Showing posts with label Milan. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Milan. Show all posts

28 May 2024

The night Maria Callas made an audience weep

La Scala witnesses a stunning performance

Maria Callas's interpretation of Violetta was seen as the finest performance of her stage career
Maria Callas's interpretation of Violetta was
seen as the finest performance of her stage career
Maria Callas gave a stunning performance that has gone down in history as her greatest ever portrayal of Violetta in La traviata on this day in 1955 at Teatro alla Scala opera house in Milan.

After the opening night of the production on May 28, it was reported in the press that Callas had driven the audience into a frenzy with her wonderful singing and powerful acting as she played the part of Giuseppe Verdi’s doomed heroine, who was a beautiful courtesan.

The character of Violetta is considered by opera experts to be one of the three finest roles ever portrayed by Callas and it is ranked alongside her performances in Vincenzo Bellini’s Norma and Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor.  

The staging by director Luchino Visconti for the 1955 production of La traviata provided the perfect setting for Callas with its ornate décor and costumes.

The conductor, Carlo Maria Giulini, later confessed that he had wept in the orchestra pit as she had sung.

At the end members of the audience cried out Callas’s name, sobbed uncontrollably and showered the stage with red roses, which the tearful singer picked up as she took a solo bow.

Callas shone in Visconti's lavish Belle Époque stage settings
Callas shone in Visconti's lavish
Belle Époque stage settings
This gesture proved too much for tenor Giuseppe Di Stefano, who felt she was monopolising the attention of the audience. He stormed off the stage at the end of the performance and left the show for good that night.

Callas had moved the audience to tears in the scene where Violetta agrees to renounce Alfredo, the man she loves, to avoid spoiling the wedding prospects of his sister.

Sadly, Callas had only a few years of her career left ahead of her. After she left her husband for shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis in 1959, she hardly ever performed on stage again. Onassis subsequently left her to marry Jackie Kennedy and Callas died in 1977, aged just 53. 

Thankfully, her performance on that memorable night was recorded and the complete May 28 production can still be listened to on CD, MP3 and streaming platforms.

Verdi’s opera La traviata had premiered at La Fenice opera house in Venice about 100 years earlier. It was based on the 1852 novel by Alexander Dumas, La dame aux camelias.

La traviata means ‘fallen woman’ and refers to the main character, Violetta, who is a courtesan. The opera featured some of the most challenging and revered music in the entire soprano repertoire.

Milan's Teatro alla Scala, opened in 1778, is the most famous opera house in the world
Milan's Teatro alla Scala, opened in 1778, is the
most famous opera house in the world
Travel tip:

Teatro alla Scala in Milan is Italy’s most famous opera house and Maria Callas made her debut there in 1950 as Aida.  The theatre, known to Italians simply as La Scala, is the leading opera house in the world. It opened in 1778 after fire had destroyed the Teatro Regio Ducale, which had previously been the home of opera in Milan. A new theatre for the city was built on the site of the former Church of Santa Maria alla Scala, which is how the theatre got its name. It was designed by neoclassical architect Giuseppe Piermarini. The world’s finest singers have appeared at La Scala during the last 240 years and the theatre has hosted the premieres of operas by Rossini, Donizetti, Verdi, and Puccini. La Scala’s original 18th century structure was renovated in 1907 and, after bomb damage during World War II, it was rebuilt and reopened in 1946.

The mediaeval Rocca Scaligera castle is the dominant feature of the Sirmione skyline
The mediaeval Rocca Scaligera castle is the
dominant feature of the Sirmione skyline
Travel tip:

Maria Callas spent some happy years living in Sirmione, a resort on Lake Garda in Italy, after she married her first husband, Giovanni Battista Meneghini, an Italian businessman.  Villa Callas, which is still privately owned today, looks the same as it did when it was first purchased by Meneghini in the 1950s as a holiday home for the couple. There is a plaque outside the villa recording the dates when Maria Callas lived there. Sirmione, the historic centre of which is on a peninsula that divides the southern part of Lake Garda, is known for its thermal baths and Rocca Scaligera, a mediaeval castle overlooking the lake. Visitors can look round a museum dedicated to the life and performances of Maria Callas. At the the tip of the peninsula is the archaeological site of Grotte di Catullo, which encompasses a Roman villa, a museum and olive trees. 

Also on this day:

1369: The bith of condottiero Muzio Attendolo Sforza

1606: Caravaggio attacks and kills a man in Rome

1692: The birth of opera composer Geminiano Giacomelli

1839: The birth of author and journalist Luigi Capuana

1987: The birth of cricketer Leandro Jayarajah

1999: Da Vinci’s Last Supper goes back on display in Milan after 20 years of restoration


18 April 2024

Giuseppe Terragni - architect

Major pioneer of Italian Rationalism

Terragni's Casa del Fascio in Como, completed in 1936, is considered a modernist masterpiece
Terragni's Casa del Fascio in Como, completed in
1936, is considered a modernist masterpiece
The influential architect Giuseppe Terragni, who was a pioneer of the modern movement in Italy and a leading Italian Rationalist, was born in Meda, a town in Lombardy between Milan and Como, on this day in 1904.

Terragni's work tends to be associated with the Fascist regime of Benito Mussolini, although some students of his work have questioned whether he should be considered a Fascist architect.

He was a founding member of the Gruppo 7, a collective of seven Italian architects whose aim was to move Italian architecture away from neo-classical and neo-baroque revivalism towards Rationalism. The group produced a manifesto spelling out their aims. 

Terragni’s most renowned work is the Casa del Fascio in Como, also known as the Palazzo Terragni, which was constructed between 1932 and 1936 and is considered a masterpiece. 

Other notable works include his war memorials at Como and Erba, the Posta Hotel in Como, a number of apartment buildings in Como and Milan, a Casa del Fascio in Brianza and another in Lissone, and the Antonio Sant'Elia nursery school in Como.

Terragni's career and life were cut short by World War Two
Terragni's career and life were
cut short by World War Two
With fellow architect Pietro Lingeri, he designed the Danteum, a proposed monument in Rome to the Italian poet Dante Alighieri structured to reflect his greatest work, the Divine Comedy. The monument, in the event, was never built.

