Showing posts with label Banking. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Banking. Show all posts

23 February 2023

Emanuele Notarbartolo - banker and politician

First major figure to be assassinated by Mafia

Emanuele Notarbartolo spent 14 years in charge of the Banco di Sicilia
Emanuele Notarbartolo spent 14 years
in charge of the Banco di Sicilia
The banker and politician Emanuele Notarbartolo, whose determination to end corrupt banking practices in Sicily in the late 19th century would cost him his life, was born on this day in 1834 in Palermo.

Notarbartolo served as a conservative Mayor of Palermo from 1873 to 1876 and director of the Banco di Sicilia from 1876 to 1890.

He saved the bank from going bust by stamping down on the practice of doling out large and effectively unsecured loans to favoured individuals but in doing so made many enemies.

Having survived being kidnapped in 1882, Notarbartolo was stabbed to death in his first-class compartment on a train just outside Palermo, his body thrown out of the carriage on to the track side.

Although ultimately they were set free as the legal process broke down, Raffaele Palizzolo, a rival politician with Mafia connections as well as a fellow member of the Banco di Sicilia board, and a boss of the Villabate mafia clan, Giuseppe Fontana, were identified as being responsible for his death. Each was sentenced to 30 years in prison.

Murders involving members of the Cosa Nostra were commonplace but the victims were generally other mafiosi or associates. Notarbartolo’s death is thought to have been the first instance of a politician or other prominent public figure being killed on Mafia orders.

Notarbartolo was born into one of Palermo’s most important aristocratic families and was given the title Marquis of San Giovanni. Orphaned as a child, he moved to Paris in his early 20s and then to London, where he developed a passion for economics and politics, becoming a supporter of liberal conservatism which on his return to Italy placed him on the Historical Right.

Newspapers in Italy covered the trial of Notarbartolo's alleged killers extensively
Newspapers in Italy covered the trial of
Notarbartolo's alleged killers extensively
He joined the Sardinian Army and joined Giuseppe Garibaldi’s Expedition of the Thousand, taking part in the Battle of Milazzo as his red-shirted followers captured the island of Sicily and pushed towards the mainland.

Notarbartolo’s participation was rewarded with public office in Palermo, where he was for a while assessor of the city’s police force before being appointed president of the civic hospital. In his capacity as Mayor, to which office he was elected in September 1873, he promoted the construction of Palermo’s enormous opera house, the Teatro Massimo.

He developed a reputation for moral integrity, thanks to which he was appointed General Manager of the Banco di Sicilia in February 1876 at the behest of the Rome government led by Marco Minghetti. 

His brief was to reorganise the banking system on the island, which had fallen into such chaos that the Banco di Sicilia was at the brink of bankruptcy, threatening dire consequences for the entire Sicilian economy.

Notarbartolo soon discovered that incompetent bank managers were granting substantial loans to so-called entrepreneurs and builders purely on the basis of patronage, without asking for guarantees and allowing generous repayment terms.

This impacted on a considerable number of powerful people in Palermo, politicians and criminals alike, who had become used to easy finance with no questions asked. It was not long before there were plots to oust Notarbartolo.

Notarbartolo's rival Raffaele  Palizzolo was one of the accused
Notarbartolo's rival Raffaele 
Palizzolo was one of the accused

Yet he was not intimidated, even when he was kidnapped. After paying 50,000 lire as a ransom, he was released unharmed and vowed to redouble his efforts to rid the bank of corruption. By now he had several rows with Palizzolo and suspected that his rival was behind the kidnap, although it was never proved.

He wrote to the Minister of Agriculture and Commerce in Rome, outlining the lax and corrupt practices he had exposed, but the letter was somehow intercepted and fell into the hands of Palizzolo, who informed the other members of the bank’s board. In 1890, his opponents, with the backing of Francesco Crispi’s government, forced Notarbartolo to resign.

After his successor as director of the bank made a number of reckless and costly decisions, there was talk of Notarbartolo being reinstated. Days after this came to light, he was killed.

Soon after the train carrying Notarbartolo towards Palermo from his country estate near Sciara left the station at Trabia, some 33km (21 miles) southeast of the capital along the Tyrrhenian coast, it entered a tunnel, at which moment two men entered the banker’s compartment and attacked him, stabbing him 27 times.  His body, thrown from the compartment, was found in undergrowth by the track.

Fontana and two supposedly complicit railway workers were arrested, but a court in Palermo quickly acquitted Fontana and convicted the railway workers. Despite testimony from a carabinieri officer pointing to him as a possible instigator of the murder, Palizzolo - by then a member of the Chamber of Deputies -  was never called.

