Showing posts with label Florence. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Florence. Show all posts

19 May 2024

Baccio d’Agnolo - architect and woodcarver

Florentine who influenced the look of his home city

Baccio d'Agnolo was a significant influence on Florentine architecture
Baccio d'Agnolo was a significant
influence on Florentine architecture
The woodcarver, sculptor and architect Baccio D'Agnolo, whose work significantly influenced the architectural landscape of his home city in the Renaissance period, was born in Florence on this day in 1462.

His birth name was Bartolomeo Baglioni but he came to be referred to as d’Agnolo in a reference to the name of his father, Angelo, while Baccio was a popular short form for Bartolomeo. His father was also a woodcarver, which explains the direction of his early career.

Between 1491 and 1502, Baccio executed much of the decorative carving in the church of Santa Maria Novella and the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence before turning to architecture. 

He worked alongside Simone del Pollaiolo in restoring the Palazzo Vecchio, and in 1506 was commissioned to complete the drum of the cupola of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, although the project was ultimately abandoned after criticism from Michelangelo.

Among the notable buildings attributed to Baccio d’Agnolo are the Palazzo Borgherini-Rosselli del Turco and the Palazzo Bartolini Salimbeni, while his design for the campanile of the church of Santo Spirito has also been praised.

Baccio had five children, three of whom - Giuliano, Filippo and Domenico - also became architects. 

It was through studying the best work of contemporaries such as Bernardo della Cecca, Giuliano da Maiano and Francione that he acquired such a high level of skill in working with wood.

An example of Baccio d'Agnolo's early work with wood carving
An example of Baccio d'Agnolo's
early work with wood carving
The art historian Giorgio Vasari, who was a contemporary of so many of the great names of the Renaissance and was a talented architect in his own right, described Baccio as unsurpassed in the art of working wood. At the height of his fame, Baccio’s workshop became a meeting place for the most famous artists of the time, such as Michelangelo Buonarrotti, Raphael, del Pollaiolo, Giuliano and Antono da Sangallo the Elder, and Benedetto da Maiano. 

Many of Baccio’s original wood works were lost. The best remaining evidence of his carpentry is the choir of the church of Santa Maria Novella and the 16th-century choir of the church of Sant'Agostino in Perugia, on which his sons are said to have collaborated.

In a second period of his life, Baccio dedicated himself almost exclusively to architecture. He collaborated with Del Pollaiolo and Antonio da Sangallo the Elder on the construction of the Great Hall in the Palazzo della Signoria.

He established himself as an architect in his own right in 1503-04, building the Palazzo Taddei in Via dei Ginori, which was influenced by Del Pollaiolo’s Palazzo Guadagni and became a template for the typical noble Florentine residence of the first half of the 16th century. 

His commission to build an eighth part of the gallery around the huge dome of Santa Maria del Fiore, left unfinished by Filippo Brunelleschi, was continued due to the harsh criticism of Michelangelo, who defined it as a "cricket cage". 

The Palazzo Bartolini Salimbeni palace in the Piazza di Santa Trinita (1517-20) is considered by some to be Baccio's masterpiece, bringing together all the qualities of his art, the windows surmounted by the pediment and interposed by niches and excavations having a genuine originality. 

Executed in the High Renaissance style that Baccio admired during a period in which he worked in Rome, it became a model for civil constructions of the 16th century. 

Baccio d’Agnolo died in Florence in 1543, at the age of 80.

The Palazzo Bartolini Salimbeni is one of Baccio's notable works
The Palazzo Bartolini Salimbeni
is one of Baccio's notable works
Travel tip:

The Palazzo Bartolini Salimbeni is in Piazza di Santa Trinita on Via de' Tornabuoni in central Florence. It was built on the site of a former residence of the Soldanieri and Dati families, which was bought by Bartolomeo Bartolini-Salimbeni, who paid Baccio d'Agnolo two florins per month for his work. The Bartolini-Salimbeni family lived in the palace until the early 19th century, after which, in 1839, it became the Hotel du Nord, where figures such as the American writer Herman Melville stayed. The palace was restored in 1961 and it is now a private property. It once housed the San Romano Battle paintings by Paolo Uccello, which were commissioned by a member of the Bartolini Salimbeni family. The paintings are now distributed between the Uffizi, the National Gallery in London and the Louvre in Paris.

Palazzo Vecchio, which Baccio helped restore
Palazzo Vecchio, which
Baccio helped restore
Travel tip:

Florence’s imposing Palazzo Vecchio, formerly Palazzo della Signoria, a cubical building of four storeys made of solid rusticated stonework, crowned with projecting crenellated battlements and a clock tower rising to 94m (308ft), became home of Duke Cosimo I de' Medici moved his official seat from the Medici palazzo in via Larga in May 1540. When Cosimo later removed to Palazzo Pitti, he officially renamed his former palace the Palazzo Vecchio, the "Old Palace", although the adjacent town square, the Piazza della Signoria, still bears the original name. Cosimo commissioned the painter and architect Giorgio Vasari to build an above-ground walkway, the Vasari corridor, from the Palazzo Vecchio, through the Uffizi, over the Ponte Vecchio to the Palazzo Pitti. Cosimo I also moved the seat of government to the Uffizi, which translated literally, simply means ‘offices’. Today, of course, the Uffizi, is known the world over for its collection of art treasures.

Also on this day:

1860: The birth of politician Vittorio Orlando

1870: The birth of sculptor Pompeo Coppini

1946: The birth of actor Michele Placido

1979: The birth of footballer Andrea Pirlo


13 October 2023

Eugenio Barsanti - engineer

Created the first working internal combustion engine

A model of the Barsanti-Matteucci engine pictured on display at a museum in Milan
A model of the Barsanti-Matteucci engine
pictured on display at a museum in Milan
The engineer Eugenio Barsanti, whose internal combustion engine was the first working example of the technology known to have been produced, was born on this day in 1821 in Pietrasanta, a town in northern Tuscany.

