Showing posts with label 1921. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 1921. Show all posts

1 February 2019

Teresa Mattei - partisan and politician

Former Communist who led Italian Women’s Union

Teresa Mattei was expelled from school for speaking out against Fascist laws
Teresa Mattei was expelled from school
for speaking out against Fascist laws
The politician and former partisan Teresa Mattei, who was the youngest member of the Constituent Assembly that formed Italy’s post-War government and later became a director of the Unione Donne Italiane (Italian Women’s Union), was born on this day in 1921 in Genoa.

After being expelled from the Italian Communist Party (PCI) in 1957, Mattei became a leading advocate of the rights of children as well as women and later campaigned for the prosecution of war criminals.

As a prominent executive of the UDI she was influential in the adoption of mimosa as the symbol of International Women’s Day, which takes place on March 8 each year, arguing that because the flower proliferated in the countryside it represented a more accessible alternative to violets and orchids.

The daughter of a lawyer who was prominent in the anti-Fascist Partito d’Azione (Action Party), Mattei herself was a active member of the Italian Resistance during the Second World War, using the nom de guerre "Partigiana Chicchi".

She was part of a group in 1944 that plotted and carried out the execution of Giovanni Gentile, the philosopher who had become the main intellectual spokesman for Fascism and who had part-written Benito Mussolini’s Doctrine of Fascism in 1932.

Teresa Mattei with her first husband, the partisan leader Bruno Sanguinetti
Teresa Mattei with her first husband, the
partisan leader Bruno Sanguinetti 
Mattei grew up in Milan and Varese and went to school steeped in antipathy towards Fascism, with the consequence that in 1938 at the age of 17 she was handed a blanket exclusion from all Italian schools because of her outspoken opposition to Mussolini’s anti-Jewish race laws and their  promulgation in the classroom.

Nonetheless, having moved with her family to Tuscany in 1933, she was accepted as a student at the University of Florence, where she graduated in philosophy before joining the partisans. She joined the Communist Party in 1942 and met her future husband, Bruno Sanguinetti, a resistance fighter of Jewish origin who was a commander of the Communist Youth Front and the major instigator of the plot to murder Gentile, a professor at the university.

Gentile was ambushed and shot dead as he left the prefecture in Florence, after which Sanguinetti proclaimed the assassination as vengeance for the death of Mattei’s brother, Gianfranco, a chemist and bombmaker for the partisans, who had hanged himself in prison rather than risk betraying his comrades under torture.

After the war had ended, Mattei was elected in the PCI lists to the Constituent Assembly for Florence and Pistoia. At 25 the youngest person to be elected in the organisation, she was a signatory to Article Three of the constitution of the new Italian Republic, declaring all citizens regardless of sex, race, language, religion, political opinions, personal and social conditions to have the right to equal social dignity and be equal before the law.

Prime minister Alcide de Gasperi addresses the Consituent Assembly in 1946. Mattei is in the third row, just behind him
Prime minister Alcide de Gasperi addresses the Consituent
Assembly in 1946. Mattei is in the third row, just behind him
Mattei married Sanguinetti in Budapest in 1948 and they had two children, Gianfranco and Antonella. However, Sanguinetti died suddenly in the early 1950s. She was married for a second time to Iacopo Muzio, a PCI official, with whom she had two more children, Gabriele and Rocco.

In the meantime, she was expelled from the PCI for her opposition to the Stalinist policies adopted under the leadership of Palmiro Togliatti

Thereafter, she devoted her energies for more than 50 years to various campaigns for women’s and children’s rights, as well as, in 1996, organising a petition demanding a new trial for Erich Priebke, a former Nazi officer responsible for a massacre of more than 300 Jews and others in Rome in 1944 and for murdering dozens of Italian Resistance members detained in the city’s prisons. Priebke was eventually sentenced to life imprisonment.

Having returned in later life to live in Tuscany, Mattei died in 2013 at the age of 92 in Usigliano, a village about 35km (22 miles) southeast of Pisa.

Florence University has several sites in the centre of the city, including this one, the Palazzo San Marco
Florence University has several sites in the centre of the city,
including this one, the Palazzo San Marco
Travel tip:

The University of Florence, which has 12 schools, swells the population of the city by some 60,000 students each year. Its Law, Economics and Political Science faculties are in the Novoli district, while those Medicine and Surgery, Pharmacology and certain scientific and engineering departments are in the Careggi district, close to the city’s main hospital. Among the alumni are the former President of Italy Alessandro Pertini, two popes - Nicholas V and Pius II - the poet Dante Alighieri and two prime ministers, Lamberto Dini and Matteo Renzi.

The Palazzo Pretoria in Pontedera
The Palazzo Pretoria in Pontedera
Travel tip:

Usigliano is a fairly remote village in Tuscany, with a couple of villas offering agriturismo-type accommodation and very few amenities. The nearest muncipality of any substantial size is Pontedera, the town at the confluence of the Arno and Era rivers notable for housing the headquarters of the Piaggio motorcycle and scooter company, the Castellani wine company and the Amadei chocolate factory. Pontedera was the seat of several historical battles, including a Florentine victory over the Milanese army of Barnabò Visconti in 1639 and a pyrrhic victory in the Republic of Siena’s struggle to retain its independence from Florence, two months before a decisive defeat at the Battle of Marciano.

Pontedera hotels from

More reading:

Giovanni Gentile, intellectual advocate of Fascism

Teresa Noce - partisan and activist who became an elected Deputy

Palmiro Togliatti, the Communist leader who survived an assassination attempt

Also on this day:

1690: The birth of virtuoso violinist Francesco Maria Veracini

1891: The birth of engineer Corradino D'Ascanio, inventor of the Vespa scooter

1922: The birth of opera singer Renata Tebaldi

(Picture credits: University building and Pontedera palazzo by Sailko via Creative Commons)


10 December 2018

Giuseppe 'Peppino' Prisco - lawyer and football administrator

Vice-president who became Inter Milan icon

Giuseppe Prisco, a legend at Inter, proudly wears the feathered hat from his Alpini uniform
Giuseppe Prisco, a legend at Inter, proudly
wears the feathered hat from his Alpini uniform
The lawyer and football administrator Giuseppe Prisco, who served as a senior figure in the running of the Internazionale football club in Milan for more than half a century, was born on this day in 1921.

