Showing posts with label Alessandro Manzoni. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Alessandro Manzoni. Show all posts

30 March 2020

Rimini Proclamation

Opening statement of the Risorgimento came from a Frenchman

Murat's Rimini Proclamation is seen as the rallying call for the Risorgimento
Murat's Rimini Proclamation is seen as the
rallying call for the Risorgimento
The first political proclamation calling for all Italians to unite into a single people and drive out foreigners was issued on this day in 1815 in Rimini.

But the stirring words: ‘Italians! The hour has come to engage in your highest destiny…’ came from a Frenchman, Gioacchino (Joachim) Murat, who was at the time occupying the throne of Naples, which he had been given by his brother-in-law, Napoleon.

Murat had just declared war on Austria and used the Proclamation to call on Italians to revolt against the Austrians occupying Italy. He was trying to show himself as a backer of Italian independence in an attempt to find allies in his desperate battle to hang on to his own throne.

Although Murat was acting out of self-interest at the time, the Proclamation is often seen as the opening statement of the Risorgimento, the movement that helped to arouse the national consciousness of the Italian people. It led to a series of political events that freed the Italian states from foreign domination and unified them politically.

Murat’s Proclamation impressed the Milanese writer Alessandro Manzoni, who wrote a poem about it later that year, Il proclama di Rimini. However, he abandoned it unfinished after Murat’s military campaign failed.

Joachim Murat was one of Napoleon's most trusted military aides
Joachim Murat was one of Napoleon's
most trusted military aides
Napoleon had originally installed his brother, Joseph, as King of Naples in 1806. But two years later he moved Joseph to the throne of Spain and installed Murat, the husband of his sister, Carolina, in his place.

Murat was one of Napoleon’s most trusted military aides, who had shown himself to be a daring and capable military leader.

While in charge of Naples, Murat made social and economic changes, reformed the University and introduced new scientific facilities. He built new roads and started work on Piazza del Plebiscito and the Church of San Francesco di Paola.

After Napoleon’s exile to Elba in 1814, Murat signed a treaty with Austria, pledging his help against the French troops in the north.

He took over the Papal States and Tuscany in return for an Austrian assurance that he would remain on the throne of Naples. From Rimini he writes in his Proclamation: 'Providence has called you to be an independent nation. From the Alps to the straits of Sicily, there is but one cry – Italian independence.’

But then Napoleon escaped from Elba and set out for Paris. Murat decided to realign himself with his brother-in-law and declared war on the Austrians.

He fought battles to save his own throne and to prevent the Austrians from moving into France to take on Napoleon. But after he lost a major battle at Tolentino in May and his army was in tatters, he fled from Italy to France, where he was snubbed by Napoleon.

Murat was killed by a firing squad in the Calabrian town of Pizzo
Murat was killed by a firing squad
in the Calabrian town of Pizzo
Murat set sail for Italy again to make one last desperate attempt to regain his kingdom, which by now was back in Bourbon hands.

With a small group of soldiers he landed at Pizzo on the coast of Calabria, planning to march north to Naples. Instead, he was captured, imprisoned and sentenced to death.

On 13 October 1815 he faced his firing squad, smartly dressed and fearless, having refused the offer of a blindfold.

Within another 46 years Italy had become a unified country.

The Tempio Malatestiano, a 13th century Gothic church in Rimini, has works by Piero della Francesca and Giotto
The Tempio Malatestiano, a 13th century Gothic church in
Rimini, has works by Piero della Francesca and Giotto
Travel tip:

The coastal city of Rimini was part of Napoleon’s Cisalpine Republic when Murat launched his Proclamation from there to the Italian people in 1815. The city looking out over the Adriatic Sea was incorporated into the Kingdom of Italy in 1860. Now part of the Emilia-Romagna region it has become one of the leading seaside resorts in Europe, with wide sandy beaches and plenty of hotels and restaurants. One of Rimini’s most famous sights is the Tempio Malatestiano, a 13th century Gothic church originally built for the Franciscans that was transformed on the outside in the 15th century and decorated inside with frescos by Piero della Francesca and works by Giotto.

The Palazzo Reale, on the Piazza del Plesbiscito, was  Murat's luxurious home in Naples
The Palazzo Reale, on the Piazza del Plesbiscito, was
Murat's luxurious home in Naples
Travel tip:

Murat lived a luxurious lifestyle during his brief rule over the Kingdom of Naples and resided at the Royal Palace in Naples (Palazzo Reale), which is at the eastern end of Piazza del Plebiscito. The 17th century palace now houses a 30-room museum and the largest library in southern Italy, which are both open to the public. A statue of Murat was erected in the 1880s in the west façade of the Royal palace.

