Showing posts with label Naples. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Naples. Show all posts

31 March 2024

Francesco Durante – composer and teacher

Musician devoted his life to passing on his composing skills to others

Francesco Durante numbered many famous pupils when he taught in Naples
Francesco Durante numbered many famous
pupils when he taught in Naples
An esteemed composer of religious and instrumental music, Francesco Durante was born on this day in 1684 at Frattamaggiore near Naples.

Durante was a highly regarded teacher at the Sant'Onofrio Conservatorio and the Santa Maria di Loreto Conservatorio and was also Chapelmaster at the Conservatorio dei Poveri di Gesú Cristo in Naples.

He had some famous pupils, among whom were Niccoló Jommelli, Niccoló Piccinni and Giovanni Battista Pergolesi, who became leading composers of the Neapolitan School of 18th century opera.

Durante studied music in Rome and at Naples, where he was a pupil at San Onofrio and is believed to have studied under Alessandro Scarlatti. He began his own teaching career at the Sant'Onofrio Conservatorio in 1710.

Between 1728 and 1742 he also taught at Santa Maria Loreto and the Conservatorio dei Poveri di Gesú Cristo.  He succeeded Leonardo Leo as principal teacher at Sant'Onofrio Conservatorio in 1745.

There was always rivalry between Leo’s students and his own pupils, who at various times included the composers Giovanni Paisiello, Tommaso Traetta and Leonardo Vinci.

Durante’s own compositions included motets, masses, requiems and oratorios. A pastoral mass for four voices and a setting of the Lamentations of Jeremiah are considered among his best works. He also composed for the harpsichord and for stringed instruments.

A collection of his works was presented to the Bibliothèque National in Paris by a Neapolitan collector of art and music and the Imperial library in Vienna also houses a collection of his manuscripts. He seems to have composed mainly sacred works and is considered by experts to have been one of the best composers of church music of his period.

Durante, who was married three times, died in Naples in 1755, aged 71.

The Piazza Umberto I in Frattamaggiore, with the campanile of the Basilica of San Sossio
The Piazza Umberto I in Frattamaggiore, with the
campanile of the Basilica of San Sossio 
Travel tip:

Frattamaggiore, where Durante was born, is a comune of Naples, about 15km (9 miles) north of the city, and 15 km southwest of Caserta. Known as Fratta to the locals, Frattamaggiore was named a Benedictine city in 1997 and was awarded the title of City of Art in 2008. It is thought to date back to before Roman times, but the first recorded mention of Frattamaggiore was in 921 AD. The patron saint of Frattamaggiore is Saint Sossius, or Sosius. His remains were first preserved at Miseno, but after the town was destroyed by the Saracens his followers moved to live in Frattamaggiore. The saint’s relics were recovered by Benedictines and preserved in a convent in Naples, but after the convent was suppressed during Napoleonic times, his relics were transferred to Frattamaggiore where they are preserved in a basilica dedicated to him.

The entrance to the Sant'Onofrio Conservatory at Porta Capuana
The entrance to the Sant'Onofrio
Conservatory at Porta Capuana
Travel tip:

The Conservatorio di Sant'Onofrio at Porta Capuana, where Durante taught at the beginning and end of his career, was one of the four original Naples music conservatories. Founded in 1588, it was developed first as an orphanage. Almost one fifth of the students at the Conservatorio di Sant'onofrio were castrati. Its popularity declined during the Napoleonic period, and only 30 students remained when the conservatory merged with that of Santa Maria di Loreto in 1797. Porta Capuana is now a free-standing gateway that was once part of the Aragonese walls of the city and is situated between the city’s main railway station and the Duomo. The Conservatorio di Sant'onofrio, which was in time absorbed into the Naples Conservatory, used to be close to the Castel Capuano, which was originally a 12th century fortress but has been modified several times. Until recently, the castle was home to the city’s Hall of Justice, also known as the Vicaria, which housed legal offices and a prison.

More reading:

The opera buffa genius of Giovanni Battista Pergolesi

Why Domenico Cimarosa's Il Matrimonio Segreto is seen as one of the greatest comic operas

First night at Teatro di San Carlo

Also on this day: 

1425: The birth of Bianca Maria Visconti, Duchess of Milan

1675: The birth of Pope Benedict XIV

1941: The birth of cartoonist Franco Bonvicini

1958: The birth of crime writer Maurizio De Giovanni

1996: The death of car designer Dante Giacosa

(Picture credits: conservatory gate by Baku; via Wikimedia Commons)


4 November 2023

Alfonso II - King of Naples

Ruler forced to abdicate after one year

Alfonso II became King on the  death of his father in 1494
Alfonso II became King on the 
death of his father in 1494
Alfonso II, who became King of Naples in 1494 but was forced to abdicate after just one year, was born on this day in 1448 in Naples.

Also known as Alfonso II of Aragon, as heir to Ferdinand I he had the title Duke of Calabia from the age of 10. Blessed with a natural flair for leadership and military strategy, he spent much of his life as a condottiero, leading the army of Naples in a number of conflicts.

He contributed to the Renaissance culture of his father’s court, building the splendid palaces of La Duchesca and Poggio Reale, although neither survived to be appreciated today.

