Showing posts with label Padua. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Padua. Show all posts

13 June 2018

Giovanni Antonio Magini – astronomer and cartographer

Scientist laboured to produce a comprehensive atlas of Italy

The cover of Magini's great work, which was published by his son in 1620
The cover of Magini's great work, which
was published by his son in 1620
Giovanni Antonio Magini, who dedicated his life to producing a detailed atlas of Italy, was born on this day in 1555 in Padua.

He also devised his own planetary theory consisting of 11 rotating spheres and invented calculating devices to help him work on the geometry of the sphere.

Magini was born in Padua and went to study philosophy in Bologna, receiving his doctorate in 1579. He then dedicated himself to astronomy and in 1582 wrote his Ephemerides coelestium motuum, a major treatise on the subject, which was translated into Italian the following year.

In 1588 Magini joined in the competition for the chair of mathematics at Bologna University and was chosen over Galileo because he was older and had more moderate views. He held the position for the rest of his life.

But his greatest achievement was the preparation of Italia, or the Atlante geografico d’Italia, which was printed posthumously by Magini’s son in 1620.

Although Italy as a state has existed only since 1861, the name Italia, referring to the southern part of the peninsula, may go back to the ancient Greeks. It appeared on coins thought to have been produced in the 1st century BC and was eventually applied to the whole of the peninsula. Magini’s atlas set out to include maps of every Italian region with exact names and historical notes.

Giovanni Antonio Magini
Giovanni Antonio Magini
It proved expensive to produce and Magini took on extra posts in order to fund it. These included working as mathematics tutor to the sons of Vincenzo I of Gonzaga, Duke of Mantua.

The atlas is dedicated to the duke, who assisted him with the project by arranging for maps of the many states of Italy to be brought to Magini.

The governments of Messina and Genoa also assisted him financially to help him produce the atlas.

Magini died in Bologna in 1617 and the lunar crater maginus was later named after him.

Giotto's brilliant frescoes cover the walls of the Scrovegni Chapel, one of the Italy's great artistic treasures
Giotto's brilliant frescoes cover the walls of the Scrovegni
Chapel, one of the Italy's great artistic treasures
Travel tip:

Padua in the Veneto, where Magini was born, is one of the most important centres for art in Italy and home to the country’s second oldest university. Padua has become acknowledged as the birthplace of modern art because of the Scrovegni Chapel, the inside of which is covered with frescoes by Giotto, an artistic genius who was the first to paint people with realistic facial expressions showing emotion. At Palazzo Bo in the centre of the city, where Padua’s university was founded in 1222, you can still see the original lectern used by Galileo and the world’s first anatomy theatre, where dissections were secretly carried out from 1594.

The courtyard of the Archiginnasio, the oldest surviving building of the University of Bologna
The courtyard of the Archiginnasio, the oldest surviving
building of the University of Bologna
Travel tip:

Bologna University, where Magini occupied the chair in Mathematics, was founded in 1088 and is the oldest university in the world. The oldest surviving building, the Archiginnasio, is now a library and is open Monday to Friday from 9 am to 7 pm, and on Saturdays from 9 am to 2 pm. It is a short walk away from Piazza Maggiore and the Basilica di San Petronio in the centre of the city.

Also on this day:

The feast of St Anthony of Padua

2000: Mehmet Ali Agca, the gunman who tried to kill Pope John Paul II, is granted a state pardon by the Italian government


30 April 2018

Andrea Dandolo - Doge of Venice

Reign tested by earthquake, plague and war

A bust of Andrea Dandolo, sculpted by Lorenzo Larese Moretti in 1861
A bust of Andrea Dandolo, sculpted by
Lorenzo Larese Moretti in 1861
Andrea Dandolo, the fourth member of a Patrician Venetian family to serve as Doge of the historic Republic, was born on this day in 1306.

A notably erudite scholar, Dandolo wrote two chronicles of the history of Venice in Latin and reformed the Venetian legal code by bringing together all of the diverse laws applicable to the Venetian Republic within one legal framework.

He achieved these things despite his reign being marked by a devastating earthquake, a catastrophic outbreak of the Black Death plague and two expensive wars, against Hungary and then Genoa.

Dandolo studied at the University of Padua, where he became a professor of law, a position he maintained until he was elected Doge. He quickly rose to a position of prominence in Venetian life, being appointed Procurator of St Mark’s Basilica, the second most prestigious position in the Venetian hierarchy after the Doge, at the age of just 25.

He was elected Doge in 1343, aged 37.  It was a particularly young age at which to be given the leadership of the Republic, but his family history and the manner in which had conducted himself as Procurator gained the respect of the republic’s aristocratic elders.

Dandolo was a benefactor of the arts. He added the Chapel of San Isidoro to the Basilica of St Mark and oversaw improvements to the Pala d'Oro and the Baptistery.

Mosaics inside the Chapel of San Isidoro, which was Andrea Dandolo's addition to the Basilica of St Mark
Mosaics inside the Chapel of San Isidoro, which was
Andrea Dandolo's addition to the Basilica of St Mark
He became a close friend of the poet Petrarch, who described him as a “just and incorruptible man”, although they would later fall out over the latter’s attempt to mediate between Venice and Genoa after the third Venetian-Genoese War of 1350-55.

