Showing posts with label Padova. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Padova. Show all posts

17 March 2022

Angelo Beolco - playwright

Actor and dramatist with a genius for comedy

Angelo Beolco's plays were written in Paduan dialect spiced with vulgarities
Angelo Beolco's plays were written in
Paduan dialect spiced with vulgarities
One of the most powerful Italian dramatists of the 16th century, Angelo Beolco, who was nicknamed Ruzzante (or sometimes Ruzante) after his favourite character, died on this day in 1542 in Padua in the Veneto region.

Beolco was famous for his rustic comedies, which were written mostly in the Paduan dialect of the Venetian language.

Many of his plays featured a peasant called Ruzzante and they painted a vivid picture of life in the Paduan countryside during the 16th century.

Beolco was born in Padua in 1496 and was the illegitimate son of a doctor. His mother was possibly a maid in the household where he was brought up by his father. He received a good education and after his father’s death became manager of the family estate. In 1529, he also became manager of a farm owned by a nobleman, Alvise Cornaro, who had retired to live in the Paduan countryside. Cornaro later became Beolco’s friend and protector.

Beolco met and associated with Paduan intellectuals of the time, such as the poet Pietro Bembo and the scholar and dramatist Sperone Speroni, which led to him developing an interest in the theatre.

His first attempts at acting and writing plays may have been delivering impromptu sketches at wedding parties.

It is established that in 1520 he was already known as Ruzzante and that he played a role in a play put on at a palace in Venice. It was after this that he put together his own theatrical troupe. His first plays were staged in Ferrara between 1529 and 1532 and then later in Padua at the residence of his friend, Cornaro.

Beolco was a friend of the poet Pietro Bembo (above)
Beolco was a friend of the poet
Pietro Bembo (above)
In Beolco’s first printed play, La pastoral, which was categorised as a rural comedy, Arcadian shepherds tell of their frustrated love affairs, while, in contrast, the peasants Ruzzante and Zilio deliver rustic verses in dialect, spiced with vulgarities and obscenities, beginning with Ruzzante’s first line in the play.

Much of the play’s comical effect comes from the contrast between the two languages, which provides the opportunity for misunderstandings and plays on words.

One of the characters is a physician, who earns the gratitude of Ruzzante for prescribing a fatal medicine to his stingy father. This unites the young peasant with his long-awaited inheritance.

In his later plays and monologues, Beolco shifts more to the Venetian language, while maintaining his social satire.

In the Oratione, a welcome speech for Bishop Marco Cornaro, who was later to become the 59th Doge of Venice, he suggests measures the new prelate should consider for improving the life of the peasants, including castrating the priests, or forcing them to marry, in order to give peace of mind to the local men and their wives.

Beolco’s plays were sometimes considered unfit for educated audiences because of the lascivious themes and vulgar language and this occasionally led to performances being cancelled.

In one of his best-known pieces, Il parlamento de Ruzante, the character tells of his return from the Venetian war front only to find that he has lost his wife, land and honour. The speech begins with Ruzzante’s favourite expletive.

Linguistic studies have concluded that Ruzante’s speech was not an accurate record of Paduan dialect of the day, but to some extent, a theatrical dialect created by Beolco.

Playwright Dario Fo put Beolco on the same level as the French playwright, Molière, claiming that he is the true father of the Venetian comic theatre (commedia dell’arte) and said that he was the most significant influence on his own work.

Beolco wrote at least 11 plays and monologues, but died in Padua when he was in his late forties, while preparing to stage a play by his friend, Speroni, for the Accademia degli Infiammati. Despite his theatrical success, Beolco was very poor for most of his life. Speroni once remarked that, while Beolco had an unsurpassed understanding of comedy, he was unable to perceive his own tragedy.

The Basilica di Sant'Antonio is one of Padua's most impressive sights
The Basilica di Sant'Antonio is one
of Padua's most impressive sights
Travel tip:

Padua, where Angelo Beolco was born and died, is in Italy’s Veneto region, situated 52km (32 miles) to the west of Venice. Padua is close to the stunning Euganean hills and many of the Venetian villas designed by architect Andrea Palladio. It is home to the second oldest university in Italy, the magnificent Basilica di Sant’Antonio, and one of the world’s greatest art treasures, the frescoes by Giotto in the Cappella Scrovegni, which tell the life stories of the Virgin Mary and Christ.

Padua hotels by

The Ruzzante statue next to Padua's Teatro Verdi
The Ruzzante statue next to
Padua's Teatro Verdi
Travel tip:

There is a statue of Angelo Beolco (Ruzzante) next to the Teatro Verdi in Padua. The beautiful 18th century theatre, named after the composer Giuseppe Verdi, is in Via del Livello in the centre of the city, close to Piazza dei Signori. Teatro Verdi now presents operas, musicals, plays, ballets and concerts organised by the Teatro Stabile del Veneto.

Also on this day:

1826: The birth of inventor Innocenzo Manzetti

1861: The proclamation of the Kingdom of Italy

1925: The birth of actor Gabriele Ferzetti

1939: The birth of football coach Giovanni Trapattoni


6 August 2017

Barbara Strozzi – composer

One of few 17th century women to have her own music published

Bernardo Strozzi's painting The Viola da Gamba Player, is said to be Barbara Strozzi
Bernardo Strozzi's painting The Viola da
Gamba Player, is said to be Barbara Strozzi
The talented singer and composer Barbara Strozzi was baptised on this day in 1619 in the Cannaregio district of Venice.