Universally known as Peppino, he managed to combine a career in legal practice with a passion for Inter that he would share so publicly he became a symbol of the club whose name was chanted on the terraces.

Born in Milan into a family with its roots in Torre Annunziata, near Naples, he was said to have fallen in love with the nerazzurri at seven years old in 1929, when he witnessed his first derby against AC Milan at Inter’s old stadium, the Campo Virgilio Fossati, between Via Goldoni and Piazza Novelli to the east of the city centre.

His career as a lawyer did not begin until after he had served with the Alpini - the mountain troops of the Italian Army - on the Russian front in the Second World War. He was only 18 when he joined up but reached the rank of lieutenant in the “L’Aquila” battalion of the 9th Alpine Regiment, and as one of only three officers from 53 to return alive from the Russian front was awarded a Silver Medal for Military Valour by the Italian government.

On returning to civilian life, he graduated in law at the University of Milan and became a registered practising lawyer in 1946, opening his own office in the city, the start of a business that would bring him success and kudos for decades.

Prisco was for many years the president of the Milanese Bar Association
Prisco was for many years the president of the
Milanese Bar Association
He was president of the Milanese Bar Association for many years and participated in numerous high profile trials, including that of the controversial Milan banker Roberto Calvi on embezzlement charges in 1981.  Calvi was released on bail pending an appeal and a year later was found in dead in London.

Prisco joined his beloved Inter in 1949 as club secretary and thereafter served as a legal advisor to the board of directors before being elected vice-president in 1963, a position he held until his death in 2001, two days after his 80th birthday.

During his time as a director of the club, Inter won six Serie A titles, two European Cups, two Intercontinental Cups, three UEFA Cups, two Coppa Italia titles and one Italian Super Cup.

Fans took him to their hearts after he used his legal expertise to force UEFA to overturn a defeat against Borussia Moenchengladbach in the UEFA Cup in 1971 after the Inter forward Roberto Boninsegna had to be taken off after being struck by a can thrown from the crowd.  Inter won the rematch.

He also endeared himself to the nerazzurri faithful with the sharp one-liners he would frequently deliver during television interviews when he was given the opportunity to talk about the club’s great rivals.

Prisco was presented with a special Inter shirt to mark his 50 years with the club
Prisco was presented with a special Inter
shirt to mark his 50 years with the club
Famously, he once said: "If I shake hands with a Milanese, I wash my hands, if I shake hands with a Juventus (fan), I count my fingers.”

On another occasion, he declared: “I’m against every form of racism but I’d never allow my daughter to marry a Milan player.”

At the end of the 1990s, he became a regular guest on TV sports shows such as Controcampo, in which he would often have humourous spats with presenters Diego Abatantuono and Giampiero Mughini.

Married to Maria Irene, he had two children: Luigi Maria, who followed him into the legal profession, and Anna Maria.  After his death from a heart attack, he was buried at Arcisate, a town in the province of Varese, about 70km (43 miles) north of Milan.

One of the neoclassical arches that form the entrances to Napoleon's Arena Civica in Milan
One of the neoclassical arches that form the entrances
to Napoleon's Arena Civica in Milan
Travel tip:

Inter have shared the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza in San Siro with rivals AC Milan since 1947, but before that played at a number of stadiums around the city, including the Campo di Ripa Ticinese in the Ticinese district souith of the centre, the Campo Virgilio Fossati and the Arena Civica, the grandiose neoclassical stadium commissioned by Napoleon Bonaparte after he had proclaimed himself King of Italy in 1905. Inter played their home games at the Arena, a kind of mini-Colosseum in the Parco Sempione, behind the Sforza Castle, from 1930 until 1958.

Travel tip:

A view over the rooftops at Torre Annunziata, looking towards the waters of Bay of Naples
A view over the rooftops at Torre Annunziata, looking
towards the waters of Bay of Naples
Torre Annunziata, where Prisco had family roots, is a city in the metropolitan area of Naples. Close to Mount Vesuvius, the original city was destroyed in the eruption of 79 AD and a new one built over the ruins. Its name derives from a watch tower - torre - built to warn people of imminent Saracen raids and a chapel consecrated to the Annunziata (Virgin Mary). It became a centre for pasta production in the early 19th century. The Villa Poppaea, also known as Villa Oplontis, believed to be owned by Nero, was discovered about 10 metres below ground level just outside the town and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

More reading:

Massimo Moratti, the business tycoon who presided over Inter's golden age

How Giuseppe Meazza became Italian football's first superstar

Why mystery still surrounds the death of 'God's banker' Roberto Calvi

Also on this day:

1813: The birth of forgotten composer Errico Petrella

1907: The birth of postwar movie star Amedeo Nazzari

1936: The death of playwright Luigi Pirandello


23 November 2018

Fred Buscaglione - singer and actor

Fifties sensation who died tragically young

Fred Buscaglione sports the 'gangster' look for which he was famous in the film I ladri (1959)
Fred Buscaglione sports the 'gangster' look for
 which he was famous in the film I ladri (1959)
The singer and actor Fred Buscaglione, a nightclub singer who became huge star of the pop world in 1950s Italy, was born on this day in 1921 in Turin.

Buscaglione’s style - he portrayed himself tongue-in-cheek as a sharp-suited gangster with a taste for whiskey and women - caught the imagination of an Italian public desperate to be entertained after the austerity of Fascism, when all ‘foreign’ music was banned.

He formed a partnership with the writer Leo Chiosso after their first collaboration, on a song called Che bambola (What a Babe!), resulted in more than one million record sales, catapulting Buscaglione to fame.

They had several more hits, including Love in Portofino, which was covered by Andrea Bocelli in 2013 as the title track from an album.

Born Ferdinando Buscaglione, he was from a creative family. His father was a painter and his mother a piano teacher. They enrolled their son at the Giuseppe Verdi Conservatory in Turin at the age of 11 but by his teens Buscaglione had adopted jazz as his passion.

