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

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 


26 June 2023

Claudio Abbado – conductor

The distinguished career of a multi award-winning musician

Claudio Abbado had a long and successful career in music
Claudio Abbado had a long and
successful career in music
The internationally acclaimed orchestra conductor Claudio Abbado was born on this day in 1933 in Milan.

Abbado was musical director at Teatro alla Scala, the opera house in his native city, from 1972 to 1980 and remained affiliated to the theatre until 1986. He was the principal conductor of the Vienna Philharmonic and the London Symphony Orchestra and was appointed director of the Vienna State Opera and the Berlin Philharmonic.

Born into a musical family, Abbado studied the piano with his father, Michelangelo Abbado from being eight years old. His father was a professional violinist and a professor at the Giuseppe Verdi Conservatory in Milan. His mother, Maria Carmela Savagnone, was a pianist and his brother, Marcello, became a concert pianist, a composer, and a teacher.

The Nazis occupied Milan during his childhood and his mother spent time in prison for harbouring a Jewish child. Abbado grew up to have anti-fascist political beliefs.

Abbado studied piano, composition and conducting at the Milan Conservatory. After deciding to be a conductor, he went to study in Vienna, winning the Koussevitsky prize in 1958 and the Metropolitan Prize in 1963. He made his conducting debut in Trieste in 1958 and his conducting debut at La Scala in 1960.

After being engaged by the New York Philharmonic, he began a successful international career. He was principal guest conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, founder and director of Lucerne Festival Orchestra, founder and director of Mahler Chamber Orchestra, founding Artistic Director of Orchestra Mozart, and music director of European Youth Orchestra

Claudio Abbado made his conducting debut in Trieste in 1958 at the age of 25
Claudio Abbado made his conducting debut in
Trieste in 1958 at the age of 25

While serving as musical director of La Scala, Abbado was credited with broadening the repertoire of the theatre and lifting standards. He also introduced inexpensive performances for students and working people. Experts praised him for his attention to detail and his robust rhythmic grasp. He was particularly strong on German and Italian 20th century operatic traditions.  

Abbado had a son and daughter from his first marriage, a son from his second marriage, and a son as a result of his four-year relationship with the Russian-born British violinist Viktoria Mullova.

In 2013, Italian President Giorgio Napolitano appointed Abbado to the Italian Senate as a Senator for life.

One of the leading conductors of his generation, Abbado died in Bologna in 2014 at the age of 80. As a tribute to him, La Scala’s orchestra, conducted by Daniel Barenboim, performed the slow movement of Beethoven’s Symphony No 3 to an empty theatre, with the performance relayed to a crowd in the square in front of the opera house and live streamed via La Scala’s website.

The Teatro alla Scala in Milan was originally built almost 250 years ago
The Teatro alla Scala in Milan was originally
built almost 250 years ago
Travel tip:

Milan’s Teatro alla Scala, known to Italians simply as La Scala, has become 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 Teatro Massimo in Palermo had been dark for 23 years when it was reopened in 1997
The Teatro Massimo in Palermo had been dark
for 23 years when it was reopened in 1997
Travel tip:

Palermo’s Teatro Massimo became a symbol of Italy’s fight back against the Mafia when Claudio Abbado conducted the Berlin Philharmonic in a concert there in 1997. The largest opera house in Italy, the Teatro Massimo had been closed for supposedly minor refurbishments in 1974, but with the Mafia controlling local government, no money was made available for the work. However, after the murder of Giovanni Falcone, the city turned against the Mafia and maestro Abbado was invited to conduct there at its grand reopening after the theatre had been dark for 23 years.

Also on this day:

1906: The birth of singer and actor Alberto Rabagliati

1944: British bombers attack San Marino

1968: The birth of footballer Paolo Maldini


15 May 2023

Debut of Italy’s national football team

Illustrious history began with victory over France

The Italy team of 1910 wore white shirts. The players were allowed to chose either white shorts or black
The Italy team of 1910 wore white shirts. The players
were allowed to chose either white shorts or black
The first official international football match involving Italy took place on this day in 1910 in Milan.

Officially formed four months earlier, the Azzurri made their debut at the Arena Civica in Milan, beating France 6-2 in front of a crowd said to number 4,000 spectators.  The match was refereed by Henry Goodley, an Englishman.