Also on this day:

1282: French driven out by the Sicilian Vespers

1892: The birth of painter and designer Fortunato Depero

1905: The birth of architect and engineer Ignazio Gardella


15 March 2019

Cesare Beccaria - jurist and criminologist

Enlightened philosopher seen as father of criminal justice

Cesare Beccaria became part of the literary  circle in 18th century Milan
Cesare Beccaria became part of the literary
circle in 18th century Milan
The jurist and philosopher Cesare Beccaria, who is regarded as one of the greatest thinkers of the so-called Age of Enlightenment in the 18th century, and whose writings had a profound influence on justice systems all over the world, was born on this day in 1738 in Milan.

As the author of a treatise On Crimes and Punishments (1764), which was a ground-breaking work in the field of criminal law and the approach to punishing offenders, Beccaria is considered by many academics to be the father of criminal justice.

The treatise, which Beccaria compiled when he was only 26 years old, condemned the death penalty on the grounds that the state does not possess the right to take lives and declared torture to be a barbaric practice with no place in a civilised, measured society.

It outlined five principles for an effective system of criminal justice: that punishment should have had a preventive deterrent function as opposed to being retributive; that punishment should be proportionate to the crime committed; that the probability of punishment should be seen as a more effective deterrent than its severity; that the procedures of criminal convictions should be public; and that to be effective, punishment needed to be prompt.

The reception for his ideas was such that Beccaria, who was somewhat reserved in character, became an international celebrity. He was celebrated in particular in France, where On Crimes and Punishment was published in French in 1766 and was reprinted seven times in six months. English, German, Polish, Spanish, and Dutch translations followed and an American edition was published in 1777.

Beccaria was born in this palace in the Via Brera in central Milan
Beccaria was born in this palace in
the Via Brera in central Milan
Although in many countries the death penalty was not abolished until the late 20th century and is still practised in some parts of the world, in other aspects Beccaria’s treatise exerted significant influence on criminal-law reform throughout western Europe, as well as in Russia, Sweden and the former Habsburg Empire. It also informed legislation in several American states. Founding fathers Thomas Jefferson and John Adams were among those who endorsed his work.

Beccaria was brought up in Milan’s 18th century aristocracy. His father was the Marchese Gian Beccaria Bonesana. They lived in a palace in After attending the Jesuit college at Parma, Beccaria graduated in law from the University of Pavia in 1758.

His primary field of interest was mathematics and economics but he was encouraged by friends to join a literary society, through which be became acquainted with many French and British political philosophers. Much of its discussion focused on reforming the criminal justice system and Beccaria was particularly influenced by the French political philosopher Montesquieu, whose principal work was The Spirit of Laws. 

Nothing Beccaria achieved subsequently came close to the importance of On Crimes and Punishment, although he was to become a prominent economist. In 1768 he accepted the chair in public economy and commerce at the Palatine School in Milan, where his lectures formed the basis of another seminal work, published posthumously under the title Elementi di economia pubblica - Elements of Public Economy - in which he discussed ideas about the division of labour and the relations between food supply and population long before they became common currency.

Giuseppe Grandi's statue of Cesare Beccaria in Piazza Beccaria in Milan
Giuseppe Grandi's statue of Cesare
Beccaria in Piazza Beccaria in Milan
In 1771 he was appointed to the Supreme Economic Council of Milan, where he concerned himself with measures such as monetary reform, labour relations, and public education. A report written by Beccaria is said to have influenced the adoption of the metric system in France.

In his later years, Beccaria was distracted by health and family matters, including property disputes with his two brothers and sister. Although from a philosophical standpoint, he greeted the start of the French Revolution in 1789 with enthusiasm, his horror and dismay at the violence that ensued caused him much sadness and he became withdrawn. He died in 1974 at the age of only 56.

Beccaria was married twice and had five children. Through the first of them, Giulia, he was the grandfather of Alessandro Manzoni, the novelist whose most famous work I promessi sposi - The Betrothed - was one of the first Italian historical novels and is seen as a masterpiece of Italian literature.

