Showing posts with label Venice. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Venice. Show all posts

25 April 2024

Giacomo Boni - archaeologist and architect

Venetian best known for his discoveries at the Forum in Rome

Giacomo Boni was born in Venice but lived in Rome for much of his adult life
Giacomo Boni was born in Venice but
lived in Rome for much of his adult life
The archaeologist Giacomo Boni, who was director of excavations at the Forum in Rome for 27 years until his death in 1925, was born on this day in 1859 in Venice.

His work within the ancient Roman site led to significant discoveries, including the Iron Age necropolis, the Lapis Niger, the Regia and other monuments.

Boni had a particular interest in stratigraphy, the branch of geology concerning subterranean layers of rock and other materials, and was among the first to apply the principles of stratigraphic excavation in the field of archaeological research.

The methods he employed in his work at the Forum still serve as a reference point today.

Boni was also an architect. In that area of his work, his masterpiece is considered to be the restoration of the Villa Blanc, a prestigious house that represents a unique example of eclectic art, a harmonious blend of elements and styles of different ages and cultures.

He served as a soldier during World War I, after which he embraced fascism, which he saw as an opportunity for the revival of ancient Roman religion and paganism, in which he had a keen interest. He joined the National Fascist Party, having become enthusiastic about Mussolini’s vision of a Fascist Italy as a kind of continuation of the Roman Empire. Mussolini in turn appointed him a senator in 1923. 

Boni grew up in a strongly patriotic household, his father, a naval captain, having refused to swear allegiance to the Austrian Emperor at considerable cost to his status.

Boni photographed near the
Arch of Trajan in 1907
His interest in architecture grew from his work, as a 19-year-old labourer, on the restoration of the Doge’s Palace in Venice. He enrolled at the city’s Accademia di Belle Arti to study architecture before moving to Rome, where he quickly obtained a series of important appointments.

In 1888 he was appointed secretary of the Royal Chalcography and, in 1890, inspector of monuments of the General Directorate of Antiquities and Fine Arts.  He assisted in the Pantheon excavation in 1892 with Luca Beltrami and the architect, Giuseppe Sacconi, who would later be known as the designer of the Victor Emmanuel monument. 

In 1895 he became director of the Regional Office of Monuments of Rome and, three years later, was appointed to direct the excavations of the Foro Romano, the Roman Forum.

Documents show that Boni’s research in the Forum was responsible for the discovery of the Lapis niger, the Regia, the Lacus Curtius, the Caesarian tunnels in the subsoil of the square, the archaic necropolis near the temple of Antoninus and Faustina and the church of Santa Maria Antiqua.

He demolished the church of Santa Maria Liberatrice in order to expose the ruins of Santa Maria Antiqua. His other discoveries included portions of the Column of Trajan.

Boni also worked on the slope of the Palatine Hill where he discovered the Mundus (tholos-cistern), a complex of tunnels leading to the Casa dei Grifi, the Aula Isiac and the Baths of Tiberius.

During his work on the renovation of Villa Blanc, a noble property set in parkland on the edge of the Trieste quarter to the northeast of Rome’s city centre, he also carried out some excavations that revealed the existence of a Roman mausoleum.

Boni’s embrace of Mussolini’s regime was short-lived, in the event.  Two years after being made a senator, he became ill and died at the age of 66. His body was buried within the Orti Farnesiani sul Palatino, the botanical gardens on the Palatine Hill, overlooking the Forum. 

The ruins of ancient Rome's Foro Romano are  visited by 4.5 million people every year
The ruins of ancient Rome's Foro Romano are 
visited by 4.5 million people every year
Travel tip:

Rome's historic Forum, situated between Piazza Venezia and the Colosseum, was at the heart both of the ancient city of Rome and the Roman Empire itself, the nucleus of political affairs and commercial business, a place where elections took place and great speeches were made.  The site fell into disrepair with the fall of the Empire and over time buildings were dismantled for the stone and marble, with much debris left behind.  Eventually it was abandoned and became overgrown and was used mainly for grazing cattle.  Attempts at uncovering and restoring buildings began in the early 19th century and the process of excavating areas long buried continues today.  The impressive and extensive ruins are now one of Rome's major tourist attractions, drawing some 4.5 million visitors each year.

