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

26 February 2017

Angelo Mangiarotti - architect and designer

Iconic glass church among legacy to city of Milan 

Angelo Mangiarotti, pictured at a conference in 2007
Angelo Mangiarotti, pictured at a conference in 2007
Angelo Mangiarotti, regarded by his peers as one of the greats of modern Italian architecture and design, was born on this day in 1921 in Milan.

Many notable examples of his work in urban design can be found in his home city, including the Repubblica and Venezia underground stations, the iconic glass church of Nostra Signora della Misericordia in the Baranzate suburb and several unique residential properties, including the distinctive Casa a tre cilindri - composed of a trio of cylindrical blocks - in Via Gavirate in the San Siro district of the city.

He also worked extensively in furniture design with major companies such as Vistosi, Fontana Arte, Danese, Artemide, Skipper and the kitchen producer Snaidero.

Inside the glass Chiesa di Nostra Signora della Misericordia
Inside the glass Chiesa di Nostra Signora della Misericordia
Mangiarotti graduated from the Architecture School of the Politecnico di Milano in 1948. He moved to the United States in 1953 and worked in Chicago as a visiting professor for the Illinois Institute of Technology. While in Illinois, he met internationally renowned architects Frank Lloyd Wright, Walter Gropius, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Konrad Wachsmann, all of whom were substantial influences.

He returned to Italy in 1950 and opened his own architectural firm in Milan with fellow architect Bruno Morassutti, a partnership which was active until 1960.

It was with Morasutti and another Milan-based designer and engineer, Aldo Favini, that Mangiarotti collaborated on the Chiesa di Nostra Signora della Misericordia, which signalled a massive change in the design features and construction techniques of Italian churches.

The church, in the Baranzate suburb to the north-west of Milan, was constructed of concrete, steel and glass - chosen as the materials that fuelled the rebirth of Italy after the devastation of the Second World War.

The Case a tre cilindri in the San Siro district of Milan
The Case a tre cilindri in the San Siro district of Milan
Mangiarotti's original designs helped create a timeless building that has recently been restored and continues to be an impressive example of modern, progressive design even 60 years after its original construction.

The church is very near the Fiera Milano metro station, which was Mangiarotti's last architectural project before his death in 2012.

Mangiarotti's designs for furniture, lighting, decorative objects, ceramics and glassware remain highly collectible and sell for high prices.  He also created a famous collection of Murano glass Giogali Lighting produced by Vistosi.

His partnership with Rino Snaidero, which began in 1960, helped establish Snaidero's position as a leader in kitchen design.

Mangiarotti designed the Cruscotto kitchen and Sistema lines for Snaidero, both of which were notable for the exceptionally refined materials used.  The Cruscotto design was exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

The distinctive Snaidero headquarters building
The distinctive Snaidero headquarters building
The relationship between Snaidero and Mangiarotti reached its peak when the architect was given the job of designing the new building to house Snaidero's offices and central headquarters in Majano in the province of Udine, for which he created a mushroom-shaped main building with a fibreglass facade secured to a reinforced concrete structure, supported by four columns.

It had rounded corners and slightly protruding elliptical windows reminiscent of a ship or an aeroplane.

Mangiarotti, who died in 2012 aged 91, passed on his ideas as a lecturer at universities and technical institutes in Venice, Palermo, Florence and Milan in Italy, as well as Lausanne in Switzerland, Hawaii and Adelaide, Australia.   His work won numerous awards.

Travel tip:

The San Siro district of Milan originated as a small settlement in the 19th century in the area now known as Piazzale Lotto. The area developed in the 20th century and has since become a very diverse district, with a mix of green space and congested residential neighbourhoods, combining villas and apartment blocks serving different income groups, and a concentration of sports facilities, most notably the Giuseppe Meazza football stadium, home of AC Milan and Internazionale, the Milanese hippodrome horse racing track and the Palasport di San Siro arena, which is mainly used for basketball and volleyball.