Milan's Teatro alla Scala - commonly known as "La Scala" -
was built in the late 18th century
Travel tip:

The cultural golden age experienced by Italy in common with much of Europe in the 18th century included the construction of Milan’s most famous cultural landmark, the theatre and opera house Teatro alla Scala. Built to replace the Teatro Regio Ducale, which was destroyed in a fire, the theatre was designed by the neoclassical architect Giuseppe Piermarini. The initial design was rejected by Count Firmian, the governor of what was then Austrian Lombardy, but a second plan was accepted in 1776 by Empress Maria Theresa. The new theatre was built on the former location of the church of Santa Maria alla Scala, from which the theatre gets its name.

The Palatine School is one of the oldest and
most prestigious schools in Milan
Travel tip:

The Palazzo delle Scuole Palatine - the Palace of the Palatine School - is located in Piazza Mercanti, which was Milan’s medieval city centre. It was once the seat of the most prestigious higher schools in the city and many  notable Milanese scholars studied or taught there. The current building dates back to 1644, when it was rebuilt by the architect Carlo Buzzi to replace an older one that had been destroyed in a fire. The school was established in Piazza Mercanti under Giovanni Maria Visconti, the second Visconti Duke of Milan. The building is decorated with several monuments, including a plaque with an epigram by the Roman poet Ausonius celebrating Milan as the "New Rome" of the fourth century, a statue of Saint Augustine by sculptor Pietro Lasagna.

6 January 2019

Baldassare Verazzi - painter

Piedmontese artist famous for image of uprising in Milan

Verazzi's Episodio delle Cinque Giornate
 (Combattimento a Palazzo Litta)
The painter Baldassare Verazzi, whose most famous work depicts a scene from the anti-Austrian uprising known as The Five Days of Milan, was born on this day in 1819 in Caprezzo, a tiny village in Piedmont, 120km (75 miles) from Turin in the hills above Lake Maggiore.

Something of a revolutionary in that he was an active supporter of the Risorgimento, it is supposed that he was in Milan in 1848 when citizens rose up against the ruling forces of the Austrian Empire, which controlled much of northern Italy.

The Cinque Giornate di Milano, in March of that year, comprised five days of street fighting that eventually resulted in the Austrian garrison being expelled from the city, marking the start of the First Italian War of Independence.

Verazzi’s painting, which is today on display at the Museum of the Risorgimento in the Castello Sforza in Milan, is entitled Episodio delle Cinque Giornate (Combattimento a Palazzo Litta), and shows three figures sheltering behind a barricade while another aims a rifle over the barricade, presumably in the direction of Austrian troops.

Born into a family of humble origins, Verazzi studied at the Brera Academy in Milan from 1833 to 1842 under the guidance of the Venetian painter Francesco Hayez. He participated in numerous art exhibitions in Milan and Turin.

In 1851 he won the prestigious Canonica Prize with The Parable of the Samaritan and in 1854 the Mylius Prize with his portrait of Raphael, which was presented to Pope Julius II.

Verazzi's Portrait of a Gentleman and Girls, in the National Museum of Fine Arts in Buenos Aires
Verazzi's Portrait of a Gentleman and Girls, in the
National Museum of Fine Arts in Buenos Aires
He became sought after for his frescoes, depicting historical scenes, such as his work on the dome of the enclosed annex to the Fatebenesorelle Hospital in Milan.

Although he had no shortage of work in Lombardy and Piedmont - his paintings can be found in many churches across the two regions - Verazzi took the bold decision in 1856 to move to South America.

Settling first in Buenos Aires, he became known for his historical and allegorical compositions, and for portraits, as well as the decorations at the Teatro Colón.

In Buenos Aires an intense rivalry developed between him and another Italian painter, Ignazio Manzoni, while he also had a dispute with General Justo José de Urquiza, an influential politician and military leader, which led him to move on to Montevideo in Uruguay, where he became a sought-after portraitist and decorated the frescoes of the Rotonda of the city cemetery.

Between Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil, he spent 12 fruitful years of his artistic career in South America, where he became one of the most appreciated and well-known painters.

He returned to Italy in 1868 but decided not to reopen his former studio in Milan in favour of taking up residence again in Caprezzo, although he ultimately decided that the wealth he had accumulated in South America deserved something grander.

Eventually, he took a fancy to the small town of Lesa, on the shores of Lake Maggiore and a favourite of the novelist Alessandro Manzoni.

He bought a extensive property in the hamlet of Villa Lesa, where he spent the last 16 years of his life, 1870 to 1886, and where his son Serafino, who also became a noted painter, was born in 1875.