The team’s first goal was scored after 13 minutes by Pietro Lana, a forward with the AC Milan club, who went on to score a hat-trick, including a penalty kick.  The team played in white shirts, adopting the famous blue colours the following year.

In a team dominated by Milan-based players, the other goals were scored by Internazionale’s Virgilio Fossati, Giuseppe Rizzi of the Ausonia-Milano club and Enrico Debernardi, who played for Torino. Fossati, tragically, was killed six years later while fighting for the Italian Army in World War One.

Organised football had begun in Italy in 1898 with the founding of the Federazione Italiana Giuoco Calcio - the Italian Football Federation - who arranged the first national championship, won by Genoa.

The FIGC was primarily concerned with domestic football and it was the newspaper La Stampa, a daily journal published in Turin, who first mooted the idea of a team to represent the nation. 

The Arena Civica in Milan as it would have looked in the early part of the 20th century
The Arena Civica in Milan as it would have looked
in the early part of the 20th century
In addition to England and Scotland, who faced each other in the world’s first international football match in 1872, many countries around Europe and elsewhere had national teams and many Italians felt that their country needed to follow their lead.

The FIGC duly announced in January, 1910, that it was to select a national team to make its debut in Milan during the federation’s annual national congress in May of that year.

A commission to select the team was appointed but by mid-April the identity of Italy’s first international opponents had not been decided, while a domestic dispute was about to wreck the selection process.

This involved Pro Vercelli, the Piedmont-based club who were one of the most successful in the early years of the Italian championship, and Internazionale, the team we now recognise as Inter-Milan.

The two had finished the 1909-10 Prima Categoria - forerunner of Serie A - level on points. According to the FIGC rules, Pro Vercelli - champions for the last two seasons - should have won the title by virtue of their superior goal difference.

Yet the FIGC decided to ignore that rule and ordered the teams instead to meet in a play-off on April 24 to decide the title.

Pro Vercelli quite reasonably objected, pointing out too that several of their players would not be available because they were committed to appear in a military tournament on the same day. Yet their pleas were rejected.

The Italian national team won the first of its four World Cups on home soil in 1934
The Italian national team won the first of its four
World Cups on home soil in 1934
In protest, Pro Vercelli fielded their fourth team - essentially a youth team - for the play-off, which they lost 10-3. FIGC’s response was to ban Pro Vercelli from competition for the rest of 1910 and suspend their players, six of whom happened to form the bedrock of the 22-man squad chosen for Italy’s first international match.

Despite this, the match went ahead as planned on May 15 with France the chosen opponents from a shortlist of three alongside Switzerland and Hungary.

The FIGC were understandably keen that the event, the showpiece of their annual congress, should end in victory and chose France largely on the basis of their poor form. They had been hammered 10-1 by England in April, having previously lost 4-0 to neighbours Belgium.

Furthermore, their travel to Milan involved a 16-hour overnight train journey, disembarking at the city’s railway station at 5am on the day of the match. Not surprisingly, their weary players proved no match for the Italy team, even in the absence of the Pro Vercelli contingent.

For all its significance, the game attracted scant newspaper coverage, with only a brief report in the Milan daily, Corriere della Sera. A 6-1 defeat in the team’s next fixture, against Hungary in Budapest, hardly helped their early efforts to excite the nation.

Nonetheless, it was only 24 years before Italy would be world champions, winning the first of their two World Cups under manager Vittorio Pozzo.

The Azzurri have gone on to become established as one of the superpowers of international football, winning the World Cup four times in total. Only Brazil have been more successful, with five wins.

The main grandstand at the Arena Civica is a  striking example of neoclassical architecture
The main grandstand at the Arena Civica is a 
striking example of neoclassical architecture
Travel tip:

The Arena Civica - now known as the Arena Gianni Brera in memory of one of Italy’s most popular football journalists - can be found in the Parco Sempione behind the Castello Sforzesco in central Milan. It is one of the city's main examples of neoclassical architecture, an elliptical amphitheatre commissioned by Napoleon Bonaparte soon after he became King of Italy in 1805. At one time the home of the Milan football club Internazionale, it is nowadays home to Brera Calcio FC, a lower league football team, as well as a venue for international athletics and rugby union and a host of non-sports activities, including jazz festivals and pop concerts. It can accommodate up to 30,000 spectators.