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The Piazza della Libertà in Udine
The Piazza della Libertà in Udine
Travel tip:

Majano, the base of the Snaidero company headquarters that Mangiarotti designed, is a short distance from the city of Udine, an attractive and wealthy provincial city which is the gastronomic capital of Friuli. Udine's most attractive area lies within the medieval centre, which has Venetian, Greek and Roman influences. The main square, Piazza della Libertà, features the town hall, the Loggia del Lionello, built in 1448–1457 in the Venetian-Gothic style, and a clock tower, the Torre dell’Orologio, which is similar to the clock tower in Piazza San Marco - St Mark's Square - in Venice.

More reading:

22 February 2017

Giulietta Masina - actress

Married to Fellini and excelled in his films

Giulietta Masina in a picture taken in about 1960
Giulietta Masina in a picture taken
in about 1960
The actress Giulietta Masina, who was married for 50 years to the film director Federico Fellini, was born on this day in 1921 in San Giorgio di Piano, a small town in Emilia-Romagna, about 20km (12 miles) north of Bologna.

She appeared in 22 films, six of them directed by her husband, who gave her the lead female role opposition Anthony Quinn in La Strada (1954) and enabled her to win international acclaim when he cast her as a prostitute in the 1957 film Nights of Cabiria, which built on a small role she had played in an earlier Fellini movie, The White Sheik.

Masina's performance in what was a controversial film at the time earned her best actress awards at the film festivals of Cannes and San Sebastián and from the Italian National Syndicate of Film Journalists (SNGCI).

Both La Strada and Nights of Cabiria won Oscars for best foreign film at the Academy Awards.

Masina also won best actress in the David di Donatello awards for the title role in Fellini's Juliet of the Spirits (1965) and a second SNGCI best actress award for his 1986 film Ginger and Fred.

Although born in northern Italy, one of four children, her parents sent her to live with a widowed aunt in Via Lutezia in the Parioli area of Rome. They hoped it would improve her prospects by obtaining a better education.  Ultimately, she graduated from the Sapienza University of Rome with a degree in Literature.

Giulietta Masini as Cabiria in the Fellini film Nights of Cabiria, for which she won a string of awards
Giulietta Masina as Cabiria in the Fellini film Nights of
, for which she won a string of awards
Having earlier studied music and dance, she turned to acting while at university, appearing in productions at the university's own Ateneo Theatre and the Compagnia del Teatro Comico Musicale.  It was there in 1942 that she was spotted by Fellini, who cast her in his radio serial, Terziglio.

The two hit it off immediately and married after only one year, in October 1943.  Masina continued to work on stage, in some productions alongside Marcello Mastroianni, who would become Fellini's leading man, before her husband helped her make the transition to the big screen, where she excelled in the portrayal of innocent, pathetic and troubled outcasts.

She was renowned for being able to use her expressive face to convey a range of emotions from sorrow and pathos to happiness and love. Many critics described her as a female Charlie Chaplin.  In her private life, she was noted for her impish sense of humour.

The original movie poster for Fellini's film Nights of Cabiria
The original movie poster for
Fellini's film Nights of Cabiria
As well as movie work, towards the end of her career Masina worked successfully in radio, hosting Lettere aperte, a show in which she responded to listeners' correspondence, and acted in television dramas.

Her marriage to Fellini was not blessed with children. Her first pregnancy ended after she suffered a miscarriage following a fall on a flight of stairs. She became pregnant again but her son, Pierfederico, to whom she gave birth in March 1945, tragically died from encephalitis at a month old.

Despite her husband's frequent infidelities, most of which he confessed, Masina stuck by Fellini.  They celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in October 1993, a day before he died.

Onlookers noted how frail she looked at his funeral and it was only five months later that she passed away herself at the age of 73, having been diagnosed with lung cancer.  She and her husband are buried together at Rimini cemetery in a tomb marked by a prow-shaped monument, the work of sculptor Arnaldo Pomodoro.