The town of Lesa on the shores of Lake Maggiore, which was once the home of novelist Alessandro Manzoni
The town of Lesa on the shores of Lake Maggiore, which
was once the home of novelist Alessandro Manzoni
Travel tip:

Lesa is a pretty town on the shores of Lake Maggiore, halfway between Stresa and Arona, known for its calm atmosphere and beautiful views. The town and surrounding area is notable for its many extravagant villas and palaces, with gardens and distinctive architecture, a legacy of its one-time popularity with noble families. It remains a sought-after area for the wealthy, such as the businessman and former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, who owns the Villa Campari, built by Gaspare Campari, inventor of the famous aperitif liqueur.  On the lakeshore are the ruins of a castle that once guarded the town.

The Cascata del Toce waterfall is one of the attractions of the province of Verbano-Cusio-Ossola in Piedmont
The Cascata del Toce waterfall is one of the attractions
of the province of Verbano-Cusio-Ossola in Piedmont
Travel tip:

Caprezzo is part of the province of Verbano-Cusio-Ossola, an area of unspoiled nature that encompasses many beautiful valleys such as Val d’Ossola, through which flows the Toce River and the dramatic Cascata del Toce waterfall. The area includes the picturesque Lake Mergozzo, the northern bank of Lake Orta and the town of Omegna, which in the early part of the 20th century was famous for the production of small domestic appliances, including the first coffee makers and pressure cookers. The province includes the western bank of Lake Maggiore that hosts renowned resorts of Cannobio, Cannero Riviera, Verbania, Baveno and Stresa, as well as the Borromean Islands, lying in the middle of Lake Maggiore, including the Baroque palace and gardens of Isola Bella.

More reading:

What happened in the Five Days of Milan

Why Alessandro Manzoni is considered to have written the greatest novel in Italian history

Garibaldi and the Expedition of the Thousand

Also on this day:

Befana - the Italian tradition on January 6

1907: Educationalist Maria Montessori opens her first school

1938: The birth of Italy's biggest-selling recording artist Adriano Celentano


14 June 2018

Salvatore Quasimodo - Nobel Prize winner

Civil engineer wrote poetry in his spare time

Salvatore Quasimodo is one of six Italians to win the Nobel Prize in Literature
Salvatore Quasimodo is one of six Italians to win
the Nobel Prize in Literature
Salvatore Quasimodo, who was one of six Italians to have won a Nobel Prize in Literature, died on this day in 1968 in Naples.

The former civil engineer, who was working for the Italian government in Reggio Calabria when he published his first collection of poems and won the coveted and historic Nobel Prize in 1959, suffered a cerebral haemorrhage in Amalfi, in Campania, where he had gone to preside over a poetry prize.

He was taken by car to Naples but died in hospital a few hours later, at the age of 66.  He had suffered a heart attack previously during a visit to the Soviet Union.

The committee of the Swedish Academy, who meet to decide each year’s Nobel laureates, cited Quasimodo’s “lyrical poetics, which with ardent classicism expresses the tragic experiences of the life of our times".

The formative experiences that shaped his literary life began when he was a child when his father, a station master in Modica, the small city in the province of Ragusa in Sicily, where Salvatore was born in 1901, was transferred in January 1909 to Messina, at the tip of the island closest to the mainland, to supervise the reorganisation of train services in the wake of the devastating earthquake of December 1908.

Much of the city had been destroyed in the quake, as had Reggio Calabria, just across the Straits of Messina, and Quasimodo’s family lived in a freight wagon in an abandoned station. The physical devastation all around them had a profound effect on Salvatore, as did his daily contact with survivors in their struggle to come to terms with the destruction of their surroundings and the catastrophic loss of human lives, with perhaps as many as 120,000 killed in the areas worst hit.

Quasimodo worked as a civil engineer before turning to writing full time
Quasimodo worked as a civil engineer before
turning to writing full time
Quasimodo attended college in Palermo and, later, the rebuilt Messina, where he was able to publish his poetry for the first time in a journal he founded with a couple of fellow students.

He graduated in maths and physics and moved to Rome, hoping to continue his studies with a view to becoming an engineer.  But he had little money and had to abandon his studies in order to earn a living, taking a number of short-term jobs. In time he moved to Florence, where he got to know a number of poets and developed an interest in the hermetic movement, a form of poetry in which the sounds of the words are as important as their meaning.

Eventually in 1926 he handed a position with the Ministry of Public Works in Reggio Calabria, working with civil engineers as a surveyor.  He continued to write and to study Greek and Latin, making friends both in literary and political circles, including an anti-fascist group in the city. He also married for the first time. His published his first collection of poetry, called Acque e terre (Waters and Lands) in 1930.