Alfonso II also introduced improvements to the urban infrastructure of Naples, building new churches, tree-lined straight roads, and a sophisticated hydraulic system to supply the city’s fountains. 

He became King of Naples with the death of his father in January 1494 but stepped down in favour of his son, Ferdinand II, in January the following year as the powerful army of Charles VIII of France, who had launched an invasion of the Italian peninsula in September, 1494, prepared to take the city.

Alfonso fled to Sicily, seeking refuge in a monastery at Mazara del Vallo on the southwestern coast, about 25km (15 miles) from Marsala in the province of Trapani.  He died there in December 1495 at the age of 47.

The eldest son of Isabella de Clermont, the first wife of King Ferdinand I, Alfonso II inherited the title of King of Jerusalem on his mother’s death. After being given a humanist education from tutors in his father’s court, he became a career soldier.

A drawing depicting the scene of Alfonso's abdication in favour of his son, Ferdinand II
A drawing depicting the scene of Alfonso's
abdication in favour of his son, Ferdinand II
His battlefield skills were praised when in 1467, still only 19 years old, he helped the Florentines against Venice. 

Other notable campaigns included the war waged by the Kingdom of Naples and Pope Sixtus IV against Florence following the attempt by the Pazzi family to assassinate Lorenzo de’ Medici in 1478, the reversal of the Ottoman invasion of Otranto in 1481, and a major intervention against Venice in the War of Ferrara, also known as the Salt War, between 1482 and 1484.

Closer to home, he advised his father to impose severe repressive measures to crush the so-called Conspiracy of the Barons in 1485, which made him many enemies. 

By the time Alfonso ascended to the throne in Naples with the death of his father, the Kingdom’s coffers were exhausted and the chances of repelling the armies of Charles VIII were much reduced.  The French king had been encouraged to attack Naples by Alfonso’s brother-in-law, Ludovico Sforza, who saw a chance to reassert his power in Milan. 

Pope Alexander VI tried to persuade Charles VIII to use his resources against the Turks instead but without success. By early 1495, Charles was approaching Naples, having defeated Florence and the Neapolitan fleet under Alfonso's brother, Frederick, at Porto Venere, at which point Alfonso took flight, handing power to his son, Ferdinand II, who offered no resistance as Charles VIII seized the crown on behalf of his father, Louis XI, who had inherited the Angevin claim to Naples.

A bust at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, said to be of Ippolita Maria Sforza
A bust at the Victoria and Albert Museum in
London, said to be of Ippolita Maria Sforza
Notorious for a somewhat debauched lifestyle and innumerable lovers, Alfonso II had three legitimate children by his one marriage, to Ippolita Maria Sforza, and two out of wedlock by Trogia Gazzella, a noblewoman.

Of Alfonso’s two major villas in Naples - La Duchesca and Poggio Reale - the latter, a complex said to have been designed by the architect Giuliano da Maiano, was said to be so beautiful that Charles VIII described it as an “earthly paradise”. 

Located in a district now known as Poggioreale, the Poggio Reale complex fell into disrepair after Charles had left, taking many of its treasures back to France. In the 17th century, an attempt was made to restore it under King Philip III of Spain but a resurgence of bubonic plague put paid to that, and part of the grounds became a burial place for lepers. Ultimately, a cemetery was built on top of the ruins.

After his death in Sicily, Alfonso’s remains were buried at the Duomo di Messina, the Cathedral Basilica of Santa Maria Assunta.

The Norman church of San Nicolò Regale in Mazaro del Vallo, built in 1124
The Norman church of San Nicolò Regale in
Mazaro del Vallo, built in 1124
Travel tip:

Mazara del Vallo, where Alfonso II sheltered after fleeing Naples, is a port and resort at the mouth of the Mazara river on the southwest coast of Sicily, 25km (15 miles) from Marsala and just over 130km (80 miles) from the island’s capital, Palermo. Founded by the Phoenicians in the ninth century BC, it has passed under the control of the Greeks, Carthaginians, Romans, Vandals, Ostrogoths, Byzantines, Arabs, Normans, Angevins, Catalans, Savoys, Habsburgs and Bourbons before being conquered by Giuseppe Garibaldi in 1860 and joining the newly-formed Kingdom of Italy. Attractions include the remains of a Norman Castle built in 1073 and demolished in 1880, the church of San Nicolò Regale, which is a rare example of Norman architecture, built in 1124, and the simple church of San Vito a Mare, built in 1776 on the site of old Norman remains on the edge of the water. Arab influences can be enjoyed in the historic Kasbah Mazara del Vallo district, while the Museo del Satiro Danzante houses a bronze statue of a dancing satyr believed to have been sculpted by Greek artist Praxiteles, which was found at a depth of 500m (1,600 ft) in the Strait of Sicily by a fishing boat in 1998. 