The Belgian-French engineer Étienne Lenoir and the German Nicolaus Otto are credited with the first commercially successful internal combustion engines, but Barsanti’s machine, which he developed with partner Felice Matteucci, was unveiled in 1853 - six years before Lenoir’s and eight years ahead of Otto’s.

Barsanti might have achieved commercial success himself but shortly after reaching an agreement with a company in Belgium to produce his machine on a commercial scale he contracted typhoid fever, from which he never recovered.

A rather sickly child, known by his parents as Nicolò, Barsanti took the name Father Eugenio after entering the novitiate of the Piarists, the oldest Catholic religious order dedicated to education, where was ordained as a priest.

He took a teaching position at Collegio San Michele in Volterra. It was there, while lecturing on the explosive energy created by mixing hydrogen and air that he realised the potential of using combustible gases to lift the pistons in a motor.

He developed the idea further after meeting Matteucci, an engineer, while teaching at an institute in Florence. 

A postage stamp issued to mark the 150th anniversary of the engine's invention
A postage stamp issued to mark the 150th
anniversary of the engine's invention
After exhibiting their first engine at the prestigious Accademia dei Georgofili in Florence to much excitement, Barsanti and Matteucci travelled to London to obtain a patent. 

By 1856, Barsanti and Matteucci had developed a two-cylinder five horsepower motor and two years later built a two-piston engine designed to provide a source of energy to drive machinery in factories and workshops.

The Barsanti-Matteucci engine was quicker and more efficient than the one developed by Lenoir and won a silver medal from the Institute of Science of Lombardy. They believed it could also be used in the propulsion of ships as an alternative to steam.

After the prototype of their engine was built in Milan, the two were all set to go into mass production at a plant near Liège in Belgium owned by the English industrialist John Cockerill when Barsanti fell ill with typhoid fever. He died on April 18, 1864.

After his partner’s death, Matteucci found himself unsuited to the demands of running a commercial business and failed to secure the contracts necessary to make mass production viable. He returned to his previous work in hydraulics. 

Nicolaus Otto, on the other hand, had a background in business, giving him an edge not only in marketing skills but in the contacts he could approach for investment. He was the first to enjoy significant commercial success producing internal combustion engines and tends to be credited with its invention.

Barsanti's ashes are buried at the  Basilica of Santa Croce in Florence
Barsanti's ashes are buried at the 
Basilica of Santa Croce in Florence
Matteucci’s arguments that Otto’s engine was clearly similar to his and Barsanti’s were largely ignored. Nonetheless, many of the documents relating to the original patents he and Barsanti obtained are preserved in the Museo Galileo in Florence, while Barsanti’s achievements are acknowledged in Italy, where a postage stamp was issued to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Barsanti-Matteucci engine.

In 1954, Barsanti's ashes were moved from the Church of San Giovannino degli Scolopi, the small, Piarist church in Florence, to the Basilica of Santa Croce, to rest alongside the remains of such illustrious Italians as Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli, the poet Ugo Foscolo and the composer Gioachino Rossini among many others.

Copies of Barsanti’s engines can be seen at the Osservatorio Ximeniano in Florence and the Leonardo da Vinci National Museum of Science and Technology in Milan.

The wide, sandy beach at Marina di Pietrasanta is 5km long and attracts thousands of visitors
The wide, sandy beach at Marina di Pietrasanta
is 5km long and attracts thousands of visitors
Travel tip:

Pietrasanta, just north of Viareggio in the province of Lucca in Tuscany, still has part of its Roman wall, although as a mediaeval town it was not founded until 1255, expanding around the Rocca di Sala fortress of the Lombards. Its Duomo - the Collegiate Church of San Martino - dates back to the 13th century. Pietrasanta grew in importance in the 15th century due to its marble, the beauty of which was first recognised by the sculptor, Michelangelo, to be followed in later years by such artists as Fernando Botero, Joan Miró, Henry Moore, and Damien Hirst. The town declined during the 17th and 18th centuries, partly due to malaria, but underwent reconstruction in the 19th century. It has a pleasant central square, while the seaside resort of Marina di Pietrasanta is just 3km (1.9 miles) away.  Part of the Versilia coastline, Marina di Pietrasanta boasts some of the area's best beaches, stretching for 5km (3 miles).

The waterfront at Viareggio is notable for its many examples of Liberty-style architecture
The waterfront at Viareggio is notable for its many
examples of Liberty-style architecture
Travel tip:

Viareggio, which can be found just 13km (8 miles) south of Pietrasanta, is a popular resort also known for its excellent sandy beaches and for its carnival, a month-long event dating back to 1873 that runs from February through to March and features parades of giant papier-mache floats designed to represent well-known public figures. The Tuscan resort is also notable for its beautiful Liberty-style architecture, much of it built in its heyday in the late 19th and early 20th century, many examples of which thankfully survived heavy bombing in World War Two when the town was a target because of its shipbuilding industry.  The body of the English poet Shelley, who drowned at sea, was washed up on a beach near the resort in 1822.  He was cremated on the beach under the supervision of his friend, the poet Lord Byron. There is a monument to Shelley in the town’s Piazza Paolina.

Also on this day:

54: The death of Roman emperor Claudius

1687: The birth of architect Giorgio Massari

1815: The execution of Joachim Murat, former king of Naples

1884: The birth of anarchist Mario Buda

1988: The birth of sportsman and entrepreneur Piero Dusio

1985: The death of silent movie actress Francesca Bertini


7 October 2023

Michelozzo - architect and sculptor

Designs became a template for Renaissance palaces

A detail from a Fra Angelico painting is taken to be a depiction of Michelozzo
A detail from a Fra Angelico painting is
taken to be a depiction of Michelozzo 
The influential Florentine architect and sculptor Michelozzo di Bartolomeo Michelozzi died on this day in 1472 in his home city.

Known sometimes as Michelozzi but more usually Michelozzo, he is most famous for the palace in the centre of Florence he built on behalf of one of his principal employers, Cosimo de’ Medici, the head of the Medici banking dynasty, for which he developed original design features that became a template for architects not only of the Renaissance era but in later years too.