Strozzi had been recognised by the poet and librettist Giulio Strozzi as his adopted daughter. It was thought at the time she was likely to have been an illegitimate daughter he had fathered with his servant, Isabella Garzoni.

Giulio Strozzi encouraged his adopted daughter’s musical talent, even creating an academy where she could perform to an audience. She became one of only a few women in the 17th century to publish her own compositions.

The Academy of the UnknownAccademia degli Incogniti - was a circle of intellectuals in Venice that met to discuss literature, ethics, aesthetics, religion and the arts. They were supporters of Venetian opera in the late 1630s and 1640s. Giulio Strozzi formed a musical sub-group, Academy of the Like-Minded, Accademia degli Unisoni, where Barbara Strozzi performed as a singer and even suggested topics for discussion.

In addition to her vocal talent she showed herself to be a gifted composer and so her father arranged for her to study with the composer, Francesco Cavalli.

When she was older it was rumoured she was a courtesan, although this could have been made up by male contemporaries who were jealous of her talent.

Tiberio Tinelli's portrait of Giulio Strozzi, which hangs in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence
Tiberio Tinelli's portrait of Giulio Strozzi,
which hangs in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence
A portrait of her by Bernardo Strozzi, who was no relation to her, has been interpreted as highlighting her activities both as a musician and as a courtesan.

It is believed three of her four children were fathered by the same man, Giovanni Paolo Vidman, who was a patron of the arts and a supporter of early opera.

Barbara Strozzi launched her career as a composer in 1644 with the publication of a volume of madrigals. Over the next 20 years she published eight collections of music.

Strozzi was said to be the most prolific composer of printed, secular, vocal music in the middle of the 17th century, even compared with male composers as well as female. She is also known to have composed just one volume of sacred songs.

Barbara Strozzi was appreciated for her poetic lyrics as well as for her ability to compose music.

Nearly three quarters of her music was written for the soprano voice and although she may have written many of her own lyrics, some are by her father, Giulio.

Barbara Strozzi died in Padua in 1677 at the age of 58 and she is believed to have been buried at the Church of the Eremitani in the city.

The Church of Santa Sofia seen from Strada Nova in Venice
The Church of Santa Sofia seen from Strada Nova in Venice
Travel tip:

Barbara Strozzi was baptised soon after her birth in the Church of Santa Sofia in the Cannaregio district of Venice. The church is in Strada Nova, which runs parallel with the Grand Canal. It is believed to date back as far as 886 but was rebuilt in the 16th and 17th centuries. The church was closed in 1810 while Venice was under Napoleonic rule but was later purchased by a Venetian and was re-consecrated and reopened as a church in 1836.

The Church of the Eremitani in Padua
The Church of the Eremitani in Padua
Travel tip:

Barbara Strozzi is believed to have been buried in the Church of the Eremitani in Padua, an Augustinian Church that dates back to the 13th century in Piazza Eremitani, close to the centre of Padua. It became one of the most important churches in Padua and was decorated by the greatest masters working in the city over the years. But during the Second World War, the church and its beautiful frescoes suffered a lot of damage from bombing raids.

7 May 2017

Marco Galiazzo - Olympic champion

First to win gold medal for Italy in archery

Marco Galiazzo
Marco Galiazzo
Marco Galiazzo, the first Italian to win an Olympic gold medal in archery, was born on this day in 1983 in Ponte San Nicolò, just outside Padua.

He won the men’s individual competition at the 2004 Games in Athens at the age of 21, defeating Great Britain’s Larry Godfrey 110-108 in the semi-finals before winning the gold medal match 111-109 against 42-year-old Hiroshi Yamamoto, of Japan. Galiazzo was only one when the veteran Yamamoto competed at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles.

Galiazzo was one of 10 Italian gold medal winners at the 2004 Olympics, in which Paolo Bettini won the men’s road race in the cycling competition and Stefano Baldini the men’s marathon.

Eight years later, at the London Games of 2012, Galiazzo won his second Olympic gold as part of the Italian team, alongside Michele Frangilli and Mauro Nespoli, that defeated the United States in the final of the team event at Lord’s Cricket Ground, where Frangilli’s 10 with the last arrow of the match clinched the title.

Marco Galiazzo in action
Marco Galiazzo in action
In between, at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, along with Nespoli and Ilario Di Buò, he had won the silver in the team event.

Galiazzo’s total of medals makes him the most successful Italian Olympic archer of all time and the only one to win two gold medals.

Encouraged by his father, Adriano, himself an archer and later Marco’s coach, he took up the sport at the age of 13 and achieved his first competitive success a year later at the Italian Youth Games.

A member of the Compagnia Arcieri Padovani team, he was selected for the Italian national team for the first time as a 16-year-old.

His achievements in his sport also include gold medals at the World archery championships and the World Cup, plus four European titles and two European indoor titles.