The triumphal arch that forms the gate of the Castel Nuovo in Naples, home of the Aragonese court
The triumphal arch that forms the gate of the Castel
Nuovo in Naples, home of the Aragonese court
Travel tip:

The Aragonese court in Naples was based at Castel Nuovo, often known as the Maschio Angioino, the imposing castle that stands on the water’s edge in Naples, overlooking the Piazza Municipio. Alfonso of Aragon, who had conquered the throne of Naples in 1443, had the fortress completely rebuilt in its present form, entrusting the renovation of the old Angevin palace-fortress to an Aragonese architect, Guillem Sagrera. The five round towers, four of which were part of the square Angevin structure, reaffirmed the defensive role of the castle, while the castle’s status as a centre of royal power was underlined by the construction at the entrance, between the two western towers, of a triumphal arch, a masterpiece of Neapolitan Renaissance architecture which was the work of Francesco Laurana and others. It was built in 1470 and commemorates Alfonso of Aragon's entry into Naples in 1443.

Also on this day:

1333 and 1966: Devastating floods in Florence

1575: The birth of Bolognese painter Guido Reni

1737: The inauguration of Teatro di San Carlo

1964: The birth of crime writer Sandrone Dazieri


12 August 2023

Francesco Crispi – Italian Prime Minister

The ‘great patriot’ was of Albanian heritage

A photographic portrait from the  1880s of Francesco Crispi
A photographic portrait from the 
1880s of Francesco Crispi 
The death at the age of  82 in Naples of the Italian statesman Francesco Crispi, who was a key figure during the Risorgimento, was announced on this day in 1901.

He was a close friend of Giuseppe Mazzini and Giuseppe Garibaldi, and it was Crispi who persuaded Garibaldi to invade Sicily in 1860 with his band of volunteers known as The Thousand. Quickly conquering Sicily, Garibaldi proclaimed himself dictator and named Crispi as Minister of the Interior.

Crispi was born in Ribera in Sicily in 1818. His father’s family were originally from Palazzo Adriano in south western Sicily, which had been founded by Orthodox Christian Albanians. Crispi was brought up to speak Italian, along with Greek, Albanian and Sicilian.

By the time he was 11, Crispi was attending a seminary in Palermo. He then studied law and literature at the University of Palermo, receiving a law degree in 1837.

Crispi founded his own newspaper, L’Oreteo, which brought him into contact with political figures. He wrote about the need to educate poor people, the damage caused by the wealth of the Catholic Church and the need for all citizens, including women, to be considered equal.

In 1845 he became a judge in Naples, where he became well known for his liberal and revolutionary ideas.

Crispi travelled to Palermo in 1847 to prepare for the revolution against the Bourbon monarchy in Sicily. Afterwards, he was appointed a member of the provisional Sicilian parliament and supported the separatist movement that wanted to break ties with Naples.  But when the Bourbons took back control of Sicily by force in 1849, Crispi was forced to flee the island.

The uprising against the Bourbons in Sicily in 1848, which Crispi and others encouraged
The uprising against the Bourbons in Sicily in
1848, which Crispi and others encouraged
He took refuge first in France and then in 1849 he moved to Turin, where he worked as a journalist and met Mazzini, who was a Republican activist. Crispi was then arrested and sent to live in Malta by the Piedmontese.

From there he went to London, where he became a revolutionary conspirator and was involved in the Italian national movement.

After returning to Italy, Crispi travelled round Sicily in disguise, preparing for the conquering of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies.

Crispi was appointed first secretary of state in the provisional government, where he found himself in opposition to Cavour, the prime minister of the Kingdom of Sardinia, who wanted to annex Sicily to Piedmont.

In the general election of 1861, before the establishment of the Kingdom of Italy, Crispi was elected a member of the Historical Left for the constituency of Castelvetrano, a seat he would hold for the rest of his life.

Crispi acquired the reputation for being aggressive and earned the nickname of Il Solitario, the Loner. In 1864 he deserted Mazzini and announced he was a monarchist. He told Mazzini in a letter: ‘The monarchy unites us, the republic would divide us.’ On the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian war, he worked to impede a projected alliance with France.

The assassination attempt that Crispi survived in 1894
The assassination attempt that
Crispi survived in 1894
After the general election of 1976, Crispi was elected President of the Chamber of Deputies. He travelled to London and Berlin where he established friendly relationship with Gladstone and Bismarck. After the death of Victor Emmanuel II in 1878, Crispi secured a unitary monarchy with King Umberto taking the title of Umberto I of Italy, instead of Umberto IV of Savoy. He was then accused of bigamy and although his marriage to his third wife was ruled as valid, he was compelled to resign bringing the whole government down with him.

In 1881, Crispi was one of the main supporters of universal male suffrage and in 1887 he was appointed by the King as Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs. He abolished the death penalty, revoked anti strike laws, limited police powers, and reformed the penal code.

His government lost its majority after his Minister of Finance had to reveal a higher than planned deficit and Crispi resigned in 1891. He was asked to form a new government in 1893 and the following year had to declare a state of siege throughout Sicily.

In 1894, an anarchist tried to shoot Crispi but failed. Crispi introduced a series of anti-anarchist laws that strengthened his position.

During his second term, Crispi continued colonial expansion in East Africa, which led to the first Italo-Ethiopian war.

An attempt was made to prosecute Crispi for embezzlement, but a parliamentary commission refused to authorise it. He resigned his seat in parliament, but was re-elected in 1898 by his Palermo constituents.