He was similarly innovative in his work on the ruined convent of San Marco in Florence, also on behalf of Cosimo, which he completely rebuilt.

Such was the influence of these two buildings on many projects during one of the busiest periods of architectural development in Italy’s history that the Palazzo Medici Riccardi, as it became known to reflect its ownership by the Riccardi family after 1659, came to be called ‘the first Renaissance palace’ and San Marco ‘the first Renaissance church’.

His other notable works in Florence include the renovation of the Basilica of della Santissima Annunziata and some additions to the Basilica di Santa Croce, while outside the city he built or renovated a number of villas for the Medici family, including the Castello di Caffagiolo at Barberino di Mugello, the Villa del Trebbio at Scarperia and the Villa Medici at Fiesole.

Michelozzo also worked outside Italy, in the Greek islands, and notably in what is now Croatia, primarily on the city walls of Dubrovnik and Ston.

In his early career, he was apprenticed to Lorenzo Ghiberti, the goldsmith and sculptor, and worked closely with the classical sculptor, Donatello. 

Michelozzo's Palazzo Medici Riccardi set the standard for Renaissance palaces
Michelozzo's Palazzo Medici Riccardi set the
standard for Renaissance palaces
Michelozzo was born in around 1396. His father, Bartolomeo di Gherardo Borgognone, was a tailor of French origin who lived and worked in the Santa Croce neighbourhood. The family moved to the San Giovanni quarter, the heart of the city, and later established a family home in Via Larga - now Via Camillo Cavour - which Michelozzo kept after his parents died.

His first employment, at the age of about 14, is thought to have been as a die-engraver for the Florentine mint. He became apprenticed to Ghiberti, who is best known as the creator of two of the three sets of sculpted brass doors of the Florence Baptistry, one of which - the east doors - was dubbed the Doors of Paradise by Michelangelo. 

He collaborated with Donatello on several projects, including the sacristy of Santa Trinita and an open-air pulpit at the cathedral in Prato. He was responsible for the architectural frames of a number of funerary monuments sculpted by Donatello.

Cosimo de’ Medici worked with Filippo Brunelleschi, another pioneer of Renaissance architecture and the architect of the enormous brick dome of the Florence Duomo, but is said to have found Michelozzo more receptive to his wishes than the more temperamental Brunelleschi.

Such was Michelozzo’s loyalty to Cosimo than when the latter was exiled to Venice in the 1430s as a result of political rivalries in Florence, Michelozzo went with him.

Soon after Cosimo’s exile ended, Michelozzo began the rebuilding of the ruined monastery of San Marco, where his elegant library became the model for subsequent libraries throughout 15th-century Italy. He directed the reconstruction of the large complex of church buildings at Santissima Annunziata and temporarily succeeded Brunelleschi as architect for the Duomo after the latter died in 1446.

He began work on the Palazzo Medici in 1444. The palace, a short distance from Michelozzo’s own home in Via Larga, is characterised by an elevation consisting of three storeys of decreasing height, divided by horizontal string courses, the lowest storey finished in rustic masonry, the uppermost in highly refined stonework, the middle one somewhere in between. 

The walled old city of Dubrovnik with Michelozzo's cylindrical Fort Bokar guarding over the western harbour area
The walled old city of Dubrovnik with Michelozzo's cylindrical
Fort Bokar guarding over the western harbour area
With influences of classical Roman architecture and some of the principles Michelozzo learned from Brunelleschi, Palazzo Medici came to be seen as one of the finest examples of early Renaissance architecture, and a template to which future architects referred.

In addition to the Medici villas, Michelozzo worked on the restoration of the Palazzo Vecchio - originally the Palazzo della Signoria - and undertook a number of projects abroad, including a guest house in Jerusalem for the use of Florentine pilgrims.

In 1461, at the age of 65, Michelozzo was invited by the government of what was then the Republic of Ragusa - an independent maritime trading republic with ties to Venice - to work on the city walls of Dubrovnik and Ston, now part of Croatia.  His cylindrical Fort Bokar, which defended the western gate of Dubrovnik, was hailed as a masterpiece. 

Michelozzo might have remained there longer, but a dispute over his ideas for rebuilding the Rector's palace - the seat of the republic's government - after an explosion left it badly damaged led him to cut short his stay and return to Florence. 

With his wife, Francesca, who was 20 to his 45 when they were married, Michelozzo had seven children, two of whom, Niccolò and Bernardo, were educated by the Medici and grew up to occupy important positions in Medici households.

After his death, Michelozzo was buried at the monastery of San Marco.

Part of the beautiful frescoes by Gozzoli in the Magi Chapel at Palazzo Medici Riccardi
Part of the beautiful frescoes by Gozzoli in
the Magi Chapel at Palazzo Medici Riccardi
Travel tip:

For all its architectural significance, the Palazzo Medici Riccardi, which can be found on Via Camillo Cavour about halfway between San Marco and Piazza della Repubblica, has a relatively modest appearance from the outside, which is probably as a result of the laws in existence at the time governing public displays of wealth. It was completed in 1484 and remained a Medici property until it was sold to the Riccardi family in 1659, after which it was renovated and the magnificent gallery frescoed with the Apotheosis of the Medici, by Luca Giordano, was added. The palace was sold to the Tuscan state in 1814. Since 1874, the palace has been the seat of the provincial government of Florence and has housed a museum since 1972. As well as the gallery, the palace is also noted for the Magi Chapel, which was frescoed by Benozzo Gozzoli and also contains an altarpiece by Filippo Lippi. Two statues by Donatello - a David in the courtyard and a Judith and Holofernes in the garden - are other notable works.