San Giorgio di Piano's parish church of San Giorgio Martire (St George the Martyr)
San Giorgio di Piano's parish church of
San Giorgio Martire (St George the Martyr)
Travel tip:

San Giorgio di Piano is a pleasant town within greater Bologna in an area with an economy based on the production of hemp and wheat.  It grew in the 14th century around a castle, the Castello di San Giorgio.  The Via della Libertà is an elegant porticoed street typical of the architecture in Bologna and Ferrara.  The parish church of St George the Martyr was renovated during the 19th century, as was the adjoining bell tower, which was added in the 18th century.  The church contains important paintings by Antonio Randa and Mario Roversi. In June each year, the town hosts a festival, the Corso dei Fiori, which is celebrated in the manner of a carnival with a parade of floats and a tradition of wearing decorative masks. 

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The Parioli district is notable for its tree-lined streets
The Parioli district of Rome, where Masina grew up,
is a well-to-do area notable for its tree-lined streets
Travel tip:

Parioli, where Masina grew up, is now one of Rome's wealthiest residential areas. Located between two of the city's largest parks - the gardens of the Villa Borghese and the Villa Ada - it is notable for tree-lined streets and elegant houses, and is also home to some of Rome's best restaurants, while its bars attract a sophisticated clientele. Many luxury apartments to rent make it popular with well-heeled visitors to the capital.

4 February 2017

Eugenio Corti - soldier and writer

Author drew on his experiences on the front line

Eugenio Corti
Eugenio Corti
Eugenio Corti, the writer most famous for his epic 1983 novel The Red Horse, died on this day in 2014 at the age of 93.

He passed away at his home in Besana in Brianza in Lombardy, where he had been born in January 1921.

The Red Horse, which follows the life of the Riva family in northern Italy from Mussolini's declaration of war in the summer of 1940 through to the 1970s, covers the years of the Second World War and the evolution of Italy's new republic.

Its themes reflect Corti's own view of the world, his unease about the totalitarianism of fascism and communism, his faith in the Christian Democrats to tread a confident path through the conservative middle ground, and his regret at the decline in Christian values in Italy.

It has been likened to Alessandro Manzoni's novel I promessi sposi - The Betrothed - for its strong moral tone and for the way that Corti employs the technique favoured by Manzoni of setting fictional characters in the novel against a backcloth of actual history, with real people and events written into the plot.

Italian soldiers were exposed to horrendous conditions and extreme weather on the Russian Front
Italian soldiers were exposed to horrendous conditions
and extreme weather on the Russian Front
The Red Horse, which took Corti more than a decade to write, became a literary phenomenon in Italy, selling so many copies it needed to be reprinted 25 times.   It was voted the best book of the 1980s in a survey in Italy and has been translated into six languages, including Japanese.  Corti was nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature

Corti, who enjoyed success also with Few Returned and The Last Soldiers of the King, based much of his work on his experiences fighting in Mussolini's army on the Russian Front and later as a member of the Italian Freedom Fighters, fighting alongside the Allies against the Nazis.

His philosophy was shaped by his family background, which had deep Catholic roots.  His paternal grandmother, Josephine Ratti, was the cousin of Achille Ratti, who became Pope Pius XI.  The family had a strong belief in doing charitable Christian work. Among his nine brothers was a missionary in Uganda and a priest in Chad.  There was also a powerful work ethic, typified by his father, Mario, who left school at 13 yet built up a textile business that at one time employed 1,200 people in five factories.

It was while studying classics at the Collegio San Carlo in Milan that Eugenio decided he could best express his beliefs through writing but his life changed after he was called up for compulsory military service in 1941. Appointed a Lieutenant of Artillery, he was allowed to decide where he wanted to serve.  He chose the Russian Front because he wanted to "understand the communist world."

Within a few months of his arrival at the front in June 1942, Mussolini's army was in retreat.  In fact, Corti was one of only a handful to escape as a 30,000-strong Italian force was encircled, finding his way back to Italy despite harsh winter weather conditions. He survived a phase of the conflict in which 115,000 Italian soldiers died.

On his return to barracks in Bolzano he refused the offer of discharge on medical grounds and was posted to Nettuno, south of Rome.  When Mussolini was arrested by King Victor Emmanuel III and an armistice signed with the Allies, Corti joined the Italian Freedom Fighters to fight against the Nazis.

The experiences exposed him to the full horrors of war and shaped his writing. He produced his first two books - I più non ritornato (published in English as Few Returned) and I poveri cristi (The Poor Bastards) - which were essentially diaries of his own experiences, soon after the war was over.