After his health declined, Crispi died in Naples on the evening of Sunday, August 11, 1901, with his death announced the following morning. He is remembered as a colourful, patriotic politician. His fiery nature and turbulent personal and political life have been ascribed to his Albanian heritage. He was once saluted by Giuseppe Verdi as ‘the great patriot’ and streets in Italy are still named after him to this day.

One of the towers at Castello di Poggio Diana
One of the towers at
Castello di Poggio Diana
Travel tip:

Ribera, the birthplace of Francesco Crispi, is a town of almost 18,000 inhabitants situated about 50km (31 miles) from Agrigento on the southwest flank of the island of Sicily. Sometimes known as "the city of oranges" it sits on the Plain of San Nicola, between the valleys of the Verdura and Magazzolo rivers. The town's main sights include the 18th century Chiesa Madre, which remained closed for more than 30 years following an earthquake in 1968 but has been restored. Outside the town, on a gorge overlooking the Verdura river, is the Castello di Poggio Diana, built by Guglielmo Peralta in the 14th century. Agriculture is the town's main industry, involving the cultivation and marketing of the Washington navel orange - introduced by emigrants returned from the United States - and strawberries. 

The Via Francesco Crispi is in the heart of Rome's historic city centre
The Via Francesco Crispi is in the heart of
Rome's historic city centre
Travel tip:

Many streets in Italy take the name of Francesco Crispi. The Via Francesco Crispi in Rome bisects the historical centre of the city between Piazza di Spagna and Piazza Barberini, a few minutes' walk away from the Villa Borghese, Piazza del Popolo and the Trevi Fountain. The Volpetti family's gourmet food business, established in 1870, is located on Via Francesco Crispi, as is the historic Crispi 19 restaurant, opened in 1873, and the upmarket Marini shoe shop. The street is also home to the Galleria Comunale d'Arte Moderna, a former16th-century monastery now turned museum housing a large collection of works by late 19th and early 20th century artists including  Giacomo Balla, Carlo Carrà, Arturo Dazzi, Giorgio de Chirico, Renato Guttuso, Giacomo Manzù and Giorgio Morandi.

Also on this day: 

1612: The death of Venetian composer Giovanni Gabrieli

1861: The birth of anarchist Luigi Galleani

1943: The death of mountaineer and photographer Vittorio Sella

1990: The birth of football Mario Balotelli


14 June 2023

Antonio Sacchini - composer

Masterpiece widely acknowledged only after tragic death

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Travel tip:

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

Also on this day:

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

1800: The Battle of Marengo

1837: The death of poet and philosopher Giacomo Leopardi

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


25 March 2023

Giambattista Marino – poet

The colourful life of an influential literary figure

A portrait of Giambattista Marino by Caravaggio, painted in about 1600
A portrait of Giambattista Marino by
Caravaggio, painted in about 1600
Controversial poet Giambattista Marino, who founded the school of Marinism that dominated 17th century Italian poetry, died on this day in 1625 in Naples.

Marino’s poetry was translated into other languages and many other poets imitated his use of complicated wordplay, elaborate conceits and metaphors.

But although Marino’s work was praised throughout Europe, he led a chaotic life, was frequently short of money and at times arrested and imprisoned for alleged immorality.

Marino, sometimes referred to as Marini, was born in Naples in 1569. He trained for the law, under pressure from his parents, but later rebelled and refused to practise his profession.

From 1590 onwards, he spent his time travelling in Italy and France and enjoying the success of his poetry. His work was circulated in manuscript form to great acclaim and later in his life he managed to get some of it published, despite censorship.

In 1596 he wrote La Sampogna (The Syrinx), a series of sensual verses, but he was unable to publish them until 1620.

While working as secretary to a Neapolitan prince he was arrested in both 1598 and 1600 on charges of immorality, but on both occasions his admirers managed to secure his release from prison. One of his arrests was for procuring an abortion for the daughter of the Mayor of Naples and the other for forging episcopal bulls to save the life of a friend who had been involved in a duel.

Some of his defenders and some of his detractors have claimed that Marino himself had homosexual tendencies, but this practice was persecuted during the Counter Reformation and so Marino would not have been open about it.

The front cover of an edition of Marino's Adone, dated 1623
The front cover of an edition of
Marino's Adone, dated 1623
After moving to Rome, Marino attached himself to Cardinal Pietro Aldobrandini, a nephew of Pope Clement VIII, and they travelled round Italy together. Marino tried to get some of his poetry published while they were in Parma but was prevented by the Inquisition.

But in 1602 he was able to publish some of his early poetry as Le rime (The Rhymes) and La lira (The Lyre).

While living in Turin between 1608 and 1615, he enjoyed the patronage of the Duke of Savoy, but he was the victim of an assassination attempt by a rival poet and he was imprisoned yet again after writing satirical poems.

After friends had managed to secure his release, Marino went to Paris, where he lived until 1623 under the patronage of Marie de’ Medici and her son, Louis XIII.

While in Paris, Marino published his most important work, Adone, an epic poem of 45,000 lines that tells the love story of Venus and Adonis. This was dedicated to Louis XIII. Although critics have praised some of its brilliant passages, they have also criticised the poet’s excessive use of wordplay and metaphors in it.

Marino returned to Italy in 1623 and lived in Naples until his death. He is buried in the Chiesa dei Santi Apostoli in Naples.