Galiazzo (centre) on the podium after winning the team gold medal at the 2012 London Olympics
Galiazzo (centre) on the podium after winning the team
gold medal at the 2012 London Olympics
On the way to winning his World Cup gold in Copenhagen in 2009, Galiazzo and teammates Nespoli and di Buò set an Italian team record at a stage two match in Porec, Yugoslavia.

His gold in the World championships came in Las Vegas in 2012.

Since 2006, Galiazzo, who still lives in Padua, has been a member of the Italian air force sports section – the Centro Sportivo Aeronautica Militare – allowing him to practise full time.

Travel tip:

Ponte San Nicolò, which takes its name from the bridge crossing the Roncajette channel, part of the Bacchiglione river that connects with the Brenta, was formerly a thriving commercial centre, part of an inland port where boats would unload salt, linen and terracotta pottery among other goods. As well as Galiazzo, it is the birthplace, coincidentally, of another Italian Olympic champion, the rower Rossano Galtarossa, who won gold at the Sydney Olympics of 2000.

Prato della Valle is one of Padua's many highlights
Prato della Valle is one of Padua's many highlights
Travel tip:

The city of Padua is especially notable for art treasures, in particular the magnificent frescoes by Giotto that adorn the walls of the Scrovegni Chapel and the frescoes by Titian in the Scuola di Sant’Antonio. A wealth of notable buildings and vibrant squares include the huge Basilica di Sant’Antonio with its seven cupolas, the vast Palazzo della Ragione with its three tiers of arches and the broad elliptical square Prato della Valle.

More reading:

How Luigi Baccali brought home Italy's first Olympic track gold

Gelindo Bordin - Italy's first Olympic marathon champion

Alberto Cova's 10k hat-trick

Also on this day:

1976: The birth of Andrea lo Cicero - rugby star turned TV presenter

13 September 2016

Andrea Mantegna – artist

Genius led the way with his use of perspective

The painter Andrea Mantegna died on this day in 1506 in Mantua.

Mantegna's San Sebastian is at the Louvre in Paris
Mantegna's San Sebastian is at
the Louvre in Paris
He had become famous for his religious paintings, such as St Sebastian, which is now in the Louvre in Paris, and The Agony in the Garden, which is now in the National Gallery in London.

But his frescoes for the Bridal Chamber (Camera degli Sposi) at the Palazzo Ducale in Mantua - Mantova in Italian - were to influence many artists who followed him because of his innovative use of perspective.

Mantegna studied Roman antiquities for inspiration and was also an eminent engraver.

He was born near Padua - Padova - in about 1431 and apprenticed by the age of 11 to the painter, Francesco Squarcione, who had a fascination for ancient art and encouraged him to study fragments of Roman sculptures.

Mantegna was one of a large group of painters entrusted with decorating the Ovetari Chapel in the Church of the Eremitani in Padua.

Much of his work was lost when the Allied forces bombed Padua in 1944, but other early work by Mantegna can be seen in the Basilica of Sant’Antonio and in the Church of Santa Giustina in Padua.

Mantagna's Miracolo di San Giacomo in the Ovetari  Chapel of the Church of the Eremitani in Padua
Mantagna's Miracolo di San Giacomo in the Ovetari
Chapel of the Church of the Eremitani in Padua
The artist later came under the influence of Jacopo Bellini, the father of Giovanni and Gentile Bellini, and in 1453 he married Jacopo’s daughter, Nicolosia.

By 1459 he had moved on to Verona, where he painted a grand altarpiece for the Church of San Zeno and the following year he was appointed court artist by the Marquis Ludovico III Gonzaga of Mantua.

Mantegna’s frescoes for the Camera degli Sposi are considered among his best works and include portraits of members of the Gonzaga family.

The artist went on to paint nine pictures of the Triumphs of Caesar, drawing on his classical knowledge, which are also considered by experts to be among his finest works. These were sold in 1628 to King Charles I of England and are now in Hampton Court Palace.

After his death at about the age of 75 in Mantua, Mantegna’s sons set up a monument to him in the Church of Sant’Andrea.

Mantegna's ceiling of the Camera degli Sposi shows how he created an illusion of depth through his use of perspective
Mantegna's ceiling of the Camera degli Sposi shows how he
created an illusion of depth through his use of perspective
Mantegna’s main artistic legacy is considered to be the introduction of spatial illusionism, as exemplified by the ceiling cupola of the Camera degli Sposi, which although flat appears concave. This use of perspective was followed by other artists for centuries.

Travel tip:

Mantua is an atmospheric old city in Lombardy, to the south east of Milan, famous for its Renaissance Palazzo Ducale, the seat of the Gonzaga family between 1328 and 1707. The Camera degli Sposi is decorated with frescoes by Andrea Mantegna, depicting the life of Ludovico Gonzaga and his family. The beautiful backgrounds of imaginary cities and ruins reflect Mantegna’s love of classical architecture.

The Basilica of Sant'Andrea in Mantua.
The Basilica of Sant'Andrea in Mantua.
Travel tip:

The 15th century Basilica of Sant’Andrea, which houses Andrea Mantegna’s tomb, is in Piazza Mantegna in Mantua. Mantegna was buried in the first chapel on the left, which contains a picture of the Holy Family and John the Baptist that had been  painted by him. The church was originally built to accommodate the large number of pilgrims who came to Mantua to see a precious relic, an ampoule containing what were believed to be drops of Christ’s blood mixed with earth. This was claimed to have been collected at the site of his crucifixion by a Roman soldier.