Terragni’s father, Michele, was a builder and owner of a construction company. His mother, Emilia, arranged for him to live with members of her family in Como so that he could attend lessons at the Technical Institute of Como, where he enrolled on a mathematical physics course.

He graduated in 1921 and enrolled at the Royal Higher Technical Institute (later Polytechnic of Milan), where he graduated in 1926 before he and six fellow students - Luigi Figini, Adalberto Libera, Gino Pollini, Guido Frette, Sebastiano Larco Silva and Carlo Enrico Rava - signed the document that united them as the Gruppo 7, which the following year expanded into the Italian Rational Architecture Movement (MIAR).

In the same year, 1927, the magazine Rassegna Italiana published the four articles considered to be the manifesto of Italian Rationalism. Terragni was one of the seven signatories.

With his brother, Attilio, Terragni opened an office in Como in 1927. His first original building, a collaboration with Luigi Zuccoli, was the Novocomum apartment building in Como (1927-29), designed in European avant-garde style with elements of German expressionism and Soviet constructivism. 

Between 1928 and 1932 he created the War Memorial in Erba, a town east of Como, the first modern war memorial in Italy. He moved from there to start work on the Casa del Fascio in Como, which fronts on to Piazza del Popolo on Via Alessandro Manzoni, opposite Como’s majestic duomo, the Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta, with its 15th century Gothic facade and a 18th century cupola by Filippo Juvara.

Terragni's Monumento ai Caduti in Erba was the first modern war memorial built in Italy
Terragni's Monumento ai Caduti in Erba was the
first modern war memorial built in Italy
The Casa del Fascio, which enthusiasts see as a milestone of modern European architecture, forms a perfect prism, its height corresponding to half the base. It owes it expanse of glass to Terragni himself, who followed the Fascist regime’s instruction to create a building that was accessible and without secrets, declaring that "the concept of visibility, of the instinctive control established between the public and Federation workers predominates in the study of this Casa del Fascio". 

In 1933, Terragni joined Lingeri in opening a studio in Milan, where they designed a series of apartment houses, including the Casa Rustici in Corso Sempione, the broad boulevard that links Piazza Firenze with the Arco della Pace, and the Casa Toninello in Via Perasto and Casa Ghiringhelli in Piazzale Lagosta, both in the Isola district, north of Porta Garibaldi railway station.

Back in Como, in 1936 he built the Antonio Sant'Elia nursery school, for which his design was characterised by large bright spaces that he hoped would create a sense of happy freedom. It formed part of a social programme aimed at helping working-class women escape from domestic drudgery and giving children a healthy, hygienic environment, open to greenery, play and education. 

He and Attilio retained their office in Como until Giuseppe's premature death at the age of just 39, the result of the physical and psychological consequences of being called up to serve with the Italian Army on the Eastern Front. 

Terragni was ahead of his time in giving children a large, airy play area in his Sant'Elia nursery
Terragni was ahead of his time in giving children
a large, airy play area in his Sant'Elia nursery
Attilio was the Fascist Podestà (mayor) of Como when the Casa del Fascio, built as the local party headquarters, was commissioned,

Until 1940 Terragni was fully active and had many works in progress, including the Danteum, the project for the development of the Cortesella district of Como, the Casa del Fascio and the complex Casa Giuliani Frigerio, which some consider to be his final masterpiece.

Everything changed, though, when Italy entered World War Two. Terragni received his call-up papers and was assigned to an Italian army unit destined for the Eastern Front. 

After the Italian advance disintegrated near Stalingrad, Terragni suffered a nervous breakdown.  He returned to Como but in July 1943 he collapsed and died at his girlfriend's house, having suffered a cerebral thrombosis.

His body was buried in the family tomb in Lentate sul Seveso, a neighbouring town to Meda. 

Terragni's architectural legacy, though brief, left a significant impact on modernist architecture in Italy, and his works continue to be studied and admired for their innovative approach and design excellence. 

Meda's Church of San Vittore is an important example of Lombard Renaissance architecture
Meda's Church of San Vittore is an important
example of Lombard Renaissance architecture
Travel tip:

Meda, where Terragni was born, is a town in the province of Monza and Brianza in Lombardy, around 26km (15 miles) north of Milan and a similar distance south of Como. Nowadays a centre for furniture production, it was originally established around a convent built on a mound (meta in Latin) from which it gets its name. The territory was held by the Visconti and Sforza families until coming under the control of Spain, France and the Habsburg empire before becoming part of the Kingdom of Italy. The town’s 16th century Church of San Vittore  has a series of frescoes by Bernardino Luini. 

The Casa Ghiringhelli in Isola
is one of Terragni's buildings
Travel tip:

Isola, the district of Milan where Terragini and Pietro Lingeri collaborated on a number of apartment buildings, is regarded as a somewhat trendy, up-and-coming neighbourhood, a former working-class area that has taken on a vibrant hipster feel. Easy to reach via Milan’s metro system, it is perfect for travellers who want to experience an alternative Milan. It has a lively art scene with plentiful street art, especially along the underground tunnel connecting the Isola and Garibaldi metro stations. As well as such public art installations, Isola has many art galleries that remain largely undiscovered by the tourist crowds who flood to Milan for its most famous art galleries. Isola is home to Ratanà, considered by some to be one of the best restaurants in all of Milan, where Milan-born head chef Cesare Battisti brings a signature twist to typical Milanese dishes. 

Also on this day:

1446: The birth of noblewoman Ippolita Maria Sforza

1480: The birth of notorious beauty Lucrezia Borgia

1902: The birth of politician Giuseppe Pella

1911: The birth of racing car maker Ilario Bandini


27 February 2024

Chiara Iezzi - singer and actress

One half of popular duo Paola e Chiara

Chiara Iezzi has enjoyed success both as a singer and in tv and film roles
Chiara Iezzi has enjoyed success both
as a singer and in tv and film roles
The actress and singer Chiara Iezzi, who with sister Paola forms half of the top-selling Paola e Chiara pop duo, was born on this day in 1973 in Milan.