The first conflict began in 1345 after a revolt against the rule of the Republic by the people of what is now Zadar, a coastal city in Croatia, sometimes known in Italian as Zara.  The Venetian fleet laid siege to Zadar and eventually recaptured the city, but only after 16 months of fighting, during which between 2,000 and 3,000 Venetians died along with an unknown number of soldiers dispatched to support Zadar by the king of Hungary, Louis of Angevin.

Louis wished to gain control over the Kingdom of Croatia and in particular Dalmatia, the area controlled by Venice, and achieved his aim only a few years later, taking advantage of Venetian forced severely depleted by the third Venetian-Genoese War, in which a large Genoese fleet under the command of Paganino Doria devastated large areas of Venetian territory around the Adriatic and eventually captured the entire Venetian fleet. Peace was finally brokered by Dandolo’s successor as Doge, Marino Faliero.

The former Palazzo Dandolo, facing the lagoon on Riva degli Schiavoni, now houses the luxurious Hotel Danieli
The former Palazzo Dandolo, facing the lagoon on Riva degli
Schiavoni, now houses the luxurious Hotel Danieli
In the meantime, Dandolo had needed to support the people of Venice in recovering first from a violent earthquake in 1348, which destroyed many buildings and killed hundreds of citizens.

This was followed swiftly by the arrival of the Black Death, the plague spread by fleas living off black rats that would arrive in Europe in the hold of merchant ships importing goods from central Asia via the Black Sea.

The plague is thought to have killed between 75 and 200 million people all told. The outbreak in Venice, which lasted from 1348 until 1350, claimed the lives of a third of the population.

Dandolo survived both events, yet died in 1354 at the age of 48.  He was the last Doge from the Dandalo family and the last Doge to be interred in St Mark’s Basilica.

The Palazzo Dandolo, which was built towards the end of the 14th century as a grand family residence, today houses the exclusive Hotel Danieli.

The Basilica of St Mark is one of Venice's most popular tourist attractions
The Basilica of St Mark is one of Venice's most
popular tourist attractions
Travel tip:

The Basilica of St Mark dates from the 11th century, although it was not open to ordinary Venetians to venture inside until the early 19th century, its Byzantine grandeur having previously been off limits to all but the Doges and other senior figures in the Venetian government.  The chief attraction for many visitors to St Mark’s today are the golden mosaics, which cover more than 8,000 square metres of the walls, vaults and cupolas.

The poet Petrarch's house in Arquà Petrarca
The poet Petrarch's house in Arquà Petrarca
Travel tip:

Petrarch - whose given name was Francesco Petrarca - the poet and diplomat who was a contemporary of Dandolo and was for a long time his close friend, was born in Arezzo in Tuscany but travelled widely.  He spent the last four years of his life in the small town of Arquà, about 25km (16 miles) southwest of Padua, in the Colli Euganei (Euganean Hills). The town added his name to its own to become Arquà Petrarca in 1870. The house where he lived (and died, in 1374) is now a museum dedicated to the poet.


17 April 2018

Riccardo Patrese - racing driver

Former Williams ace was first in Formula One to start 250 races

Riccardo Patrese was considered brash and  impetuous at the start of his career
Riccardo Patrese was considered brash and
impetuous at the start of his career
The racing driver Riccardo Patrese, who for 15 years was the only Formula One driver to have started more than 250 Grand Prix races, was born on this day in 1954 in Padua.

The former Williams driver reached the milestone in the German Grand Prix of 1993, having three years earlier been the first to make 200 starts.

Patrese retired at the end of the 1993 season with his total on 256 and his  record of longevity was not surpassed until 2008, when the Brazilian driver Rubens Barrichello made his 257th start at the Turkish Grand Prix.

Ferrari ace Michael Schumacher passed 250 two years later and Patrese’s total has now been exceeded by six drivers, Jenson Button, Fernando Alonso, Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa having all joined the 250 club.

Patrese also became famous for an unwanted record, having gone more than six years between his second Grand Prix victory in Formula One, in the 1983 South African GP, and his third, in the San Marino GP of 1990.

He enjoyed his most successful years while driving for Williams between 1987 and 1992, finishing third in the drivers’ championship in 1989 and 1991 and runner-up in 1992, albeit a long way behind that season’s champion, his Williams team-mate Nigel Mansell.

Patrese scored four of his six Grand Prix wins during that period, when he was also runner-up no fewer than 12 times.

Patrese became a key figure in the  successful years of the Williams team
Patrese became a key figure in the
successful years of the Williams team
A former world karting champion - he had started in karting at the age of nine - Patrese began his motor racing career in 1975.  Impetuous and brash, characteristics that did not endear him to some of his rivals and colleagues, he nonetheless had exceptional talent and was a dual Formula Three champion in only his second season on the track, winning both the Italian and European titles.

He made his debut at the 1977 Monaco Grand Prix with the Shadow racing team, switching later in the year to Arrows, for whom he almost won the 1978 South African Grand Prix, which he was leading when an engine failure forced him to retire 15 laps from the end.

But his early career was overshadowed by controversy following the death of the Swedish driver Ronnie Peterson following a pile-up soon after the start of the Italian Grand Prix later in the 1978 season, when the cars driven by Peterson and James Hunt came together, sending Peterson’s car into the barriers, where it broke in two and caught fire.

Peterson appeared to have escaped serious injury but while he was in hospital recovering from surgery on a broken leg he developed a blood clot and died. Hunt blamed Patrese, whose car had gone off onto the grass and rejoined the race moments before the collision.

Together with a race official, Patrese stood trial in 1981 over Peterson’s death but was found not guilty.