The songwriter Leo Chiosso collaborated with Fred Buscaglione in his musical and movie career
The songwriter Leo Chiosso collaborated with
Fred Buscaglione in his musical and movie career
His career as a singer and musician was going well and Chiosso was one of the friends he had made through his appearances in night clubs around Turin.  Their relationship was interrupted by the Second World War, which saw both taken prisoner. Chiosso was sent to Poland and Buscaglione to an American camp in Sardinia.

Although he was an enemy prisoner, his captors recognised his musical talent and he was allowed to play in the orchestra of an American radio station broadcasting from Cagliari. The experience gave him the chance to learn much about American music, particularly swing and the big band sound.

After the war, he made his way back to Turin, living in an apartment in Via Eusebio Bava in the Vanchiglia district a short distance from the centre of the city. He formed his own group, the Asternovas, and married a girl he met while on tour in Switzerland.

He and Chiosso became reacquainted, the latter having returned to Turin with memories of hearing Buscaglione performing on forces radio. It was Chiosso, an avid reader of American crime fiction, who encouraged him to develop his ‘gangster’ persona, for which he began sporting a Clark Gable mustache.

Buscaglione's wrecked Ford Thunderbird after the  collision in Rome that cost him his life
Buscaglione's wrecked Ford Thunderbird after the
collision in Rome that cost him his life
After Buscaglione became a popular nightclub performer, Chiosso arranged a date for them at a recording studio, after which Che bambola was released on a 78rpm shellac disc in 1956. With little publicity beyond word of mouth it sold more than one million copies.

Buscaglione made the most of his fame.  He had more hits from the pen of Leo Chiosso with such songs as Teresa non sparare (Theresa, Don't Shoot!), Love in Portofino and Whisky facile (Easy Whiskey), signed commercial advertising contracts and appeared in TV show and movies, including the 1960 comedy Noi duri (Tough Guys), which Chiosso scripted and which starred the Italian comic maestro Totò, as well as a beautiful young Italian actress, Scilla Gabel, with whom Buscaglione was romantically linked.

He appeared to have the world at his feet but tragedy struck in the early hours of February 3, 1960 when his lilac Ford Thunderbird convertible was in collection with a truck on a street in Rome, near the US Embassy.  He was taken to hospital but his injuries were so severe he could not be saved.

Only a few hours earlier, he had been out for dinner with friends and had met the upcoming star Mina Mazzini to discuss possible collaboration. Mina would go on to become Italy’s all-time biggest selling female artist.

Buscaglione’s funeral took place in Turin with tens of thousands of fans lining the streets. His body was buried at the Monumental Cemetery in the city.

The futuristic Luigi Einaudi Campus of the University of Turin dominates the Vanchiglia neighbourhood
The futuristic Luigi Einaudi Campus of the University of
Turin dominates the Vanchiglia neighbourhood
Travel tip:

The Vanchiglia neighbourhood of Turin, where Buscaglione lived immediately after his return from captivity in Sardinia, is an historic district a few streets away from the Palazzo Reale and the Mole Antonelliana. It is best known for the presence of the Luigi Einaudi Campus of the University of Turin and therefore has a high student population. With this has come an explosion in the number of bars and cafés and a growing music scene.

The Via Vittorio Veneto was one of Rome's most fashionable streets in its heyday
The Via Vittorio Veneto was one of Rome's most
fashionable streets in its heyday
Travel tip:

Rome's US Embassy is on Via Vittorio Veneto, commonly known as the Via Veneto, is one of the capital's most famous, elegant and expensive streets. The street is named after the 1918 Battle of Vittorio Veneto, a decisive Italian victory of World War I, and immortalised by Federico Fellini's 1960 film La Dolce Vita, which celebrated its heyday in the '50s and '60s when its bars and restaurants attracted Hollywood stars and jet set personalities.  Some of Rome's most renowned cafés and five star hotels, such as Café de Paris, Harry's Bar, the Regina Hotel Baglioni and the Westin Excelsior are located in Via Veneto.

More reading:

Leo Chiosso - the other half of the hit-creating 1950s partnership

The comedic genius of Totò

Italy's all-time biggest-selling female star

Also on this day:

1553: The birth of botanist Prospero Alpini

1941: The birth of actor Franco Nero

1955: The birth of composer Ludovico Einaudi


9 November 2018

Giuseppe Panini - entrepreneur

News vendor who started football sticker craze

The Mexico 1970 World Cup album can sell for thousands of pounds at auction
The Mexico 1970 World Cup album can sell for
thousands of pounds at auction
Giuseppe Panini, the entrepreneur and businessman who created an international craze for collecting football stickers, was born on this day in 1921 in the village of Pozza in Emilia-Romagna, not far from Modena.

Since the stickers’ first appearance in Italy in the 1960s and the first World Cup sticker album in 1970 took the concept into an international marketplace, Panini has grown into a publishing company that in 2017 generated sales in excess of €536 million ($643 million US) in more than 120 countries, employing more than 1000 people worldwide.

Panini, who died in 1996, grew immensely wealthy as a result, selling the business in 1989 for a sum said to be around £96 million, the equivalent of £232 million (€266 million; $303 million US) today, after which he spent the remaining years of his life building on an already established reputation for philanthropy.

He came from humble working-class origins and left school at the age of 11. His father, Antonio, worked at the military academy in the city of Modena, about 16km (10 miles) away from their village. Life changed for the family, however, when in 1945 they acquired the license to operate the popular newsstand near the cathedral in the centre of the city.

Giuseppe Panini anticipated what a success  football stickers would become
Giuseppe Panini anticipated what a success
football stickers would become
Despite his lack of formal education, Panini had sound business sense. He and his brother Benito ran the newsstand and did well, investing some of the profits in a newspaper distribution agency.

While working at the newsstand, they noticed that the picture cards that some publishers gave away with their papers and magazines were always popular.  When they came across a large number of cards depicting flowers and plants that had been left over from a series given away with a popular magazine, they bought them all and hit upon the idea of selling them as a stand-alone product, in packets of two at 10 lire per packet.

Incredibly, they sold three million packets and in 1961 Giuseppe decided there was a demand it would be foolish not to try to meet. He rented a small workshop in Via Castelmaraldo in Modena and the Panini brothers began printing their own cards, not of plants and flowers but of footballers. They were the same size as the miniature pictures of saints that were popular at the time.

