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

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.

Book your stay in Orbassano with

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. 

Find accommodation in Gallarate with

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


8 November 2023

Andrea Appiani - painter

The master of the fresco technique became court painter to Napoleon

Appiani fell into poverty at the end of  his life despite his notable career
Appiani fell into poverty at the end of 
his life despite his notable career
Neoclassical artist Andrea Appiani, who was chosen to paint for the Emperor Napoleon during the time in which he ruled Italy, died on this day in 1817 in Milan.

He is remembered for his fine portraits of some of the famous people of the period, including Napoleon, the Empress Joséphine, and the poet, Ugo Foscolo. He is also well regarded for his religious and classical frescoes.

Born in Milan in 1754, Appiani was intended for a career in medicine, to follow in his father’s footsteps, but he went into the private academy of the painter Carlo Maria Guidici instead, where he received instruction in drawing and copying from sculpture and paintings.

He then joined the class of the fresco painter Antonio de Giorgi at the Ambrosiana picture gallery in Milan and he spent time in the studio of Martin Knoller where he learnt more about painting in oils.

Appiani also studied anatomy at the Ospedale Maggiore in Milan with the sculptor Gaetano Monti and travelled to Rome, Parma, Bologna, Florence and Naples to further his studies.

He became interested in aesthetic issues, inspired by the classical poet Giuseppe Parini, who was the subject of two fine pencil portraits by him.

Appiani's magnificent portrait of  Napoleon Bonaparte, painted in 1805
Appiani's magnificent portrait of
 Napoleon Bonaparte, painted in 1805
Appiani attended the Brera Academy of Fine Arts from 1776 where he learnt the technique of fresco painting. His frescoes depicting the four evangelists in the church of Santa Maria presso San Celso, in Milan, completed in 1795, are considered by art experts to be among his masterpieces.

He is also remembered for his frescoes in the Royal Villa - Villa Reale - of Milan and his frescoes honouring Napoleon in some of the rooms of the Royal Palace of Milan.

Appiani was created a pensioned artist to the Kingdom of Italy by Napoleon, but lost his allowance after the fall of the kingdom in 1814, and he later fell into poverty. He suffered a stroke and died at the age of 63 in the city of his birth.

He is sometimes referred to as Andrea Appiani the Elder, to distinguish him from his great nephew, Andrea Appiani, who was an historical painter in Rome.

Appiani’s portrait of the poet Foscolo, a revolutionary who supported Napoleon’s attempts to expel the Austrians from Italy, hangs in the Pinacoteca di Brera, his 1805 portrait of Napoleon is in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, while that of the Empress Joséphine hangs at the Château de Malmaison, her former home in Paris and and Napoleon's last residence in France.

The Pinocoteca di Brera is also home to the self-portrait of Appiani shown here.

The Brera Academy of Fine Arts in Milan is one of Italy's most prestigious art schools
The Brera Academy of Fine Arts in Milan is
one of Italy's most prestigious art schools
Travel tip:

The Accademia di Belle Arti di Brera, sometimes shortened to Accademia di Brera, where Andrea Appiani studied, is now a state-run tertiary public academy of fine arts in Via Brera in Milan, in a building it shares with the Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan's main public museum for art. The academy was founded in 1776 by Maria Theresa of Austria and shared its premises with other cultural and scientific institutions. The main building, the Palazzo Brera, was built in about 1615 to designs by Francesco Maria Richini.  The Brera district is so named because in around the ninth century, for military purposes, it was turned into a ‘brayda’ – a Lombardic word meaning ‘an area cleared of trees’.  Today, it is one of Milan’s most fashionable neighbourhoods, its narrow streets lined with trendy bars and restaurants. As the traditional home of many artists and writers, the area has a Bohemian feel that has brought comparisons with Montmartre in Paris. 