The sisters performed together for seven years between 1996 and 2013, selling more than five million records, before breaking up, Chiara deciding to focus increasingly on acting and enjoying some success in the United States.

The duo were reunited in 2023, when they took part in the Sanremo Music Festival for the sixth time, having made their debut at the celebrated Italian song contest 26 years earlier.

Interested in music, acting and fashion since she was in her teens, Chiara graduated in fashion design, simultaneously taking acting lessons, but it was music that initially provided her with a career.

After seeing her perform in jazz and funk groups, in 1994 the record producer and television presenter Claudio Cecchetto hired her together with Paola to join singer Max Pezzali as backing vocalists in a group called 883, who were popular in Milan in the 1990s.

Paola (left) and Chiara with the trophy they won at the Sanremo Music Festival in 1997
Paola (left) and Chiara with the trophy they won
at the Sanremo Music Festival in 1997
Two years later, the sisters began to perform as Paola e Chiara, signing a recording contract with Sony Music Italia. Aged 21 and 22 respectively, they made their debut at the 1996 edition of Sanremo Giovani - a special contest for young artists, held separately from the main event - making the final with their song, In viaggio.

The following year, they entered Sanremo proper, performing the song Amici come prima, with which they won the New Proposals category.

The song featured on their debut studio album for Sony, Ciriamo Bambine, which would be the first of eight studio albums. They also released three collections of hits and 35 singles, the most successful of which was Vamos a bailar (Esta vida nueva), sung in Spanish and released in 2000.

Performing Vamos a bailar, which featured on their album Television, they won two song contests, Festivalbar and Un disco per l'estate. The single contributed substantially to their more than five million records sold.

Alongside her career with Paola, Chiara released a number of singles and EPs as a solo performer before turning her attention increasingly to acting, her ambitions not at all harmed by being invited in 2010 to collaborate on the soundtrack of the film Maledimiele, directed by Marco Pozzi, for which she sang the main theme, L'altra parte di me. 

Chiara Iezzi starred in the Disney Channel  television series Alex & Co in 2015
Chiara Iezzi starred in the Disney Channel 
television series Alex & Co in 2015
It prompted her to resume her study of acting, for which she spent increasing amounts of time in America, attending seminars in New York and Los Angeles. After the break-up of the Paola e Chiara partnership, she announced her intention to limit her singing career to projects connected to the film industry.

She had a number of successes in acting, notably playing the role of Victoria Williams in the 2015 TV series Alex & Co, produced by Disney Channel.

In 2016, she landed a role in the film Il ragazzo della Giudecca (The Boy from the Giudecca), directed by Alfonso Bergamo and starring Giancarlo Giannini and Franco Nero, and in 2017 was picked for Louis Nero's film The Broken Key alongside Rutger Hauer, William Baldwin, Geraldine Chaplin and Michael Madsen.

The possibility that she and her sister might reform their partnership arose in 2022. Chiara appeared at a DJ set hosted by her sister, for whom deejaying had become the focus of her career, and they surprised the audience by performing a number of their songs together. The clip of their performance was downloaded so many times it became a viral hit, after which they agreed to make an appearance as guests at a concert in Bibione, on the Adriatic coast of the Veneto, which was part of a Max Pezzali tour, and alongside Jovanotti at Fermo, further down the Adriatic in Marche. 

They were so well received by the audiences that talk of a Paola e Chiara revival soon gathered pace. In December of the same year it was announced that they would participate in the 2023 edition of the Sanremo Festival, their first appearance there for 15 years.

Their song, Furore, finished only 17th, yet was a hit nonetheless, prompting them to embark on a first tour in 12 years and to release their first album since 2015, a reworked collection of their best work entitled Per Sempre (Forever).

The duo returned to Sanremo in 2024 as guests, reprising Furore on the third evening and performing alongside veteran entrants Ricchi e Poveri on the fourth evening, as well as presenting some of the accompanying broadcasts as national TV channel Rai dedicated hours of airtime to the festival and peripheral activities.

Bibione's wide expanse of golden, sandy beach makes it an attraction for thousands of tourists
Bibione's wide expanse of golden, sandy beach
makes it an attraction for thousands of tourists
Travel tip:

Bibione, where Paola e Chiara reunited alongside former professional partner Max Pezzali at a 2022 concert, is a seaside resort in the Veneto region of northern Italy, about 50km (31 miles) from Venice as the crow flies, although about twice that distance by road. It is a popular destination for tourists from Germany, Austria, Czech Republic, and Slovakia, as well as Italy, who enjoy its golden sand beach, pine wood, and water park. The area used to be uninhabited marshland until land reclamation work began in the early part of the 20th century and it was not until the 1950s that the first holiday accommodation was built. Nowadays, in the summer months, Bibione can offer up to 100,000 beds for tourists, yet in the winter is largely deserted, with many shops and beach facilities closed.

Stay in Bibione with

Fermo sits atop the Sabulo hill, the cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta in Cielo at its highest point
Fermo sits atop the Sabulo hill, the cathedral of
Santa Maria Assunta in Cielo at its highest point
Travel tip:

Fermo, where Paola e Chaira performed at a Jovanotti concert in 2022, is a charming and lively town in the Marche region, with a population of about 37,000. It is located on a hill, the Sabulo, some 319m (1,050ft) above sea level, about 7km (4.34 miles) inland from the Adriatic resort of Porto San Giorgio. A former Roman colony, it was owned by a succession of prince-bishops and powerful families, including the Visconti and Sforza, before becoming part of the Papal States in 1550, all of whom contributed to its impressive monuments, buildings and fortifications. The Roman cisterns, the 13th century cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta in Cielo, the Palazzo dei Priori, built between the 13th and 16th centuries, the Pinacoteca Civica and the Teatro dell’Aquila are among its noteworthy attractions. The town hosts diverse cultural events, from an August palio (horse race) and festival of mediaeval games, the Cavalcata dell’Assunta, to an annual film festival.  The town is also famed for its culinary specialities, which include a type of lasagna with meat sauce, olives, and cheese, called vincisgrassi, a fish soup with tomatoes, saffron, and vinegar known as brodetto, and frustingo, a cake made with dried fruits, nuts, honey, and chocolate.

