Showing posts with label Giovanni Battista Vaccarini. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Giovanni Battista Vaccarini. Show all posts

29 February 2020

Pietro Ottoboni - patron of music and art

Venetian cardinal spent fortune on composers and painters


Francesco Trevisiani's portrait of Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni, painted in around 1689
Francesco Trevisiani's portrait of Cardinal
Pietro Ottoboni, painted in around 1689
Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni, who is remembered as the biggest sponsor of the arts and music in particular in Rome in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, died on this day in 1740 in Rome.

Despite a somewhat licentious lifestyle that reportedly saw him father between 60 and 70 children, Ottoboni, whose great uncle was Pope Alexander VIII, was considered a candidate to succeed Pope Clement XII as pontiff following the death of the latter on 6 February.

However, he developed a fever during the conclave and had to withdraw. He died three weeks later.

Born into a noble Venetian family, Ottoboni was the last person to hold the office of Cardinal-nephew, a tradition dating back to the Middle Ages that allowed a pontiff to appoint members of his own family to key positions. The practice was abolished by Alexander VIII’s successor, Pope Innocent XII, in 1692.

Ottoboni was also made vice-chancellor of the Holy Church of Rome, a position he held until his death, which gave him an annual income that would have been the equivalent today of almost £5 million (€5.79m).  Although he had several positions of responsibility, including superintendent general of the affairs of the Apostolic See, and governor of the cities of Fermo and Tivoli, he was an unashamed seeker of sensual pleasure.

This translated into a considerable number of mistresses but also a great love of music, in the pursuit of which he spent lavishly and, despite his wealth, managed to run up substantial debts.

Arcangelo Corelli's career flourished with Pietro Ottoboni's financial support
Arcangelo Corelli's career flourished with
Pietro Ottoboni's financial support
Soon after he was made a Cardinal, he set about restoring the theatre at the Palazzo della Cancelleria, his residence in Rome.  The theatre had been unused for 15 years but Ottoboni was determined to make it the centre of music in Rome.  Filippo Juvara, his court architect, enlarged the theatre and turned it into one of the most technically advanced opera venues in the city, while Ottoboni hired the finest singers and musicians available. One of his favourites, the castrato Andrea Adami, was made master of the papal choir at the Sistine Chapel.

Operas by Alessandro Scarlatti, Antonio Caldara and many other leading composers were premiered at the Cancelleria.  Ottoboni supported Arcangelo Corelli, the greatest violinist of his generation, and worked with the German musician and composer George Frideric Handel for a period early in the 18th century.

His relationship with Corelli was such that when the musician died in 1713 he left his entire estate to the Cardinal, who in turn distributed it among Corelli’s family and arranged for him to buried at the Pantheon in Rome, his tomb marked with an elaborate memorial. 

Other composers who had Ottoboni to thank for the advancement of their careers included his fellow Venetians Antonio Vivaldi and Tomaso Albinoni.

Ottoboni’s patronage extended beyond his own theatre. He was also the major benefactor of what is now the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, Italy’s premier conservatory, and the Accademia Filarmonica di Bologna. 

The cover of the libretto for Scarlatti's  'The Martyrdom of St Cecilia'
The cover of the libretto for Scarlatti's
 'The Martyrdom of St Cecilia'
He made his own contribution to the advancement of the opera genre as a librettist.  His position in the Church meant he could not publish them under his own name, especially after Clement XI banned all public opera performances in 1701. It is widely thought, for instance, that the libretto for Scarlatti's 1693 opera La Giuditta was written by Ottoboni.

Beyond the world of music, the Sicilian architect Giovanni Battista Vaccarini, who became one of the most prominent figures in the Sicilian Baroque movement that grew after the earthquake of 1693, and painters Sebastiano Conca, Sebastiano Ricci and Francesco Trevisan also benefited from his support. The Seven Sacraments, which he commissioned in 1712 and was executed by Giuseppe Maria Crespi, is now in the Museum of Dresden in Germany.

Ottoboni was a collector of art as well as a sponsor, yet much of his vast collection was lost to Italy when he died, as a result of his debts, which demanded that his possessions be sold and the proceeds shared among his creditors.

Among his 530 paintings, some of which he inherited from his great uncle but many that he bought himself over half a century, included works by Guido Reni, Tintoretto, Pietro da Cortona, Jacopo Bassani, Giuseppe Cesari and Paolo Veronese.  They were disposed of in four sales and have consequently been distributed around the world.