(Photo of the Basilica of Sant'Andrea by Geobia CC BY-SA 3.0)


4 May 2016

Bartolomeo Cristofori - inventor of the piano

Instrument maker adapted harpsichord to play soft and loud notes

The only known portrait of Bartolomeo Cristofori
Bartolomeo Cristofori in a 1726 portrait
Bartolomeo Cristofori, the man widely credited with inventing the piano, was born on this day in 1655 in Padua.

He came up with the idea while working for the Grand Prince Ferdinando de' Medici in Florence, who had hired him to look after his collection of harpsichords and other instruments.

It is thought that Cristofori, who was assumed to have been an established maker of musical instruments when Ferdinando invited him to Florence in around 1690, wanted to create a keyboard instrument similar to a harpsichord but capable of playing notes of varying loudness.

An inventory of Medici instruments from 1700 described an "arpicimbalo", which resembled a harpsichord but which created sounds through hammers and dampers rather than the plucking mechanism employed by the harpsichord. It was said to be "newly invented by Bartolomeo Cristofori".

In 1711, Scipione Maffei, a poet and journalist, referred to Cristofori's "gravicembalo col piano, e forte" (harpsichord with soft and loud), the first time it was called by its eventual name, pianoforte. A Florentine court musician, Federigo Meccoli, noted that the "arpi cimbalo del piano e forte" was first made by Cristofori in 1700, which is regarded as the birth date for the piano.

An early model was dismissed by the German composer Johann Sebastian Bach as possessing too heavy a touch and too weak a treble.  Cristofori made further modifications over time and by 1726 his instrument had many of the characteristics of a modern piano, albeit with fewer keys.

In Germany, meanwhile, the organ designer Gottfried Silbermann, using Cristofori's blueprint, began making pianos of his own in 1730, which met with Bach's approval.

Three Cristofori pianos survive, the oldest a 1720 model at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.  The Museo Strumenti Musicali in Rome has one dated at 1722 and the Musikinstrumenten-Museum of Leipzig University has one made in 1726.

Cristofori’s invention was initially slow to catch on in Italy, but records show that Queen Maria Barbara de Braganza of Spain, patron and student of the composer Domenico Scarlatti, bought five. It is thought that hundreds of Scarlatti’s single-movement keyboard sonatas, of which there were more than 500, may have been intended for piano, rather than harpsichord.

By the late 18th century, thanks to its range and versatility, the pianoforte had become a leading instrument of Western music. By the end of the 19th century, many wealthier households in Europe and North America possessed a piano and almost every major Western composer from Mozart onwards had played it and put it at the heart of their musical output.

Cristofori remained in Florence following the death of Ferdinando in 1713 and continued to work for the Medici court until his health declined.  There is evidence that his assistants were Giovanni Ferrini and Domenico dal Mela, who both went on to establish notable careers of their own.  Dal Mela is said to have made the first upright piano.  Cristofori died in Florence in January 1731.

Photo of Padua Basilica of St Anthony
The Basilica of St Anthony in Padua
Travel tip:

The city of Padua - or Padova - in the Veneto region of northern Italy is best known for the frescoes by Giotto that adorn the Scrovegni Chapel and for the vast 13th-century Basilica of St. Anthony, notable for its Byzantine-style domes. The old part of the town has arcaded streets and many cafes. The University of Padua, established in 1222, is one of the oldest in the world.

Travel tip:

Florence is said to be the birthplace of opera, a form of entertainment that evolved after musicians, dancers and actors began performing light-hearted scenes known as intermezzi to keep audiences entertained between acts of Roman plays.  Noble Florentine families began to enthuse more about the intermezzi than the plays themselves and in 1600 the first complete opera - Euridice, by Jacopo Peri - was performed at the Pitti Palace at the royal wedding of Maria de' Medici and Henry IV of France.


8 February 2016

Revolt in Padua

When students and citizens joined forces against their oppressors 

The Caffè Pedrocchi in Padua witnessed fighting in the 1848 uprising against the Austrians
The Caffè Pedrocchi in Padua witnessed fighting
in the 1848 uprising against the Austrians
An uprising against the Austrian occupying forces, when students and ordinary citizens fought side by side, took place on this day in Padua in 1848.

A street is now named Via VIII Febbraio to commemorate the location of the struggle between the Austrian soldiers and the students and citizens of Padua, when both the University of Padua and the Caffè Pedrocchi briefly became battlegrounds.

The Padua rebellion was one of a series of revolts in Italy during 1848, which had started with the Sicilian uprising in January of that year.

The Austrians were seen as arrogant and aggressive by ordinary citizens and the ideas of Giuseppe Mazzini and Camillo Benso Cavour about a united Italy were becoming popular with progressive thinkers.
Many students supported the ideas of the revolutionary Giuseppe Mazzini
Many students supported the ideas of
the revolutionary Giuseppe Mazzini

Students and professors at Padua University had been meeting in rooms at the University and in Caffè Pedrocchi to discuss their discontent.