Find accommodation in Fermo with

More reading:

The history of the Sanremo Music Festival

The singer whose Sanremo disqualification produced his biggest hit

The tenor who became known as ‘the King of Sanremo’

Also on this day:

1950: The birth of fashion designer Franco Moschino

1935: The birth of opera singer Mirella Freni

1964: Italy appeals for help to save Pisa’s leaning tower

1978: The birth of dancer Simone Di Pasquale

(Picture credits: Bibione beach by Tiesse; Fermo skyline by Daniele Pieroni; via Wikimedia Commons)


15 February 2024

Carlo Maria Martini – Cardinal

Liberal leanings prevented scholar’s elevation to the papacy

Carlo Maria Martini, a liberal within the Catholic Church, lost out to papal rival Joseph Ratzinger
Carlo Maria Martini, a liberal within the Catholic
Church, lost out to papal rival Joseph Ratzinger 
Carlo Maria Martini, who was once a candidate to become pope, was born on this day in 1927 in Orbassano in the province of Turin.

As Cardinal Martini, he was known to be tolerant in areas of sexuality and strong on ecumenism, and he was the leader of the liberal opposition to Pope John Paul II. He published more than 50 books, which sold millions of copies worldwide.

Martini, who expressed views in his lifetime on the need for the Catholic Church to update itself, was a contender for the papacy in the 2005 conclave and, according to Vatican sources at the time, he received more votes than Joseph Ratzinger in the first round. 

But Ratzinger, who was considered the more conservative of the candidates, ended up with a higher number of votes in subsequent rounds and was elected Pope Benedict XVI.

Martini had entered the Jesuit order in 1944 when he was 17 and he was ordained at the age of 25, which was considered unusually early.

His doctoral theses, in theology at the Gregorian University and in scripture at the Pontifical Biblical Institute, were thought to be so brilliant that they were immediately published.

After completing his studies, Martini had a successful academic career. He edited scholarly works and became active in the scientific field, publishing articles and books. He had the honour of being the only Catholic member of the ecumenical committee that prepared the new Greek edition of the New Testament. He became dean of the faculty of scripture at the Biblical Institute, was rector from 1969 to 1978, and then rector of the Gregorian University. 

In his later years, suffering from Parkinson's disease, Martini moved to Jerusalem
In his later years, suffering from Parkinson's
disease, Martini moved to Jerusalem
In 1979, he was appointed Archbishop of Milan, which was considered unusual, as Jesuits are not normally named bishops. He was made a cardinal in 1983. 

He started the so-called ‘cathedra of non-believers’ in 1987, an idea he conceived with philosopher Massimo Cacciari. He held a series of public dialogues in Milan with agnostic, or atheist, scientists, and intellectuals about the reasons to believe in God.

He was presented with an honorary doctorate from the Russian Academy of Sciences in 1996 and an award for Social Sciences in 2000. In the same year, Martini was admitted as a member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences.

In 2012, Pope Benedict XVI was considering retirement, but was being urged against it by some of his confidants. By then, Martini was himself suffering from Parkinson’s disease and he encouraged the Pope to go ahead with his decision to retire.

After his own retirement, Martini moved to Jerusalem to continue his work as a biblical scholar. 

He died in Gallarate in the province of Varese in 2012. More than 150,000 people passed before his casket in the Duomo di Milano. The Italian Government was represented by Prime Minister Mario Monti and his wife. Martini was buried in a tomb on the left side of the cathedral facing the main altar.

Piazza Umberto I in Orbassano, overlooked by the parish church of San Giovanni Battista
Piazza Umberto I in Orbassano, overlooked by
the parish church of San Giovanni Battista
Travel tip:

Orbassano, the comune (municipality) where Martini was born, is about 13km (8 miles) southwest of Turin, falling within the Piedmont capital's municipal area. It can trace its history back to the Roman conquest of Cisalpine Gaul because two imperial era tombstones were found there in the 19th century. The Indian politician, Sonia Gandi, was brought up in Orbassano, although she was born near Vicenza. While studying at Cambridge, Sonia met Rajiv Gandi, who she married in 1968. The couple settled in India and had a family but he was assassinated in his home country in 1991.  Orbassano has a pleasant central square, the Piazza Umberto I, the site of the town's two main churches, the parish church of San Giovanni Battista and the Baroque church of the Confraternita dello Spirito Santo, in which the artworks include a Pentecost by Giovanni Andrea Casella from 1647 and a Madonna and saints by Michele Antonio Milocco from 1754.

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Liberty-style villas built by architect Carlo Moroni and his partner, Filippo Tenconi, abound in Gallarate
Liberty-style villas built by architect Carlo Moroni
and his partner, Filippo Tenconi, abound in Gallarate 
Travel tip:

Gallarate, where Martini died after he spent his final years living in a Jesuit house, is a small city in the province of Varese, about 42km (26 miles) northwest of Milan. It has a Romanesque church, San Pietro, which dates from the 11th century. In Piazza Garibaldi, where there is a statue of Giuseppe Garibaldi, there is an historic pharmacy, Dahò, where members of the Carbonari used to hide out during the 19th century.  Founded by the Gauls and later conquered by the Romans, Gallarate enjoyed prosperity under Visconti control in the 14th and 15th centuries, when the area's textile industry began to develop and grow. By the 19th and 20th centuries, it was an important industrial city, where thousands of workers were employed in Liberty-style factory buildings. The heavy industry has largely gone now, with high-tech businesses a features of the city's modern economy, but the architectural echoes remain. Piazza Garibaldi also features Casa Bellora, a Stile Liberty mansion commissioned by the local captain of industry, Carlo Bellora, who had factories in Gallarate, Somma, Albizzate, and in the Bergamo area, who hired the architect Carlo Moroni to build a house for his family.  Moroni and the engineer Filippo Tenconi combined to build numerous villas in what is known as the 'Liberty district' between Corso Sempione and the railway. 