At the same time he studied law at the Catholic Università del Sacro Cuore in Milan, where he met his wife, Vanda, whom he married at Assisi in 1951.  For the next decade he worked in the family business, helping steer it through the post-War industrial crisis, returning to writing with a play, Trial and Death of Stalin, in 1962.

Eugenio Corti was interviewed for  a television documentary in 2010
Eugenio Corti was interviewed for
a television documentary in 2010
He began to write full time in the early 1970s, his epic The Red Horse consuming him for a decade until publication in 1983.  His subsequent novel The Last Soldiers of the King was based on his experiences fighting against the Nazis for Victor Emmanuel III, who abdicated in 1946 shortly before the Italian people voted to scrap the monarchy.

Apart from his novels, Corti was noted for his essays on the Vatican, the Christian Democrat party and on the development of western civilization.  He continued to write well into his eighties.

Awarded a Silver Medal for Valour in recognition of his bravery and leadership on the battlefield, he was honoured by the Lombardy Region and the Province of Milan for his contributions to civilian life and industry and by the Italian state with a Gold Medal for Culture and Art before, in 1999, he was awarded the Knight Order of Merit of the Italian Republic by President Francesco Cossiga.

Travel tip:

The Brianza area of Lombardy, in which Eugenio Corti grew up, used to be covered with dense forests, much of which have disappeared with the industrialisation of northern Italy. One area that escaped extensive development, just to the east of Besana in Brianza, has been preserved as the Montevecchia Regional Park, a small gem near the city of Milan where visitors can enjoy verdant green spaces and wooded areas rich in flora. The crest of the hill of Montevecchia , where the forests of the Curone Valley and the Santa Croce Valley meet, represents the green heart of the park.

Nettuno beach, with the Sangallo Fortress in the foreground
Nettuno beach, with the Sangallo Fortress in the foreground
Travel tip:

Nettuno and neighbouring Anzio tend to be best remembered as the point chosen by Allied forces as a landing point during the invasion of the Italian peninsula early in 1944, mainly due to the area's long stretches of beach. Many lives were lost in the battle that took place and both towns suffered heavy damage. Nonetheless, there is still much to see at Nettuno, including the ruins of a Roman port and the walled Sangallo Fortress built in 1503 by Antonio da Sangallo on behalf of Cesare Borgia, which sits next to the beach.  The Sanctuary of Nostra Signora delle Grazie e Santa Maria Goretti houses a wooden statue of Our Lady of Grace said to have been recovered in England in the 16th century after Henry VIII’s Dissolution of Catholic monasteries, when many religious statues were confiscated or desecrated.

More reading:

Mussolini's last stand

Victor Emmanuel III abdicates

How Russians liberated Auschwitz survivor Primo Levi

Also on this day:

8 January 2017

Leonardo Sciascia – writer

Books mercilessly expose Italian politics and role of the Mafia

The writer and politician Leonardo Sciascia, pictured in 1980
The writer and politician Leonardo Sciascia,
pictured in 1980
Leonardo Sciascia, novelist, playwright and politician, was born on this day in 1921 in Racalmuto in Sicily.

Many of his novels looked at Sicilian life and how the Mafia operates as part of society, and some have since been made into films.

He also wrote a book analysing the kidnapping and assassination of Aldo Moro, the prominent Christian Democrat politician and former prime minister.

Sciascia was part of an investigation into Moro’s kidnapping and criticised Giulio Andreotti, the prime minister at the time, for his lack of action and for failing to deal with Brigate Rosse, the Red Brigades.

When Sciascia was a teenager his family moved to Caltanissetta in Sicily, where he studied writing and literature.

He married Maria Andronico, a local school teacher, in 1944 and he himself held teaching positions for the early part of his career, retiring to write full time in 1968.  In 1954 he published an autobiographical novel inspired by his experiences as an elementary school teacher.

A statue of Leonardo Sciascia, cast in bronze,  on Via Garibaldi in his home town, Racalmuto
A statue of Leonardo Sciascia, cast in bronze,
 on Via Garibaldi in his home town, Racalmuto
In 1948 his brother committed suicide, which was to have a profound effect on Sciascia’s life.