Piazza San Marco in Florence with the facade of the church of San Marco, part of the convent complex
Piazza San Marco in Florence with the facade of
the church of San Marco, part of the convent complex
Travel tip:

The Museo Nazionale di San Marco, which houses the world’s most extensive collection of works by Fra Angelico, the early Renaissance painter and Dominican friar, is an art museum housed in the monumental section of the mediaeval Dominican convent of San Marco, situated in Piazza San Marco. Situated in the oldest part of the building, which was modernised by Michelozzo between 1436 and 1446, it has been a museum since 1869. It also houses works by Fra Bartolomeo, Domenico Ghirlandaio, Alesso Baldovinetti and Jacopo Vignali. Michelozzo’s library, on the first floor, was the first of the Renaissance to be opened to the public, representing the humanist ideal of the Florentines. 

Also on this day:

304: The execution of Santa Giustina of Padua

1468: The death of condottiero Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta

1675: The birth of Venetian portraitist Rosalba Carriera

1972: The birth of celebrity cook Gabriele Corcos


1 October 2023

Sylvano Bussotti - composer, writer and painter

The productive life of a Renaissance man with many strings to his bow

Sylvano Bussotti was described as a modern Renaissance man
Sylvano Bussotti was described as a
modern Renaissance man
The multi-talented Sylvano Bussotti, a leading composer who was part of Italy’s avant-garde movement, was born on this day in 1931 in Florence.

Bussotti was also a painter, set and costume designer, opera director and writer. His operas and ballets were performed at the most prestigious theatres in Italy and abroad and he served as artistic director of Teatro La Fenice in Venice, the Puccini festival in Tuscany and the music section of the Venice Biennale.

Before he was five years old, Bussotti was learning to play the violin and he soon became a prodigy. He was also introduced to painting early in his life by his older brother and uncle.

At the Luigi Cherubini Conservatory in Florence, he studied harmony and counterpoint and learnt the piano, but he was unable to complete his studies and receive any official qualifications because of the start of World War II.

However, Bussotti continued to study composition on his own and, from 1958, he took private composition lessons with Max Deutsch in Paris.

Bussotti embarked on what has been described as an important editorial relationship with music publishers Casa Ricordi in 1956. His first composition to be performed in public, entitled Breve, was heard at a gallery in Dusseldorf in 1958.

The American mezzo-soprano Cathy  Berberian with Bussotti at a performance in 1960
The American mezzo-soprano Cathy  Berberian
with Bussotti at a performance in 1960
His compositions employed the use of graphic notation, which represented music through the realm of visual symbols instead of traditional music notation.

The composer received many awards and prizes for his music, both in Italy and abroad. In the 1960s he was invited to the United States to visit Buffalo and New York, by the Rockefeller Foundation.

His first opera, La passion selon Sade, was premiered in Palermo in 1965. Along with other composers of the time, Bussotti experimented with the interaction between sound, sign, and vision.

Bussotti also acted and sang himself and he directed films. He was a painter and graphic artist and his art works have been exhibited in many different countries. He wrote novels and poems and he was able to write most of the librettos for his own operas.

Later in life, Bussotti taught composition, analysis, and the history of musical theatre at academies in L’Aquila, Fiesole, and Stuttgart.

He served as the artistic director of La Fenice in Venice, directed the Puccini festival in Torre del Lago in Tuscany, and became director of opera at La Scala in Milan. He was head of the music section of the Venice Biennale from 1987 to 1991.

Bussotti was openly gay and his partner, the ballet dancer and choreographer Rocco Quaglia, collaborated with him on many of his projects.

The composer died at a nursing home in Milan after a long illness just before his 90th birthday. A five-day cultural event in Florence, which had been planned to celebrate Bussotti’s birthday, still went ahead in the city to celebrate his artistic achievements instead.

Bussotti has been sometimes described as a Renaissance man because of his many talents, which enabled him to combine different art forms creatively.

The Luigi Cherubini Conservatory is one of the most important in Italy
The Luigi Cherubini Conservatory is one
of the most important in Italy
Travel tip:

Sylvano Bussotti received his early musical education at the Luigi Cherubini Conservatory in Piazza delle Belle Arti in Florence, one of the most important music conservatories in Italy. The conservatory, which is not far from La Galleria dell’Accademia, is named after the 18th century composer, Luigi Cherubini, who was born in the city. The conservatory occupies part of a former nunnery, which was closed in the 18th century by the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Leopold II, who would go on to become Holy Roman Emperor.

Teatro La Fenice has risen from the  ashes more than once in its history
Teatro La Fenice has risen from the 
ashes more than once in its history
Travel tip:

Teatro La Fenice in Venice, where Bussotti served as artistic director, has had a fascinating history. The theatre, in Campo San Fantin, which is not far from Piazza San Marco, was named La Fenice, the Phoenix, when it was originally built in the 1790s, to reflect the fact it was helping an opera company rise from the ashes after its previous theatre had burnt down. But in 1836, La Fenice itself was destroyed by fire, although it was quickly rebuilt. Then in 1996, when the theatre burnt down again, arson was suspected, leading to a long criminal investigation. La Fenice had to be rebuilt once more at a cost of more than 90 million euros and was not able to reopen for performances until 2003.

Also on this day:

1450: The death of Leonello d'Este, Marquis of Ferrara

1910: The birth of cycling champion Attilio Pavesi

1961: The birth of football coach Walter Mazzarri


24 September 2023

Vincenzo da Filicaja – poet

Patriotic writer was inspired by victory against the Turks

Da Filicaja earned comparisons with the great poet Petrarch
Da Filicaja earned comparisons
with the great poet Petrarch
Vincenzo da Filicaja, a writer and a politician whose poetry has been compared with that of the great Italian poet Petrarch, died on this day in 1707 in Florence.

Da Filicaja’s six celebrated odes inspired by a famous battle victory led to scholars placing him on a level with some of the greatest Italian poets.

He was also a respected politician and was named governor of Volterra and Pisa by Cosimo III, the Grand Duke of Tuscany, who later appointed him to serve in the Tuscan Senate.

Born into an aristocratic family in Florence in 1642, Da Filicaja was educated by Jesuits before going to Pisa University to study law. In Pisa, he was inspired by the historical associations he saw that were linked with the former glory of the republic of Pisa.