The first ones were just plain cards - self-adhesive stickers would follow later - but they were hugely popular, nonetheless. In the first year alone, the number of packets sold reached a staggering 15 million, almost doubling the following year and in 1964 Panini acquired the publishing plant in Viale Emilio Po, which is still the company’s headquarters today.

Giuseppe Panini turned the family business into a worldwide success
Giuseppe Panini turned the family
business into a worldwide success
The first Panini football album was published the same year and in the late 1960s came the development that was to turn the business into an international concern, when the brothers formed a partnership with FIFA to produce stickers and an album for the 1970 FIFA World Cup in Mexico.

It was a successful venture but because of the European trading laws, the market that turned out to be among the biggest of them all - in the United Kingdom - was not cracked until 1978, when the sticker album for the World Cup in Argentina hit the newsstands.

In typical Italian fashion, Giuseppe Panini made sure he looked after his family, employing not only Benito but his other brothers, Franco and Umberto, and his sisters Veronica, Maria and Norma. His mother, Olga, and his wife, also called Maria, were also involved.

He was also determined to put money into the local community in Modena.

In 1966, he bought the local volleyball team Modena Volley, which for a while was one of the biggest volleyball clubs in the world. In 1973 he founded the Italian Volleyball League - won 12 times by his own club - of which he was president for eight years.

Modena's Palazzo dello Sport is also known as PalaPanini
Modena's Palazzo dello Sport is also known as PalaPanini
He sponsored cultural projects and from 1985 to 1992 was president of the Modena Chamber of Commerce. He founded a school for business managers and a linguistic high school. He even opened a restaurant in Modena to showcase local products such as tortelloni and Lambrusco wine.

Shortly before his death he donated his photographic collections to the city. The local authority subsequently dedicated the city’s Palazzo dello Sport athletic facility to him as well as two museums to show off his collection - the Fotomuseo Giuseppe Panini and the Museo della Figurina.

Ironically, the sale of the company in 1989 - to the British-based publisher Robert Maxwell - almost brought about its demise. A period of poor management saw Panini miss out to rivals Merlin on the lucrative contract to publish sticker albums on behalf of the new English Premier League and after Maxwell died in 1991, leaving behind a mountain of debt, the company survived only after an investment consortium bought it out of administration.

The company was returned to profitability and the albums for recent World Cups have been among the most successful.  Past albums, meanwhile, remain highly collectible - none more so than the first one.

Indeed, such is the rarity of completed 1970 World Cup albums today that one sold at auction in 2017 for £10,450 (€12,012; $13,653 US).

The Ferrari headquarters at Maranello
The Ferrari headquarters at Maranello
Travel tip:

The village of Pozzo is a short distance from Maranello, famous as the headquarters of Ferrari, which has an extraordinary museum in which visitors can explore the history of the world’s most famous sports cars. Pozzo itself, which has a population of a little under 2,500, is home to the Villa Rangoni-Machiavelli - also known as the Villa Bice - which houses sculptures belonging to the Severi contemporary art collection.

Modena's 11th century cathedral
Modena's 11th century cathedral
Travel tip:

The historic city of Modena has a magnificent main square, Piazza Grande, where visitors can find the 11th century Duomo (cathedral) dedicated to San Geminiano, which is now a Unesco world heritage site. The city’s opera house was renamed Teatro Communale Luciano Pavarotti in 2007 after the great tenor, who was born in the city, as was the soprano Mirella Freni. Modena is also famous for its balsamic vinegar, Aceto Balsamico di Modena.

More reading:

How Giacinto Facchetti led Italy to the 1970 World Cup final

Vittorio Pozzo - Italy's double World Cup winner

Enzo Ferrari - the man behind the legend

Also on this day:

1383: The birth of professional soldier Niccolò III d'Este

1877: The birth of Enrico De Nicolo, Italy's first president

1974: The birth of footballer Alessandro del Piero


10 October 2018

Andrea Zanzotto - poet

Writer drew inspiration from landscapes of Veneto

Andrea Zanzotto wrote 15 volumes of poetry during his active career, while also teaching
Andrea Zanzotto wrote 15 volumes of poetry
during his active career, while also teaching
Andrea Zanzotto, who was regarded as one of Italy’s greatest 20th century poets, was born on this day in 1921 in Pieve di Soligo, the village near Treviso where he lived almost all of his life. 

Zanzotto, who spent 40 years as a secondary school teacher, wrote 15 books of poetry, two prose works, two volumes of critical articles and translations of French philosophers such as Michaux, Leiris and Bataille.

His first book of poetry, Dietro il paesaggio (1951), won a literary award judged by several noteworthy Italian poets. Critics reserved their greatest acclaim for his sixth volume, La beltà (1968), in which he questioned the ability of words to reflect truth.

Zanzotto, whose verse was consistently erudite and creative, was known for his innovative engagement with language and his fascination with the rugged landscapes of the Veneto, from which he drew inspiration and provided him with much symbolism.

His upbringing was difficult at times because his father, Giovanni Zanzotto, a painter who has trained at the Bologna Academy of Fine Arts, was a committed supporter of the Socialist politician Giacomo Matteotti, who was murdered by Fascist thugs in 1924 a few days after accusing Mussolini’s party of electoral fraud.

Zanzotto had a difficult upbringing in the  Fascist Italy of the 1920s and 1930s
Zanzotto had a difficult upbringing in the
Fascist Italy of the 1920s and 1930s
Fearing for his own safety, Giovanni fled to France in 1925. He returned to the Veneto, taking a job as a teacher in Santo Stefano di Cadore, about 100km (62 miles) north of Pieve di Soligo, not far from the border with Austria, in 1927 and the family reunited there in 1928.

Giovanni, in fact, painted some frescoes in a church in nearby Costalissoio but his campaigning against the Fascists and the collapse of a co-operative that was providing financial support for his family, forced him into exile again in 1931.

Andrea, who had been deeply affected by the death of his younger sister, Marina, became close to his maternal grandmother and an aunt, and began to develop his love of writing. They helped him to see his first work published in 1936.