The uprising began with the storming of a prison and prisoners being set free. Then many ordinary citizens came to fight alongside the students against the armed Austrians, who clubbed the Paduans with their guns as well as firing at them.

You can still see a hole in the wall of the White Room inside Caffè Pedrocchi made by a bullet fired by an Austro-Hungarian soldier at the students.

Both Paduans and Austrian soldiers were killed and wounded in the fighting. Many people were arrested by the soldiers and in a crackdown later, some students and professors were expelled from the university.

The revolt was short lived and there was no other rebellion  in Padua against the Austrians. But the 8 February uprising was thought to have encouraged Charles Albert of Savoy, King of Sardinia-Piedmont, to later declare war on Austria.

In 1866 Italy finally expelled the Austrians from the Veneto and Padua became annexed to the Kingdom of Italy.

Travel tip:

Right in the centre of Padua, the Caffè Pedrocchi has been a meeting place for business people, students, intellectuals and writers for nearly 200 years. Founded by coffee maker Antonio Pedrocchi in 1831, the café was designed in neoclassical style and each side is edged with Corinthian columns. It quickly became a centre for the Risorgimento movement and was popular with students and artists because of its location close to Palazzo del Bò, the main university building. It became known as 'the café without doors', as it was open day and night for people to talk, read, play cards and debate. Caffè Pedrocchi is now a Padua institution and a 'must see' sight for visitors. You can enjoy coffee, drinks and snacks all day in the elegant surroundings.

The Basilica di Sant'Antonio dates back to the 13th century
The Basilica di Sant'Antonio in Padua
Travel tip:

The University of Padua was established in 1222 and is one of the oldest in the world, second in Italy only to the University of Bologna . The main university building, Palazzo del Bò in Via VIII Febbraio in the centre of Padua, used to house the medical faculty. You can take a guided tour to see the lectern used by Galileo when he taught at the university between 1592 and 1610. Other sights that are a must-see on a visit to Padua include the 13th century Basilica di Sant'Antonio.

More reading:

Giuseppe Mazzini - hero of the Risorgimento

Sicilian revolt that sparked a year of uprisings

The Five Days of Milan

Also on this day:

1591: The birth of Baroque master Guercino

1751: The death of Trevi Fountain architect Nicola Salvi


4 February 2016

Giacomo Facco – composer

The forgotten talent of the musician from Padua

Giacomo Facco, a Baroque composer, was born near Padua
Giacomo Facco's music was
rediscovered in 1962
Giacomo Facco, a Baroque composer, was born on this day in 1676 in Marsango, a small town just north of Padova (Padua).

Highly regarded during his own lifetime, he was completely forgotten about until 1962 when his work was rediscovered by Uberto Zanolli, a musicologist.

Facco is believed to have worked as a violinist and a conductor and he is known to have been given a job in 1705 by the Viceroy of Sicily as a choirmaster, teacher and violinist in Palermo.

In 1708 he moved with the Viceroy to Messina where he composed The Fight between Mercy and Incredulity. In 1710 he presented a work dedicated to King Philip V of Spain, The Augury of Victories, in Messina Cathedral.

By 1720 it is known Facco was working in the Spanish court because his pay is mentioned in a report dating from that year. He is later named as clavichord master to the Spanish princes.

At the height of his success he was commissioned to compose an opera to celebrate the marriage of one of the princes in 1721.

He then seems to have fallen out of favour and was just employed as a violinist in the orchestra of the Royal Chapel until his death in Madrid in 1753.

The composer had earlier written 12 violin concertos under the title Pensieri Adriarmonici. Bright and buoyant, they are reminiscent of the music composed by his contemporary, Vivaldi. These concertos were discovered in a library in Mexico City by Uberto Zanolli in 1962 along with Facco’s birth certificate.  Since his remarkable discovery, Zanolli has put together a biography of Facco and a list of his known works.

Some of Facco’s solo cantatas, written using his own poetry, were presented at a concert in Mexico City in 1962, conducted by Zanolli.

But it is thought other music Facco wrote while working in Spain may have been destroyed in a fire in Madrid in 1734.

The gate into Castelfranco Veneto at Via Francesco Maria Preti
The gate into Castelfranco Veneto at
Via Francesco Maria Preti
Travel tip:

Facco was born and spent his early years in the hamlet of Marsango in the commune of Campo San Martino about 15 kilometres north of Padua in the beautiful countryside of the Veneto. Marsango lies between the cities of Treviso and Vicenza, with the walled city of Castelfranco Veneto just to the north.

Travel tip:

Messina, where Facco was employed by the Viceroy of Sicily, is in the north east corner of the island and has close ties with Reggio Calabria on the mainland. The cathedral where Facco’s music was presented in 1710 dates back to the 12th century but has had to be rebuilt twice because of suffering earthquake and fire damage.

Also on this day:

8 January 2016

Giotto – Renaissance artist

Realistic figures were first painted by Florentine genius Giotto

The brilliant 14th century painter Giotto di Bondone, who was known simply as Giotto, died on this day in 1337 in Florence.

The Scrovegni Chapel houses some of Giotto's greatest work
The Scrovegni Chapel in Padova, home of
Giotto's stunning cycle of frescoes
Although much of his work is no longer in existence, he is remembered as one of the greatest artists of the early Renaissance period.