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More reading:

How the first railway line in northern Italy sparked 19th century boom

Karol Wojtyla - the first non-Italian pope for 455 years

Carlo Maria Viganò, the controversial archbishop who shocked Catholic Church

Also on this day:

1564: The birth of astronomer and physicist Galileo Galilei

1898: The birth of comic actor Totò

1910: The birth of circus clown Charlie Cairoli

1944: Monte Cassino Abbey destroyed in WW2 bombing raid

(Picture credits: Main picture by Mafon1959; older Carlo Martini by RaminusFalcon; Piazza Umberto I by Simoneislanda; via Wikimedia Commons)



3 January 2024

Beatrice d’Este – Duchess of Milan

The brief life of a politically astute noblewoman from Ferrara

Beatrice D'Este, portrayed in a painting by the 19th century Italian artist Francesco Podesti
Beatrice D'Este, portrayed in a painting by the
19th century Italian artist Francesco Podesti
Beatrice d’Este, who became Duchess of Bari and Milan after her marriage to Ludovico Sforza and was an important player in Italian politics during the late 15th century, died on this day in 1497 in Milan.

The Duchess was said to have shown great courage during the Milanese resistance against the French in what was later judged to be the first of the Italian Wars. At the time of the French advance on Milan, with her husband ill, Beatrice made the right decisions on his behalf and helped prevent the Duke of Orleans from conquering her adopted city.

Sadly, she died when she was just 21, after giving birth to a stillborn baby.

Beatrice was born in the Castello Estense in Ferrara in 1475, but spent her early years growing up in her mother’s home city of Naples. When she was 15, her family sent her to marry the 38-year-old Ludovico Sforza, nicknamed Il Moro - The Moor - because of his dark complexion, who was acting as regent of Milan on behalf of his nephew, Gian Galeazzo Sforza.

Ludovico and Beatrice’s wedding celebrations were directed by Leonardo da Vinci, who worked at the Castello Sforzesco in Milan for 17 years, designing elaborate festivals for the Sforza family as well as painting and sculpting.

Ludovico became Duke of Milan after Gian Galeazzo died in 1494, seemingly of natural causes. However, it was rumoured at the time he had been poisoned by his uncle.

Ludovico Sforza, to whom Beatrice was betrothed at 15
Ludovico Sforza, to whom
Beatrice was betrothed at 15
Beatrice found herself at the centre of court life in Milan, where she was much admired for her beauty, charm, and diplomatic skills.

As well as associating with Da Vinci and the architect, Donato Bramante, she spent time with poets such as Baldassare Castiglione and Niccolò da Correggio. Her husband seemed to have been genuinely fond of her, despite having a string of mistresses, and once described her as ‘happy by nature and very pleasing.’

Beatrice was trusted to represent her husband as an ambassador to Venice and she also attended a peace conference, along with many powerful political figures of the day, including Charles VIII, King of France.

She gave birth to two sons, Massimiliano, who was born in 1493, and Francesco, who was born in 1495. They each, in turn, went on to become the Duke of Milan.

Beatrice was on course to make Milan one of the greatest Renaissance capitals of Europe when her life ended abruptly.

Pregnant for the third time, she seemed to be in good health when she was seen out in her carriage on January 2, 1497.

Ludovico Sforza mourns his wife's death by her tomb in the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie
Ludovico Sforza mourns his wife's death by her
tomb in the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie
She waved to the crowds on her way to the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan, where Da Vinci was in the process of painting his famous masterpiece, The Last Supper, known in Italian as Il Cenacolo, on the wall of the refectory.

After saying her prayers in the church, Beatrice returned to the Castello Sforzesco, where she was said to have taken part in dancing during the evening. Afterwards, she started to suffer stomach pains and she gave birth to a stillborn son. She never recovered from the birth and died half an hour after midnight, on January 3.

Later that day, her heartbroken husband wrote about the sad news to his brother-in-law, Francesco II Gonzaga, who was married to Beatrice’s sister, Isabella. He asked for no visits of condolence, saying he wanted to be left alone to grieve. He remained locked in his apartment for two weeks and when he reappeared, he had shaved his head and was dressed in black, wearing an old, torn cloak.

The beautiful Beatrice has been immortalised in sculptures and paintings and has gone down in history as ‘a virago who showed the courage of a man’, during a time when Milan was at war.  

The Castello Sforzesco in Milan, almost 600 years old, is one of the largest castles in Europe
The Castello Sforzesco in Milan, almost 600 years
old, is one of the largest castles in Europe
Travel tip:

One of the main sights in Milan is the impressive Sforza castle, Castello Sforzesco, built by Francesco Sforza, Duke of Milan, in 1450. After Ludovico Sforza became Duke in 1494, he commissioned Leonardo da Vinci to fresco several of the rooms. The castle was built on the site of the Castello di Porta Giovia, which had been the main residence in the city of the Visconti family, from which Francesco Sforza was descended. The Viscontis ruled Milan for 170 years. Renovated and enlarged a number of times in subsequent centuries, it became one of the largest citadels in Europe and now houses several museums and art collections.  The Cairo metro station is opposite the main entrance to Castello Sforzesco, which is about a 20 minute walk from Milan’s Duomo.

Leonardo da Vinci's The Last Supper, which he painted on the wall of the refectory
Leonardo da Vinci's The Last Supper, which he
painted on the wall of the refectory
Travel tip:

Santa Maria delle Grazie, a church and Dominican convent in Milan, is home to Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece, The Last Supper - Il Cenacolo, which is on the wall of the refectory where the monks used to eat their meals. Entrance to the refectory is now limited to 25 people at a time for a maximum stay of 15 minutes and it is necessary to book a visit in advance.  In addition to Il Cenacolo, the church also has a chapel decorated with the frescoes Stories of Life and The Passion of Christ, by Gaudenzio Ferrari and other works by Ferrari, Titian and Bramantino. Titian’s painting, The Coronation of Thorns, once hung in the same chapel as the Ferrari frescoes but is now in the Louvre, in Paris.

