Showing posts with label Salò. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Salò. Show all posts

21 March 2018

Angela Merici – Saint

Nun dedicated her life to educating girls

Angela Merici, pictured in a 17th  century painting by an unknown artist
Angela Merici, pictured in a 17th
century painting by an unknown artist
Angela Merici, who founded the monastic Ursuline Order, was born on this day in 1474 in Desenzano del Garda, then part of the republic of Venice.

The Ursulines are the oldest order of women in the Roman Catholic Church dedicated to teaching and were the first to work outside a convent in the community.

Merici was orphaned at the age of 15 and sent to Salò to live in the home of an uncle, where she became deeply religious and joined the Third Order of Saint Francis.

She returned to Desenzano after the death of her uncle when she was 20 and found that many of the young girls in her home town received no education and had no hope of a better future.

Merici gathered together a group of girls to teach the catechism to the young children.

Then, in 1506, while praying in the fields, she had a vision that she would found a society of virgins in the town of Brescia.

It is claimed Merici became suddenly blind when she was on the island of Crete on her way to the Holy Land but continued on her journey. She is believed to have been cured of her blindness on her return, while praying at exactly the same place where she had been afflicted.

Merici and 28 of her followers consecrated themselves to God by a vow of virginity in 1535 in Brescia. They placed themselves under the protection of St Ursula, a fourth century martyr, and the Company of St Ursula was born. Their idea was to provide for the Christian education of girls in order to restore the family and, through the family, the whole of Christian society.

The 19th century artist Pietro Calzavacca depicted Angela Merici as a teacher
The 19th century artist Pietro Calzavacca
depicted Angela Merici as a teacher
Merici was unanimously elected as Superior of the Company in 1537. Before she died, she dictated her Testament and Souvenirs, which contained her counsels to her nuns.

After her death in 1540 in Brescia, her body was clothed in the habit of a Franciscan tertiary and interred in the church of St Afra, where she had often gone to pray at the tombs of martyrs. She was beatified in 1768 and canonised in 1807.

She is the patron saint of sickness, disability and those grieving the loss of parents.

The church of St Afra had to be rebuilt after Allied bombing in 1945 and after it reopened, a new dedication was made to Saint Angela Merici there.

Nuns from the Order of Ursulines established places of prayer and learning throughout Europe and north America. Many parishes and schools in America still bear the name Angela Merici.

The pretty harbour at Desenzano del Garda
The pretty harbour at Desenzano del Garda.
Travel tip:

Desenzano del Garda, Angela Merici’s birthplace, is the largest resort on Lake Garda, on the south western shore of the lake. It is a lively town with plenty of fashion shops, restaurants, bars and hotels. A Servizio di Navigazione (boat service) operates from Desenzano to other resorts on Lake Garda such as Sirmione, Bardolino, Peschiera and Moniga del Garda. In 1921 the remains of a fourth century Roman villa were unearthed close to the lake. The ruins are now open to the public and can be accessed from Via Antonio Gramsci. There is also a medieval castle within walking distance of the lake in Via Castello. The Duomo, dedicated to Santa Maria Maddalena, has an 18th century version of The Last Supper by Giambattista Tiepolo.

Piazza della Loggia is an elegant square in Brescia
Piazza della Loggia is an elegant square in Brescia
Travel tip:

Brescia in Lombardy, where Angela Merici worked and died, is of artistic and architectural importance. Brescia became a Roman colony before the birth of Christ and you can see remains from the forum, theatre and a temple. The town came under the protection of Venice in the 15th century and there is a Venetian influence in the architecture of the Piazza della Loggia, an elegant square, which has a clock tower similar to the one in Saint Mark’s square. Next to the 17th century Duomo is an older cathedral, the unusually shaped Duomo Vecchio, also known as la Rotonda.

30 May 2017

Giovanni Gentile – philosopher

The principal intellectual spokesman for fascism

Giovanni Gentile wrote part of The Doctrine of Fascism for Benito Mussolini
Giovanni Gentile wrote part of The Doctrine
of Fascism for Benito Mussolini
Giovanni Gentile, a major figure in Italian idealist philosophy, was born on this day in 1875 in Castelvetrano in Sicily.

Known as ‘the philosopher of Fascism’, Gentile was the ghostwriter of part of Benito Mussolini’s The Doctrine of Fascism in 1932. His own ‘actual idealism’ was strongly influenced by the German philosopher, Georg Hegel.