It is believed Giotto was born in about 1267 in Florence but it is not known how he learned to paint with such a sense of space, naturalism and drama. His work represented a crucial turning point in the history of art because he painted lifelike, solid figures and put in fascinating background details.

He is believed to be the first artist to make a decisive break with the Byzantine style of painting and draw figures accurately from life.

Giotto’s revolutionary style was followed by many other painters later in the 14th century and it is said that he was actually paid a salary by the commune of Florence because of his excellence.
Some of his work can be seen in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, such as his altarpiece, The Ognissanti Madonna, painted in 1310, which is a good example of his ability to paint lifelike people.

But Giotto’s most stunning surviving work is the interior of the Scrovegni chapel in Padova. His cycle of frescoes is considered to be one of the greatest works of art in the world.

Dedicated to Santa Maria della Carita (Saint Mary of the Charity), the chapel was decorated by Giotto between 1303 and 1305. The work was commissioned by Enrico degli Scrovegni, who was hoping to atone for the sins of usury committed by himself and his dead father.

The frescoes narrate events in the lives of the Virgin Mary and Christ and cover the side walls of the chapel. On the wall opposite the altar is Giotto’s magnificent Universal Judgment, which tells the story of human salvation and includes the figure of Enrico degli Scrovegni offering up a model of the chapel to the Virgin Mary in a desperate bid to save his father from hell.

Under a bright blue sky, the realistic figures with their powerful facial expressions and colourful clothes tell the bible stories in a way they had never been told before.

In later life, Giotto was made ‘first court painter', with a yearly pension, by King Robert of Anjou in Naples. He lived in Naples till 1333 but none of his work there has survived.

Giotto's Campanile in Florence
Photo: Sailko (CC BY-SA 3.0)
On his return to Florence he was asked to design the new Campanile for the Cathedral in 1334 and his last known work was the decoration of a chapel in the Bargello.

It is thought Giotto was about 70 years of age when he died on 8 January 1337. Some sources say he was buried in Santa Maria del Fiore, Florence’s Duomo, while others believe he was buried in the earlier church on the site, Santa Reparata.

In the 1970s, bones were discovered beneath the paving of Santa Reparata and forensic examination confirmed they were those of a painter. The bones were reburied with honour near the grave of Brunelleschi in the church, but it is still not certain that they are actually the remains of Giotto.
Travel tip:

It is a miracle Giotto’s frescoes in the Scrovegni Chapel have survived for 700 years. The chapel was acquired by the city of Padova in 1880 and specialised restoration operations have been carried out since. The state of the building, the quality of air, and the conservation of the frescoes have all been carefully studied. The chapel can be accessed from Giardini dell’Arena off Piazza Eremitani. There is a separate building where visitors can watch a video to prepare them for seeing the frescoes. Visits are carefully organised so people can enter the chapel and look at the frescoes without jeopardising their condition. Tickets should be booked in advance and collected an hour before the visit. For details visit

The interior of the Scrovegni Chapel is lined with
Giotto's extraordinary frescoes
Photo: Rastaman3000 (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Travel tip:

The Campanile of Santa Maria del Fiore was designed by Giotto in 1334, but it was not completed till 1359, 22 years after his death. The bell tower is clad in white, pink and green Tuscan marble. In the 1870s, a marble façade was added to the Duomo to echo Giotto’s design for the Campanile.


13 December 2015

Donatello – Renaissance sculptor

Work by prolific artist still on display for all to see

Early Renaissance sculptor Donatello died on this day in Florence in 1466.

Generally acknowledged as the greatest sculptor of the 15th century, Donatello left a legacy of wonderful statues in marble and bronze, some still out in the open and delighting visitors to Italy free of charge today.

The statue is of the military leader Erasmus da Narni, known as Gattamelata
Donatello's bronze equestrian statue in front of
the Basilica di Sant' Antonio in Padua

He was born Donato di Niccolò di Betto Bardi in Florence in about 1386. He studied classical sculpture, which later influenced his style, and then worked in a goldsmith’s workshop and in the studio of artist Lorenzo Ghiberti.

One of his most famous early works is a statue of David, originally intended for the Cathedral, but which stood instead for many years in Palazzo Vecchio in Florence.

Donatello’s work also shows influences of the architect Filippo Brunelleschi, a friend with whom he often travelled to Rome.

Brunelleschi’s style can be seen in Donatello’s statues of St Mark and St George, executed for the exterior of the Church of Orsanmichele in Florence, which represent the first translation into sculpture of the architect’s laws on perspective.

Donatello was invited to Padua in 1443, where he was to produce one of his greatest works, the bronze equestrian statue of Gattamelata.

The statue was completed in about 1450 and portrays the military leader Erasmus da Narni, who was known as Gattamelata (honeyed cat).

It is believed to be the earliest Renaissance equestrian statue that still survives and was a precedent for later sculptures honouring military heroes.

The soldier and his horse are both portrayed in life size by Donatello, instead of being larger than life as with classical equestrian statues.

Donatello returned to Florence and for his last commission produced reliefs for the bronze pulpits in the Basilica of San Lorenzo. He was still working on them in 1466 when he died. Donatello is buried in the Basilica of San Lorenzo.