Also on this day:

106BC: The birth of Roman politician and philosopher Cicero

1698: The birth of opera librettist Pietro Metastasio

1785: The death of composer Baldassare Galuppi

1877: The birth of textile entrepreneur and publisher Giovanni Treccani

1920: The birth of singer-songwriter Renato Carosone

1929: The birth of film director Sergio Leone

1952: The birth of politician Gianfranco Fini


28 November 2023

Umberto Veronesi - oncologist

Pioneered new techniques for treating breast cancer

Umberto Veronesi made an important contribution to breast cancer treatment
Umberto Veronesi made an important
contribution to breast cancer treatment 
Umberto Veronesi, an oncologist whose work in finding new methods to treat breast cancer spared many women faced with a full mastectomy, was born on this day in 1925 in Milan.

Along with many other contributions to the knowledge of breast cancer and breast cancer prevention over a 50-year career, Veronese was a pioneer of breast-conserving surgery in early breast cancer as an alternative to a radical mastectomy. 

He developed the technique of quadrantectomy, which limits surgical resection to the affected quarter of the breast. 

This more limited resection became standard practice for the treatment of breast cancer detected early after Veronesi led the first prospective randomised trial of breast-conserving surgery, which compared outcomes from radical mastectomy against his quadrantectomy over a 20-year period.

Veronesi supported and promoted research aimed at improving conservative surgical techniques in general and conducting studies on tamoxifen and retinoids which helped verify their effectiveness in preventing the formation of cancer in the first place. 

The founder and president of the Umberto Veronesi Foundation, he founded and held the role of scientific director and scientific director emeritus of the European Institute of Oncology, was scientific director of the National Cancer Institute of Milan and held the position of Minister of Health from April 2000 to June 2001 in the second government of prime minister Giuliano Amati.

Veronesi grew up in Casoretto, which was then an agricultural suburb of Milan, where his father was a tenant farmer.  He was one of six children. The family home was relatively remote, the only source of heat in the winter a fireplace in the kitchen. Going to school necessitated a 5km (three miles) walk to school and back, but his parents were determined that their five sons and a daughter would enjoy a good education.

Veronesi pictured at a book signing in 2013, still working at the age of 87
Veronesi pictured at a book signing in 2013, still
working at the age of 87
Veronesi’s father died when he was still a child but the memory of beatings handed out by Fascist squadristi meant that his father’s left-wing politics had a more profound effect on him than his mother’s devout Catholicism. He declared himself to be an agnostic at the age of 14.

He began to focus on cancer soon after graduating in medicine and surgery at the University of Milan in 1951 and specialising in surgery at the University of Pavia. He travelled to England and France to broaden his knowledge and joined the National Cancer Institute, of which he would become director-general in 1975, as a volunteer.

In the course of what would be a brilliant career, his far-sighted ideas were not well received initially and he had to fight to convince others.  Yet in time his scientific projects opened new boundaries in cancer treatment.  His belief in joining forces with patients, communicating with them clearly about their treatment and enlisting their help in campaigns to raise funds helped change attitudes towards the disease.

Veronesi too was instrumental in removing regulatory barriers in the management of terminal cancer patients, making opioid painkillers available to those whose cancer could not be cured.

Veronesi (right) with then president Giorgio Napolitano in 2011
Veronesi (right) with then president
Giorgio Napolitano in 2011
Away from the main focus of his life, Veronesi became politically active when the left-wing politician Bettino Craxi invited him to become a member of the national assembly of the Italian Socialist Party (PSI).  In April 2000 he was Minister of Health in the second Amato government, using his platform to campaign for an anti-smoking law.  He was later elected to the Senate as a member of the Democratic Party.

President of the Italian Nuclear Safety Agency from 2010-11, he resigned from that position in protest at the Berlusconi government for failing to provide the agency with even the minimum structures to carry out its activities.

He was a strong advocate of animal rights, believed in voluntary euthanasia and, controversially, supported the genetic modification of food because of its possibilities for helping parts of the world prone to crop failures and famine, and for removing naturally occurring carcinogens. 

His outspoken opposition to doctors’ strikes in the 1980s, however, caused him to fall foul of the Red Brigades, whose death threats left him looking over his shoulder in public for several years.

Veronesi died at home in November 2016 not long before what would have been his 91st birthday. After a secular funeral at Palazzo Marino, Milan’s city hall, where his son, Alberto, a conductor, led two musical pieces by Beethoven and Puccini, his body was cremated. 

Via Casoretto, looking towards the church of Santa Maria Bianca della Misericordia
Via Casoretto, looking towards the church of
Santa Maria Bianca della Misericordia
Travel tip:

The Casoretto of today is a neighbourhood in the northeastern suburbs of Milan, forming part of an area locally known as NoLo, an acronym for North of Loreto. The area is multicultural with a vibrant nightlife, art galleries and restaurants. Casoretto is notable for colourful houses and an unusually high number of cycle repair shops, reflecting local beliefs in eco-friendly travel.  The neighbourhood fans out from the central Via Casoretto and the church of Santa Maria Bianca della Misericordia, which is sometimes known as the Abbey of Casoretto. Until the start of the 20th century and industrialisation, the area was characterised by farmhouses and cultivated fields, with no significant residential areas apart from a few farmhouses and other buildings around the Abbey.

Palazzo Marino, with the entrace to the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II to the right of the picture
Palazzo Marino, with the entrace to the Galleria
Vittorio Emanuele II to the right of the picture
Travel tip:

Palazzo Marino, where Veronesi’s secular funeral was held, is a 16th-century palace located in Piazza della Scala, in the centre of Milan. Standing opposite the world-famous opera house, Teatro alla Scala, and next to the northern entrance to the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, it has been Milan’s city hall since 1861. Designed by architect Galeazzo Alessi, it was built between 1557 and 1563 for Tommaso Marino, a wealthy Genovese banker and merchant.  After Marino died, leaving his family bankrupt, the palace became the property of the state before being sold to another banker, Carlo Omodei, who did not live there himself but rented it out to other notable Milanese, before reverting to state ownership in 1781. After being established as the seat of Milan’s municipal government in 1861, the palace was given a new facade to coincide with the creation of Piazza della Scala, undergoing a second major restoration after it was badly damaged by bombing in World War Two. 