The Palazzo della Cancelleria in Rome was Cardinal Ottoboni's home as vice-chancellor of the Holy Roman Church
The Palazzo della Cancelleria in Rome was Cardinal Ottoboni's
home as vice-chancellor of the Holy Roman Church
Travel tip:

The Palazzo della Cancelleria, which was Cardinal Ottoboni’s residence in Rome, is situated between Corso Vittorio Emanuele II and the Campo de' Fiori. It is probably the earliest Renaissance palace to be built in Rome, designed by the architect Donato Bramante and constructed between 1489 and 1513, initially as a residence for Cardinal Raffaele Riario, who was treasurer of the Holy Roman Church under Pope Sixtus V, and subsequently evolved as the seat of the Chancellery of the Papal States. It was also used as the parliament building by the short-lived Roman Republic in the mid-19th century.

Rome's ancient Pantheon is the burial place of many famous individuals, including Arcangelo Corelli
Rome's ancient Pantheon is the burial place of many
famous individuals, including Arcangelo Corelli
Travel tip:

Considered to be Rome’s best preserved ancient building, the Pantheon, which can be found in Piazza della Rotonda, was built in AD 118 on the site of a previous building dating back to 27 BC. It was consecrated as a church in the seventh century and many important people are buried there, including the kings Victor Emmanuel II and Umberto I, and Umberto’s wife, Queen Margherita, and the writers Voltaire, Rousseau, Victor Hugo and Émile Zola.

More reading:

How Arcangelo Corelli influenced the development of music

Why Alessandro Scarlatti was ahead of his time

Vaccarini's legacy to the city of Catania

Also on this day:

1792: The birth of composer Gioachino Rossini


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11 January 2019

The 1693 Sicily earthquake

Devastation that led to architectural rebirth


An engraving dated at 1696 is thought to depict ruined buildings in Catania after the 1693 earthquake
An engraving dated at 1696 is thought to depict ruined
buildings in Catania after the 1693 earthquake
A huge earthquake destroyed or severely damaged scores of towns and cities in Sicily on this day in 1693, killing more than 60,000 people.

Records say the tremor struck at around 9pm local time and lasted about four minutes.  It was mainly confined to the southeast corner of the island, with damage also reported in Calabria on the Italian mainland and even on Malta, 190km (118 miles) away.

Although it is an estimate rather than a verifiable figure, the earthquake has been given a recorded magnitude of 7.4, which makes it the most powerful in Italian history, although in terms of casualties it was eclipsed by the earthquake that destroyed much of Messina and Reggio Calabria in 1908, with perhaps up to 200,000 killed.

By another measure, the Mercalli intensity scale, it was awarded a score of XI, the maximum.  The Mercalli scale, devised in 1902, judges a quake’s severity by the intensity of shaking. The XI rating given to the 1693 event may well reflect accounts such as that offered by Vincentius Bonajutus, published in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, who wrote that "It was in this country impossible to keep upon our legs, or in one place on the dancing Earth; nay, those that lay along on the ground, were tossed from side to side, as if on a rolling billow."

The Palazzo Ducezia, designed by Vincenzo Sinatra, is one of the Sicilian Baroque palaces in the rebuilt city of Noto
The Palazzo Ducezia, designed by Vincenzo Sinatra, is one
of the Sicilian Baroque palaces in the rebuilt city of Noto
At least 70 towns and cities - including Catania, Syracuse (Siracusa), Noto and Acireale - were either very badly damaged or destroyed, with an area of 5,600 sq km (2,200 sq mi) affected.

Locally recorded counts of the dead indicate that there were probably more than 60,000 people killed. Around 12,000 of those - two thirds of the city’s population - were in Catania alone.

More damage and deaths occurred before the main earthquake in a powerful foreshock on January 9, itself with an estimated magnitude of 6.2, and as a result of tsunamis that devastated the coastal villages on the Ionian Sea and in the Straits of Messina.

The exact position of the epicentre remains unknown, although it was probably close to the coast, or slightly offshore, between Catania and Syracuse.  The tsunamis that followed affected some but not all coastal settlements. One place that did suffer was the port of Augusta, north of Syracuse, where the harbour was left drained when the sea receded, only to be swamped by waves of up to eight metres (26ft) high as the waters surged back.