Travel tip:

The Statue of Gattamelata still stands in the open air for all to see to the left of the Basilica di Sant’Antonio as you approach from the direction of Via del Santo. Donatello was commissioned by the military leader’s family to create a monument in memory of the great Commander of the Venetian Republic. The statue is mounted on a pedestal that resembles a sepulchre. Gattamelata appears in the style of a Roman emperor astride his horse. His head is uncovered and there is a decisive expression on his face.

Travel tip:

The Basilica of San Lorenzo in Florence was the parish church of the Medici family. Donatello was about 74 when he began work on the bronze pulpits in the nave, which depict Christ’s passion and resurrection, and they were not quite finished when he died. His tomb can be found in the north transept of the church.


23 November 2015

Prospero Alpini - botanist

How coffee was first introduced to Europe

Prospero Alpini's journals suggest he saw coffee for the first time in Egypt
Prospero Alpini's journals suggest he saw
coffee for the first time in Egypt
Physician and botanist, Prospero Alpini, was born on this day in 1553 in Marostica near Vicenza.

He is credited with being the first person in Europe to observe and write about the coffee plant.

Alpini went to study medicine in Padua in 1574 and after taking his degree settled down to work as a doctor in nearby Campo San Pietro.

He was very interested in botany and so to extend his knowledge of exotic plants he travelled to Egypt in 1580 as physician to George Emo, the Venetian consul in Cairo.

While in Egypt he studied date trees which helped him to work out that there were gender differences between plants. He wrote that: “the female date trees or palms do not bear fruit unless the branches of the male and female plants are mixed together, or, as is generally done, unless the dust found in the male sheath or male flowers is sprinkled over the female flowers.”

In 1593 he was appointed professor of botany at Padua University and, after he died in 1617, he was succeeded in the role by his son, Alpino Alpini.

His botanical work De Medicina Egyptiorum is believed to contain the first report on the coffee plant ever published in the western world. 

Alpini also noted that the Egyptians roasted the seeds of the coffee plant, from which they made a drink. On his return to Venice, he told friends and associates about this drink. Curiously, the discovery of coffee beans was initially heralded for their medicinal qualities. They were sold in pharmacies at a very high cost, which put them out of reach of ordinary people. 

Alpini's illustration of the leaves of the coffee plant
Alpini's illustration of the leaves
of the coffee plant
But the habit of drinking coffee 
for pleasure spread quickly in Venice and several coffee houses were set up, the first of which was thought to have opened on Piazza San Marco in 1630, almost a hundred years before the famous Caffè Florian opened there in 1720. 

By the mid-18th century, Venetians could choose from more than 200 coffee houses across the city and other cities in Italy and beyond had taken up the coffee fashion.  Coffee houses, such as the Caffè Pedrocchi in Padua, which opened in the centre of the town in 1831, became the places to meet and be seen.

The new drink did not meet with universal approval, however. Some prominent members of the Catholic Church dubbed it 'the drink of the devil' and urged Pope Clement VII to ban its sale. In the event, on tasting coffee himself, the pontiff rejected the notion of banning it. Now with papal approval, the coffee habit went from strength to strength.

Alpini went on to work in Bassano del Grappa and then Genoa, where he was employed as personal physician to Giovanni Andrea Doria, an admiral and a member of a wealthy Genovese family. Later he took a job as prefect at the Botanical Gardens in Padua, becoming an authority on the medicinal use of plants.

The entrance archway of the Palazzo del Bò in Via 8 Febbraio in the centre of Padua
The entrance archway of the Palazzo del
Bò in Via 8 Febbraio in the centre of Padua
Travel tip:

The main building of Padua University, Palazzo del Bò in Via 8 Febbraio in the centre of Padua, was named after the tavern known as Il Bo (‘the ox’ in Venetian dialect) that had been acquired by the university as new premises in 1493. Originally this building housed the university’s renowned medical faculty, where Alpini would have studied. You can take a guided tour of the building and see the pulpit used by Galileo when he taught there between 1592 and 1610.  The anatomy theatre, built in 1594, is the oldest surviving medical lecture theatre in the world today. To find Palazzo del Bò, leave Piazza Cavour, passing Caffe Pedrocchi on your right and walk down Via 8 Febbraio. The university building is on the left hand side of the street at its corner with Via San Francesco.

The Piazza dei Signori in Vicenza, the city where Prospero Alpini was born in 1553
The Piazza dei Signori in Vicenza, the city where
Prospero Alpini was born in 1553
Travel tip:

Alpini was born near Vicenza, which has become famous as the city of Andrea Palladio, the most influential architect of his time, whose ideas have been copied by countless architects in the centuries since. Many of the palaces and buildings designed by Palladio in the centre of Vicenza would have been built during the time Alpini was growing up there, before he went to Padua University. A striking example of his work is the Basilica Palladiana in Piazza dei Signori. The most notable feature of the basilica is the loggia, which shows one of the first examples of what have come to be known as the Palladian window.

14 November 2015

Aleardo Aleardi - poet and patriot

History-loving writer dreamed of a united Italy

Aleardo Aleardi became an important figure in the Risorgimento movement
Aleardo Aleardi became an important
figure in the Risorgimento movement
Patriotic poet Aleardo Aleardi was born on this day in 1812 in Verona.  