Marinism, also sometimes referred to as Secentismo, 17th century style, is a reaction against classicism and uses extravagant metaphors and hyperbole to tell stories with the intention of startling the reader. Marino’s imitators carried this style to such excess that by the end of the 17th century the term marinism began to be used in a pejorative way.

However, after World War II, there was a revival of interest in this style of poetry and a reassessment of the merits of Marino and Marinism.

The Cambridge History of Italian Literature judged Marino to be one of the greatest Italian poets of all time.

The western facade of the Royal Palace, overlooking Piazza del Plebiscito
The western facade of the Royal Palace,
overlooking Piazza del Plebiscito
Travel tip:

Giambattista Marino would have been able to admire the newly built Royal Palace in Naples when he returned from France to live in the city again in 1623.  The palace, which opens on to the Piazza del Plebiscito, was completed in 1620 to designs by the architect Domenico Fontana. In 1734, with the arrival of Charles III of Spain to Naples, the palace became the royal residence of the Bourbons. Additions have been made over the years, including the connecting Teatro San Carlo, which opened in 1737 and is now the oldest working opera house in the world.  The series of niche statues on the western facade, the one that faces the piazza, were added in 1888, commissioned by King Umberto I of Savoy.

The nave of the church of Santi Apostoli in Naples, where Marino is buried
The nave of the church of Santi Apostoli
in Naples, where Marino is buried
Travel tip:

Marino’s tomb is in the Chiesa dei Santi Apostoli in Via Anticaglia in Naples, not far from the historic centre of the city. The Baroque church was built on the site of a Roman temple and given to the Theatine Order in 1570. A cloister and monastery was added in 1590 and early in the 17th century, the church was reconstructed by Giacomo Conforti. Inside, visitors can admire a large fresco depicting Paradise (1684) by Giovanni Battista Benasca in the cupola and works by other painters including Marco da Siena, Luca Giordano and Francesco Solimena. 

Also on this day:

1347: The birth of Saint Catherine of Siena

1541: The birth of Francesco I, Grand Duke of Tuscany

1546: The birth of poet and courtesan Veronica Franco

1927: The birth of politician Tina Anselmi, Italy’s first female minister

1940: The birth of pop megastar Mina


13 March 2023

Eduardo Scarpetta - actor and playwright

Much-loved performer began theatrical dynasty

Scarpetta's comic plays were hugely popular with Neapolitan audiences
Scarpetta's comic plays were hugely
popular with Neapolitan audiences
Eduardo Scarpetta, one of the most important writers and actors in Neapolitan theatre in the last 19th and early 20th centuries, was born on this day in 1853 in Naples.

Fascinated by the commedia dell’arte and Neapolitan puppet theatre character Pulcinella, Scarpetta was the writer of more than 50 dialect plays in the comedy genre, creating his own character, Felice Sciosciammocca, a wide-eyed, gullible but essentially good-natured Neapolitan who featured prominently in his best-known work, Miseria e Nobiltà (Misery and Nobility).

His plays made him wealthy, although his standing was damaged towards the end of his career by a notorious dispute with Gabriele D’Annunzio, the celebrated playwright and poet with aristocratic roots who was a considerable figure in Italian literature.

A showman with a reputation for throwing extravagant parties, Scarpetta led a complicated personal life that saw him father at least eight children by at least four women, of which only one was by his wife, Rosa De Filippo.

One of his relationships, with Rosa’s niece, Luisa, a theatre seamstress, produced three children - Eduardo, Peppino and Titina De Filippo - central figures in an Italian theatre and film dynasty in the 20th century.

Another daughter, Maria, was the child of an affair with a music teacher, while a relationship with his wife’s half-sister, Anna, produced the journalist, poet and playwright, Ernesto Murolo, who co-wrote a number of famous Neapolitan songs with the composer Ernesto Tagliaferri, and another actor, Eduardo Passarelli.

His only legitimate son, Vincenzo, also became an actor, and later a director, playwright and composer. The part of Peppeniello in Miseria e nobiltà was written specifically for Vincenzo.

Scarpetta in character as his own creation, Felice Sciosciamocca
Scarpetta in character as his own
creation, Felice Sciosciamocca
Scarpetta did not come from a theatrical background. His father, Domenico, was a civil servant who tried without success to steer Eduardo into a more secure profession.

By joining a theatre company at the age of 15, Scarpetta believed he could help bring money into the family after his father’s poor health led to them falling on hard times.

He soon met Antonio Petito, a playwright and actor who at the time was one of Naples’s most famous interpreters of the Pulcinella character, and joined his company at the Teatro San Carlino on Piazza Castello, near the Castel Nuovo. It was while working with Petito that he created Felice Sciosciammocca, with whom Petito was so impressed he began to write plays with Pulcinella and Sciosciammocca as the main characters. 

Petito’s Pulcinella had evolved from the rather simple, slow-witted character of tradition to a sharp, insolent and above all instinctively cunning individual. Where Pulcinella was working class, Scarpetta’s middle-class Sciosciammocca was a perfect foil.

His partnership with Petito ended with the latter’s death in 1876, after which he worked briefly in Rome before returning to Naples. After a period performing at the Teatro Metastasio on the city’s pier, he returned to San Carlino as manager, investing much time and money in saving it from impending closure and restoring it.