Gentile's rejection of individualism and acceptance of collectivism helped him justify the totalitarian element of Fascism.

After a series of university appointments, Gentile became professor of the history of philosophy at the University of Rome in 1917.

While writing The Philosophy of Marx – La filosophia di Marx – a Hegelian examination of Karl Marx’s ideas, he met writer and philosopher Benedetto Croce. The two men became friends and co-editors of the periodical La Critica until 1924, when a lasting disagreement occurred over Gentile’s embrace of Fascism.

Gentile was Minister of Education in the Fascist government of Italy from October 1922 to July 1924 carrying out wide reforms, which had a lasting impact on Italian education.

In 1925 he served as president of two commissions on constitutional reform, helping to lay the foundations of the Fascist corporate state.

Gentile is buried in the Basilica of Santa Croce in Florence
Gentile is buried in the Basilica of Santa Croce in Florence
After acting as president of the Supreme Council of Public Education and as a member of the Fascist Grand Council between 1925 and 1929, he saw his political influence steadily decline.

His most important achievement was the Enciclopedia Italiana, which he began to plan in 1925 and edited until 1943 and he also wrote prolifically on the subjects of philosophy and education.

After the fall of Benito Mussolini in 1943, Gentile supported the Fascist Social Republic established by the Germans at Salò. He served as president of the Academy of Italy, Italy’s foremost intellectual institution, until his death.

In 1944 a group of anti-Fascist partisans shot Gentile dead as he returned from the prefecture in Florence. Ironically he had been there arguing for the release from prison of anti-Fascist intellectuals.

The church of Santa Maria Assunta, also known as the Chiesa Madre - mother church - in Castelvetrano
The church of Santa Maria Assunta, also known as the
Chiesa Madre - mother church - in Castelvetrano
Travel tip:

Castelvetrano, the birthplace of Giovanni Gentile, is in the province of Trapani in Sicily. It is first mentioned in historical records dating from the 12th century. The Church of St John, which is just outside the city walls, was founded in 1412. The mother church, Chiesa Madre, which dates back to the 16th century, is in the town’s main square, Piazza Tagliavia. The remains of Selinunte, an ancient Greek city, are just outside the city, on a site overlooking the sea.

The Basilica of Santa Croce in Florence
The Basilica of Santa Croce in Florence
Travel tip:

Gentile was living and working in Florence when he was shot dead by anti-Fascists on 15 April, 1944. He is buried in the church of Santa Croce beside the remains of Galileo and Machiavelli. The Basilica of Santa Croce is the principal Franciscan Church in Florence and is the burial place of some of the most illustrious Italians. It is also known to Italians as the Temple of the Italian Glories.

More reading:

Why Luigi Einaudi signed the Manifesto of the Anti-Fascist Intellectuals 

Benito Mussolini and the Founding of the Italian Fascists

How the Republic of Salò was Mussolini's last stand

Also on this day:

1924: The anti-Fascist speech that cost a socialist politician his life

11 April 2017

Rachele Mussolini - wife of Il Duce

Marriage survived 30 years despite dictator's infidelity

Rachele Mussolini
Rachele Mussolini
Rachele Mussolini, the woman who stayed married to Italy’s former Fascist dictator for 30 years despite his simultaneous relationship with his mistress, Claretta Petacci, and numerous affairs, was born on this day in 1890.

The daughter of Agostino Guidi, a peasant farmer, and Anna Lombardi, she was born, like Benito Mussolini, in Predappio, a small town in what is now Emilia-Romagna.  They met for the first time when the future self-proclaimed Duce had a temporary teaching job at her school.

They were married in December 1915 in a civil ceremony in Treviglio, near Milan, although by that time she had been his mistress for several years, having given birth to his eldest daughter, Edda, in 1910.  Mussolini had actually married another woman, Ida Dalser, in 1914 but the marriage had broken down despite her bearing him a son, Benito junior, and Mussolini returned to Rachele.

Her father had cautioned against her marrying Mussolini, whom he considered to have no prospects, but when Agostino died, his widow became the lover of Mussolini’s father, Alessandro, himself a widower.

Benito and Rachele renewed their vows in a Catholic church in 1925, although it is thought only because Mussolini, by then in power, wanted to curry favour with the pope, Pius XI.

Throughout their marriage, which produced five children – two daughters and three sons – Mussolini liked to present his family as the perfect domestic representation of his Fascist ideal but in truth he spent little time at home.