Patrese scored his first Grand Prix wins after joining Brabham, although his maiden success at the 1982 Monaco Grand Prix was somewhat fortuitous. He spun off while in the lead just two laps from the finish, which seemed to have put paid to his chance, but then three cars in front of him sensationally dropped out, one from engine failure, a second in a crash and a third, his fellow Italian Andrea de Cesaris, because he ran out of fuel.

Riccardo Patrese won four of his six Grand Prix while with the Williams team, finishing championship runner-up in 1992
Riccardo Patrese won four of his six Grand Prix while with the
Williams team, finishing championship runner-up in 1992
His second victory came in the South African Grand Prix in 1983, when his Brabham teammate Nelson Piquet, who needed only to finish in the top four to be confirmed as world champion, cautiously dropped his pace in the closing stages.

Then came the long wait for a third success as two seasons with Alfa Romeo and two more with Brabham yielded nothing but frustration. His move to Williams to be Nigel Mansell’s teammate in 1988 surprised the motor racing world but proved to be the break Patrese needed.

He got on well with the Renault engine and after a string of podium finishes in 1989 he ended his long drought by winning in San Marino in 1990. He collected more wins in Mexico and Portugal in 1991 and scored his final success in 1992 in Japan, before concluding his career alongside Schumacher at Benetton.

Patrese’s later successes largely repaired the reputation damaged by the Peterson incident, although BBC television viewers became used to Hunt routinely referring to the controversy and what he thought of the Italian whenever he commentated on a Patrese race.

After retiring from F1 Patrese drove in the Le Mans 24 Hours race in 1997 and finished third in a Grand Prix Masters race in 2005, again coming in behind Nigel Mansell.

A former schoolboy swimming champion and successful skier, Patrese remains involved with sport. One of his twin daughters, Beatrice, is an international class equestrian and his youngest son, Lorenzo, has followed his father into karting, with ambitions to become a Formula One driver.

Patrese himself now rides and has a stable of horses. He still lives with his family in Padua.

Frescoes by Giotto at the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua
Frescoes by Giotto at the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua
Travel tip:

Padua has become acknowledged as the birthplace of modern art because of the Scrovegni Chapel, the inside of which is covered with frescoes by Giotto, an artistic genius who was the first to paint people with realistic facial expressions showing emotion. His scenes depicting the lives of Mary and Joseph, painted between 1303 and 1305, are considered his greatest achievement and one of the world’s most important works of art.

Monza's 14th century Duomo
Monza's 14th century Duomo
Travel tip:

Monza, the Lombardy city best known for its motor racing circuit, has been the home of the Italian Formula One Grand Prix every year bar one since 1950.  The city has other attractions, including a 14th century Duomo, built in Romanesque-Gothic style with a black and white marble facade, and the church of Santa Maria in Strada, also built in the 14th century, which has a facade in terracotta. The Royal Villa, on the banks of the Lambro river, dates back to the 18th century, when Monza was part of the Austrian Empire.

More reading:

Alberto Ascari, one of Italy's Formula One pioneers

Flavio Briatore, the entrepreneur behind the Benetton team

Lella Lombardi, the only woman to win points in a Formula One Grand Prix

Also on this day:

1598: The birth of astronomer Giovanni Riccioli

1927: The birth of the vivacious operatic soprano Graziella Sciutti


12 March 2018

Pietro Andrea Mattioli – doctor

The first botanist to describe the tomato

As a physician, Pietro Andrea Mattioli described the first documented case of cat allergy
As a physician, Pietro Andrea Mattioli described the
first documented case of cat allergy
Doctor and naturalist Pietro Andrea Gregorio Mattioli was born on this day in 1501 in Siena.

As the author of an illustrated work on botany, Mattioli provided the first documented example of an early variety of tomato that was being grown and eaten in Europe.

He is also believed to have described the first case of cat allergy, when one of his patients was so sensitive to cats that if he went into a room where there was a cat he would react with agitation, sweating and pallor.

Mattioli received his medical degree at the University of Padua in 1523 and practised his profession in Siena, Rome, Trento and Gorizia.

He became the personal physician to Ferdinand II, Archduke of Austria, in Prague and to Maximilian II, Holy Roman Emperor, in Vienna.

While working for the imperial court it is believed he tested the effects of poisonous plants on prisoners, which was a common practice at the time.

Mattioli's book about the work of  Greek physician Dioscorides
Mattioli's book about the work of
Greek physician Dioscorides
Mattioli’s interest in botany led him to describe 100 new plants and document the medical botany of his time in his Discorsi (Commentaries) on the Materia Medica of Dioscorides, a Greek physician and botanist. Dioscorides had written a five-volume encyclopaedia about herbal medicine and other medicinal substances that had been widely read for 1,500 years.

The first edition of Mattioli’s work appeared in 1544 in Italian. There were several later editions and translations into Latin, French, Czech and German.

He added descriptions of plants not in the original work and not of any known medical use. The woodcuts in Mattioli’s work were of a high standard, helping the reader to identify the plants.

The Scottish botanist Robert Brown later named a plant genus Matthiola in his honour.

Mattioli died in 1577 during a visit to Trento, now the capital city of Trentino-Alto Adige.