San Carlino would in 1884 be demolished to make way for a new urban square, the Piazza Municipio, as part of a rehabilitation project for the area, which had become rather run down.

Nonetheless, Scarpetta had enjoyed a number of huge successes with his own plays, notably Miseria e Nobiltà, but also Il medico dei pazzi, na santarella, Lo scarfalietto, Nu Turco Napulitano and O miereco de’ pazzi.

Na santarella was one of Scarpetta's most successful plays
Na santarella was one of Scarpetta's
most successful plays
His wealth enabled him to build a substantial palazzo on Via Vittorio Colonna in the prestigious Chiaia district and a villa on the Vomero hill, in Via Luigia Sanfelice, which he named La Santarella.

La Santarella hosted a huge party each year on the occasion of his daughter Tatina’s birthday, to which Scarpetta invited actors, directors, journalists, writers and poets for a celebration that traditionally ended with a spectacular fireworks display that was visible all over the city.

Rosa was happy to accommodate all of Eduardo’s various children. Indeed, after his affair with the music teacher, Francesca Gianetti, it was Rosa who was said to have rescued the child, Maria, from the religious institute to which she had been abandoned.  Rosa, in fact, had a son of her own, Domenico, whose father was none other than the King of Italy, Vittorio Emanuele II, with whom she had a relationship as a teenager before marrying Scarpetta.

Scarpetta’s fortunes began to decline when his Teatro Salone Margherita, a cabaret theatre in the basement of the then newly-built Galleria Umberto I in the centre of Naples began to suffer financially. At the same time a play he had written as a parody of a play by Gabriele D’Annunzio which prompted the well-connected D’Annunzio to accuse him of plagiarism and take him to court for staging the play without permission.

In the event, the court case went in the favour of Scarpetta, who successfully argued that his play, Iorio’s Son, was not a copy but a comic send-up of D’Annunzio’s tragedy, Iorio’s Daughter, but the case - and the panning that Iorio’s Son received from the critics - left Scarpetta embittered and though he continued to write he decided he would no longer act. 

He died at the age of 72 in 1925 and after an elaborate funeral in which his body was placed in a crystal coffin, he was buried in the De Filippo-Scarpetta-Viviani family tomb at the Cimitero Monumentale di Poggioreale in Naples, close to what would become the site of the city’s international airport at Capodichino.

Scarpetta's impressive villa in the Vomero district, which he named La Santarella
Scarpetta's impressive villa in the Vomero
district, which he named La Santarella
Travel tip:

Vomero, where Scarpetta had his impressive villa, La Santarella, is a middle class largely residential area of central Naples but has a number of buildings of historic significance. The most dominant, on top of Vomero hill, is the large medieval fortress, Castel Sant'Elmo, which stands guard over the city. In front of the fortress is the Certosa San Martino, the former Carthusian monastery, now a museum.  Walk along the adjoining street, Largo San Martino, to enjoy extraordinary views over the city towards Vesuvius.  Vomero's other tourist attraction is the Villa Floridiana, once the home of Ferdinand I, the Bourbon King of the Two Sicilies.  Surrounded by extensive gardens, the building now houses the Duke of Martina National Museum of Ceramics.

Chiaia is one of the more upmarket areas of the city of Naples
Chiaia is one of the more upmarket areas
of the city of Naples
Travel tip:

Chiaia, where Scarpetta’s wealth enabled him to build a large family house, is a neighbourhood bordering the seafront in Naples, roughly between Piazza Vittoria and Mergellina. It has become one of the most affluent districts in the city, with many of the top fashion designers having stores on the main streets. It is the home of a large public park known as the Villa Comunale, flanked by the large palazzi along the Riviera di Chiaia on one side, and the sweeping promenade of the Via Francesco Caracciolo on the other.  The area is home to many fine seafood restaurants and has become a popular nightlife destination for well-heeled young Neapolitans.

Also on this day:

1925: The birth of actor and voice-dubber Corrado Gaipa

1955: The birth of footballer and coach Bruno Conti

1960: The birth of rock musician Luciano Ligabue

1980: The birth of dancer Flavia Cacace


5 July 2022

Diego Maradona joins Napoli

Argentina star hailed as a ‘messiah’ by Neapolitans

Diego Maradona helped SSC Napoli to reach the top of the Italian football world
Diego Maradona helped SSC Napoli to
reach the top of the Italian football world
SSC Napoli, a club who had never won Italy’s Serie A since their formation in 1926 and lived in the shadow of the powerful clubs in the north of the country, stunned the football world on this day in 1984 by completing the world record signing of Argentina star Diego Maradona.

Maradona, who would captain his country as they won the World Cup in Mexico two years later, agreed to move to Napoli from Spanish giants Barcelona, who he had joined from Argentina club Boca Juniors in 1982.

Although the Catalan team had been keen to offload him after two years in which Maradona had never been far from controversy, his arrival in arguably the poorest major city in Italy, whose team had finished 10th and 12th in the previous two Serie A seasons, was still a sensation.

Maradona’s unveiling at the Stadio San Paolo on 5 July, 1984 attracted a crowd of 75,000 to the stadium. Napoli supporters were fanatical about their team despite their lack of success and were thrilled to have a distraction at a time when problems with housing, schools, buses, employment and sanitation were making daily life in Naples very difficult.