Stefano Ittar's facade of the Basilica  della Collegiata in Catania
Stefano Ittar's facade of the Basilica
della Collegiata in Catania
It may seem perverse to talk of good coming from such a catastrophic natural disaster that claimed so many lives, but it is an inescapable fact that had it not been for the 1693 earthquake, much of the wonderful architecture that makes the cities of southeast Sicily so attractive today might not exist.

That it does is thanks to the extravagantly wealthy aristocracy that controlled the purse strings on the island, which was then part of the Spanish empire.

After concentrating initially on restoring military defences around the strategically important Syracuse, Augusta, Catania and Acireale, the island’s government began drawing up of plans for the reconstruction of towns and cities.

Some, such as Catania, would be rebuilt to new plans on their existing sites, others such as Syracuse and Ragusa rebuilt following existing layouts, and others moved to new sites and built from scratch, as was the case with Noto and Avola.

In all cases, dozens of local architects were given palaces and churches to build.  Many had trained under the great Baroque architects in Rome and this was their opportunity, with money apparently no object, to recreate the sophisticated Baroque architecture that had become popular in mainland Italy, but had not really reached Sicily.

On such architect was Vincenzo Sinatra, a pupil of Rosario Gagliardi, who had been influenced by Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s work in Rome.  Sinatra was responsible for many of the new buildings in the new city of Noto, including the churches of Monte Vergine and San Giovanni Battista, the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore and its Loggiato, and the splendid Palazzo Ducezio (now the town hall).

Their work inspired more local architects to follow suit and between 1730 and 1780 the style that became known as Sicilian Baroque, characterised by typically Baroque curves and flourishes, but often with the addition of grinning masks or chubby cherubs, was at its peak, reflecting the flamboyance of the era.

Although the fashion for neoclassicism changed the thinking of architects on the island towards the end of the 18th century, it is Sicilian Baroque that gives Sicily much of its architectural character even today.

Other notable Sicilian Baroque architects include Andrea Giganti, Guarino Guarini, Stefano Ittar, Andrea Palma and Giovanni Battista Vaccarini.

The facade of the cathedral at Syracuse, which was  rebuilt by Andrea Palma in Baroque style
The facade of the cathedral at Syracuse, which was
rebuilt by Andrea Palma in Baroque style
Travel tip:

As well as its Sicilian Baroque buildings, concentrated on the island of Ortygia, the historic centre linked to the modern city of Syracuse by the Ponte Umbertino, Syracuse is known for its ancient ruins. The Parco Archeologico Neapolis, situated within the city, comprises the Roman Amphitheater, the Teatro Greco and the Orecchio di Dionisio, a limestone cave shaped like a human ear. The Museo Archeologico Regionale Paolo Orsi, meanwhile, exhibits terracotta artifacts, Roman portraits and Old Testament scenes carved into white marble.  Syracuse as a city is listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.


The city of Ragusa occupies a spectacular setting on a rugged hillside in southeastern Sicily
The city of Ragusa occupies a spectacular setting
on a rugged hillside in southeastern Sicily
Travel tip:

Ragusa, the principal city of the province of the same name, which also suffered much damage in the earthquake, is one of Sicily’s most picturesque cities. Set in same rugged landscape with a mix of medieval and Baroque architecture. The older part of the city, the spectacular Ragusa Ibla, is the town that was built on the site of the settlement destroyed in the quake, and is home to the grand Duomo di San Giorgio and the Giardino Ibleo, a public park with churches and fountains that offers stunning views.  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:

How Giovanni Battista Vaccarini left his mark on Catania

The genius of Gian Lorenzo Bernini

Why the Messina earthquake of 1908 is the worst in Italian history

Also on this day:

1944: Mussolini has his son-in-law, Galeazzo Ciano, shot dead by a firing squad

1975: The birth of Matteo Renzi, Italy's youngest PM

1980: The birth of the Giannini sextuplets


Home




3 February 2018

Giovanni Battista Vaccarini - architect

Sicilian Baroque designs shaped the look of Catania


Vaccarini's Fontana dell'Elefante has  become the symbol of Catania
Vaccarini's Fontana dell'Elefante has
become the symbol of Catania
Giovanni Battista Vaccarini, the architect who designed many of the important buildings in Sicily’s second city of Catania, was born on this day in 1702 in Palermo.

He was responsible for several palaces, including the Palazzo del Municipio, the Palazzo San Giuliano and the Palazzo dell’Università.  He completed the rebuilding of a number of churches, including the Chiesa della Badia di Sant’Agata, and designed the Baroque façade of the city’s Duomo – the Cattedrale di Sant’Agata – which had been a ruin.