Also on this day:

1873: The death of astronomer Caterina Scarpellini

1907: The birth of novelist Alberto Moravia

1913: The birth of composer Mario Nascembene

1941: The birth of actress Laura Antonelli

1955: The birth of footballer Alessandro Altobelli

1977: The birth of World Cup hero Fabio Grosso


22 November 2023

Beatrice Trussardi – entrepreneur

Art promoter chosen among the 100 most successful Italian women

Beatrice Trussardi has become an important promoter of art and design
Beatrice Trussardi has become an
important promoter of art and design
Art and design promoter and business woman Beatrice Trussardi, the daughter of fashion designer Nicola Trussardi, was born on this day in 1971 in Milan.

Since 1999, Beatrice has been president of the Fondazione Nicola Trussardi, which was founded by her father to promote contemporary art and culture.

Nicola Trussardi, who was born in Bergamo, went to work in his grandfather’s glove making business in the city and turned it into a multimillion-dollar business that helped contribute to the popularity of the Made in Italy label throughout the world.

Beatrice, who was his eldest child, obtained a degree in Art, Business and Administration at New York University and went on to work at the Guggenheim Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Museum of Modern Art.  

She directed the move by the Fondazione Nicola Trussardi from its permanent exhibition space in Milan to develop a new, itinerant model. The foundation now focuses on holding art exhibitions in historical monuments and forgotten buildings in Milan, that were not previously accessible to the public.

As part of this, Palazzo Litta, Palazzo Dugnani and Palazzo Citterio have all been restored, enabling them to host major exhibitions by contemporary artists.

In 2021, Beatrice launched the Beatrice Trussardi Foundation, a nomadic art foundation, working with artistic director Massimiliano Gioni to produce and exhibit art installations in international locations. Issues such as climate change, gender inequality and talent empowerment are at the core of the foundation’s research programme.

Beatrice was CEO of her father's Trussardi Group for 11 years
Beatrice was CEO of her father's
Trussardi Group for 11 years
Beatrice became president and CEO of Trussardi Group in 2003, positions she held until 2014.

In 2007, she enrolled in the Global Leadership and Public Policy for the 21st century programme at the John F Kennedy School of Government.

Beatrice became one of 237 people selected by the World Economic Forum to be part of its Young Global Leaders group in 2005. She joined the Women’s Leadership Board at the John F Kennedy School of Government, which was founded to promote gender equality in society and politics, in 2007. She became president of the Friends of Aspen at Aspen Institute Italia, whose aim is to analyse and discuss important economic, social and cultural issues fundamental to development.

She was appointed to the Board of Directors of Museo Nazionale delle Arti del XXI Secolo in Rome in 2013 by invitation of the Italian Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities and, in 2014, she joined the Board of Directors of Comitato Fondazioni Italiane Arte Contemporanee.

Beatrice is married to businessman Federico Roveda and the couple have two children. She was chosen by Forbes Italia as among the 100 Most Successful Italian Women in 2019.

Bergamo's Città Alta is guarded by imposing walls built by the Venetians in the 16th century
Bergamo's Città Alta is guarded by imposing
walls built by the Venetians in the 16th century
Travel tip:

Bergamo, where Trussardi’s father, Nicola, was born, is a beautiful city in Lombardy about 50km (31 miles) northeast of Milan. It has upper and lower town that are separated by impressive fortifications. The magical upper town - the Città Alta - has gems of mediaeval and Renaissance architecture surrounded by the impressive 16th century walls, which were built by the Venetians who ruled at the time. Outside the walls, the elegant Città Bassa, which grew up on the plain below, has some buildings that date back to the 15th century as well as imposing architecture added in the 19th and 20th centuries. While the Città Alta is the draw for many tourists, the lower town also has art galleries, churches and theatres and a wealth of good restaurants and smart shops to enjoy.  The Trussardi family home, Casa Trussardi, which they acquired in 1983, sits on top of the south-facing walls overlooking Viale delle Mura, with commanding views over the Città Bassa and the vast Po Valley.

Travel tip:

Palazzo Litta, also known as Palazzo Arese-Litta, is a Baroque palace on Corso Magenta in the centre of Milan, opposite the church of San Maurizio al Monastero Maggiore and a short distance from the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie, which houses Leonardo da Vinci’s wall painting of The Last Supper. Built between 1642 and 1648, it dates back to the period of Spanish rule of the city. The original owner was Count Bartolomeo Arese, a member of one of Milan’s most influential families of the period, who went on to become President of the Senate of Milan in 1660. The structure of the palace has changed over time, although parts of architect Francesco Maria Richini’s original design remain intact. Having become the property of the Litta family in the mid-18th century, the palace was given a facelift when Bartolomeo Bolli constructed the current façade, highly decorated with Rococò features. Apart from its exhibition spaces, the palace is home to the oldest theatre in Milan, originally Richini’s oratory and later turned into a private theatre for the use of the Arese family and guests. It is still in use as the Teatro Litta di Milano.

Also on this day:

1533: The birth of Alfonso II d’Este, last Duke of Ferrara

1710: The death of Baroque composer Bernardo Pasquini

1902: The birth of Mafia boss Joe Adonis

1911: The birth of Olympic champion cyclist Giuseppe Olmo

1947: The birth of footballer and coach Nevio Scala

1949: The birth of entrepreneur Rocco Commisso

1954: The birth of former prime minister Paolo Gentiloni


18 November 2023

Gianni Mazzocchi - publisher

Business success marred by personal heartache

Gianni Mazzocchi working on an edition of Domus, his first magazine venture
Gianni Mazzocchi working on an edition
of Domus, his first magazine venture
The publisher Gianni Mazzocchi, a magazine editor-proprietor who founded more than 15 national magazines, of which several titles, including Il Mondo, L'Europeo and Quattroruote, continued to be published long after his death, was born on this day in 1906 in Ascoli Piceno in Marche.

Mazzocchi became a publisher by accident after quitting university to support his family. But through a combination of boundless energy and a chance meeting with the architect and designer Gio Ponti, he launched himself as a magazine proprietor with enormous success.

His life was bookended by personal heartache. His early years were marred when illness and misfortune struck his family. Towards the end of his life he suffered the ordeal of having his eldest daughter kidnapped and was then left a widower, the stress of the episode being blamed for the sudden death of his wife. 