Siena's Piazza del Campo viewed from the air
Siena's Piazza del Campo viewed from the air
Travel tip:

Mattioli’s birthplace, Siena, is famous for its shell-shaped Piazza del Campo, where the Palio di Siena takes place twice each year. It was established in the 13th century as an open marketplace and is now regarded as one of the finest medieval squares in Europe. The red brick paving, fanning out from the centre in nine sections, was put down in 1349. The city’s Duomo was designed and completed between 1215 and 1263 on the site of an earlier structure. It has a beautiful façade built in Tuscan Romanesque style using polychrome marble.

The Piazza del Duomo in Trento
The Piazza del Duomo in Trento
Travel tip:

Trento is a city on the Adige river, which was formerly part of Austria-Hungary. It is famous as the location of the Council of Trent in the 16th century, an ecumenical council that led to a Catholic resurgence in the wake of the Protestant Reformation.  It was annexed by Italy in 1919 and is now one of the country’s most prosperous cities.

25 February 2018

Giovanni Battista Morgagni - anatomist

The father of modern pathological anatomy

Giovanni Battista Morgagni taught at the  University of Padua for 56 years
Giovanni Battista Morgagni taught at the
University of Padua for 56 years
Anatomist Giovanni Battista Morgagni, who is credited with turning pathology into a science, was born on this day in 1682 in Forlì in Emilia-Romagna.

Morgagni was professor of Anatomy at the University of Padua for 56 years and taught thousands of medical students during his time there.

He was sent by his parents to study philosophy and medicine at the University of Bologna when he was 18 and he graduated as a doctor from both faculties.

In 1706 he published his work, Adversaria Anatomica, which was to be the first volume of a series and helped him become known throughout Europe as an accurate anatomist.

He succeeded to the chair of theoretical medicine at the University of Padua in 1712 and was to teach medicine there until his death in 1771.

Morgagni was promoted to the chair of anatomy after his first three years in Padua, following in the footsteps of many illustrious scholars. He brought out five more volumes of his Adversaria Anatomica during his early years in Padua.

Morgagni's Adversaria Anatomica helped establish his reputation
Morgagni's Adversaria Anatomica helped
establish his reputation
In 1761, when he was nearly 80, he brought out the work that was to make pathological anatomy into a science – De Sedibus et causis morborum per anotomem indagatis (Of the seats and cause of diseases investigated through anatomy). This work, which contained the records of 646 dissections, was later reprinted several times in its original Latin and translated into French, English and German.

Morgagni was the first anatomist to understand and to demonstrate the absolute necessity of basing diagnosis, prognosis and treatment on an exact and comprehensive knowledge of anatomical conditions. His precision, thoroughness and freedom from bias are modern scientific qualities and he was also a widely respected clinician who maintained an active practice. His treatise was to lead to steady progress in pathology and practical medicine.

Morgagni had married a noble lady from Forlì during his early years in Padua who bore him three sons and 12 daughters. He died at the age of 89 in Padua.

He is today regarded as the father of modern pathological anatomy as his works helped to make it into an exact science.

Forlì's Palazzo Poste e Telegrafi in Piazza Saffi
Forlì's Palazzo Poste e Telegrafi in Piazza Saffi
Travel tip:

Forlì, where Morgagni was born, is today a prosperous city with a beautiful main square, Piazza Saffi, named after Aurelio Saffi, a radical republican who was a prominent figure in the Risorgimento. The square is dominated by the monumental Palazzo Poste e Telegrafi, designed by Cesare Bazzani in 1932 to celebrate the Fascist regime. Benito Mussolini was born in nearby Predappio and blatantly favoured the area of his birth with imposing new buildings.

Palazzo del Bò in the centre of the city is the main building of the University of Padua
Palazzo del Bò in the centre of the city is the
main building of the University of Padua
Travel tip:

The University of Padua, where Morgagni taught for most of his life, 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 pulpit used by Galileo when he taught at the university between 1592 and 1610.

More reading:

Paolo Mascagni, the first physician to map the human lymphatic system

How Gabriele Falloppio made key discoveries about human reproduction

Hieronymus Fabricius, the father of embyology

9 February 2018

Ezechiele Ramin – missionary

Priest from Padua who was murdered in Brazil

Ezechiele Ramin spent his adult life working on behalf of those in poverty or peril
Ezechiele Ramin spent his adult life working on
behalf of those in poverty or peril
Ezechiele Ramin, a Comboni missionary who was shot to death by hired killers after standing up for the rights of peasant farmers and traditional tribesmen in a remote rural area in Brazil, was born on this day in 1953 in Padua.

Ramin was only 32 when he was murdered in July 1985, having worked in the South American country for about a year and a half.

He had already completed missionary assignments in North and Central America, worked to help victims of the Irpinia earthquake in Campania and organised a demonstration against the Camorra in Naples before being posted to Brazil.

He was based in the state of Rondônia, an area in the northwest of Brazil next to the border with Bolivia, where small farmers found themselves oppressed, by legal and illegal means, by wealthy landowners, and where government measures had been introduced to curb the freedom of the indigenous Suruí tribes.

Ramin, an easy-going and popular man who amused himself by making sketches and playing the guitar, tried to solve the problems by arranging for a lawyer, paid for by the Brazilian Catholic Church through the Pastoral Land Commission, to act on behalf of the peasant farmers to see that their legal rights were properly observed.

This led to Ramin finding himself regularly threatened by the same armed gangs, hired by the landowners, who intimidated the rural workers.