Perhaps his most famous work, though, is the Fontana dell’Elefante, which he placed at the centre of the reconstructed Piazza Duomo, consisting of a marble pedestal and fountains, supporting an ancient Roman statue of an elephant made from lava stone, which in turn has an obelisk mounted on its back, supposedly inspired by Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s Obelisk of Minerva in Rome, which is also borne by an elephant.

The monument's nickname in the Sicilian language is "Liotru," a reference to Elidoros, an eighth century wizard who sought, through magic, to make the elephant walk. The statue came to be adopted as the symbol of the city.

Vaccarini had shown artistic talents at an early age and as a young man went to Rome to study architecture, with the support of Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni, whose uncle had been Pope Alexander VIII. Ottoboni was a patron of the arts who had helped the career of the musician and composer Arcangelo Corelli.

A portrait of Vaccarini by Gaspare Serenario, painted in 1761
A portrait of Vaccarini by Gaspare
Serenario, painted in 1761
The young Sicilian was particularly keen on the work of Bernini and Francesco Borromini, two leading figures in the emergence of Roman Baroque architecture. He was influenced too by the flamboyant styles of Alessandro Specchi, who built the papal stables, Filippo Raguzzini and Francesco de Sanctis, who designed the Scalinata di Trinità dei Monti – the Spanish Steps.

When he returned to Sicily he was appointed, in around 1730, as city architect by the Senate of Catania, with the city still facing a massive reconstruction programme following the devastating earthquake of 1693, which is thought to have killed up to 60,000 people and virtually destroyed 70 cities, towns and villages.

Vaccarini thus spent much of his working life directing the restoration of the city, which has subsequently grown to be the second largest on the island, with a population of more than 315,000.

The only significant period he spent away from Catania was in 1756 when he travelled to Naples to help Luigi Vanvitelli and Ferdinando Fuga with the construction of the marble Reggia di Caserta, the Royal Palace at Caserta, north of the city.

Vaccarini spent more than half his life working on the  restoration of Catania's Duomo
Vaccarini spent more than half his life working on the
restoration of Catania's Duomo
The restoration of the Catania Duomo, which spanned 36 years from 1732 to 1768, probably best illustrates the style of Vaccarini, influencing the mood of late Sicilian Baroque, the façade notable for the juxtaposition of white marble with lava stone in alternating columns.

The small church of the Badia (Abbey) of Sant'Agata, adjacent to the cathedral, borrowed some ideas from Borromini’s church of Sant'Agnese in Agone, in Rome, in particular its high dome and delicate front of concave and convex ripples, with a preciseness of detail that was a constant in Vaccarini's work.

The Palazzo Gioeni and Palazzo Valle and the church of San Benedetto, in Via dei Crociferi, were also part of Vaccarini’s Catania project.

Vaccarini died in his home city of Palermo in 1768.

Catania, sprawling at the feet of Mount Etna, is the sixth largest metropolis in Italy
Catania, sprawling at the feet of Mount Etna, is the sixth
largest metropolis in Italy
Travel tip:

The city of Catania, which is located on the east coast of Sicily facing the Ionian Sea, is one of the ten biggest cities in Italy, and the seventh largest metropolitan area in the country, with a population including the environs of 1.12 million. A little like Naples, only more so, in that it lives with the constant threat of a natural catastrophe, Catania has been virtually destroyed by earthquakes twice, in 1169 as well as 1693, and regularly witnesses volcanic eruptions from nearby Mount Etna. As such it has always been a city for living life to the full. In the Renaissance, it was one of Italy's most important cultural, artistic and political centres and has enjoys a rich cultural legacy today, with numerous museums and churches, theatres and parks and many restaurants.

The beautiful Basilica della Collegiata
The beautiful Basilica della Collegiata
Travel tip:

Apart from Vaccarini’s work, there are many other examples of the Sicilian Baroque style of architecture that give Catania its character, including the beautiful Basilica della Collegiata, with its six stone columns and the concave curve of its façade, designed by Stefano Ittar and Angelo Italia.  Elsewhere on the island, Rosario Gagliardi’s Church of San Giuseppe in Ragusa Ibla, Andrea Palma’s Duomo in Syracuse and Francesco Camilliani’s fountain in Piazza Pretoria in Palermo are other fine examples of the style.