Mazzocchi, whose father was a breeder of silkworms at a time when such skills could yield a good living, seemed destined for a career in the law after winning a scholarship to study jurisprudence in Rome.

But the family’s prosperity abruptly collapsed when Mazzocchi’s father lost his business to a confidence trickster. With both his mother and sister in poor health and his father struggling with mountainous debts, Gianni abandoned his studies in order to find work. He moved to Milan, believing that opportunities were likely to be more plentiful in the northern city.

Gio Ponti, the architect and designer, put his trust in Mazzocchi's talents
Gio Ponti, the architect and designer,
put his trust in Mazzocchi's talents
His first offer of work came from Father Giovanni Semeria, a prominent Catholic priest concerned with fund-raising projects aimed at improving the lives of victims of poverty in southern Italy.  Mazzocchi was charged with typing up manuscripts of books Father Semeria produced and sold to raise money.

This gave him an introduction to publishers and book traders in Milan and it was not long before he found a permanent position paying enough for him to send money home as well as keep himself.

It was through Father Semeria that Mazzocchi met Ponti - with whom he shares a birthday - who was impressed enough by the young man’s talents to invite him to take over the running of his own architecture and design magazine, Domus, which was facing closure.

Mazzocchi and Ponti assembled a group of backers and Mazzocchi launched a new publishing company, taking over all aspects of administration and marketing while Ponti concentrated on the content. Over time, Mazzocchi increased his stake in the company, becoming sole proprietary by 1940, and began to publish other titles, using Domus as the template.  Able to anticipate public appetites, he turned a magazine about needlework into an early fashion title and acquired another that foresaw the growing interest in homes and interior design.

His first venture into news magazines came with Panorama, which appeared in 1939 as a fortnightly chronicle of public events. It was closed down after a year by the Fascist authorities, which was enough to persuade Mazzocchi to steer clear of news for the remainder of World War Two.

Panorama, which is still published today, was revived by the Mondadori publishing house and could be seen as an opportunity that slipped through Mazzocchi’s hands, but he had his own successes in the news market. 

L'Europeo became Italy's leading news magazine under Mazzocchi
L'Europeo became Italy's leading
news magazine under Mazzocchi
After the war, he launched L’Italia libera, a centre-left daily newspaper, and then, in partnership with Arrigo Benedetti, L’Europeo, for which a team of leading journalists was assembled. Finding a market along Italy’s growing intellectual class, the magazine prospered sufficiently for Mazzocchi to expand still further.

A second major news magazine, Il Mondo, launched in 1949, became Italy’s leading political title, before Mazzocchi expanded his interests to include car magazines such as Quattroruote and L’Auto Italiana. He had a car collection of his own that included Ferraris and Alfa Romeos.

Mazzocchi married one of his editors, Emma Robbutti, and they had two daughters, Maria Grazia and Giovanna. But their world was shattered in May 1978 when Maria Grazia, by then a journalist aged 33 and the mother of her own two sons, disappeared after leaving her father’s editorial offices to meet a friend for dinner.

It eventually transpired she had been kidnapped, a not uncommon occurrence in Italy in the 1970s as gangs snatched individuals, usually prominent or wealthy members of Italian society or their relatives, for political or criminal purposes.

The motive in this instance was simply to extract money. The original demand was for three billion lire but Mazzocchi secured his daughter’s release for one and a half billion after she had been held for two months. Maria Grazia was physically unharmed but the psychological strain was too much for her mother, Emma, who died within days of her release.

Gianni Mazzocchi was himself never the same man, losing much of the energy that had seen him work into his 70s. He died in 1984 at the age of 77, being laid to rest in a family mausoleum he had built at Gignese on Lake Maggiore.

His younger daughter, Giovanna, took over the running of the business, while Maria Grazia became president of the Domus Academy, a private school of design founded by her father two years before his death.

The elegant Piazza del Popolo at the centre of  the town is Ascoli Piceno's focal point
The elegant Piazza del Popolo at the centre of 
the town is Ascoli Piceno's focal point
Travel tip: 

Ascoli Piceno, where Gianni Mazzocchi was born, is a beautiful small city located in the Marche region of Italy, about 30km (19 miles) inland from the Adriatic coast. It is known for its picturesque mediaeval architecture and rich cultural heritage. Main attractions include the Piazza del Popolo, noted for the honey-coloured travertine stone of its paving and the historic buildings around it. Lined with cafes and restaurants, the square is a lively meeting place. Other places worth visiting include the Palazzo dell’Arengo, which houses a museum showcasing the history of the city, the Ventidio Basso Theatre and the Cathedral of Sant’Emidio, which dates back to the fifth century and houses an altarpiece by Carlo Crivelli. According to traditional accounts, Ascoli Piceno had some 200 towers in the Middle Ages, of which around 50 can still be seen today.

The Giardino Alpinia above Gignese offers stunning views across Lake Maggiore
The Giardino Alpinia above Gignese offers
stunning views across Lake Maggiore
Travel tip:

Located in a scenic position on the slopes of Mount Mottarone, overlooking Lago Maggiore, Gignese, where Mazzocchi was laid to rest in the family tomb, is said to have been founded by Genesio Dotti, from Genoa, in the 12th century.  It has strong connections with both the Visconti and Borromeo families.  Gignese became well known for the manufacture of umbrellas and today boasts the Museo dell’Ombrello e del Parasole (Museum of the Umbrella and Parasol), which houses an interesting and unique collection of umbrellas and parasols from the period between 1840-1940.  A nearby attraction is the Giardino Alpinia in the hamlet of Alpino, a botanical garden dedicated to the flowers and grasses of the Alps. The panoramic views from the garden’s natural balcony include Lake Maggiore and Lake Orta, the Lombardy plain and the Alps.

Also on this day:

1626: The consecration of St Peter’s Basilica in Rome

1630: The birth of Eleonora Gonzaga – Holy Roman Empress

1804: The birth of military leader Alfonso Ferrero La Marmora

1849: The birth of builder and architect Stefano Cardu

1891: The birth of architect and designer Gio Ponti

1911: The birth of poet Attilio Bertolucci