Ramin was known for his friendly and  outgoing demeanour
Ramin was known for being a friendly
 and outgoing character
He was advised by his superiors at the Comboni Mission to act with caution but he continued towards his goal and on July 24, 1985 made a journey of around 100km (62 miles) from the city of Cacoal, in the Amazon valley, where he was based, to a large estate called the Fazenda Catuva. He had with him a trade union leader, Adilio de Souza, to chair a meeting of peasant farmers.

The meeting broke up and he had left the estate at the start of his return journey when a gang of seven armed gunmen, hired as an assassination squad by the landowners, ambushed the car in which he and De Souza were travelling and opened fire.

De Souza managed to escape but Ramin was hit by an estimated 50 bullets.  The irony is that feelings ran so high at the meeting he had attended that he spent much of it trying to persuade the farmers not to take up arms against the landowners, urging a peaceful solution.

His body was recovered by his fellow missionaries the following day, having been protected overnight by Suruí tribesmen, before being flown back to Italy for burial in the Cimitero Maggiore in Padua.

The possessions that were brought back with him included a substantial number of sketches, mainly in charcoal, which were displayed some time later in an exhibition in Padua.

A few days after his death, Ramin was defined as a “martyr of charity” by Pope John Paul II.

Adilio de Souza travelled with Ramin but escaped the assassins' bullets
Adilio de Souza travelled with Ramin but
escaped the assassins' bullets
Ramin had been born in the parish of San Giuseppe in Padua, the fourth of six sons in a family of modest means.  Known as Lele, he was a handsome boy who, according to some of his male friends, always seemed to be surrounded by groups of girls.

He was described as outgoing and sporty, with a particular enthusiasm for cycling.  In ball games he was highly competitive and if ever he lost he would always challenge his opponent to an immediate rematch.

But his family always encouraged him – and all of his brothers – to be true to their Christian principles and think about the wellbeing of others, and when Ezechiele became aware of how much poverty existed around the world he joined a charity called Mani Tese (Outstretched Hands), organising fund-raising activities to support projects in the Third World.

In 1972, he decided to join the religious institute of the Comboni Missionaries of the Heart of Jesus. His studied in Florence, in Venegono Inferiore, in the province of Varese, and in Chicago, where he graduated from Catholic Theological Union and served in the St. Ludmila Parish.

He did his first missionary work with impoverished Native Americans in South Dakota and later in Baja California in Mexico.

A bronze of Ezichiele Ramin in Piazza San Giuseppe in Padua
A bronze of Ezichiele Ramin in
Piazza San Giuseppe in Padua
Ramin was ordained a priest in 1980 in Padua. He was assigned to a parish in Naples but, following the 1980 Irpinia earthquake, he moved to the village of San Mango sul Calore, near Avellino, to assist survivors in an area almost completely destroyed.

Back in Naples in 1981, he organised one of the first peaceful demonstrations against the Camorra, the ruthless Neapolitan equivalent of the Sicilian Mafia.

In 2005, on the 20th anniversary of his death, a bronze sculpture created in his honour by Ettore Greco was unveiled in Piazza San Giuseppe in Padua, in front of the church he used to attend as a boy. In the same year, an icon depicting Father Ezekiel – as he was known in Rondônia – with a dove of peace was painted by Robert Lentz for the Chicago Catholic Theological Union.

The Comboni Mission, meanwhile, is trying to promote the idea of Ramin being beatified and, in time, made a saint.

The Basilica of St Anthony of Padua is a spectacular sight when illuminated at night
The Basilica of St Anthony of Padua is a spectacular
sight when illuminated at night
Travel tip:

The city of Padua in the Veneto – Padova in Italian – would almost certainly attract more visitors were it not for its proximity to Venice, which is less than half an hour away by train. Apart from being a picturesque city to explore, with a dense network of arcaded streets and several communal squares, it is the home of the Scrovegni Chapel and its wonderful circle of frescoes by Giotto, the vast Palazzo della Ragione, the Teatro Verdi, the elliptical square Prato della Valle and the two basilicas, of St Anthony of Padua and Santa Giustina.

Ariano Irpino is a popular town among visitors to Irpinia
Ariano Irpino is a popular town among visitors to Irpinia
Travel tip:

Irpinia, which was the centre of the earthquake in 1980 that killed at least 2,500 people and possibly nearer 4,000, is an area of the Apennine Mountains around the city of Avellino, about 55km (34 miles) inland from Naples.  A largely mountainous area, it has a great tradition for producing wine and food.  The Greco di Tuffo, Fiano di Avellino and Taurasi wines are indigenous to the area, while local produce includes scamorza and caciocavallo cheeses, sopressata – a type of salami – and sausages, as well as chestnuts, hazelnuts and black truffles. Ariano Irpino, a town built on three hills, is a popular destination for visitors to the area.

1891: The birth of politician Pietro Nenni

1953: The birth of world champion boxer Vito Antuofermo

(Picture credits: Bust by McMarcoP; Basilica by Tango7174; Ariano Irpino by Djparella; via Wikimedia Commons)

13 January 2018

Renato Bruson – operatic baritone

Donizetti and Verdi specialist rated among greats

Renato Bruson, pictured not long after his debut in the 1960s.
Renato Bruson, pictured not long after
his debut in the 1960s.
The opera singer Renato Bruson, whose interpretation of Giuseppe Verdi’s baritone roles sometimes brought comparison with such redoubtable performers as Tito Gobbi, Ettore Bastianini and Piero Cappuccili, was born on this day in 1936 in the village of Granze, near Padua.