His first work was a collection of poems satirising fascism, which was published in 1950. A few years later he was awarded the Premio Pirandello for his essay, Pirandello e il pirandellismo.  In 1957, his book Gli zii di Sicilia - The Uncles of Sicily - included his views about the influence of the United States and communism in the world, and about the 19th century unification of Italy.

In 1961 he published one of his most famous novels, a mystery, Il giorno della civetta - The Day of the Owl - which demonstrated how the Mafia manage to sustain themselves in a society where there is little or no moral guidance. Two years later he published the historical novel, Il consiglio d’egitto - The Council of Egypt - set in 18th century Palermo.

In 1965 he wrote the play, L’onorevole - The Honourable - denouncing the complicity between the Government and the Mafia.

In 1971 Sciascia wrote a mystery, Il Contesto - The Challenge - a merciless portrayal of Italian politics, which inspired Francesco Rosi’s film, Cadaveri eccellenti, which was also shown under the title Illustrious Corpses.

Leonardo Sciascia's dedication to Racalmuto on a stone overlooking the town, to which he was deeply attached
Leonardo Sciascia's dedication to Racalmuto on a stone
overlooking the town, to which he was deeply attached
Sciascia’s books are based on his own experience of Sicily and show how families are linked with political parties and call in favours that benefit individuals rather than society as a whole.

Nonetheless, throughout his life he remained profoundly attached to the area around his native village.

In 1975 Sciascia was elected to the city council in Palermo as an independent with the Italian Communist Party (PCI) but in 1977 he resigned from the party because of his opposition to dealing with the Christian Democrats.

He was later elected to the Italian and European parliaments with the Radical party.

Sciascia died in 1989 in Palermo at the age of 68.

Travel tip:

Racalmuto, where Leonardo Sciascia was born, is in the province of Agrigento about 90km (56 miles) south-east of Palermo and about 15km (9 miles) north-east of Agrigento. Sciascia wrote a dedication to his home town which is engraved on a stone displayed there, saying he had tried, with his writing, to portray life in the village he loved. There is a lifelike bronze statue of him by the roadside in Via Garibaldi in the centre of the town, which is also home to the Leonardo Sciascia Foundation.

The impressive Teatro Massimo in Palermo
The impressive Teatro Massimo in Palermo
Travel tip:

Palermo, where Sciascia died, is the capital of Sicily and has varied architecture bearing testimony to its rich history. There are Norman, Romanesque, Gothic and Baroque churches and palaces and a magnificent opera house, the largest in Italy, called Teatro Massimo, which was built in Renaissance style and opened in 1897.

More reading:

How prolific playwright Dario Fo sought to expose corruption

Writer Alberto Moravia likened Fascism to a childhood illness

Sicily brought to life in Andrea Camilleri's Montalbano novels

Also on this day:

1337: Death of the brilliant Renaissance artist Giotto


25 February 2016

Enrico Caruso – opera singer

 Tenor's voice still regarded as greatest of all time 

Enrico Caruso sang in a choir while working  as an apprentice to a mechanical engineer
Enrico Caruso sang in a choir while working
as an apprentice to a mechanical engineer
Operatic tenor Enrico Caruso was born on this day in 1873 in Naples.

Believed by many opera experts to be the greatest tenor of all time, Caruso had a brilliant 25-year singing career, appearing at many of the major opera houses in Europe and America.

He made more than 200 recordings of his beautiful voice, some made as early as 1902.

Caruso was born in Via San Giovanello agli Ottocalli in Naples and baptised the next day in the nearby church of San Giovanni e Paolo.

At the age of 11 he was apprenticed to a mechanical engineer and also worked alongside his father in a factory.

At the same time he was singing in his church choir and was told his voice showed enough promise for him to consider becoming a professional singer.

Until she died in 1888, he was encouraged by his mother. To earn money, he started to work as a street singer in Naples, progressing to singing Neapolitan songs as entertainment in cafes. Having decided to become an opera singer, Caruso took singing lessons, keeping up with them even during his compulsory military service.

