virginia Oldoini was painted in 1862 by Michele Gordigiani
Virginia Oldoini, captured in a
portrait painted in 1862
Virginia Oldoini, who became known as La Castiglione, was born on this day in 1837 in Florence.

She became the mistress of the Emperor Napoleon III of France and also made an important contribution to the early development of photography.

She was born Virginia Oldoini to parents who were part of the Tuscan nobility, but originally came from La Spezia in Liguria. At the age of 17 she married the Count of Castiglione, who was 12 years older than her, and they had one son, Giorgio.

Her cousin was Camillo, Count of Cavour, who was the prime minister to Victor Emmanuel II, the King of Sardinia, later to become the first King of a united Italy.

When the Countess travelled with her husband to Paris in 1855, Cavour asked her to plead the cause of Italian unity with Napoleon III.

Considered to be the most beautiful woman of her day, she became Napoleon III’s mistress and her husband demanded a separation. During her relationship with Napoleon III she influenced Franco-Italian political relations, mingled with European nobility and met Otto von Bismarck.

She became known both for her beauty and elaborate clothes, such as a Queen of Hearts costume she wore and was later photographed in.

When she returned to Italy she lived with her son at the Villa Gloria in Turin for a while, rejecting her husband’s appeals to her to resume their life together.

Virginia Oldoini was Napoleon III's mistress
Napoleon III of France: Oldoini became
his mistress after they met in Paris
But even though her relationship with Napoleon III was over she eventually chose to return to France, where she lived for the rest of her life, forming liaisons with aristocrats, financiers and politicians while cultivating the image of a mysterious femme fatale. In 1871 she met Bismarck and explained to him how the German occupation of Paris wouldn’t be in his interests. She must have been persuasive because Paris was spared

She began sitting as a model for photographers and later directed Pierre–Louis Pierson to take hundreds of photographs of important moments of her life, wearing elaborate outfits such as the Queen of Hearts dress.

Some of the photographs showed her in risqué poses for the time, for example with her legs bare.

It was the Countess who decided on the expressive content of the images and chose the camera angles

She died in Paris in 1899 at the age of 62. Her biography, La Divine Comtesse, was written after her death by Robert de Montesquiou. It was published in 1913 with a preface by Gabriele d’Annunzio.

Her life featured in a 1942 Italian film, The Countess of Castiglione and a 1954 Italian-French film, La Contessa di Castiglione.

Travel tip:

The Castello san Giorgio has recently been restored
The restored Castello San Giorgio is
among the attrractions of La Spezia
La Spezia, where the Countess of Castiglione’s family were originally from, is an important city in Ligura, second only to Genoa. It is a point of departure for visiting Lerici, Portovenere and the Cinque Terre by boat. The recently-restored Castle of San Giorgio, the 13th century Church of Our Lady of the Assumption and a number of Art Nouveau villas are all worth visiting.

Travel tip:

Turin, where the Countess lived for a while on her return to Italy, has many buildings with royal connections to see. 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.