Further trials in Milan and Bologna eventually found Fontana and Palizzolo guilty, the former of killing Notarbartolo, the latter of commissioning the murder. Each was sentenced in 1902 to 30 years in prison, only for the Supreme Court of Cassation in Rome to overturn the verdicts a year later on the basis of procedural defects.

A new trial took place in Florence in 1904 at which a new witness was to be produced on behalf of the prosecutors after another mafioso, Matteo Filippello, had confessed to being the other man in the railway carriage attack.  A few days before he was due in court, however, Filippello was found dead, police reporting that he had hanged himself. 

Fontana and Palizzolo were both then acquitted on the grounds of lack of evidence, the latter apparently welcomed by a cheering crowd on his return to Palermo.

Notarbartolo's bust in Palazzo Pretoria
Notarbartolo's bust
in Palazzo Pretorio
Travel tip:

Emanuele Notarbartolo is commemorated in Palermo in the Via Emanuele Notarbartolo, an important street in the city, part of a long, straight thoroughfare that stretches across the city from the harbour area in the direction of Monte Cuccio to the west. The street, which intersects with the Via della Libertà, has a modern feel with a mix of shops, offices and apartment buildings and a scattering of Liberty-style villas typical of the city. Palermo Notarbartolo station can be found halfway along.  A bust of Notarbartolo, carved by Antonio Ugo, can be seen in Palermo’s Palazzo Pretorio, where the city’s municipal council meets.

Stay in Palermo with

Sciara, which sits on a plain in the shadow of Monte  San Calogero, was founded by Notarbartolo's ancestors
Sciara, which sits on a plain in the shadow of Monte 
San Calogero, was founded by Notarbartolo's ancestors
Travel tip:

Sciara, where Emanuele Notarbartolo lived when away from Palermo, is a village just over 40km (25 miles) southeast of the Sicilian capital within the Monte San Calogero Nature Reserve, with its characteristic lush vegetation. The municipality was founded in 1671 by one of Notarbartolo’s ancestors, Baron Filippo Notarbartolo, by royal decree of Charles II of Spain. It was one of more than 30 fiefdoms owned by the family. Filippo built Sciara’s elevated castle and a couple of churches, including the Chiesa di Sant’Anna. The area is quite poor and many houses were left empty after families emigrated to the north of Italy, to Germany and the United States in the 1970s and ‘80s. Those villages who remain are often involved in the production of tomatoes, olives and artichokes.

Accommodation in Sciara from

More reading:

The Sicilian lawyer who made it his life's work to take on Mafia

The Palermo businessman who refused to pay

The president’s brother killed by the Mafia

Also on this day:

1507: The death of Renaissance painter Gentile Bellini 

1806: The birth of military general Manfredo Fanti

1821: The death in Rome of English poet John Keats

1822: The birth of archaeologist Giovanni Battista de Rossi

1910: The birth of artist Corrado Cagli

(Picture credits: Notarbartolo bust by Sicilarch; Sciara panorama by Azotoliquido; via Wikimedia Commons)


29 November 2018

Agostino Chigi - banker and arts patron

Nobleman from Siena became one of Europe’s richest men

A Roman coin bearing the image of Agostino Chigi, who was one of the 16th century's richest bankers
A Roman coin bearing the image of Agostino Chigi,
who was one of the 16th century's richest bankers
The banker Agostino Chigi, who was a major sponsor of artists during the Renaissance, was born on this day in 1466 in Siena.

At its height, Chigi’s banking house in Rome was the biggest financial institution in Europe, employing up to 20,000 people, with branches throughout Italy and abroad, as far apart as London and Cairo.

Chigi invested a good deal of his wealth in supporting the arts, notably providing financial backing to almost all the main figures of the early 16th century, including Perugino, Sebastiano del Piombo, Giovanni da Udine, Giulio Romano, Il Sodoma (Giovanni Bazzi) and Raphael.

Perugino painted The Chigi Altarpiece, dated at around 1506-1507, which hangs in the Chigi family chapel in the church of Sant'Agostino in Siena. 

Chigi’s significant legacy to Rome was to have built a chapel in the church of Santa Maria della Pace, another - his mortuary chapel, the Chigi Chapel - in the church of Santa Maria del Popolo, and the superb suburban villa in Trastevere, on the banks of the Tiber, which since 1579 has been known as the Villa Farnesina. 

The altarpiece painted by Perugino for Agostino Chigi in Siena
The altarpiece painted by Perugino
for Agostino Chigi in Siena
Agostino Chigi was the son of the prominent Sienese banker Mariano Chigi, from an ancient and illustrious Tuscan family. He moved to Rome around 1487, taking with him a rich fund of capital.