The banners and emblems of the Order of St Stephen, which had its seat in Pisa, had great significance for the young student, who knew that the navy of this military order, created by Cosimo I de’ Medici, formed the main defence of his country and its commerce against Turkish, Algerian and Tunisian corsairs.

After returning to Florence, Da Filicaja married Anna Capponi in 1673, the daughter of a senator and marquis, and he went to live in the Tuscan countryside, where his main interest was writing Italian and Latin poetry.

Da Filicaja earned comparisons with the great poet Petrarch
Da Filicaja earned comparisons
with the great poet Petrarch
He became a member of the Accademia della Crusca, a society for scholars of Italian linguistics and philology, which is now the oldest linguistic academy in the world.

Other scholars and writers he met there, such as the poet Francesco Redi, helped him to gain access to Medici court patronage.

Da Filicaja’s imagination was fired by the deliverance of Vienna from the Turks in 1683 and he composed six odes to celebrate the victory.  Redi showed Da Filicaja’s verses to his own royal patron and sent them to the foreign princes whose noble deeds were praised in them. The quality of Da Filicaja’s odes celebrating the victory of John III Sobieski in the Battle of Vienna is what made many scholars consider him to be on a level with some of the greatest Italian poets.

Christina, the ex Queen of Sweden, contacted Da Filicaja from her exile in Rome, offering to pay for the education of his two sons and to keep the generous gesture a secret. And in 1691, Da Filicaja became a member of the Academy of Arcadia, a literary academy founded in Rome.

Cosimo III made the poet the commissioner of official balloting and governor of Volterra, where Da Filicaja tried to improve public morality. He was also made governor of Pisa in 1700 and he became so popular that when he left office the inhabitants of both cities petitioned to have him brought back.

Cosimo III made him a Senator in Florence, where he spent the last years of his life. After he died, at the age of 64, he was buried in the family vault of the Church of San Pietro in Florence and a monument was erected in his memory in the Basilica di Santa Croce in the city by his only surviving son, Scipione Filicaja.

The Palazzo della Carovana, which was built by Vasari for the Knights of St Stephen
The Palazzo della Carovana, which was built
by Vasari for the Knights of St Stephen

Travel tip:

Pisa’s most popular tourist attraction by a long way is the Campo dei Miracoli, site of the famous Leaning Tower, which features a beautiful Romanesque cathedral and an equally impressive baptistry. For many visitors, the Campo dei Miracoli is all they come to see, yet there is much more to Pisa than the Leaning Tower. The University of Pisa remains one of the most prestigious in Italy, while the student population ensures a vibrant cafe and bar scene. There is also much to see in the way of Romanesque buildings, Gothic churches and Renaissance piazzas. Interesting churches include Santa Maria della Spina, which sits next to the Arno river, while Piazza dei Cavalieri is notable for the Palazzo della Carovana, built by Giorgio Vasari in 1564 as the headquarters for the Knights of St Stephen.

The magnificent facade of the Basilica di Santa Croce, a Florence highlight
The magnificent facade of the Basilica di
Santa Croce, a Florence highlight
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, the composer Gioachino Rossini and the nuclear physicist Enrico Fermi.  It houses works by some of the most illustrious names in the history of art, including Canova, Cimabue, Donatello, Giotto and Vasari. The construction of the current church, to replace an older building on what was once marshland outside the city wall, began in 1294, paid for by some of the city's wealthiest families. It is the largest Franciscan church in the world.  The floorplan is an Egyptian or Tau cross - a symbol of St Francis - 115 metres in length with a nave and two aisles separated by lines of octagonal columns, with 16 chapels. It stands proudly over the Piazza Santa Croce, one of the most famous and beautiful squares in the city.

Also on this day:

1501: The birth of doctor and mathematician Girolamo Cardano

1934: The birth of Princess Maria-Pia of Bourbon-Parma

1954: The birth of footballer Marco Tardelli

1955: The birth of businessman Ricardo Illy


14 June 2023

Antonio Sacchini - composer

Masterpiece widely acknowledged only after tragic death

Antonio Sacchini, the son of a cook from Florence, who learned music in Naples
Antonio Sacchini, the son of a cook from
Florence, who learned music in Naples
The composer Antonio Sacchini, whose operas brought him fame in England and France in the second half of the 18th century and found favour with the Queen of France, Marie Antoinette, among others, was born on this day in 1730 in Florence.

His 1785 work Oedipe à Colone, which fell into the opera seria genre as opposed to the more light-hearted opera buffa, in which he also specialised, has best stood the test of time among his works, although it did not achieve popularity until after his death after initially falling victim to the political climate in the French court.

Sacchini came from humble stock. His father, Gaetano, was thought to be a cook, and it was through his work that the family moved to Naples when he was four, Gaetano having been employed by the future Bourbon King of Naples, Don Carlos, then the Duke of Parma and Piacenza.

This provided the opportunity for Sacchini to receive tuition at the Conservatorio di Santa Maria di Loreto, under the supervision of the composer Francesco Durante, where he learned the basics of composition, harmony and counterpoint, also developing impressive skills as a violinist and studying singing.

After Durante’s death in 1755, Sacchini began writing operas, which were performed by the students at the conservatory to great acclaim, leading to commissions from small theatres in Naples and ultimately the prestigious Teatro di San Carlo, where his first opera seria, Andromaca, was premiered in 1761.

The title page of the libretto for Sacchini's L'olimpiade in 1763
The title page of the libretto for
Sacchini's L'olimpiade in 1763
The following year, by now himself teaching at the conservatory, he was given permission to present his work in Venice and the success of subsequent productions in Padua, Florence and Rome persuaded him to leave his teaching post and set up as an independent composer, initially basing himself in Rome.

More success followed. His comic operas for the Teatro Valle expanded his reputation, although in 1768, rather than continue his self-employment, he accepted a permanent post as director of the Conservatorio dell’Ospedaletto in Venice, a famous institution. There, he continued to compose operas and wrote sacred music both for the conservatory and various Venetian churches, while also acquiring a high reputation as a singing teacher. Among his pupils was Nancy Storace, the soprano for whom Mozart would later create the role of Susanna in Le nozze di Figaro.