The Villa Reale, which faces the Giardini Pubblici of Porta Venezia, contains notable Appiani frescoes
The Villa Reale, which faces the Giardini Pubblici
of Porta Venezia, contains notable Appiani frescoes
Travel tip:

Milan’s Villa Reale, which at times has been known as the Villa Belgiojoso Bonaparte and the Villa Comunale,was built between 1790 and 1796 as the residence of Count Ludovico Barbiano di Belgiojoso, an Austrian diplomat and soldier who served the Habsburg monarchy in the second half of the 18th century. The mediaeval castle of Belgioioso, a town around 40km (25 miles) south of Milan in the province of Pavia, had been the seat of the Belgiojoso family for centuries. His villa, built in Neoclassical style and designed by Leopoldo Pollack, an Austrian-born architect, is on Via Palestro, facing the Giardini Pubblici of Porta Venezia, the eastern gate of the city.  In 1920 the villa became the property of the city of Milan and a year later became the home of the Galleria d'Arte Moderna. Adjoining the main building is the Padiglione d'Arte Contemporanea, an exhibition space for contemporary art, which was built in 1955 on the site of the former stables of the palace, destroyed by wartime bombing.  The villa’s English-style gardens were also laid out by Leopoldo Pollack.

Also on this day:

1830: The death of Francis I of the Two Sicilies

1931: The birth of film director Paolo Taviani

1936: The birth of actress Virna Lisi

1942: The birth of footballer Sandro Mazzola

1979: The birth of child actor Salvatore Cascio

1982: The birth of golfer Francesco Molinari



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


23 July 2023

Zàini - chocolate manufacturer

First factory opened in Via Carlo de Cristoforis in Milan

The distinctive Zàini logo has become known in 80 countries around the world
The distinctive Zàini logo has become known
in 80 countries around the world
The Milan chocolate producer Zàini was founded on this day in 1913 when the company’s first factory opened in the Porta Garibaldi district of the city.

The plant, opened by Luigi Zàini, a young entrepreneur, in Via Carlo de Cristoforis, was advertised as a ‘Factory of Chocolate, Cocoa, Candies, Jams and Similar’.

Zàini, who had experience in the confectionery business as an importer of biscuits, jams and other sweet products from northern Europe, had noted the rapidly growing popularity of chocolate and thought the time was right to move on from his role as middleman and become a producer in his own right.

In Milan at the time there were around 15 chocolate factories, so competition was keen, but Luigi had a unique selling point in mind. His dream was to be able to satisfy any wish for something sweet, reportedly saying: “Everyone is different, so why aren’t we creating lots of different chocolates and sweets for each different person?”.

Luigi Zàini, in the centre of the front row, pictured with all the employees at his first factory
Luigi Zàini, in the centre of the front row, pictured
with all the employees at his first factory
Luigi flavoured his bars with rum, mandarin, vanilla and aniseed among other things and made them stand out by wrapping them in coverings inspired by the fashion for Stile Liberty design in architecture, furniture and decorative art.

And he put his entrepreneurial instincts to good use to make sure the public knew about Zàini’s rich dark chocolate bars. Years ahead of the football sticker craze launched by Giuseppe Panini in the 1960s, Luigi hit upon the idea of selling chocolate bars with free collectors’ cards featuring celebrity figures from the worlds of sport and entertainment, in particular footballers and silent movie stars.

In 1924, Luigi Zàini married Olga Torri, whose father owned a large grocery store in Milan. It was a second marriage for both following the loss of their first partners. The couple brought six children to the marriage from their previous relationships, including Luigi’s son Piero and daughter Rosetta, and had two of their own, Vittorio and Luisa.

Business continued to thrive and, in 1926, the company moved to a new factory in Via Carlo Imbonati in the Dergano district, about 2.5km (1.5 miles) from Via de Cristoforis. It remains the company’s headquarters today.

Sadly, Luigi Zàini died in 1938, struck down prematurely by serious illness. Olga, with whom Luigi shared an elegant house built within the courtyard of the factory premises, knew Luigi wanted the business to remain in the family after his death, and took the reins herself.

Olga Zàini, later to take over the business, pictured with son Vittorio in around 1930
Olga Zàini, later to take over the business,
pictured with son Vittorio in around 1930
A woman of similar entrepreneurial spirit, she committed herself fully to the role. Olga was a strong believer that women had the same right to work as men and, under her leadership, Zàini became known for its high number of female employees.