The Fontana delle Rane in Piazza Mincio in the Quartiere Coppedè in Rome's Trieste neighbourhood
The Fontana delle Rane in Piazza Mincio in the
Quartiere Coppedè in Rome's Trieste neighbourhood
Travel tip:

The Trieste quarter is the 17th quarter of Rome, located in the north-central area of the city. It borders the Aniene river to the north and northeast and is a neighbour of other notable quarters, such as Monte Sacro, Nomentano, Salario, and Parioli. It is an area with a rich history, one of its attractions being the ancient catacomb of Priscilla, a former quarry used for Christian burials from the late second century until the fourth century.  The Trieste quarter houses the Quartiere Coppedè, an architectural complex known for its eclectic style, and Villa Albani, which holds a collection of classical art. The eastern part of Trieste is referred to as the African Quarter, its streets named after the colonies of the Kingdom of Italy. The quarter was once famous for the Piper Club, a 1960s bar and music venue that hosted the debut of the Italian pop star Patty Pravo and performances by Pink Floyd, Nirvana and the Beatles among others. Combining historical charm with a vibrant community feel, Trieste can offer a pleasant escape from the more tourist-dominated areas of Rome.

Also on this day:

1472: The death of Renaissance polymath Leon Battista Alberti

1815: The birth of inventor Giovanni Caselli

1973: The death of former World War I flying ace Ferruccio Ranza

Festa della Liberazione

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8 April 2024

Giuseppe Tartini – composer and violinist

Baroque musician also contributed to science

As well as composing for violin, Tartini
established a new technique for playing
Giuseppe Tartini, who was influential in the development of music by establishing the modern style of violin bowing, was born on this day in 1692 in Pirano in the Republic of Venice.

A violinist, baroque composer, and theorist, Tartini also formulated the principles of musical ornamentation and harmony.

His birthplace of Pirano was part of Venetian territory in the 17th century but is now named Piran and is part of Slovenia.

Tartini spent most of his career in Padua, where he went to study divinity and law and became an expert at fencing. Before he reached the age of 20, he had secretly married Elisabetta Premazore, a protégée of the Archbishop of Padua, but this led to him being arrested on charges of  abduction. He disguised himself as a monk and fled the city, taking refuge in a monastery in Assisi.

Later, Tartini was allowed to return to his wife by the archbishop after news that his violin playing had attracted favourable attention had reached him.

Tartini became principal violinist and maestro di cappella at the Basilica of Sant’Antonio in 1721 and he was invited to Prague in 1723 to direct the orchestra of the Chancellor of Bohemia.

After his return to Padua in 1728 he founded a school of violin playing and composition there.

Tartini composed more than 100 violin concertos and many sonatas, including the Trillo del Diavolo (Devil’s Trill). He also composed music for trios and quartets and religious works.

His playing was said to be remarkable because of its combination of technical and poetic qualities, and his bowing technique became a model for later violinists. He was invited to go on a concert tour of Italy in 1740.

Tartini contributed to the science of acoustics with his discovery of the Tartini tone, which was a third note, heard when two notes are played steadily and with intensity.

He wrote a treatise on music, Trattato di musica, in 1754 as well as a dissertation on the principles of music harmony and a treatise on ornamentation in music.

Tartini died in Padua in 1770 at the age of 77.

Giotto's frescoes lining the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua considered among the world's great artworks
Giotto's frescoes lining the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua
considered among the world's great artworks
Travel tip:

The elegant city of Padua, where Tartini was principal violinist and maestro di cappella at the Basilica di Sant'Antonio, is an important centre for pilgrims. The Scrovegni Chapel contains frescoes by Giotto, considered to be among the greatest works of art in the world. Dedicated to Santa Maria della Carita (Saint Mary of the Charity), the chapel was decorated with frescoes by Giotto between 1303 and 1305. He was commissioned to paint the frescoes 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 the stunning scenes cover the interior 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. For more information visit

The Basilica di Sant'Antonio in Padua is
visited by some five million pilgrims each year
Travel tip:

The enormous Basilica di Sant’Antonio di Padova, sometimes known as the Basilica del Santo, where Tartini was principal violinist and maestro di cappella, is one of the most important places of Christian worship in the world. An estimated five million pilgrims visit the basilica every year to file past and touch the tomb of their beloved Sant’Antonio, a Franciscan monk who became famous for his miracles. The magnificent church, in Piazza del Santo, is an architectural masterpiece created between the 13th and 14th centuries, but it was later enriched with works of art by masters such as Titian, Tiepolo and the sculptor Donatello. 

Also on this day:

1492: The death of Medici ruler Lorenzo the Magnificent

1848: The death of composer Gaetano Donizetti

1868: The birth of equestrian pioneer Federico Caprilli

1929: The birth of historian Renzo De Felice

(The portrait of Giuseppe Tartini, by an anonymous artist, is housed in the Museo del Castello Sforzesco in Milan)


18 March 2024

Gian Francesco Malipiero – composer and musicologist

Musician revived interest in Monteverdi and composed music in the same spirit

Malipiero was born into an  aristocratic Venetian family
Malipiero was born into an 
aristocratic Venetian family
A composer and editor whose work helped to rekindle interest in pre 19th century Italian music, Gian Francesco Malipiero, was born on this day in 1882 in Venice.

Malipiero’s own output, which included operas and orchestral works, has been assessed by experts as fusing modern techniques with the stylistic qualities of early Italian music.