At the height of his success he was hailed as an important figure in the Risorgimento movement and there is now a school named after him in the city of his birth.

Aleardi’s poems are mostly about events in Italian history and his love for his home country, which was under Austrian occupation while he was growing up.

He was originally named Gaetano Maria but changed his name to Aleardi, the surname of his father, Count Giorgio Aleardi, when he started writing.

Aleardi studied law at Padova University but gradually became more interested in poetry, influenced by some of his fellow students who were involved in the romantic Risorgimento movement.

Risorgimento, which means resurgence, was the name for the political and social movement that led to the consolidation of the different states of the Italian peninsula into the single state of the Kingdom of Italy during the 19th century. Most historians agree that the process began in 1815 with the end of Napoleonic rule in Italy and was completed in 1871 when Rome became the capital of the new united Italy and King Victor Emmanuel took up residence in the Palazzo Quirinale.

Aleardi’s first success came with Le Lettere a Maria (Letters to Mary), in which he expressed his belief in the immortality of the soul. He reached the height of his success with I Canti, a collection of poems published in 1864, which was reprinted eleven times.

Aleardi was sent to Paris in 1848 by Daniele Manin, a hero of the Risorgimento movement, to try to gather support for freeing Venice from the Austrians.

He was arrested and imprisoned by the Austrians twice, but survived the ordeals to become a member of parliament after Italian unification.

He became a senator in 1873 and then a professor of aesthetics in Florence, where he died in 1878.

The University of Padova, where Aleardi studied law
before devoting his time increasingly to poetry
Travel Tip:

The University of Padova, where Aleardi studied law, was established in 1222 and is one of the oldest in the world, second in Italy only to the University of Bologna. The main university building, Palazzo del Bo in Via 8 Febbraio in the centre of Padova, used to house the medical faculty. You can take a guided tour to see the pulpit used by Galileo when he taught at the university between 1592 and 1610.

The romantic so-called 'Juliet balcony' became an attraction for visitors to visitors to Verona
The romantic so-called 'Juliet balcony' became an attraction
for visitors to visitors to Verona
Travel tip:

Verona, where Aleardi was born, is the second biggest city in the Veneto. It is home to the first-century Roman Arena, famous for staging open air opera productions, and Casa di Giulietta, which has a romantic marble ‘Juliet’ balcony, although there is little evidence that the real-life Romeo ever stood below it declaring his love for Juliet.


3 November 2015

Villa Giusti armistice

Talks held at villa in Padova end First World War in Italy

The Villa Giusti, owned by Count Giusti del Giardino, just outside Padua, was the scene of the historic treaty signing
The Villa Giusti, owned by Count Giusti del Giardino, just
outside Padua, was the scene of the historic treaty signing
An armistice signed between Italy and Austria-Hungary at Villa Giusti near Padua ended World War I on the Italian front on this day in 1918.

After the Allied troops were victorious in the Battle of Vittorio Veneto, the Austria-Hungary commanding officers asked for a ceasefire and for peace talks.

They were invited to Villa Giusti at Mandria just outside Padua, which was owned by Count Giusti del Giardino, a former mayor of Padua and an Italian senator.

The principal signatories on the Italian side were Tenente Generale Pietro Badoglio and Maggior Generale Scipione Scipioni. Leading the Austria-Hungary delegation was General Viktor Weber Edler von Webenau.

During the war, the Villa Giusti had been the temporary residence of King Victor Emmanuel III when he was away from the front.

The signing of the armistice came after the commanders of the Austro-Hungarian Army sought a ceasefire. Their troops were fatigued, while at home the Austro-Hungarian Empire was tearing itself apart under ethnic lines. If the empire were to survive, it would have to withdraw from the war.

As the Battle of Vittorio Veneto reached a near-stalemate, the Austro-Hungarian force started a chaotic withdrawal. While a truce was being negotiated, the Italians reached Trento and Udine and landed in Trieste.  The Austro-Hungarians at first threatened to pull out of the talks, but on November 3 they accepted the armistice.

The armistice was seen by many Italians as the final phase of the Risorgimento, the movement started in 1815 to unify Italy. The bells of a nearby church rang out when news came from the villa that the armistice had been agreed.

Travel tip:

Villa Giusti in Via Armistizio, Mandria, is just outside Padua. Guided visits can be made to the villa by arrangement. The furniture in the room where negotiations were conducted remains just as it was on that day. Visitors can even see the round table on which the armistice was signed. Tel: +39 049 867 0492.

Vittorio Veneto's present day Piazza del Popolo, with the city's Municipio (Town Hall) in the background
Vittorio Veneto's present day Piazza del Popolo, with the
city's Municipio (Town Hall) in the background
Travel tip:

Two separate towns in the Veneto region, Ceneda and Serravalle, were merged and renamed Vittorio in 1866 in honour of King Vittorio Emanuele II. After the last, decisive battle in the First World War had taken place nearby, the city was renamed Vittorio Veneto. Franco Zeffirelli shot some of the scenes for his film version of Romeo and Juliet against the backdrop of 15th century buildings in Seravalle.

Also on this day:

(Picture credit: Municipio at Vittorio Veneto by Mauro)