With the encouragement of Charles Burney, the English music historian, composer and critic, Sacchini moved to London in 1772, taking with him Giuseppe Millico, one of the finest castrati then active on the European stage . In London, where he was based for the next nine years, he enjoyed some of his greatest triumphs and found great favour with British audiences. Burney felt he was the foremost composer of the decade. 

However, though he was well paid, his lifestyle meant that he kept little of what he earned. As his debts escalated, he made enemies and his departure for Paris in 1781 was both to escape debtors’ prison and evade the attention among others of Venanzio Rauzzini, a leading male singer on the London circuit, who claimed that Sacchini had appropriated a number of arias of his composition and claimed them as his own. 

As it happened, Sacchini’s arrival in Paris coincided with the visit of Austrian emperor Joseph II, who was familiar with Sacchini’s works and recommended Sacchini to his sister, Queen Marie Antoinette, for patronage. 

French Queen Marie Antoinette  was an admirer of Sacchini's work
French Queen Marie Antoinette 
was an admirer of Sacchini's work
Less fortuitously, he arrived at a time when the music scene in the French capital had become decidedly political.

Marie Antoinette was known for her liking for foreign composers and handed Sacchini a lucrative contract with the Académie Royale de Musique, otherwise known as the Paris Opéra, to produce three new works. 

This was not well received by the head of the Académie Royale, Denis-Pierre-Jean Papillon de la Ferté, who was opposed to the queen's predilection for foreign music and plotted to delay the premiere of Sacchini’s first French opera, Renaud.

Sacchini also found himself caught up in the rivalry between supporters of the German opera composer Christoph Willibald Gluck and those of his Italian counterpart Niccolò Piccinni, one group seeking to undermine Sacchini's work, the other supporting it, but both inclined to change their view if they thought it might disadvantage the other side.

Marie Antoinette continued to support Sacchini until, under heavy pressure, she broke a promise to make his new French opera Oedipe à Colone (Oedipus at Colonus) the first opera to be performed at the new court theatre in Fontainebleau in 1786, explaining that she had effectively been forced to give that honour instead to a French composer.

Sacchini returned to his home in Paris, distraught. Already sick with gout, he took to his bed, refused to eat, and within three days he was dead, at the age of 56.

Oedipe à Colone is generally acknowledged as Sacchini’s masterpiece, remained in the repertoire of the Paris Opéra through the mid-19th century, enjoyed various revivals in the 20th century and as recently as 2005 was staged by the American company Opera Lafayette. 

A 17th century painting of the bustling Piazza del Mercato
in Naples illustrates how the area of the conservatory looked
Travel tip:

The Conservatorio di Santa Maria di Loreto, where Sacchini was a student and later a teacher, was the oldest of the four Naples conservatories that were eventually absorbed into the Conservatory of San Pietro a Majella. It was the fulcrum of the Neapolitan musical school between the 17th and 18th centuries. Built in 1537 during the Spanish expansion of Naples under the viceroy, don Pedro de Toledo, it stood between the present Piazza del Mercato and the Castello di Carmine, close to the main port area of the city. Like the other conservatories, it began life as an orphanage, where orphaned children were not only given food and accommodation but also an education. Music, initially, was one of a number of subjects taught but eventually took prominence as the conservatories became the founders of the Neapolitan school of music between the end of the 17th century and the beginning of the 18th. As a borgo - district - Santa Maria di Loreto ultimately ceased to exist after it was completely destroyed by bombing during the Second World War. The monastery that formed part of the original site was turned into a hospital but was flattened during an air raid in December, 1942.

Travel tip:

Teatro di San Carlo in Naples, which first staged an opera by Sacchini in 1761, can be found in Via San Carlo close to Piazza del Plebiscito, the main square in Naples. The theatre was designed by Giovanni Antonio Medrano for the Bourbon King of Naples, Charles I, and opened in 1737, some 41 years before Teatro alla Scala in Milan and 55 years before La Fenice in Venice. San Carlo is now believed to be one of the oldest, if not the oldest, functioning opera houses in the world. Both Gaetano Donizetti and Gioachino Rossini served as artistic directors at San Carlo and the world premieres of Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor and Rossini’s Mosè were performed there.

Also on this day:

1497: The unsolved murder of Giovanni Borgia, brother of Cesare and Lucrezia

1800: The Battle of Marengo

1837: The death of poet and philosopher Giacomo Leopardi

1968: The death of Salvatore Quasimodo, Nobel Prize-winning poet


1 March 2023

Giovanni Dupré - sculptor

Work helped end the dominance of Neoclassicism

Giovanni Dupré, painted by the  Swiss-Italian artist Antonio Ciseri
Giovanni Dupré, painted by the 
Swiss-Italian artist Antonio Ciseri
Giovanni Dupré, who came to be seen as one of the most important figures in 19th century Italian sculpture, was born on this day in 1817 in Siena.

Like his contemporary, Lorenzo Bartolini, Dupré went back to the Renaissance for inspiration and his success helped Italian sculpture move on from the dominance of Antonio Canova, whose brilliant work in the Neoclassicist style had spawned a generation of imitators.

Dupré did much of his work in Florence and Siena, his greatest piece generally judged to be the Pietà he carved between 1860 and 1865 for the family tomb of the Marchese Bichi-Ruspoli in the cemetery of the Misericordia in Siena.

Although his family were of French descent, they were long established in Tuscany when Giovanni was born. The street in the Contrada Capitana dell'Onda where the family lived, a few steps away from Piazza del Campo, subsequently saw its name changed to Via Giovanni Dupré.

As a young man working in the workshops of his father and of another sculptor, Paolo Sani, he became familiar with the work of Renaissance sculptors, carving copies of the great works, for which there was some demand among wealthy Sienese and was the basis of a thriving family business.

He began to make a name for himself after moving to Florence and winning a competition run by the Accademia di Belle Arti with a Judgment of Paris. 