The beautifully preserved Basilica of Sant'Andrea
The beautifully preserved
Basilica of Sant'Andrea
Travel tip:

Vercelli, once home of one of Italy’s strongest football teams, is now best known as the centre of Italy’s rice production industry, with many of the surrounding fields in the vast Po plain submerged under water during the summer months. Rice has been cultivated in the area since the 15th century. The city, which has around 46,500 inhabitants, is in Piedmont, some 85km (53 miles) west of Milan and about 75km (46 miles) northeast of Turin. It is reckoned to be built on the site of one of the oldest settlements in Italy, dating back to 600BC, and was home to the world's first publicly-funded university, which was opened in 1228 but folded in 1372. Vercelli’s Basilica of Sant'Andrea is regarded as one of the most beautiful and best-preserved Romanesque buildings in Italy.  

Also on this day:

1567: The baptism of composer and musician Claudio Monteverdi

1902: The birth of musician and band leader Pippo Barzizza

1936: The birth of actress and singer Anna Maria Alberghetti

1943: The birth of opera singer Salvatore Fisichella


28 April 2023

Escape from San Vittore prison

How a terrorist and a mass murderer brought terror to streets of Milan

Corrado Alunni was the driving force behind the San Vittore escape
Corrado Alunni was the driving force
behind the San Vittore escape
Milan citizens were left cowering in fear on this day in 1980 when police engaged in a prolonged shootout in the streets around San Vittore prison, which is situated less than three kilometres from the Duomo.

It followed an escape from the 19th century institution organised jointly by the notorious criminal and mass killer Renato Vallanzasca and the Red Brigades terrorist Corrado Alunni.

Vallanzasca, the head of the Milanese crime gang Banda della Comasina, had been in jail for much of the last eight years and was serving a life sentence for his role in a number of kidnappings and armed robberies, which had resulted in the deaths of a number of police officers, bank staff and members of the public.

Alunni, who had been a member of both the Red Brigades and the Communist terror group Prima Linea, had been jailed in 1978 after his arrest following an armed attack on a carabinieri patrol in the city of Novara in Piedmont.

In the days leading up to their escape attempt, the two had managed to smuggle a number of firearms into the prison and discussed how they would force prison guards to open the gates.

The action began to unfold during an afternoon exercise session on Monday, 28 April. At about 1.15pm, Vallanzasca and Alunni, together with Vallanzasca’s gangland second-in-command, Antonio Colia, and 16 other prisoners, executed their plan.

Renato Vallanzasca was one of Milan's most notorious gangsters
Renato Vallanzasca was one of Milan's
most notorious gangsters

The three in the group carrying the smuggled-in weapons seized a senior prison officer, Romano Saccoccio, using him as a human shield as they walked towards the exit gates, shooting two guards who refused to give them the keys and taking their weapons as well.

Once outside, the escaping group scattered into the streets around the prison, situated on the Viale di Porta Vercellina, but apparently without much thought as to where they were going. 

Police were quickly in pursuit and both Vallanzasca and Alunni were injured during fierce exchanges of fire. Alunni was shot in the stomach and Vallanzasca suffered a serious head wound. Six prisoners managed to shake off their pursuers, although it was only a short time before they were recaptured.

Alunni, who was 33 at the time, declared the escape attempt to be a success despite it ending so quickly.

“The essential thing was to be able to escape, overcoming all the barriers of men and structures,” he said. “Even if it ended badly, I must say that we won the first test.”

In subsequent trials over his terrorist activities, including those into the kidnapping and murder of the former prime minister, Aldo Moro, in 1978, Alunni accumulated more than 20 years in prison sentences. In 1987, for the first time, he expressed a will to disassociate himself with the armed political struggle that came to be known as The Years of Lead.  He died in 2022 at the age of 74.

Vallanzasca, meanwhile, became a veteran of escape attempts, although none successful and at 72 years of age he remains in jail, having been sentenced during his criminal career to life imprisonment four times, along with other sentences adding up to 295 years.

The San Vittore prison was
completed in 1879
Travel tip:

The San Vittore prison, the official address of which is Piazza Gaetano Filangieri, was built between 1872 and 1879 in a post-unification project when it was deemed that Milan needed a new prison. At the time, its location was on the outskirts of the city but urban expansion in the 150 years since then means that it is now anything but, falling well within the circonvallazione interna, the city’s internal ring road. Designed by the engineer Francesco Lucca, the prison’s perimeter walls were originally built in medieval style, presumably in the hope of giving the building some aesthetic appeal, but have since been replaced with rather ugly concrete. Its inmates have ranged from the Marxist intellectual Antonio Gramsci, who was locked up during the Fascist era, to the Sicilian Mafia boss Salvatore ‘Totò’ Riina.