Bruson’s velvety voice and noble stage presence sustained him over a career of remarkable longevity. He was still performing in 2011 at the age of 75, having made his debut more than half a century earlier.

Since then he has devoted himself more to teaching masterclasses, although he did manage one more performance of Verdi’s Falstaff, which was among his most famous roles, at the age of 77 in 2013, having been invited to the Teatro Verdi in Busseto, the composer’s home town in Emilia-Romagna, as part of a celebration marking 200 years since Verdi’s birth.

Today he is director of the Accademia Lirica at Teatro alla Scala in Milan, a role he combines with a professorship at the Accademia Chigiana in Siena and a post at the lyrical academy in Spoleto.

It was at the Teatro Lirico Sperimentale in Spoleto, the ancient city in Umbria, that Bruson made his stage debut as the Conte di Luna in Verdi’s Il trovatore in 1960, which was a moment that brought deep satisfaction after a difficult childhood.

The parish church of Santa Cristina in Granze near Padua, where Bruson sang in the choir as a boy
The parish church of Santa Cristina in Granze near Padua,
where Bruson sang in the choir as a boy
Born into a family of modest means, he found it difficult to convince his parents that if they allowed him to pursue his desire to study music it would not make him appear to others as workshy.

In an interview many years later, Bruson said that the older generation in Granze as he was growing up took the view that people who went straight from school into the world of work could look forward to a prosperous future, whereas those who preferred to continue their studies were destined never to find their path in life.

Therefore he was given little support from his family, even though they had encouraged him to sing in the parish choir. Fortunately, he was awarded a scholarship by the Conservatory of Padua, 30km (19 miles) away.

His debut in Spoleto was well received and he was soon making his mark at some of the great opera houses of Italy, including the Teatro dell’Opera in Rome (1961), La Fenice in Venice (1965) and the Teatro Massimo in Palermo (1966).

The Teatro Regio in Parma, where Bruson was seen by a talent scout from the Met
The Teatro Regio in Parma, where Bruson was
seen by a talent scout from the Met
His big break came in 1967, when he sang the role of Don Carlo di Vargas in Verdi’s La forza del destino at the Teatro Regio in Parma.

In the audience was Roberto Bauer, whose job was to scour Europe looking for new talent for the Metropolitan Opera in New York.  He was so impressed he sought out Bruson afterwards so that he could arrange a meeting with the Met’s artistic director, Rudolf Bing.  Two years later, Bruson was making his debut on the other side of the Atlantic as Enrico in Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor.

In the early part of his career, in particular, Bruson was associated with Donizetti’s baritones as much as Verdi’s, performing in no fewer than 17 operas from the pen of the Bergamo composer.

Over the next few years, Bruson paraded his acting skills, the deep but smooth resonance of his voice and his commanding stage presence at Europe’s leading opera houses.

Another milestone moment came in 1972 with his debut as Antonio in Donizetti’s Linda di Chamounix at La Scala.

In 1975 he took his first bows at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, London, as Renato in Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera, and in 1978 came his debut at the Vienna State Opera in Macbeth, the Shakespeare play upon which Verdi had based his 10th opera in 1847.

Renato Bruson in more recent years
Renato Bruson in more recent years
In the meantime, he had also begun what was to be a long and fruitful collaboration with the conductor Riccardo Muti, who was particularly appreciative of Bruson’s vocal style, which had deep resonance without the thunderous qualities associated with some baritones. The singer always wanted audiences to appreciate the quality of his voice, rather than the volume, and to go home “with something in their hearts rather than some sounds in their ears.”

Bruson is married to Tita Tegano, a costume and set designer who has also written several books about the life and work of her husband. In 1996 he was made Knight of the Grand Cross of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic.

Last year, his career was celebrated again as he was named as the recipient of the Caruso Prize in recognition of his lifetime contribution to the opera genre.  The award is made annually in a ceremony at the Villa Caruso di Bellosguarda in Tuscany, former home of the great Neapolitan tenor and now a museum.

The well-preserved castle at Spoleto
The well-preserved castle at Spoleto
Travel tip:

The ancient city of Spoleto in Umbria, where Bruson made his first appearance in a live opera performance, has a long association with music and other performing arts, which it celebrates every summer with the Festival dei Due Mondi, which sees events taking place in churches, theatres and open squares throughout the city and attracts a high calibre of performers during June and July. Spoleto also has some fine architecture, including a beautiful 12th-century Duomo which has frescoes by Fra Filippo Lippi, who is buried in the church.  The city also has the remains of a Roman amphiteatre and an imposing castle, parts of which go back to the fifth century.

Padua's Palazzo della Ragione
Padua's Palazzo della Ragione
Travel tip:

The city of Padua’s biggest attraction is the beautiful Scrovegni Chapel, made famous by the wonderful frescoes painted by Giotto, but there is plenty more to the Veneto’s second largest city, including a wealth of parks and gardens and a city centre where you will find many more students and local people than tourists.  This is despite Padua boasting the two fine basilicas of Sant’Antonio and Santa Giustina, the oval piazza known as Prato della Valle, the historic centre built around the Duomo, the Palazzo della Ragione and a University established in 1222 at which Galileo Galilei was a lecturer.

9 October 2017

Gabriele Falloppio – anatomist and physician

Professor made key discoveries about human reproduction   

Gabriele Falloppio advanced knowledge of medicine significantly
Gabriele Falloppio advanced knowledge
of medicine significantly
Gabriele Falloppio, one of the most important physicians and anatomists of the 16th century, died on this day in 1562 in Padua.