The world record fee of £6.9 million was funded in part by a loan arranged by a local politician. 

Napoli fans immediately identified with Maradona, who hailed from a working class background in Buenos Aires and made his name playing with a club, Boca Juniors, which represented a part of the city that was home to many ex-patriate Italians and their descendants. 

Maradona was unveiled before
75,000 fans at the Stadio San Paolo
The move to Napoli suited Maradona, who had some debts at the time but was able to pay them off with his signing-on fee and the money made by selling off his home in Catalonia.

Within three seasons, with Maradona captain, Napoli had won the Serie A championship. At a time when Italy’s north-south divide was being sharply felt in the south with a wide economic disparity between the two halves of the country, the reaction in the city was tumultuous. 

Neapolitans spilled out onto the streets to hold impromptu parties and motor cavalcades turning Naples into a carnival city for a week. Napoli fans painted coffins in the colours of northern giants Juventus and Milan and burned them in mock funerals. 

Ancient, crumbling buildings around the city were decorated with huge murals of Maradona, whose face was in every shop window. Suddenly, Diego became the most popular name for newborn baby boys.

The 1986-87 title season was only the start.  Napoli were runners-up in Serie A for the next two seasons and won the title again in 1989-90, also winning the Coppa Italia in 1987, the UEFA Cup in 1989 and the Italian Supercup in 1990. 

Although he was primarily an attacking midfielder rather than an out-and-out striker, Maradona was the top scorer in Serie A in 1987–88 with 15 goals, amassing 115 goals in his seven-year stay at the club, which made him Napoli’s all-time leading goalscorer until the record was surpassed by Marek Hamšík in 2017.

Maradona’s relationship with the fans soured a little after his Argentina side defeated Italy in the semi-final of the World Cup in Naples in 1990, after which it broke down completely when his cocaine use led to him repeatedly missing training sessions and some matches, leading ultimately to a 15-month ban and a departure from the club somewhat in disgrace.

Yet to many in Naples he remained a hero and shortly after his death in September 2020, Napoli’s Stadio San Paolo home ground was renamed the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona.

The Palazzo Reale is a legacy of the wealth of Naples in the 17th and 18th centuries
The Palazzo Reale is a legacy of the wealth of
Naples in the 17th and 18th centuries
Travel tip:

In recent years, Naples has become the poorest of Italy’s major cities, but in the 17th and 18th centuries it was one of Europe's great cities and many of the city’s finest buildings are a legacy of that period. In the area around Piazza del Plebiscito, for example, you can see the impressive Palazzo Reale, which was one of the residences of the Kings of Naples at the time the city was capital of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. The palace is home to a 30-room museum and the largest library in southern Italy, both now open to the public. Close to the royal palace is one of the oldest opera houses in the world, built for a Bourbon King of Naples. Teatro di San Carlo was officially opened on 4 November 1737, some years before La Scala in Milan and La Fenice in Venice. Part of the Bourbon legacy to Naples is the vast Reggia di Caserta, the royal palace commissioned in 1752 by Charles VII of Naples and built by the Italian architect Luigi Vanvitelli along the lines of the French royal palace at Versailles.

The Stadio San Paolo - now the Stadio Diego Armando
Maradona - is the third largest football ground in Italy
Travel tip:

The Stadio San Paolo - now renamed the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona - is Italy’s third largest football ground with a capacity of just over 60,000. Built in the Fuorigrotta neighbourhood on the north side of the city, it was completed in 1959, more than 10 years after work began and has since been renovated twice, including for the 1990 World Cup. The home of SSC Napoli, it was Maradona’s home stadium between 1984 and 1991. The suburb of Fuorigrotta, the most densely populated area of the city, lies beyond the Posillipo hill and has been joined to the main body of Naples by two traffic tunnels that pass through the hill since the early 20th century. The suburb is also the home of the vast Mostra d’Oltremare, one of the largest exhibition complexes in Italy, built in 1937 to host the Triennale d'Oltremare, the aim of which was to celebrate the colonial expansion envisaged by the Fascist dictator Mussolini.

Also on this day:

1466: The birth of military leader Giovanni Sforza

1966: The birth of footballer Gianfranco Zola

1974: The birth of motorcycling champion Roberto Locatelli

1982: The birth of footballer Alberto Gilardino

1982: Paolo Rossi’s hat-trick defeats Brazil at the 1982 World Cup


31 May 2022

Paolo Sorrentino - film director

Seventh Italian director to win Best Foreign Film at Oscars

Paolo Sorrentino won an Oscar for La grande bellezza in 2014
Paolo Sorrentino won an Oscar for
La grande bellezza in 2014
The film director Paolo Sorrentino, whose 2013 movie La grande bellezza won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film, was born on this day in 1970 in Naples.

The award put him in the company of Federico Fellini and Vittorio De Sica in landing the Oscar for Best Foreign Film, a prize that has been won by only seven Italian directors in the history of the Academy Awards.

Fellini scooped the honour four times and De Sica twice. The other successful Italian directors are Elio Petri, Giuseppe Tornatore, Gabriele Salvatores and Roberto Benigni.