The Basilica di Sant'Abrogio is a short walk from San Vittore
The Basilica di Sant'Abrogio is
a short walk from San Vittore
Travel tip:

A more conventional tourist attraction within a short walk of San Vittore is the Basilica di Sant'Ambrogio, in Piazza Sant’Ambrogio. It was originally built by Saint Ambrose, who is Milan’s patron saint, when he was bishop, on the site of an earlier Christian burial ground. After his remains were placed there, the church was named after him. It was rebuilt in the 11th century and further modified in the 15th century.  Aurelius Ambrosius was born in 340, training as a lawyer before becoming Bishop of Milan. After his ordination he wrote about religion, composed hymns and music and was generous to the poor.  His feast day is celebrated on 7 December each year.

Also on this day:

1400: The death of lawyer Baldus de Ubaldis

1876: The birth of car maker Nicola Romeo

1945: The death of Benito Mussolini


23 April 2023

Milva - singer and actress

Popular star of five decades

Milva pictured at the start of her career in 1961, when she made her debut at Sanremo
Milva pictured at the start of her career in
1961, when she made her debut at Sanremo
The singer and actress known as Milva died on this day in 2021 in Milan at the age of 81.

Born Maria Ilva Biolcati in Goro, a fishing village on the Po delta, her popularity was such that she sold more than 80 million records. Her output was extraordinary, running to 126 singles and a staggering 173 albums in a career spanning more than half a century. No Italian artist has recorded so many albums.

For a time she bestrode the pop world, earning the nickname La Pantera di Goro  - The Panther of Goro - as recognition by the Italian media of her status as one of the three best-loved female performers of her generation, alongside Mina - dubbed the Tiger of Cremona - and Iva Zanicchi, who found herself labelled the Eagle of Ligonchio. 

Yet Milva was equally at home with musical theatre and opera and earned plaudits early in career when she sang Édith Piaf's repertoire at the prestigious Olympia theatre in Paris.  She was said to have an uncanny ability to sing almost any kind of music in any language after listening to it just once.

Her versatility enabled her to adapt to new trends in music and prolong her career. She had turned 70 by the time she announced her retirement from performing in 2010, although there was still time for one more album and a single, sung in German, in 2012.

The daughter of a dressmaker and a fisherman, as a child Milva had to work to support her family during tough times economically for Italy in the years after World War Two.

Milva in the 1980s, when she began a collaboration with Greek composer, Vangelis
Milva in the 1980s, when she began a
collaboration with Greek composer, Vangelis
In her late teens she moved to Bologna, enrolled for singing and acting lessons and won a singing contest in which she was judged the best out of more than 7,500 entrants.

After recording her first single in 1960 with an Édith Piaf's song Milord, she made her live debut at the Sanremo Music Festival in 1961, finishing third. Over her career, Milva would enter Sanremo 15 times, a record for the number of appearances that she holds jointly with Peppino Di Capri, Toto Cutugno, Al Bano and Anna Oxa, although she never won, finishing second twice and third three times.

She demonstrated her versatility the following year with her performance of the Piaf repertoire in Paris, amazing both the audience and critics in the way she could sing in French with the emotion that Piaf brought to her work.

Nicknamed La Rossa because of her voluminous red hair, Milva’s ‘60s output included popular songs but also an eclectic mix of other material, including collections of Italian songs of the 1920s and ‘30s, revolutionary anthems and tango classics. She also appeared in a number of films and starred in Giorgio Strehler's stage production of Brecht's The Threepenny Opera.

In the ‘70s, when she was similarly prolific, she released albums in German and Japanese as well as Italian, and toured Italy, the USA, Greece, France, Germany, Canada, Russia and Japan. The ‘80s saw her begin a long-running collaboration with Vangelis, the Greek composer of electronic and progressive music, and devote much energy to fund-raising, either through albums or stage performances.

Milva during a performance in 2009, captivating audiences at the age of 70
Milva during a performance in 2009,
captivating audiences at the age of 70
One of her most memorable hits was the song Alexander Platz, written by the Italian songwriter Franco Battiato in 1982, which explored love in divided Berlin during the Cold War years, its name inspired by the Berlin square, Alexanderplatz, a popular meeting place.