Often known by his Latin name Fallopius, he lived only 39 years yet made his mark with a series of discoveries that expanded medical knowledge significantly.

He worked mainly on the anatomy of the head and the reproductive organs in both sexes and is best known for identifying the tubes that connect the ovaries to the uterus, which are known even today as Fallopian tubes.

He also discovered several major nerves of the head and face, and identified many of the components of the hearing and balance systems.

Falloppio described all of the findings of his research in a book published a year before he died, entitled Observationes anatomicae.

Educated initially in the classics, the death of his father plunged his family – noble but not wealthy – into financial difficulties, prompting him to pursue the security of a career in the church, becoming a priest in 1542. He served as a canon at the cathedral in his native Modena.

Falloppio retained an ambition to study medicine, however, and when the family’s finances had improved sufficiently he enrolled at the University of Ferrara, which at the time had one of the best medical schools in Europe.

A painting shows Falloppio (left) explaining one of his  discoveries to the Cardinal Duke of Ferrara and other clergy
A painting shows Falloppio (left) explaining one of his
discoveries to the Cardinal Duke of Ferrara and other clergy
He studied under Antonio Musa Brassavolo, who at the time was one of the most eminent physicians in Europe, with a list of illustrious clients that included King Henry VIII of England, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, the French king Francis I and a succession of popes.

After receiving his doctorate in medicine, he worked at various medical schools before becoming professor of anatomy at Ferrara in 1548.  A year later, he was invited to occupy the chair of anatomy at the University of Pisa.

Falloppio gained much of his knowledge from dissecting cadavars, not only those of adult humans but children and animals.  During his time at Pisa he was falsely accused of human vivisection, but despite the cloud this cast over him he was appointed to the prestigious chair of anatomy at the University of Padua, where he would remain until his death from tuberculosis.

The Flemish anatomist Andreas Vesalius was among his predecessors in the Padua chair.  It was the work of Vesalius that prompted a surge of interest in dissections and probably inspired Falloppio, who studied the observations of his predecessor in great detail and sought to build on them.

The title page of Falloppio's book of Anatomical Observations
 The title page of Falloppio's book
of Anatomical Observations
Despite his short working life, he left an enormous legacy of research.

He carried out investigations on the larynx and on respiration, and made important discoveries about bone growth. He described the ethmoid bone, the lacrimal duct, and his description of the middle and inner ear includes the first clear account of the round and oval windows, the cochlea, the semi-circular canals, and the scala vestibuli and tympani.

In the area of reproduction, as well as being the first to identify the Fallopian tubes, he proved the existence of the hymen in virgins, gave names to many features of the reproductive anatomy and disproved many popular notions about the mechanics of the reproductive process.

He can also be credited with inventing one of the earliest condoms, a sheath made from linen soaked in a medicinal chemical to be worn to protect the wearer from contracting syphilis.

Falloppio published two treatises on ulcers and tumors, a treatise on surgery, and a commentary on Hippocrates's book on wounds of the head.  He also researched the science of baths and thermal waters and of purgatives, and put forward important theories about the formation of fossils.

The anatomical theatre at the University of Padua
The anatomical theatre at the University of Padua
Travel tip:

The University of Padua includes nine museums, a botanical garden – best visited in the spring and summer – and the oldest surviving permanent anatomical theatre in Europe, built in around 1595 and which used to hold public dissections, which attracted scientists and artists in large numbers, keen to enhance their knowledge of the human body.

Statues line the canal in the elliptical Prato della Valle
Statues line the canal in the elliptical Prato della Valle
Travel tip:

The city of Padua, situated in the Veneto a 30-45 minute train ride from Venice and an hour and a half from the international airport at Treviso, is most famous for the Giotto frescoes at the Scrovegni Chapel and for the Basilica of St Anthony of Padua. Both attract thousands of visitors and the Scrovegni Chapel requires advance booking.  The city itself is an attractive place to explore, with a wealth of fine, historic buildings to discover along its pleasant arcaded streets, as well as the beautiful Prato della Valle, the 90,000-square metre elliptical square with an island in its centre surrounded by a canal bordered by 78 statues.

21 September 2017

Maurizio Cattelan - conceptual artist

Controversial work softened by irreverent humour

Maurizio Cattelan once said that he aimed to be "as  open and as incomprehensible as possible."
Maurizio Cattelan once said that he aimed to be "as
open and as incomprehensible as possible."
The conceptual artist Maurizio Cattelan, known for the dark humour and irreverence of much of his work, was born on this day in 1960 in Padua.

Cattelan, probably best known for his controversial waxwork sculptures of Pope John Paul II and Adolf Hitler, has been described at different times as a satirist, a prankster, a subversive and a poet, although it seems to have been his aim to defy any attempt at categorisation.

His works are often interpreted as critiques of the art world and of society in general and while death and mortality are recurring themes there is more willingness among modern audiences to see how even tragic circumstances can give rise to comedic absurdities.

Although some of his work has provoked outrage, more viewers have been enthralled than angered by what he has presented, and some of his creations have changed hands for millions of dollars.

Cattelan has said that his memories of growing up in Padua are of economic hardship, punishments at school and a series of unfulfilling menial jobs.  His artistic skills were entirely self-taught. He was designing and making wooden furniture in Forlì, in Emilia-Romagna, when he began his first experiments with sculpture and conceptual art.