He was transferred a number of times with his job, to Imperia, Genoa and Milan, before he quit to write full time from 1938.  In 1941 he was appointed professor of Italian literature at the "Giuseppe Verdi" Conservatory of Music in Milan, a position he held until his death.

After the Second World War, in which he was an outspoken critic of Mussolini but did not join the Italian resistance movement, his poetry shifted from the hermetic movement to a style that reflected his increasing engagement with social criticism.

The area of the Sicilian town of Modica in which  Salvatore Quasimodo was born in 1901
The area of the Sicilian town of Modica in which
Salvatore Quasimodo was born in 1901
Among his best-known volumes were Giorno dopo giorno (Day After Day), La vita non è sogno (Life Is Not a Dream), Il falso e il vero verde (The False and True Green) and La terra impareggiabile (The Incomparable Land).

He won numerous prizes in addition to the Nobel Prize, in which he joined Giosuè Carducci (1906), Grazia Deledda (1926) and Luigi Pirandello (1934) as Italian winners of the Literature award. Eugenio Montale (1975) and Dario Fo (1997) followed him.

After his first wife had died in 1948, he was married for a second time to the film actress and dancer, Maria Cumani, with whom he had a tumultuous relationship that produced a son, Alessandro, before they were legally separated in 1960.

After his death in Naples, he was buried in the Monumental Cemetery in Milan in the Famedio - a place reserved for the tombs of famous people - alongside another great writer, novelist, poet and playwright, Alessando Manzoni.

Modica's spectacular cathedral of San Giorgio
Modica's spectacular cathedral of San Giorgio
Travel tip:

Built amid the dramatic landscape of the Monti Iblei, with its hills and deep valleys, the steep streets and stairways of the medieval centre combined with many examples of more recent Baroque architecture, including a spectacular cathedral, make UNESCO-listed Modica is one of southern Sicily's most atmospheric towns, with numerous things to see in its two parts, Modica Alta, the older, upper town, and Modica Bassa, which is the more modern but still historic lower town. Famous in Sicily for its chocolate, it has the reputation of a warm and welcoming city with an authentic Sicilian character.

Part of the dramatic cityscape of Ragusa
Part of the dramatic cityscape of Ragusa
Travel tip:

Nearby Ragusa, the principal city of the province and just 15km (9 miles) from Modica, is arguably even more picturesque. Set in the same rugged landscape with a similar mix of medieval and Baroque architecture. again it has two parts - Ragusa Ibla, a town on top of a hill rebuilt on the site of the original settlement destroyed in a major earthquake in 1693, and Ragusa Superiore, which was built on flatter ground nearby in the wake of the earthquake.  A spectacular sight in its own right and affording wonderful views as well, Ragusa Ibla may seem familiar to viewers of the TV detective series Inspector Montalbano as the dramatic hillside city in the title sequence. The city streets also feature regular in location filming for the series, based on the books of Andrea Camilleri.

More reading:

Giosuè Carducci - Italy's first winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature

Dario Fo - the outspoken genius whose work put spotlight on corruption

The playwright born in a village called Chaos

Also on this day:

1800: Napoleon defeats the Austrians at the Battle of Marengo

1837: The death of the poet and philosopher Giacomo Leopardi


10 December 2017

Errico Petrella – opera composer

Sicilian whose popularity drew scorn from rivals

Errico Petrella's operas enjoyed great popularity in Italy in the 1850s and 1860s
Errico Petrella's operas enjoyed great popularity
in Italy in the 1850s and 1860s
The largely forgotten opera composer Errico Petrella, whose popularity in Italy in the 1850s and 1860s was second only to operatic giant Giuseppe Verdi, was born on this day in 1813 in Palermo.

His composed 25 works, mainly comedic or melodramatic in nature, and had a run of successes in the 1850s, when three of  his productions were premiered at Teatro alla Scala in Milan.

However, Petrella attracted the scorn of both Verdi and another contemporary, the German composer Richard Wagner, both of whose careers coincided exactly with Petrella’s, even down to having been born in the same year.

When Il Duca di Scilla had its first performance at La Scala in March 1859, a year on from his hugely successful Jone, which also premiered at the Milan theatre, Wagner’s criticism could have hardly been more unflattering.

Asked his opinion of the work, Wagner said: “It is an unbelievably worthless and incompetent operatic effort by a modern composer whose name I have forgotten.”

Some years earlier, admittedly before Petrella had enjoyed much success at all, Verdi had been similarly scathing in his assessment of the 1951 opera Le Precauzioni, set against the background of the Venice Carnival, which made its debut at the Teatro Nuovo in Naples.