After completing school, Zanzotto began to focus on a career in teaching but suffered another loss in 1937 when his other sister, Angela, died of typhus. The grief, combined with the fatigue of commuting to college in Treviso, took a toll on his health, yet he obtained his teaching credentials.

Zanzotto enrolled at the University of Padua, where he received his diploma in literature in 1942, with a thesis on the work of the Italian Nobel Prize winner Grazia Deledda, after which he began teaching in Valdobbiadene and then Treviso.

Andrea Zanzotto spent the majority of his 90-year life in Pieve di Solito
Andrea Zanzotto spent the majority of
his 90-year life in Pieve di Solito
In the meantime, having avoided conscription because of severe asthma, he participated in the Italian Resistance, working largely on propaganda publications, and after the war spent some time travelling in Switzerland, France and Spain before returning to Pieve di Soligo where he resumed his work as a teacher.

Zanzotto’s poetry was influenced by his study of European intellectual thought and became notable for his of divergent language, from the lofty lingua aulica of the great poets of the past, notably Petrarch and Dante, to the language of pop songs and advertising slogans.

Dialect was one of Zanzotto’s favourite linguistic registers. Section one of Filò (1976) was written in a pseudo-archaic Venetian dialect. It was composed at the request of Federico Fellini for his film Casanova. Section two, in fact, included a diatribe against the film industry.

Dialectal words and phrases reoccurred in Il Galateo in bosco (1978), the first book of a trilogy completed by Fosfeni (1983) and Idioma (1986), which are regarded among his finest works.

Although a lot of his writing suggested nostalgia for disappearing landscapes, languages and cultures, Zanzotto never lost sight of the present and its possible effects on the future. His later works were increasingly engaged with topical issues such as the effects of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, the war in Bosnia, and local environmental changes.

He died in October 2011 at the age of 90, survived by his wife, Marisa, to whom he had been married for 52 years, and their children.

The neighbourhood of Cal Santa in Pieve di Solito, where Zanzotto lived for many years in his childhood
The neighbourhood of Cal Santa in Pieve di Solito, where
Zanzotto lived for many years in his childhood
Travel tip:

Pieve di Soligo is a town of some 12,000 inhabitants a little more than 30km (19 miles) north of Treviso, in a plain bordered to the north by the Belluno Prealps. At the heart of the town is the cathedral dedicated to Santa Maria Assunta, a neo-Romanesque monument built in the early 20th century by the architect Domenico Rupolo, who is well known for having designed the fish market by the Rialto bridge in Venice. Along the banks of the Soligo river are two of the oldest parts of the town, including Cal Santa, where Zanzotto spent much of his formative years.

The vine-clad hills around Valdobbiadene, home of Italy's finest Prosecco wines
The vine-clad hills around Valdobbiadene, home of Italy's
finest Prosecco wines
Travel tip:

The picturesque hills around Valdobbiadene, where Zanzotto briefly worked as a supply teacher, are famous for the production of what is generally regarded as the best Prosecco in Italy. It is largely made from Glera grapes and though the name comes from that of the village of Prosecco near Trieste, where the grape and wine originated, the only Prosecco granted DOCG status - the classification granted to superior Italian wines - is produced from grapes grown on the hills between the towns of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene, or from a smaller area around the town of Asolo, a few kilometres south of Valdobbiadene.

More reading:

How Grazia Deledda became the first Italian woman to win a Nobel Prize

The tragic brilliance of Giacomo Leopardi

What the Italian language owes to Petrarch

Also on this day:

1881: The death of missionary Saint Daniele Comboni

1891: The birth of Mafia boss Stefano Magaddino


31 May 2018

Andrew Grima - royal jeweller

Rome-born craftsman favoured by the Queen of England

Andrew Grima was the Rome-born son of a Maltese lace-maker and an Italian mother
Andrew Grima was the Rome-born son of a Maltese
lace-maker and an Italian mother
The jewellery designer Andrew Grima, whose clients included the British Royal Family, was born on this day in 1921 in Rome.

Grima, whose flamboyant use of dramatically large, rough-cut stones and brilliant innovative designs revolutionised modern British jewellery, achieved an enviable status among his contemporaries.

After the Duke of Edinburgh had given the Queen a brooch of carved rubies and diamonds designed by Grima as a gift, he was awarded a Royal Warrant and rapidly became the jeweller of choice for London’s high society, as well as celebrities and film stars from around the world.

He won 13 De Beers Diamonds International Awards, which is more than any other jeweller, and examples of his work are kept by the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths.

When a private collection of Grima pieces was sold at auction by Bonhams in London in September 2017, some 93 lots realised a total of more than £7.6 million (€8.6m), with one pear-shaped blue diamond alone making £2.685m (€3.034m).

Grima’s father, John Grima, was the Maltese owner of a large international lace-making business, designing his products as well as marketing them. His mother, Leopoldina Farnese, could trace her ancestry to the powerful Farnese family of the Renaissance, who left their mark on Roman art and architecture in several ways.

Three pictures showing Queen Elizabeth II wearing the ruby and diamond Grima brooch give to her by Prince Philip
Three pictures showing Queen Elizabeth II wearing the ruby
and diamond Grima brooch give to her by Prince Philip
The family moved to London when Andrew, their first-born, was five. After going to school in southeast London, Grima studied mechanical engineering at Nottingham University, from which he joined the Royal Engineers, serving in Burma and India during the Second World War.

His move into the jewellery business came purely by chance.  His plans to attend art school after he was demobbed had to be put on hold because few art schools had reopened. Instead, he took a secretarial course and began going out with a classmate, Helène Haller, whose Viennese father owned a small jewellery workshop.

The relationship blossomed and they were married in 1947, after which Helène’s father gave Grima a job supervising his accounts. He was desperate for an opportunity to unleash his artistic talents.  It came, finally, when a pair of dealers arrived at the workshop one day with a suitcase of large stones imported from Brazil, including aquamarines, citrines, tourmalines and amethysts. 

Grima persuaded his father-in-law to buy them all and though he had no training he set about creating his own radical designs, experimenting with abstract shapes, different textural effects and making casts from nature, such as leaves, lichen and volcanic lava, to reproduce in gold.  The pieces he made were a great success.