World War Two presented new challenges. In order to protect the children, Olga relocated the family to Varese, a city some 50km (31 miles) away from Milan, midway between the great lakes of Como and Maggiore. She returned to Milan regularly to supervise production.

Situated in an industrial area of Milan close to major rail arteries into the city, the Zàini plant had the misfortune to be next to an anti-aircraft battery positioned to defend the area. Inevitably, heavy bombardments followed as Allied planes attacked the city and the factory suffered such enormous damage during a series of raids in 1943 that was effectively destroyed.

Yet Olga set about rebuilding it as soon as it was safe to do so, winning praise for putting much of the physical reconstruction work in the hands of the factory’s own employees to ensure they could continue to support their families.

Olga remained in charge of the business until the 1950s, when she took the bold step to rebrand Zàini’s traditional dark chocolate bar ‘Emilia’, after the family nanny who looked after her children while away in Varese, before handing over control to Vittorio and Piero.

The Zàini Milano chocolate shop in Via Carlo de Cristoforis, near the site of the original factory
The Zàini Milano chocolate shop in Via Carlo de
Cristoforis, near the site of the original factory
Under their guidance, Zàini added a gift range that included chocolates in decorative tins and cardboard packaging that enjoyed much popularity, as well as jars of boeri - a confection of dark praline and liqueur-soaked morello cherries, instantly recognisable for their distinctive red and gold individual wrappers.

Since the 1990s, Luigi Zàini spa has been run by a third generation of the family - Vittorio’s son and daughter, Luigi and Antonella.

Among their initiatives, with a nod to their grandmother’s commitment to helping women, is Le Nuove Donne del Cacao, a new line of chocolate bars introduced to support a female entrepreneurship project aimed at achieving equal opportunities for women cocoa farmers in the Ivory Coast.

In 2013, to mark the 100th anniversary of the business, Luigi and Antonella opened the Zàini Milano cafe and chocolate shop, in Via de Cristoforis, the same street where their grandfather had opened his first factory.

The company today, now the sole large-scale chocolate manufacturer in Milan, has 200 employees and three production plants, located in Milan and the nearby town of Senago, with Zàini products on sale in 80 countries around the world.

The striking, colourful design of the Centro Maciachini in the Dergano district
The striking, colourful design of the Centro
Maciachini in the Dergano district
Travel tip:

Dergano, where the Luigi Zàini brand is still based, is much changed from the industrial zone it was when the factory was bombed in World War Two. Where factories once stood, complexes such as the Centro Maciachini, built on the site formerly occupied by Carlo Erba pharmaceutical company, abandoned in the 1990s, which comprises among other things a commercial sector, a food park and the Teatro Bruno Munari.  Dergano was once home to Armenia Films, built in 1917 and once seen as a rival to Rome’s Cinecittà. The entrance to the studios, where the great director Luchino Visconti shot his first film, still stands in Via Baldinucci. Once a rural village, the area again has the feel of a small community with a number of cafes and restaurants and independent shops. 

The ultra-modern Piazza Gae Aulenti is a feature of Milan's fashionable Porta Garibaldi district
The ultra-modern Piazza Gae Aulenti is a feature
of Milan's fashionable Porta Garibaldi district
Travel tip:

Just a 15-minute walk from the Milan city centre, Porta Garibaldi is popular amongst tourists and locals alike for its restaurants, bars and nightlife. Corso Como, a wide pedestrianised thoroughfare leading directly to the neoclassical Porta Garibaldi arch, a Doric-style gateway built in the 19th century, has pavement cafes and fashion boutiques. The area is also famous for its avant-garde architecture and the impressive Piazza Gae Aulenti, a futuristic square designed by the Argentinian architect César Pelli, who also designed the square’s 231-metre (758ft) Unicredit Tower, which is Italy’s tallest building in the country. 

Also on this day:

1866: The birth of composer Francesco Cilea

1909: The birth of soprano Licia Albanese

1941: The birth of Italian president Sergio Mattarella 

1922: The birth of screenwriter and director Damiano Damiani