Cattelan's controversial waxwork of Pope John Paul II felled by a meteorite
Cattelan's controversial waxwork of Pope John
Paul II felled by a meteorite
At the start, he set out to produce work that expressed his own insecurities and anxiety about not succeeding. What was meant to be his first solo exhibition in 1989, for example, consisted simply of a sign hanging from the locked door of the gallery with the words Torno subito or “Be right back,” while his contribution to a group exhibition was a ‘rope’ from a window made of bed sheets knotted together, signifying a hurried escape from his obligations.

On another occasion, in Amsterdam, again to create a metaphor for fear of failure, he stole the entire contents of another artist’s show from a neighbouring gallery to pass off as his own, although he was forced to return it under threat of arrest.

He used taxidermy in several notable creations in the 1990s, including The Ballad of Trotsky (1996) and Novecento (1997), both of which consisted of an embalmed horse suspended from the ceiling, its neck bent downwards and its hooves stretched out as if reaching for the floor, widely interpreted as symbolic of energy destined to find no outlet.

Cattelan sold the Ballad of Trotsky for $5,000 (€4,200). In 2004, it changed hands for $2.1 million (€1.7 million).

Cattelan's work is often humorous, as in this sculpture of himself
 peering at paintings by Dutch masters from a hole in the floor 
At the Venice Biennale in 1997 he assembled 200 taxidermied pigeons perched on the air conditioning pipes in the Italian pavilion, with droppings spattered on the floor below, in an exhibit entitled Turisti.

Towards the end of the 1990s he turned to waxwork and caused considerable controversy with La Nona Ora – “The Ninth Hour” – which depicted a prone Pope John Paul II, dressed in his robes and clutching the Papal Cross, having been felled by a lump of meteoric rock that has crashed through a skylight.

The sculpture provoked a lively debate as to its meaning but met with hostility when it went on display at the Zacheta Gallery of Contemporary Art in Warsaw – in John Paul II’s home country – where two members of the Polish parliament not only raised a petition, signed by 90 members, calling for the dismissal of the gallery’s director, but physically removed the rock and tried to stand the figure upright.

Nonetheless, Christie’s sold the piece for $886,000 (€745,000) in 2001. When a second version was auctioned by Phillips, de Pury & Company in 2004, it fetched $3 million (€2.52 million).

Cattelan's model of Hitler as a schoolboy kneeling
in prayer, on display in an alley in Warsaw
Similarly, not everyone appreciated his 2001 sculpture Him, in which a head clearly that of Hitler was mounted on the body of a schoolboy kneeling in prayer. The sculpture was frequently displayed at the end of a long hallway or at the opposite end of a white room, turned away from the viewer, so as to maximise the sense of surprise or shock when they advanced close enough to recognise the face.

Other waxwork sculptures included one of himself, or at least his head, created for a museum in Rotterdam, in which he is seen peering up through a hole in the floor at an exhibition of 17th century Dutch masters.

After the September 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center in New York, Cattelan sculpted Frank and Jamie (2002), in which two New York City policemen are turned upside down and propped against a wall in a posture that has been seen to convey the unfamiliar sense of vulnerability that permeated the United States in the wake of the terrorist outrage.

Cattelan, who today earns at least $200,000 (€168,000) for every new piece, claims there is no difference between his more recent work and his older pieces, but that he used to be “treated as an idiot” where now he is appreciated. He claims he doesn't know what his work means, but says his aim is to be “as open and as incomprehensible as possible.”

The artist, who divides his time between homes in Milan and New York, announced his retirement after a 2011 retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum in New York, where his work was displayed hanging from the ceiling of the rotunda as if wilfully and randomly discarded.

He came out of retirement for another show at the Guggenheim in 2016, in which one exhibit was a fully functioning toilet in 18-carat gold.

Giotto's frescoes in the Scrovegni Chapel are one of the major attractions for visitors to Padua
Giotto's frescoes in the Scrovegni Chapel are one of the
major attractions for visitors to Padua
Travel tip:

Padua, where Cattelan was born, is city of some 210,000 people in the Veneto, about 40 minutes from Venice by train. It has much to see for the visitor, with the frescoes by Giotto that illuminate the Scrovegni Chapel undoubtedly the biggest attraction, so much so that booking ahead is now almost essential. Well worth a visit too are the substantial Basilica di Sant’Antonio – known in English as St Anthony of Padua – and the Abbazia di Santa Giustina, both close to the beautiful elliptical open space, Prato della Valle, which was once the site of a Roman amphitheatre.  The city has a large student population yet on the whole Padua is a fairly quiet city, a good base for exploring the area and a better-value alternative to staying Venice.

Piazza Aurelio Saffi is at the heart of the city of Forlì
Piazza Aurelio Saffi is at the heart of the city of Forlì
Travel tip:

Founded by the Romans 200 years before Christ as Forum Livii, Forlì is located between Faenza and Cesena in the eastern part of the Po Valley, no more than 30-35km (18-22 miles) from the Adriatic coast. The centrepiece of the town is Piazza Aurelio Saffi, which features notable buildings from different eras: the Romanesque Basilica of San Mercuriale with its 12th century bell tower, the 14th century Palazzo Comunale and Torre Civica clock tower, the 15th century Palazzo del Podestà and 20th century Palazzo delle Poste, an example of architecture of the Fascist era, also evident in the buildings of Viale della Libertà and Piazzale della Vittoria. Forlì’s older history is represented in the palaces along Corso Garibaldi and Via Maroncelli.