Grima's created this unusual gold and diamond brooch by making a cast from pencil shavings
Grima's created this unusual gold and diamond brooch
by making a cast from pencil shavings
In 1952, his father-in-law died and he inherited the business, which went from strength to strength.  After he was invited to exhibit at an exhibition of modern jewellery in London in 1961, he began to win awards, including the Duke of Edinburgh Award for Elegant Design, which was awarded to him in 1966 as the first jeweller to win the accolade.

The curator of the exhibition, Graham Hughes, introduced Grima to rich potential clients, although he made a smart move of his own when he invited Lord Snowdon to visit his workshop after reading a magazine interview in which Snowdon had complained about what he saw as a paucity of exciting jewellery available. In the event, Snowdon was so impressed he chose presents for his then wife Princess Margaret, the Queen’s sister.

It was not long afterwards that Grima received the Duke of Edinburgh award from Prince Philip in person, the Duke taking a brooch of carved rubies and diamonds from the winning collection as a gift for the Queen, who wore it on many different occasions in the years that followed, including her televised 2007 Christmas speech, coincidentally broadcast the day before Grima passed away at his home in Switzerland.

The Queen soon commissioned Grima to make state gifts and it was not long that he had the Royal Warrant and the Queen's Award for Industry as well as the Duke of Edinburgh's prize.

Snowdon, meanwhile, would some years later open Grima’s new shop at 80 Jermyn Street in London's St. James's, designed by his architect brothers, George and Godfrey, featuring an extraordinary and starkly eye-catching shopfront made from slabs of slate bolted to a steel framework, dotted with small, rectangular showcases, designed by sculptor Bryan Kneale.

Grima went on to open galleries in Zurich, New York, Tokyo and Sydney. As well as many of the British royals, Jacqueline Onassis was a fan of his pieces, as were many movie stars.

In 1977, Grima divorced Helène and married JoJo Maughan-Brown, the daughter of the diamond magnate, Sir Thomas Cullinan. After a planned business expansion failed, he decided to relinquish his royal warrant and in 1986 moved to Switzerland to work only on private commissions, living first in Lugano and then in Gstaad.  His daughter, Francesca, continued to design after his death.

The Palazzo Farnese in Rome is currently the home of  the French embassy in Italy
The Palazzo Farnese in Rome is currently the home of
the French embassy in Italy
Travel tip:

The Farnese were among the great aristocratic families who turned Rome into a communal work of art from the 14th to the 17th centuries, along with the Barberini, the Colonna, the Chigi and the Borghese. Their most significant contributions was the Palazzo Farnese, the High Renaissance palace designed by Antonio da Sangallo the Younger in 1517, which is now owned by the Italian republic and currently serves as the French embassy. It can be found in Piazza Farnese, a short distance from the Tiber, which features two identical decorative fountains, on granite bases thought to have been brought from the Roman Baths of Caracalla.

The view across from the Janiculum Hill
The view across from the Janiculum Hill
Travel tip:

Another Farnese monument worth visiting is the Villa Aurelia, which sits on top of the Janiculum Hill, the highest point within Rome's ancient city walls. Built in the 17th century by a Farnese cardinal named Girolamo, because of its elevated position it was commandeered by Garibaldi as his headquarters when he came to Rome to defend the republic of 1849 from the invading French. It was severely damaged by French artillery but restored three decades later when it was bought by a Philadelphia heiress,  Clara Jessup Heyland.

Also on this day:

1594: The death of the great Renaissance artist Tintoretto

1914: The death of Angelo Moriondo, inventor of the world's first espresso machine


22 March 2018

Nino Manfredi - actor and director

Totò fan became maestro of commedia all’italiana

Nino Manfredi made more than 100 films in the course of his career
Nino Manfredi made more than 100 films
in the course of his career
The actor and director Saturnino ‘Nino’ Manfredi, who would become known as the last great actor of the commedia all’italiana genre, was born on this day in 1921 in Castro dei Volsci, near Frosinone in Lazio.

Manfredi made more than 100 movies, often playing marginalised working-class figures in the bittersweet comedies that characterised the genre, which frequently tackled important social issues and poked irreverent fun at some of the more absurd aspects of Italian life, in particular the suffocating influence of the church.

He was a favourite of directors such as Dino Risi, Luigi Comencini, Ettore Scola and Franco Brusati, who directed him in the award-winning Pane and cioccolata (Bread and Chocolate), which evoked the tragicomic existence of immigrant workers and was considered one of his finest performances.

It helped him fulfil his dream of following in the footsteps of his boyhood idol Totò, the Neapolitan comic actor whose eccentric characters took enormous liberties in mocking Italian institutions, and to be spoken off in the company of Ugo Tognazzi, Vittorio Gassman and Alberto Sordi as a true maestro of commedia all’italiana.

Manfredi had a tough time in his childhood. Born into a farming family in the Ciociaria region south of Rome, he was uprooted to live in the capital at a young age after his father, a public safety officer, won a promotion.

Manfredi in a comedy called, in English, Fiasco in Milan,  which also starred Vittorio Gassman and Claudia Cardinale
Manfredi in a comedy called, in English, Fiasco in Milan,
 which also starred Vittorio Gassman and Claudia Cardinale
Brought up in the San Giovanni neighbourhood south of the Colosseum, he had a happy time with his brother, Dante, until he developed a strain of pleurisy in 1937 that was so serious he was admitted to hospital and given only a few weeks to live.  He survived but spent several years in the care of a sanatorium and would suffer health problems throughout his life.

It was while in the sanatorium that he began performing with a musical group and set his heart on a career on the stage, much to the dismay of his father, who wanted him to be a lawyer.  He became fascinated with the cinema and when he left hospital he enrolled himself at the National Academy of Dramatic Arts in Rome, although he acceded to his father’s wishes and studied law at the same time.

In the event, he passed his exams in both, despite the difficulties imposed by Italy being at war. In fact, he and Dante spent many months hiding in the mountains in Ciociaria to avoid conscription.

Making his way in theatre, Manfredi appeared in serious dramas and musicals, including a spell in a company in Milan in which he appeared in plays by Pirandello, Chekhov, Ibsen and Shakespeare until he tired of the lack of laughter, bursting as he was to perform comedy.