Clara Petacci
Claretta Petacci
He began his affair with Petacci, who was 28 years his junior, in around 1932, but there were countless other women, of whom Rachele was fully aware. She even took a lover of her own for a while, which Mussolini knew about but did nothing to stop.

It was only after Mussolini was installed as president of the new Republic of Salò, following his rescue from house arrest in Italy by German paratroopers, that Rachele’s tolerance of his infidelity began to crack.

This was after he insisted on setting up Petacci with a home close to their own, to which she objected strongly, as if she were prepared to turn a blind eye to his indiscretions, so long as she did not have to encounter any of his lovers.

After Mussolini and Petacci were captured by partisans and hung in 1945, Rachele attempted to flee to Switzerland but was herself captured by resistance fighters.  Fortunately for her, they decided against meting out their own justice and handed her over to the Allies.

She was briefly held on the island of Ischia in the Bay of Naples but soon released, at which she returned to Predappio.

It was through her pleadings with the new Italian government that Mussolini’s body was returned to the village and buried in the family crypt, which then became a place of pilgrimage for neo-fascists.

The Mussolini family crypt in Predappio
The Mussolini family crypt in Predappio
Rachele made a living by opening a small restaurant in the village, attracting sympathisers to eat there by selling memorabilia as a sideline.

To anyone who accused her of cashing in on her husband’s notoriety, she would point out that only in 1975, after years of protesting, was she able to draw a state pension, to which she had always been told she was not entitled because Mussolini never actually took a state salary during his time in power.

She died in 1979 at the age of 89.  Before she passed away, she claimed that in 1910 Mussolini, then a journalist, was offered a job on a newspaper in the United States. Because she was pregnant with Edda, however, he turned the offer down.  Had he taken it, the course of Italian history in the 20th century might have been quite different.

Travel tip:

The town of Salò on Lake Garda is now a popular resort, boasting the longest promenade on the lake, some claim in the whole of Italy.  Although its past association with such a divisive figure as Mussolini and his Nazi-sponsored puppet state is not celebrated, it is possible to identify the various buildings he commandeered as government offices.  For example, the town hall – the Palazzo della Magnifica Patria – was an office for interpreters, his propaganda agency, the Agenzia Stefani, was based in a school in Via Brunati, while Mussolini’s guards were said to have been housed in what is now the Bar Italia.  A number of ministries were based in villas overlooking the lake. Mussolini himself lived in the magnificent Villa Feltrinelli, now a luxury hotel, at Gargnano. He installed Claretta Petacci at Villa Fiordaliso, now also a hotel, at Gardone Riviera.

The Basilica of San Martino in Treviglio
The Basilica of San Martino in Treviglio
Travel tip:

The small city of Treviglio in Lombardy, where Mussolini and his wife Rachele were married, is about 20km (13 miles) south of Bergamo, 41km (26 miles) north-east of Milan. It developed from a fortified town in the early Middle Ages and, having been at times controlled by the French and the Spanish, became part of the Kingdom of Italy in 1860.  Its most visited attraction is the Basilica of San Martino, originally built in 1008 and reconstructed in 1482, with a Baroque façade from 1740, which is in Piazza Manara.

More reading:

The early life of Benito Mussolini

Nazis free Mussolini in Gran Sasso raid

How Mussolini and Petacci were captured and killed

Also on this day:

1987: The death of Auschwitz survivor Primo Levi

(Picture credit: Basilica of San Martino by Giorces via Wikimedia Commons)


7 April 2017

Domenico Dragonetti - musician

Venetian was best double bass player in Europe

Domenico Dragonetti: a lithograph from the New York City Public Library collection
Domenico Dragonetti: a lithograph from the
New York City Public Library collection
The composer and musician Domenico Dragonetti  - Europe's finest double bass virtuoso - was born on this day in 1763 in Venice.

Apart from the fame his talent brought him, Dragonetti is remembered as the musician who opened the eyes of Ludwig van Beethoven and other composers to the potential of the double bass.

They met in Vienna in 1799 and experts believe it was Dragonetti’s influence that led Beethoven to include passages for double bass in his Fifth Symphony.

From 1794 onwards until his death in 1846 at the age of 83, Dragonetti lived in London but it was in Venice that he established his reputation.

The son of a barber who was also a musician, Domenico Carlo Maria Dragonetti taught himself to play the guitar and the double bass as a child using his father’s instruments.  It was not long before word of his precocious ability spread and he was sent to the Ducal Palace of San Marco for tuition from Michele Berini, who was widely respected as the best double bass player in Venice.