Dupré's Pietà for the family tomb of the Marchese   Bichi-Ruspoli is seen as his finest work
Dupré's Pietà for the family tomb of the Marchese
  Bichi-Ruspoli is seen as his finest work

In 1842, when he was just 25, he carved a lifesize Dying Abel, which was startling for its natural realism. It was bought by a Russian duchess and resides now in the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg. A bronze version can be seen in the Palazzo Pitti in Florence.

Bartolini made a point of encouraging Dupré  to be aware of his talent and to continue. He followed his Abel with a Cain, the marble version of which is also in the Hermitage Museum with a bronze in the Pitti. 

Also in Florence, commissions followed for statues of Giotto and St Antoninus for the Loggiato degli Uffizi and a Triumph of the Cross lunette above the main entrance of the Basilica di Santa Croce.

Despite a period of ill health, Dupré worked prolifically. His sculptures included a representation of the Greek poet Sappho which was reminiscent of Michelangelo, which is now in the Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna in Rome, the bronze base for a grand table in the Sala del Castagnoli at the Palazzo Pitti, a funeral monument for contessa Berta Moltke Ferrari-Corbelli in the Basilica of San Lorenzo in Florence and a Madonna Addolorata for Santa Croce.

The startlingly realistic Dying Abel brought the young Dupré his first major success
The startlingly realistic Dying Abel brought the
young Dupré his first major success
The Pietà for the Bichi-Ruspoli family tomb, for which he was so acclaimed, won him the Grande medaille d'honneur at the International Exhibition in Paris.

Other notable works included busts of prominent figures such as Letizia Cristina Bonaparte, niece of Napoleon, a San Zanobi for the façade of the Duomo di Siena, the huge allegories of the Cavour monument in Turin and a bronze bust of Savonarola at the monastery of San Marco, Florence.

After his death in 1882 at the age of 64, Dupré’s last work, a depiction of St. Francis inside the Cattedrale di San Rufino in Assisi, was finished by his daughter, Amalia, who was also his pupil.

Despite a steady workload, Dupré managed to write a book, Pensieri sull'arte e ricordi autobiografici - Thoughts on Art and Autobiographical Memories - which was translated into English in 1882 and republished in 1935.

The beautiful Piazza del Campo in Siena is regarded as one of the finest mediaeval squares in Europe
The beautiful Piazza del Campo in Siena is regarded
as one of the finest mediaeval squares in Europe
Travel tip:

Dupré’s family home growing up was just a short distance from Siena’s Piazza del Campo, the shell-shaped square that originated in the 13th century as an open marketplace on a sloping site between the three communities that eventually merged to form Siena. It is regarded as one of Europe's finest mediaeval squares, looked over by the Palazzo Pubblico - also known as the Palazzo Comunale - and the Torre del Mangia.  Via Giovanni Dupré opens on to the piazza alongside the Palazzo Pubblico. The building where his family lived is indicated by a plaque, placed above the main entrance of the building. Piazza del Campo is well known also as the venue for the twice-yearly Palio di Siene horse race.

The inner courtyard and the Loggiato, which links the two palaces of the Uffizi Gallery complex
The inner courtyard and the Loggiato, which links
the two palaces of the Uffizi Gallery complex
Travel tip:

What is now the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, one of the world’s most famous art galleries, was originally built to accommodate the offices of the Florentine magistrates, hence the name uffizi (offices). It was Cosimo I de' Medici, the Grand Duke of Tuscany who commissioned the building, who gave it its parallel identity as an art gallery, displaying prime artworks of the Medici collections. Over the years, more sections of the palace were chosen to exhibit paintings and sculpture collected or commissioned by the Medici.  It was officially opened to the public as an art gallery in 1765. The Uffizi complex, which consists of two palaces alongside the Arno river linked by the Loggiato and a semi-enclosed courtyard, was designed by Giorgio Vasari.

Also on this day:

1773: The death of architect Luigi Vanvitelli

1869: The birth of sculptor Pietro Canonica

1926: The birth of actor Cesare Danova

1930: The birth of cycling champion Gastone Nencini

(Picture credits: Pieta by Sailko via Wikimedia Commons; Piazza del Campo by Gerhard Bögner from Pixabay)


23 October 2021

Carlo Caracciolo - newspaper publisher

Left-leaning aristocrat who co-founded L’Espresso and La Repubblica 

Carlo Caracciolo set up La Repubblica in 1976
Carlo Caracciolo set up
La Repubblica in 1976
The newspaper publisher Carlo Caracciolo, who was the driving force behind the news magazine L’Espresso and the centre-left daily La Repubblica, was born on this day in 1925 in Florence.

Caracciolo aligned himself politically with the Left and spent the last two years of World War Two fighting against the Fascists as a member of a partisan unit he joined at the age of 18.

Yet he was born into Italian aristocracy, inheriting the titles Prince of Castagneto and Duke of Melito with the death of his father in 1965. After his younger sister, Marella, married the Fiat chairman, Gianni Agnelli, in 1953, he became one of the best connected individuals in Italian society. His funeral in 2008 was attended by members of five of Italy’s most powerful dynasties: Agnelli, Caracciolo, Borghese, Visconti and Pasolini.

Tall and handsome, effortlessly elegant in his dress sense and instinctively well-mannered, he could not disguise his refined roots but never flaunted them. He was at his most comfortable in the company of left-wing intellectuals and insisted he be known only as Carlo.

At the same time, however, he was a formidable businessman, pursuing his ideals of an independent free press but at the same time rebuilding his family’s fortune, which had suffered after the stock market crash of 1929 when his American mother, heir to a distilling company in Illinois, lost much of her inheritance. He was said to be the only man Gianni Agnelli, whose wealth and influence made him the most powerful person in Italy, genuinely regarded as an equal.

Caracciolo was fortunate to survive his experience of fighting with the partisans, which saw him arrested and sentenced to death. In an early indication of his talent for negotiating, however, he secured his escape from prison by striking a deal with his jailer, promising that when the Axis alliance fell to the Allies he would use his influence to return the favour.