Manfredi played the puppet-maker Geppetto in Luigi Comencini's acclaimed TV version of Pinocchio
Manfredi played the puppet-maker Geppetto in Luigi
Comencini's acclaimed TV version of Pinocchio
He made his screen debut in 1949 and landed his first major part in 1955, starring with Alberto Sordi in Lo scapolo (The Batchelor), directed by Antonio Pietrangeli.  His big break came after a revue company he formed were invited to host a RAI television show, Canzonissima.

The exposure this brought accelerated his movie career and from the second half of the 1960s he became an established star of commedia all’italiana. He directed for the first time in 1971 with the acclaimed Between Miracles (Per grazia ricevuta in Italian) which controversially explored a young man’s torment when sexual desires and the sacrifices of faith collide.

Manfredi continued to make films even after a minor stroke in 1993 left him with cognitive difficulties, his last role coming in 2002 in La luz prodigiosa, also known as The End of a Mystery, a film set in Spain that imagined that Federico Lorca, a poet murdered by Franco’s thugs, had survived.

The following year, Manfredi suffered two major strokes and died in 2004, aged 83.  Married in 1955 to Erminia Ferrari, a model, he left a son, Luca and two daughters, Roberta and Giovanna, two of whom followed him into the entertainment business.

Castro dei Volsci sits on a hillside in Ciociaria
Castro dei Volsci sits on a hillside in Ciociaria
Travel tip:

Castro dei Volsci, which is situated some 25km (16 miles) southeast of Frosinone and about 105km (65 miles) from Rome, is a small town of less than 5,000 inhabitants that has been described as capturing the charm of Ciociaria. It has a hillside setting, with a network of steep, cobbled medieval streets and breathtaking views over the surrounding countryside of rolling hills and richly verdant valleys.

The San Giovanni neighbourhood is the area around Porta San Giovanni, south of the centre of Rome
The San Giovanni neighbourhood is the area around
Porta San Giovanni, south of the centre of Rome
Travel tip:

San Giovanni is a neighbourhood of Rome southeast of the city centre, straddling the Via Appia Nuova, en route to the town of Frascati and the Castelli Romani. A combination of modern thoroughfares and the architectural features of the Renaissance, it is considered an authentically Roman neighbourhood and one that is becoming popular with visitors looking for an affordable part if the city in which to stay, without being too far from the main sights.

16 August 2017

Umberto Baldini – art restorer

Saved hundreds of artworks damaged by Arno floods

Umberto Baldini
Umberto Baldini
Umberto Baldini, the art historian who helped save hundreds of paintings, sculptures and manuscripts feared to have been damaged beyond repair in the catastrophic flooding in Florence in 1966, died on this day in 2006.

Baldini was working as director of the Gabinetto di Restauro, an office of the municipal authority in Florence charged with supervising restoration projects, when the River Arno broke its banks in the early hours of November 4, 1966.

With the ground already saturated, the combination of two days of torrential rain and storm force winds was too much and dams built to create reservoirs in the upper reaches of the Arno valley were threatened with collapse.

Consequently thousands of cubic metres of water had to be released, gathered pace as it raced downstream and eventually swept into the city at speeds of up to 40mph.

More than 100 people were killed and up to 20,000 in the valley left homeless. At its peak the depth of water in the Santa Croce area of Florence rose to 6.7 metres (22 feet). 

The Basilica di Santa Croce partially submerged under flood water
The Basilica of Santa Croce partially
submerged under flood water
Baldini was director of the conservation studios at the Uffizi, the principal art museum in Florence and one of the largest and most well known in the world, where some of the most precious and valuable treasures of the Renaissance were kept, supposedly secure and protected.

The main galleries on the second floor of the Uffizi complex, situated just off Piazza della Signoria in the heart of the city and right by the river, escaped but the water – not only muddy but full of oil after tanks in its path were ruptured – poured into storerooms, where more than 1,000 medieval and Renaissance paintings and sculptures were kept.

Once the flood subsided, it was Baldini’s task to save what he could from the mess that remained, with everything in the storerooms covered in oily mud.  Similar scenes confronted the wardens and curators of churches, libraries and museums all over Florence.

It was estimated that between three and four million books and manuscripts were damaged, as well as 14,000 works of art.

Baldini not only oversaw a painstaking restoration project at the Uffizi, he was called on to advise in similar efforts taking place across the city, with almost every church possessing priceless works by one Old Master or another.

The bespectacled academic called in experts from around the world and rapidly organised the hiring and training of hundreds of volunteers – the so-called Mud Angels – to dry, clean and restore such damaged material as could be salvaged.

Baldini examines some of the restoration work
Baldini examines some of the restoration work
Books were washed, disinfected and dried, pages often removed to be later rebound. Paintings were dried with the application of rice paper, with techniques employed in some cases to remove entire paint layers and reapply them to a new surface.

The work went on for decades after the streets had been cleaned up and Florentine life restored to normal but by the mid-1980s it was thought up to two-thirds of all the damaged items had been repaired, including high-profile casualties such as Cimabue’s wooden crucifix in the Basilica of Santa Croce.

Others took much longer. For instance, work on Giorgio Vasari’s huge panel painting of The Last Supper, also housed in the Santa Croce basilica and submerged for 12 hours, was not completed until 2016, half a century after the flood.

Much of the successful restoration was down to the work by Baldini in the immediate aftermath of the catastrophe, when he reorganized the Uffizi’s conservation facilities under a single institute and put in place formal training programmes for students of conservation to provide a steady supply of highly-skilled staff.

In 1983, Baldini was appointed director of the Istituto Centrale per il Restauro in Rome, Italy’s most prestigious conservation body, in which capacity he led the project to clean and restore the 15th- century Masaccio frescoes in the Brancacci Chapel of the Carmine Church in Florence.

Completed by Fillipino Lippi, the frescoes depict scenes from the life of St. Peter and the Book of Genesis. Baldini’s team discovered a virtually unspoiled portion of the fresco hidden behind an altar.

Born in 1921 at Pitigliano, near Grosseto in Tuscany, Baldini wrote books on the Brancacci Chapel, Masaccio and the restorations of Botticelli’s Primavera and Cimabue’s crucifix.