Berini declared after only 11 lessons that there was nothing more he could teach the young Dragonetti, who at the age of just 13 was appointed principal player in opera buffa, the comic opera genre that was becoming popular in Venice, possibly at Teatro San Moisé, Teatro San Cassiano or Teatro San Samuele.  A year later, he was made principal double bass player in the mainstream, serious opera at Teatro San Benedetto.

Dragonetti with his three- stringed da Salò double bass
Dragonetti with his three-
stringed da Salò double bass
In 1787 he was accepted for the orchestra at the Chapel of San Marco, who valued him so highly they twice increased his annual salary to stop him going to Russia, where the Tsar was keen to recruit him.  Such was his dexterity with the instrument he was given solo pieces to perform, which was highly unusual.

An example of Dragonett's ability to exploit the potential of the instrument came when he was staying at the Monastery of St Giustina in Padua, where he produced a sound that woke the monks in the middle of the night, thinking it was thunder.

In 1794, the Chapel of San Marco agreed that he could accept an invitation to play at the King’s Theatre in London and gave him paid leave for a year.  In the event, he settled in England and never returned for more than brief visits.

He made his debut at the King’s Theatre in December 1794 and within only a few months had become famous. He was able to provide for his extended family in Venice with his earnings, but also invested in art and purchased musical instruments previously owned by Stradivari, Maggini, and Montagnana, which he would later bequeath to members of the orchestra.

He became a prominent figure in the musical events of the English capital, performing at the concerts of the Philharmonic Society of London.  Prominent figures in London society, such as the Prince Consort and the Duke of Leinster, would invite him to play in private concerts. He and his close friend, the cellist Robert Lindley, found themselves in demand across Europe and embarked on many tours.

A bust of Gasparo da Salò, in Salò on the  shores of Lake Garda
A bust of Gasparo da Salò, in Salò on the
shores of Lake Garda
In 1795, on a visit to London, the Austrian composer Joseph Haydn met Dragonetti and they became friends. In turn, Haydn invited Dragonetti to Vienna, where he was introduced to Beethoven. He also became acquainted with Paganini, Spohr, Hummel, Liszt and Rossini. He collaborated with many composers but also wrote several pieces for double bass in his own right.

Dragonetti was unusually tall for an Italian of his era and blessed with formidable strength and stamina, which was one factor that helped him get so much out of the instrument, playing parts that many double bass players would have thought impossible.

His favoured instrument was a massive, three-stringed bass made by the renowned luthier Gasparo da Salò, which he kept all of his life, turning down a number of offers, including one of 20,000 lire.  There are different stories as to how he acquired the instrument. One says he was given it by the Benedictine nuns of St Peter's monastery in Vicenza, where Dragonetti lived while he was paying in the Grand Opera. Another says it was bought from the monks of St Peter's by the Chapel of San Marco and given to Dragonetti as an enticement to stay.

The bow with which he played, which evolved during his career to suit his physical size and style of playing, became known as the Dragonetti bow.

He died at his lodgings in Leicester Square in central London in April 1846. He was buried initially in the vaults of the Roman Catholic Chapel of St Mary, Moorfields. In 1889 his remains were moved to the Roman Catholic cemetery at Wembley.

The Teatro San Benedetto in its heydey
The Teatro San Benedetto in its heydey
Travel tip:

None of the Venice theatres – the San Moisé,  the San Cassiano or the San Samuele – in which Dragonetti might have played in opera buffa exists today. The San Benedetto closed in the early 20th century and was remodelled as a cinema.  Renamed Teatro Rossini in 1868 in honour of the composer Gioachino Rossini, it reopened as the Cinema Rossini in 1937. Nowadays, the building, in Salizzada de la Chiesa o del Teatro, which is between Teatro la Fenice and the Grand Canal in the San Marco district, holds a multi-screen cinema.

Travel tip:

Dragonetti’s prized da Salò double bass is said to have been stored in a room in Venice for 150 years after his death, where it inevitably fell into disrepair. However, the Venice authorities had the good sense to hire the modern-day luthier Sergio Scaramelli to restore the 400-year-old instrument in 2007 and it is now on display in the museum inside the Basilica di San Marco.

Let TripAdvisor advise on Venice hotels

More reading:

Giovanni Battista Pergoloesi - genius of opera buffa

The beautiful music of Antonio Vivaldi

La Fenice opera house destroyed by fire

Also on this day:

1794: The birth of opera singer Gianni Battista Rubini