Verdi claimed that Petrella 'did not know music' despite his popularity
Verdi claimed that Petrella 'did not
know music' despite his popularity
He wrote: “Petrella does not know music, and his masterpiece, Le Precauzioni, may please the orrechianti [people who love opera but cannot read music] for its several brilliant violin melodies, but as a work of art, it cannot stand up either to the great works or even operas like Crispino, Follia a Roma etc., etc [the latter being comic operas written by the Neapolitan Ricci brothers].”

Verdi was less rude than Wagner, but his words were equally damaging. Opera historians suspect that Verdi’s quarrel was with Petrella’s conception of opera, which had a lot in common with the Neapolitan school in general in that it was less demanding of the singers.

In fact, although born in Palermo, Petrella was effectively a Neapolitan himself, his father having been a naval officer from Naples who was based in Sicily.

Petrella attended the Naples Conservatory and his style almost certainly owed much to his teacher, the conservatory’s director, Nicolo Zingarelli, whose advice was to think first of the audience rather than trying to impress other composers.

Zingarelli told him: “If you sing in your compositions, rest assured that your music will be found pleasing. If you amass harmonies, double counterpoint, fugues, canons, notes, contranotes etc. instead, the musical world may applaud you after half a century or it may not; but the audience will certainly disapprove of you. They want melodies, melodies, always melodies.”

The libretto from Petrella's most famous work, Jone, published in 1858
The libretto from Petrella's most
famous work, Jone, published in 1858
Even though there was no argument about Verdi’s primacy among the composers of the day, there were clear signs of jealousy on the part of the northern Italian of his southern rival. Verdi even expressed his annoyance that Petrella wrote to Alessandro Manzoni seeking permission to write an opera based on the novel I promessi sposi and received a flattering letter in response.

However, Petrella’s Jone – set against the background of the eruption of Vesuvius that buried Pompeii - was so popular it was produced as many as 600 times, compared with no more than 60 for Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra, which premiered only a year earlier.

Petrella had needed to wait a long time to find success after making his theatre debut in 1929.

It was not until he had written half a dozen works to only modest acclaim that he began to attract attention. Il carnevale di Venezia, which had its premier at the Teatro Nuovo in Naples in May, 1851, is seen as the opera that put him on the map.

He followed this with Elena di Tolosa, which made its debut at the Teatro Fondo in August 1852, Marco Visconti (San Carlo, Naples, 1854), L'assedio di Leida (La Scala, 1856) and then Jone (La Scala, 1858), the premier of which was a major event in the operatic world, drawing appreciative audiences in Milan and beyond.

It became a regularly performed opera in Italy and remained so well into the 20th century, with productions around the world in venues as far flung as Melbourne, Calcutta, Jakarta, Santiago, Lima, Manila and Tbilisi.  His most critical reviews still derided his unashamed attempts to court popularity rather than treat opera as high art, but had to concede that he could write a good tune.

Petrella suffered from diabetes in later life and died in financial hardship in Genoa in 1877, aged 64.  Despite his outspoken comments, Verdi is said to have felt sorry for the plight of his fellow musician and sent him some money, although reputedly it did not arrive until after he had passed away.

His body was returned to Palermo, where he is buried in the church of San Domenico.

The impressive facade of the church of San Domenico,  the second most important church in Palermo
The impressive facade of the church of San Domenico,
the second most important church in Palermo
Travel tip:

The church of San Domenico in Piazza San Domenico is the second most important church in Palermo after the cathedral. Completed in 1770 on the site of previous churches built in the Middle Ages and the early Renaissance period.  The current church was designed by Andrea Cirrincione, who conceived the magnificent baroque façade, which was completed in 1726, with the bell tower added later. In 1853 it was declared the “pantheon of illustrious Sicilians” and contains the tombs of many of the island’s most notable figures, including the artist Pietro Novelli, the Risorgimento protagonist Francesco Crispi, the politician and revolutionary Ruggero Settimo and the anti-Mafia judge Giovanni Falcone.

Via Errico Petrella in Milan
Via Errico Petrella in Milan
Travel tip:

The memory of Errico Petrella is preserved in Milan in the name of a street linking Via Luigi Settembrini and Corso Buenos Aires in a residential area a few blocks from the central station. There is also a street in Turin that takes his name while there is a Teatro Errico Petrella in the pretty hill town of Longiano in Emilia-Romagna, situated about 30km (19 miles) southeast of Forlì.

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

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