He died at his home in Marina di Massa, a Tuscan coastal town north of Viareggio, some 125km (78 miles) west of Florence, aged 84. His funeral took place at the church of San Giuseppe Vecchio in Marina di Massa and his body was interred at the Cemetery of the Holy Gate at the Basilica di San Miniato al Monte in Florence.

The church of San Miniato al Monte and adjoining cemetery
The church of San Miniato al Monte and adjoining cemetery
Travel tip:

San Miniato al Monte stands at one of the highest points in Florence and has been described as one of the finest examples of Romanesque architecture in Italy. Work on building the church began in 1013 at the sight of a chapel marking a cave supposedly occupied by Minas – later St. Miniato – an Armenian prince serving in the Roman army under Emperor Decius, who was denounced as a Christian after becoming a hermit. The Emperor ordered Minas to be thrown to the beasts in an amphitheatre outside Florence only for the animals to refuse to devour him, and instead had him beheaded, upon which he is alleged to have picked up his head, crossed the Arno and walked up the hill of Mons Fiorentinus to his hermitage.

Cimabue's partially restored crucifix in the  Basilica of Santa Croce
Cimabue's partially restored crucifix in the
Basilica of Santa Croce
Travel tip:

The Basilica of Santa Croce, consecrated in 1442, is the main Franciscan church in Florence and the burial place among others of Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli, the poet Ugo Foscolo, the philosopher Giovanni Gentile and the composer Gioachino Rossini.  It houses works by some of the most illustrious names in the history of art, including Canova, Cimabue, Donatello, Giotto and Vasari.

24 July 2017

Giuseppe Di Stefano – tenor

Singer from Sicily who made sweet music with Callas

Giuseppe Di Stefano was one of Italy's greatest tenors
Giuseppe Di Stefano was one of
Italy's greatest tenors
The opera singer Giuseppe Di Stefano, whose beautiful voice led people to refer to him as ‘the true successor to Beniamino Gigli’, was born on this day in 1921 in Motta Sant’Anastasia, a town near Catania in Sicily.

Di Stefano also became known for his many performances and recordings with the soprano, Maria Callas, with whom he had a brief romance.

The only son of a carabinieri officer, who later became a cobbler, and his dressmaker wife, Di Stefano was educated at a Jesuit seminary and for a short while contemplated becoming a priest.

But after serving in the Italian army he took singing lessons from the Swiss tenor, Hugues Cuenod. Di Stefano made his operatic debut in Reggio Emilia in 1946 when he was in his mid-20s, singing the role of Des Grieux in Massenet’s Manon. The following year he made his debut at La Scala in Milan in the same role.

Di Stefano made his debut at the Metropolitan Opera in New York in 1948 as the Duke of Mantua in Verdi’s Rigoletto. After his performance in Manon a month later, a journalist wrote in Musical America that Di Stefano had ‘the rich velvety sound we have seldom heard since the days of Gigli.’

Maria Callas and Giuseppe Di Stefano on stage in Tokyo, at around the time they had a brief affair
Maria Callas and Giuseppe Di Stefano on stage in Tokyo,
at around the time they had a brief affair
He made his Royal Opera House debut in 1961 as Cavaradossi in Tosca.

He was admired for his excellent diction, passionate delivery and the sweetness of his soft singing.

In his Metropolitan Opera radio broadcast of Faust he attacked the high C forte and then softened the sound to a pianissimo. Sir Rudolf Bing, the Met's general manager wrote in his memoirs: ‘I shall never as long as I live forget the beauty of that sound.’

Di Stefano was chosen by EMI to record all the popular Italian operas with Maria Callas. Their 1953 studio recording of Tosca is considered one of the greatest performances in the history of the gramophone.

The two also performed well together on stage from 1951 onwards. He sang with Callas in the famous Visconti production of La Traviata in 1955 at La Scala and the last time they sang together in an opera was in Un ballo in maschera at La Scala in 1957.

In 1973 Di Stefano accompanied Callas on her final recital tour. Critics said they were both losing their voices but they were enthusiastically received everywhere. It was during this tour that the two had a brief romance.

Di Stefano also made recordings with a wealth of other opera stars.

Di Stefano's albums sold millions of copies
Di Stefano's albums sold millions of copies
His final operatic role was as the aged emperor in Turandot in July 1992.

In 2004 Di Stefano suffered a brutal beating by unknown assailants near his home in Diani Beach in Kenya after he was ambushed in his car with his wife, Monika Curth.

The singer was still unconscious a week after the attack and had several operations.

He was flown to Milan and admitted to the San Raffaele clinic where he slipped into a coma.

Eventually he came out of his coma but his health never fully improved and he died at his home in Santa Maria Hoè, between Bergamo and Como, in 2008 at the age of 86.

Luciano Pavarotti said he modelled himself on Di Stefano, who was his idol. He said Di Stefano had ‘the most incredible, open voice you could hear.’ Di Stefano is also said to be the tenor who most inspired José Carreras.

Travel tip:

Motta Sant'Anastasia, with a snow-covered Mount  Etna in the background
Motta Sant'Anastasia, with a snow-covered Mount
Etna in the background
Motta Sant’Anastasia, where Di Stefano was born, is a municipality nine kilometres (5.5 miles) west of Catania, built on a rocky outcrop not far from Mount Etna. It was inhabited by Greeks in the fifth century BC. Roman coins and a Roman mosaic have also been discovered there. The Tower of Motta was built in the 11th century as a defensive structure to protect the area from Saracen invasions.

Travel tip:

Di Stefano performed regularly on the stage of Teatro alla Scala in Milan from 1949 onwards. The theatre was officially inaugurated in 1778 after being built on the site of the former Church of Santa Maria alla Scala to the design of Giuseppe Piermarini. It is across the road from the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, an elegant arcade lined with shops, cafes and restaurants which links Piazza alla Scala with Piazza del Duomo, Milan’s cathedral square. La Scala’s museum displays costumes and memorabilia from the history of opera. The entrance is in Largo Ghiringhelli, just off Piazza alla Scala and it is open every day except Bank Holidays.