Perhaps uniquely, for her contribution to the culture of the three respective countries, she was awarded the highest honours from three governments: the Order of Merit of both the Italian and German republics, and the Knighthood of the French Légion d'Honneur.

She began to slow down only at the end of the 2000s, when she concluded that she was unable to reach the high standards she had always set for himself.

Married once, from 1961 to 1969, to the film and TV director Maurizio Corgnati, she was said also to have had romantic relationships with the actor Mario Piave, the lyricist Massimo Gallerani, and another actor Luigi Pistilli. 

She had a daughter, Martina, with whom she was living at the time of her death, which came after a period of illness attributed to a degenerative neurological disease.  After a private funeral, Milva’s body was laid to rest at the cemetery at Blevio, a small lakeside town on Lago di Como where she had a house.

Milva's home village of Goro sits on the edge of the beautiful Po Delta regional park
Milva's home village of Goro sits on the edge of
the beautiful Po Delta regional park
Travel tip:

Goro, where Maria Ilva Biocati was born, is a fishing village on the edge of the protected Po Delta regional park, situated on the Emilia-Romagna side of the border with Veneto.  The Sacca di Goro, a large lagoon enclosed between the Po di Goro and the Po di Volano rivers, is an ideal habitat for mullet, sea bream, sea bass and for breeding of mussels, oysters and veracious clams, including the rare Golden Oyster of Goro, which is considered a delicacy, The Sagra della Vongola, Goro’s clam festival, takes place during the month of July each year, allowing visitors to enjoy the flavours and traditions of the area.

A story in La Repubblica newspaper about Casa  Milva's role in the Insula Felix Foundation
A story in La Repubblica newspaper about Casa 
Milva's role in the Insula Felix Foundation
Travel tip:

Milva’s home in Milan for 40 years was an apartment in an art nouveau palace in Via Serbelloni, an elegant area of the city between Porta Venezia and the Fashion Quarter. Recently, Milva’s daughter, art critic Martina Corgnati, has established the apartment, at No 9 Via Serbelloni, as the headquarters of the Insula Felix Foundation, which was set up by her late mother in 1984 as a non-profit institution as a place of research, the celebration of culture and for the support of young scholars, also promoting innovative forms of support for people with mental illness or neurological-psychiatric problems. 

Also on this day:

1554: The death of poet Gaspara Stampa

1857: The birth of opera composer Ruggero Leoncavallo

1939: The birth of Mafia boss Stefano Bontade

1964: The birth of leading conductor Gianandrea Noseda


11 April 2023

Donato Bramante - architect and painter

Father of High Renaissance style left outstanding legacy

Bramante made his mark in Rome in the 16th century
Bramante made his mark in
Rome in the 16th century
The architect and painter Donato Bramante, credited with introducing High Renaissance architecture to Rome, died on this day in 1514 in Rome, probably aged around 70.

Bramante, who was also a perspectivist painter, worked in Milan before moving to Rome, where he produced the original designs for St Peter’s Basilica and built several buildings and structures considered to be masterpieces of early 16th century architecture.

These include the Tempietto di San Pietro in Montorio on the summit of the Janiculum Hill, the Chiostro di Santa Maria della Pace near Piazza Navona, the Cortile del Belvedere and Scala del Bramante in the Vatican and the Palazzo della Cancelleria, located between Campo de' Fiori and Corso Vittorio Emanuele II.

Bramante was born Donato di Pascuccio d'Antonio in around 1444 to a well-to-do farming family in Fermignano, a town in what is now the Marche region, a few kilometres south of Urbino. He was also known as Bramante Lazzari. 

Little is known of his early life, although it is possible he worked on the construction site of Federico da Montefeltro's Palazzo Ducale in Urbino, having trained under its architect, Luciano Laurana.

He moved to Milan in 1476 and the first work definitively attributed to him was in Bergamo, 50km (31 miles) or so to the northeast, where he painted murals, notably on the facade of the Palazzo del Podestà in 1477. His mastery of perspective is thought to have been influenced by Piero della Francesca, his contemporary.

In Milan, Ludovico Sforza appointed Bramante his court architect on the recommendation of his brother, Cardinal Ascanio Sforza. His work there included the a rectory and cloisters of the Basilica of Sant'Ambrogio, which featured his characteristic use of arches, and alterations to the church of Santa Maria Delle Grazie - famously the home of Leonardo da Vinci’s fresco The Last Supper - where he added a cloister, a rectory and a dome surrounded by columns. 