La grande bellezza - released for English-speaking audiences as The Great Beauty - was the first Italian winner since Benigni’s Life is Beautiful was named as Best Foreign Film in 1998.

Sorrentino’s 2021 semi-autobiographical movie The Hand of God - È stata la mano di Dio in Italian - was nominated for an Oscar but missed out to the Japanese drama Drive My Car.

Lauded for combining an expansive visual style with a sensitivity for psychological subtleties in his films, Sorrentino was born in the Arenella district of Naples, a relatively prosperous neighbourhood atop the Vomero hill. 

His adolescence was overshadowed by a personal tragedy when he was 16, when both his parents died after a carbon monoxide leak at the ski lodge they owned in central Italy

Actor Toni Servillo in his role as
Jep Gambardella in La grande bellezza 
Their son may well have died with them but on the fateful April day in 1987 Sorrentino was still in Naples, having stayed behind to watch his idol, Diego Maradona, play for SSC Napoli at the Stadio San Paolo, where he was a season ticket holder.

Understandably, Sorrentino took a long time to come to terms with being orphaned. Eventually, he obtained a place studying economics and business at university in Naples, after which he chose a career in the film industry, making his debut as a screenwriter on Antonio Capuano’s 1998 comedy, The Dust of Naples.

His first full-length feature L'uomo in più - One Man Up - brought him immediate recognition as an emerging talent. The film was selected at the 2001 Venice Film Festival, gaining three nominations for the David di Donatello from the Academy of Italian Cinema and winning the Nastro d'Argento, awarded by Italian cinema journalists, Best First Time Director.

More awards followed for Le conseguenze dell'amore (2004), L'amico di famiglia (2006) and Il Divo (2008), his dramatised biopic of the controversial veteran politician, Giulio Andreotti. 

Sorrentino’s talents also extend to writing: his 2010 novel Hanno tutti ragione - Everybody’s Right - was shortlisted for the Premio Strega, Italy’s most prestigious literary prize.

It was La grande bellezza  that saw him join such illustrious names as Fellini and De Sica in the roll call of great Italian directors.

Sorrentino (second right) and the cast of La grande bellezza with president Giorgio Napolitano (right)
Sorrentino (second right) and the cast of La grande
bellezza with president Giorgio Napolitano (right) 
Set in Rome, La grande bellezza has been compared to Fellini’s masterpiece La dolce vita in that its central character is a journalist, Jep Gambardella, who has spent his life immersed in the superficiality of Roman society nightlife, a debonair figure whose one novel brought him a literary acclaim that was enough to sustain his fame for decades.

On his 65th birthday, he learns that the woman who was his first sweetheart has died, having confessed to her husband that Gambardella had been the only man she truly loved.  The shock causes him to take stock of his life, becoming melancholy about what he might have been had he done more than merely charm his way through an easy life of nightclubs, parties, and cafés. Ultimately, he finds a new appreciation for the timeless beauty of Rome and rediscovers himself.

In addition to the Oscar, La grande bellezza won 18 other awards around the world, including a BAFTA and a Golden Globe.

Although it missed out on the Oscar, The Hand of God, which takes its title from the famous description Maradona made of the contentious goal he scored with his fist against England in the 1986 World Cup, won the Grand Jury Prize at the Venice Film Festival.

The film contains many parallels with Sorrentino’s own life in that its central character is an adolescent whose life is rocked by personal tragedy, against the background of Naples in the 1980s, when the arrival of Maradona to play for SSC Napoli not only transformed the fortunes of the club but the city itself.

A mist-shrouded Vesuvius seen from the top of Vomero hill
A mist-shrouded Vesuvius seen
from the top of Vomero hill
Travel tip:

The Arenella district of Naples, where Sorrentino was born, borders Vomero, a largely residential area of central Naples with a number of buildings of historic significance. The most dominant, on top of Vomero Hill, is the large medieval fortress, Castel Sant'Elmo.  In front of the fortress is the Certosa San Martino, the former Carthusian monastery, now a museum.  The adjoining street, Largo San Martino, offers extraordinary views over the city towards Vesuvius.  Vomero's other tourist attraction is the Villa Floridiana, once the home of Ferdinand I, the Bourbon King of the Two Sicilies.  Surrounded by extensive gardens, the building now houses the Duke of Martina National Museum of Ceramics. 

Inside the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona in  Naples, which can house 60,000 spectators
Inside the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona in 
Naples, which can house 60,000 spectators
Travel tip:

The Stadio San Paolo - now renamed the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona - is Italy’s third largest football ground with a capacity of just over 60,000. Built in the Fuorigrotta neighbourhood on the north side of the city, it was completed in 1959, more than 10 years after work began and has since been renovated twice. The home of SSC Napoli, it was Maradona’s home stadium between 1984 and 1991, during which time the club won the Italian championship twice, having never before won the title in its history. The stadium hosted the 1990 World Cup semi-final, in which Maradona’s Argentina ended Italy’s hopes of reaching the final. 

Also on this day:

1594: The death of painter Tintoretto

1914: The death of Angelo Moriondo, inventor of the espresso coffee machine

1921: The birth of Andrew Grima, jeweller to the British Royal Family