Caracciolo (right) pictured with Eugenio Scalfari,  who helped him make L'Espresso his first success
Caracciolo (right) pictured with Eugenio Scalfari, 
who helped him make L'Espresso his first success
After the conflict ended, Caracciolo was sent to study law first in Rome and then at Harvard. It was there he met and became friends with Giorgio Agnelli, Gianni’s brother. Caraciollo remained in America for a while, working for a leading New York law firm.

He moved to Milan in 1951, where he worked at a trade publication for the packaging industry.  His business contacts soon included Adriano Olivetti, who inherited the Olivetti typewriter company from his father, Camillo, but had a progressive view of entrepreneurialism, believing that profits generated should be reinvested for the benefit of wider society.

Caracciolo likewise was a man of progressive ideas and wanted to challenge Italy’s tradition of clientelism, where so much depended on patronage, connections and favours, and which made it difficult for there to be a truly free press. He saw in Olivetti the perfect partner for his ambition to set up a genuinely independent news magazine. Together, they created the Nuove Edizioni Romane publishing company, enlisted two of Italy’s most respected journalists, Arrigo Benedetti and Eugenio Scalfari, and launched L’Espresso.

From the start, L'Espresso championed aggressive investigative journalism, seeking out the corruption and clientelism on which Caracciolo felt the Christian Democrats relied to maintain their grip on Italian politics. This had repercussions for Olivetti, who lost some major contracts as a result. Olivetti ultimately had to withdraw and handed Caracciolo his majority shareholding for a token amount.

Scalfari and Caracciolo (centre) at the launch of La Repubblica in Rome in 1976
Scalfari and Caracciolo (centre) at the launch
of La Repubblica in Rome in 1976
At that point, the magazine was losing money but, with the help of Scalfari in particular, Caracciolo transformed L’Espresso, redesigning it along the lines of Time magazine and altering Italian attitudes to the purpose and potential of a free press.

The magazine’s success gave them the platform to pursue their dream of publishing an independent daily. Seeking an investor, Caracciolo homed in on Giorgio Mondadori, who was looking for a new venture after a somewhat acrimonious split with the publishing house set up by his father, Arnoldo Mondadori, and saw their project as the right fit.

Thus, La Repubblica was launched on 14 January, 1976. Based in Rome, it was to be the first Italian daily to position itself on the centre-left, playing an important role in shifting Marxist activism in Italy towards contemporary social democracy.  Caracciolo was astute enough to see the value of arts coverage in building a strong circulation, particularly among younger readers.  He also correctly judged that adopting the Berliner format, the compact size that is slightly bigger than a tabloid but shorter and narrower than a broadsheet, would appeal to readers buying a newspaper to read on the go.

As a newspaper that was neither the voice piece of a political party nor owned by an industrial tycoon, La Repubblica was able to forge an independent path that also enabled it to recruit some of the best journalists in the country, giving them a chance to report the news without fear or favour.

Caracciolo's sister, Marella, who married Gianni Agnelli
Caracciolo's sister, Marella,
who married Gianni Agnelli
Caracciolo took his publishing activities to the Italian stock exchange in 1984 and four years later, with a circulation of 730,000 that made La Repubblica the most read newspaper in Italy, he sold his holdings in Editoriale L'Espresso to Mondadori. 

Much to his dismay, parts of the company subsequently ended up in the hands of Silvio Berlusconi, the entrepreneur whose politics were diametrically opposed to his own, but it was another Berlusconi opponent, Carlo De Benedetti, who took control of L’Espresso and La Repubblica.

With the money he made from the venture - his fortune was estimated at around $200 million (€172m; £145m) - Caracciolo acquired two country estates, one in Tuscany and the other - Torrecchia Vecchia - south of Rome, where he had a 17th-century barn converted into a villa by the architect Gae Aulenti and employed the English gardener and TV presenter Dan Pearson to design gardens that became his favourite part of the estate. He also owned an elegant apartment in the Trastevere district of central Rome. 

Caracciolo died in 2008, having survived his wife of 12 years, Violante Visconti di Modrone, a niece of the stage and film director Luchino Visconti, by eight years. He is survived by three children, Carlo, Margherita and Jacaranda.

The house on the Torrecchia Vecchia estate where Caracciolo spent much of his time when not in Rome
The house on the Torrecchia Vecchia estate where
Caracciolo spent much of his time when not in Rome
Travel tip:

Torrecchia Vecchia, one of two estates owned by Caracciolo, covers over 1500 acres just outside the town of Cisterna di Latina, some 55km (34 miles) south of Rome. Recognised as a Natural Monument in 2007, it may be visited by permission. Containing over 625 acres of woodland, the estate originally contained a medieval hilltop village and ruined castle, which was abandoned some 800 years ago.  Cisterna di Latina is acknowledged to have grown on the site of the village of Tres Tabernae, which was mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles as one of the towns where Saint Paul stopped on his way to Rome.

The Basilica of Santa Maria is one of Rome's oldest churches
The Basilica of Santa Maria is
one of Rome's oldest churches
Travel tip:

Although formerly a working class neighbourhood alongside the Tiber, the Trastevere district, where Caracciolo kept an apartment for when he was working in Rome, is regarded as one of the city's most charming areas for tourists to visit. Full of winding, cobbled streets and well preserved medieval houses, it is fashionable with Rome's young professional class as a place to live, with an abundance of restaurants and bars and a lively student music scene. It is also home to one of the oldest churches in Rome in the Basilica of Santa Maria, with a wall structure and floor plan dating back to the fourth century, although most of it was built in the first half of the 12th century. Inside, the walls and ceiling are covered with breathtakingly beautiful 13th century mosaics, by Pietro Cavallini.

Also on this day:

1457: The forced abdication of Francesco Foscari after 34 years as Doge of Venice

1966: The birth of racing driver and Paralympian Alex Zanardi

The Feast of Saint John of Capistrano