He grew the wealth of his own bank by lending considerable sums to Pope Alexander VI and others, and by diversifying from regular banking practice by buying monopoly control of salt mining in the Papal States and the Kingdom of Naples, as well as that of alum, a mineral used in the textile industry.

After the death of the Borgia pope Alexander VI and his short-lived Sienese successor Pius III Piccolomini, Chigi helped Pope Julius II, in return for which he became treasurer and notary of the Apostolic Camera.  Agostino even accompanied Julius in the field in his military campaigns and went to Venice on his behalf to buy Venetian support for the papal forces in the War of the League of Cambrai.

Work began on his magnificent palace in Trastevere in 1506. Chigi took the unusual step of commissioning an untried pupil of Bramante, Baldassare Peruzzi, to design and oversee the construction of the villa, although he may have been helped Giuliano da Sangallo, the favored architect of Lorenzo de' Medici.

Raphael's fresco The Triumph of Galatea. in the loggia at the Villa Farnesina
Raphael's fresco The Triumph of Galatea.
in the loggia at the Villa Farnesina
His design differed from that of the typical urban palazzo, which tended to be rectangular, with an enclosed courtyard. This villa, intended as an airy summer pavilion, had a U-shaped plan with a five-bay loggia between the arms, facing north, which was the main entrance.

The best known element of the sumptuous decorations are Raphael's frescoes on the ground floor, both in the loggia depicting the classical and secular myths of Cupid and Psyche, and in the east-facing loggia, depicting The Triumph of Galatea. 

This was a mythological scene from an intended series inspired by the Stanze per la giostra of the Florentine poet Angelo Poliziano. It shows the near-naked sea nymph Galatea on a shell-shaped chariot drawn by two dolphins, surrounded by other sea creatures.

It has been noted that Raphael’s Galatea bore similarities to the courtesan, Imperia Cognati, who was Agostino Chigi's lover and is said to have posed for Raphael on more than one occasion. The art historian and Raphael's near-contemporary, Giorgio Vasari, noted, however, that Raphael had said that Galatea was the product of his imagination, an idealised beauty.

It was at this villa that Chigi held sumptuous banquets. He was recognised as the richest man in Rome but was said to have affected a contempt of money by throwing silver dishes into the Tiber at the end of the parties, although it is thought his servants were on hand to collect them in nets draped under the windows.

The villa was called the Viridario in Chigi's time. It became the property of the Farnese family in 1577, more than a half-century after his death.

The Palazzo Chigi, the current official residence of Italian prime ministers, was bought by Fabio Chigi, related to Agostino as a descendent of his father’s brother, shortly after he became Pope Alexander VII in 1655.

The northern aspect of the Villa Farnesina, which was  Agostino Chigi's summer palace in Rome
The northern aspect of the Villa Farnesina, which was
Agostino Chigi's summer palace in Rome
Travel tip:

The Villa Farnesina can be found on Via della Lungara in the Trastevere district of Rome.  After the Farnese family, the villa belonged to the Bourbons of Naples and in 1861 to the Spanish Ambassador in Rome, Bermudez de Castro, Duke of Ripalta. Today, it is owned by the Italian State and accommodates the Accademia dei Lincei, a long-standing academy of sciences. The main rooms of the villa, including the Loggia, are open to visitors from 9am to 2pm on Monday to Saturday, and on every second Sunday of the month from 9am to 5pm. For more details, visit

The Palazzo Chigi in Rome was built originally for the  Aldobrandini family before passing to the Chigi family in 1659
The Palazzo Chigi in Rome was built originally for the
Aldobrandini family before passing to the Chigi family in 1659
Travel tip:

The 16th-century Palazzo Chigi, which overlooks the Piazza Colonna and the Via del Corso in Rome, was begun in 1562 by Giacomo della Porta and completed by Carlo Maderno in 1580 for the Aldobrandini family. It was in the ownership of the Chigi family, who had it remodelled by Felice della Greca and Giovan Battista Contini, from 1659 until the 19th century. It became the residence of the Austro-Hungarian Ambassador to Italy in 1878 before being bought by the Italian state in 1916, when it became the home of the Minister for Colonial Affairs. Later it was the official residence of the Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs and in 1961 became the official meeting place of Council of Ministers, whose president is the head of the Italian government - the prime minister - and can now use the palace as his official residence.

More reading:

Raphael: The precocious genius from Urbino

How the courtesan Imperia Cognati became a 16th century celebrity

Pope Alexander VI - the scheming Borgia pope

Also on this day:

1463: The birth of antiquities collector Andrea della Valle

1797: The birth of composer Donizetti

1850: The birth of Agostino Richelmy, the cardinal who fought with Garibaldi