He made his stage debut in 1895 at the Teatro Nuovo in Naples in Domenico Morelli’s L’amico Francesco, having been recommended by a musician who had heard him sing.

Listen to Enrico Caruso singing La Donne e Mobile from Verdi's Rigoletto

Caruso went on to perform at other theatres throughout Italy and was given a contract to sing at the prestigious Teatro alla Scala in Milan in 1900. On his debut on December 26 of that year, he sang Rodolfo from Puccini’s La Bohème, conducted by Arturo Toscanini.

The following year he appeared in Monte Carlo, Warsaw, Buenos Aires and before the Tsar of Russia in St Petersburg.

Caruso took part in a grand concert at La Scala organised by Toscanini in 1901 to mark the death of Giuseppe Verdi.

Caruso made his debut at the Metropolitan Opera in Rigoletto in 1903
Caruso in his role as the Duke in Rigoletto, in which
 he made his debut at the Met in New York in 1903
A month later he was engaged to make his first group of recordings for a gramophone company using a hotel room in Milan. The recordings quickly became bestsellers and Caruso’s fame spread.

He travelled to New York in 1903 to take up a contract with the Metroplitan Opera, making his debut in Verdi's Rigoletto in November.

A few months later Caruso began his association with the Victor Talking Machine Company.

His 1904 recording of Vesti la giubba, the moving aria from Ruggero Leoncavallo's opera Pagliacci was the first recording ever to sell a million copies.

He made 863 appearances at the Met, attracting a substantial following from among New York’s Italian immigrants.

He continued to release recordings until close to his death in 1921. Caruso’s voice extended up to high D-flat in its prime and grew in power and weight as he became older. His singing can still be enjoyed by people today as his original recordings have been remastered and issued as CDs and digital downloads.

The singer’s health began to deteriorate in 1920 and he returned to Naples to recuperate. He was planning to go to a clinic in Rome in August 1921, and was staying overnight at the Albergo Vesuvio in Naples on the way, when his condition worsened and he died, aged 48.

The King of Italy, Victor Emmanuel III, opened the Royal Basilica of San Francesco di Paola, for his funeral, which was attended by thousands of people.

The distinctive Basilica of San Francesco di Paolo, overlooks Piazza del Plebiscito in the centre of Naples
The distinctive Basilica of San Francesco di Paolo, overlooks
Piazza del Plebiscito in the centre of Naples
Travel tip:

The Basilica of San Francesco di Paola is on the west side of Piazza del Plebiscito, the main square in Naples . Originally the building had been planned as a tribute to Napoleon but after the Bourbons were restored to the throne of Naples, Ferdinand I made it into a church and dedicated it to San Francesco di Paola. It is similar in design to the Pantheon in Rome with a portico resting on columns and a high dome in the middle. Caruso’s body was taken through the streets of Naples in a horse-drawn hearse and he lay in state before his funeral so that people could pay their respects.

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Caruso loved the resort of Sorrento and the Grand Hotel Excelsior Vittoria
Caruso on the balcony of the Grand Hotel
Excelsior Vittoria in Sorrento
Travel tip:

Caruso loved the resort of Sorrento and his stay at the Grand Hotel Excelsior Vittoria in July 1921 is recognised by a plaque at the entrance gate to the hotel, which is just off Piazza Tasso, the main square in Sorrento. The photograph of Caruso in front of the view from the Excelsior Vittoria’s terrace was one of the last images taken of the tenor. The hotel later furnished Suite Caruso with the piano and writing desk used by the opera singer during his visit. The suite inspired the song ‘Caruso’ to be written by Italian pop singer Lucio Dalla in the late 1980s while he was staying at the Excelsior Vittoria.

Sorrento hotels from

More reading:

How a chance opportunity set Arturo Toscanini on the path to fame

Guiseppe Verdi: Italy mourns the loss of a national symbol

Franco Corelli - the 'prince of tenors'

Also on this day:

1682: The birth of anatomist Giovanni Battista Morgagni, 'father' of pathology

1707: The birth of playwright Carlo Goldoni

2003: The death of comic actor Alberto Sordi

Selected books:

Enrico Caruso: His Life and Death, by Dorothy Caruso