Bramante's original design for the dome of St Peter's Basilica
Bramante's original design for the
dome of St Peter's Basilica
In 1499, however, Bramante’s time in Milan came to an abrupt end in 1499, when Ludovico Sforza was driven out by an invading French army. Bramante moved to Rome.

There, he immersed himself in the study of the architecture of ancient Rome, which would influence the style that became known as High Renaissance.

He became known to Giuliano della Rovere, the Cardinal who was the future Pope Julius II, his biggest patron. It was Julius who commissioned Bramante to build a new St Peter's, replacing the basilica erected by Constantine in the fourth century, which he envisaged would be the greatest Christian church ever constructed. 

There was a competition organised, which Bramante won with a design based on an enormous Greek-cross structure topped by a central dome inspired by that of the huge circular Roman temple, the Pantheon. However when Pope Julius died in 1513, his successor replaced Bramante with Giuliano da Sangallo and Fra Giocondo, and the commission then passed to Raphael in 1514, a few months after Bramante’s own death. It was not until 1547 that Michelangelo took over as chief architect, making substantial changes to Bramante's original plan.

St Peter’s Basilica apart, Julius II employed Bramante on many more projects, including whole complexes of buildings, fountains and street layouts as the pontiff set about a programme of urban regeneration. 

Among these, his Cortile del Belvedere - Belvedere Courtyard - a long, rectangular courtyard connecting the Vatican Palace with the Villa Belvedere in a series of terraces, linked by stairs, influenced the design of courtyards across Europe.

The Tempietto di San Pietro is considered a Bramante masterpiece
The Tempietto di San Pietro is
considered a Bramante masterpiece
His Scala del Bramante, meanwhile, though described as a staircase, was in fact a ramp, an innovative double-helix spiral connecting the Vatican's Belvedere Palace to the outside world of Rome. Lined with granite Doric columns and featuring a herringbone paving pattern, it was designed to allow Julius II to enter his private residence while still in his carriage.  

Two of Bramante’s most acclaimed masterpieces, those that earned him the description of Father of the High Renaissance, were the cloister at Santa Maria della Pace, commissioned by Cardinal Oliviero Carafa around 1500, with a magnificent upper gallery characterised by alternating Corinthian pilasters and columns, and the Tempietto di San Pietro, commissioned by Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain, a circular temple composed of slender Tuscan columns, modelled after the ancient Roman Theatre of Marcellus.

An extrovert character who wrote poetry and music, Bramante was a close friend of Raphael, in whose fresco The School of Athens he depicts Bramante as the mathematician, Euclid.

The town of Fermignano can be found  a few kilometres south of Urbino
The town of Fermignano can be found 
a few kilometres south of Urbino
Travel tip:

Fermignano, Bramante’s birthplace, has a history that dates back to Roman times, when it was the location for the defeat of Hannibal’s Carthaginian army, led by his brother, Hasdrubal, in 207BC.  Significant buildings include the Delle Milizie tower and a Roman bridge over the Metauro river. A former paper mill located in Via Santa Veneranda used to be rented out by the Montefeltro family. The church of San Giacomo  in Compostela is an important historical monument with 14th and 15th century frescoes. A contemporary art gallery in the town is named after Bramante.

The rectangular Cortile del Belvedere, designed by Bramante, can be found in the Vatican City
The rectangular Cortile del Belvedere, designed by
Bramante, can be found in the Vatican City
Travel tip:

The Vatican City, which contains some of Bramante’s most significant work, occupies an area of 44 hectares (110 acres) within the city of Rome and has approximately 1,000 citizens. Since 1929, it has enjoyed the status of the smallest sovereign state in the world by both area and population. It came into existence when an agreement was signed between the Kingdom of Italy and the Holy See to recognise the Vatican as an independent state. The treaty - known as the Lateran Treaty - settled what had been a long-running dispute regarding the power of the Popes as rulers of civil territory within a united Italy.  The treaty was named after the Lateran Palace where the agreement was signed and although the signatory for the Italian government was the Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, succeeding democratic governments have all upheld the treaty.

Also on this day:

1512: The Battle of Ravenna

1890: The birth of dictator’s wife Rachele Mussolini

1987: The death of writer and Auschwitz survivor Primo Levi