The composer was born into an aristocratic Venetian family and was the grandson of the opera composer Francesco Malipiero. He studied music at the Vienna conservatory and then returned to Venice to carry on his studies.

He used to copy out the music of Claudio Monteverdi and Girolamo Frescobaldi at the Biblioteca Marciana in Venice, which inspired his love of music from that period.

He moved to Bologna to continue his studies and after graduating, returned to Venice and became an assistant to the blind composer Antonio Smareglia, which he later said taught him a great deal.

In 1913 he travelled to Paris where he was influenced by the music he heard there, from composers such as Ravel and Debussy. He attended the premiere of an opera by Stravinsky, La Sacre du Printemps, and described this experience as like awakening from a ‘long and dangerous lethargy.’ This was also when he first met the composer Alfredo Casello and the poet and playwright Gabriele D’Annunzio.

Malipiero found support from the influential Gabriele D'Annunzio
Malipiero found support from the
influential Gabriele D'Annunzio
For a while Malipiero was on good terms with Benito Mussolini, but he fell out of favour when the dictator did not like him writing the music for a Pirandello libretto. Although he dedicated his next opera to Mussolini, this did not help him regain the support of the Fascists.

Malipiero was appointed professor of composition at the Parma Conservatory in 1921 and subsequently became director at the Istituto Musicale Pollini in Padua.

In 1923 he joined with Casello and D’Annunzio in creating the Corporazione delle Nuove Musiche.

In the same year, he went to live permanently in the small hill town of Asolo in the Veneto, where he worked on editing a complete edition of Monteverdi’s work, making an invaluable contribution to the recovery and promotion of the composer’s music. He also collaborated with the Istituto Antonio Vivaldi in the publication of the complete instrumental works of the Venetian composer.

Malipiero was a prolific composer of operas, orchestral music, chamber music and music for the piano and the voice and said he found Asolo the ideal location for composing his own music. His work has been judged to reflect the spirit of 17th and 18th century Venetian music.

Malipiero died in Asolo in 1973 at the age of 91.

Malipiero used to study the music of Claudio Monteverdi at the Biblioteca Marciana in Venice
Malipiero used to study the music of Claudio
Monteverdi at the Biblioteca Marciana in Venice
Travel tip:

The Biblioteca Marciana in Venice, where Malipiero used to study the music of Monteverdi, is also known as the Sansovino Library after the architect Jacopo Sansovino, who designed it. It is opposite the Basilica in St Marks Square and is named to commemorate the patron saint of Venice. It is one of the earliest surviving public libraries and repositories of manuscripts in Italy and holds one of the world’s most important collections of classical texts. The library was founded in 1468 when a Cardinal and scholar donated his entire collection of Greek and Latin manuscripts to the Republic of Venice. The library is open to the public from Monday to Saturday but is closed on Sundays and Italian Bank Holidays.

Book you stay in Venice with

The Piazza Giuseppe Garibaldi is the main square in the beautiful Veneto town of Asolo
The Piazza Giuseppe Garibaldi is the main square
in the beautiful Veneto town of Asolo
Travel tip:

The beautiful hill town of Asolo in the Veneto, where Malipiero settled in later life, is known as ‘the pearl of the province of Treviso’ and ‘the city of a hundred horizons’ because of its beautiful views over the countryside and the mountains. The poet Robert Browning spent time in Asolo after he became a widower. He published Asolando, a volume of poetry written in the town, in 1889. The main road leading into the town is now named Via Browning in his honour. Asolo is also where the Queen of Cyprus, Caterina Cornaro, spent her last years. One of the main sights is the Castle of Caterina Cornaro, which now houses the Eleonora Duse Theatre.

Let suggest places to stay in Asolo

More reading:

How Monteverdi put the opera genre on the musical map

Why Girolamo Frescobaldi is seen as one of the 'fathers' of Italian music

The complicated genius of Gabriele D'Annunzio

Also on this day:

1848: The Five Days of Milan

1925: The birth of musician Alessandro Alessandroni

1944: The last eruption of Mount Vesuvius

1945: The birth of pop singer Bobby Solo


15 January 2024

Erasmo da Narni - condottiero

Soldier from poor origins became general commander of Venetian armies

Erasmo da Narni made a  living as a condottiero
Erasmo da Narni made a 
living as a condottiero
One of the most famous condottieri of the Renaissance, Erasmo da Narni, who had a distinguished career as a military leader, died on this day in 1443 in Padua.

Known as Gattamelata, the honey-eyed cat, Erasmo has been immortalised by Donatello’s bronze equestrian statue of him in Piazza del Santo, one of Padua’s main squares.

Born in Narni in Umbria, Erasmo went from a humble household into a military life, serving in turn the rulers of the Papal States, Rome, Florence, and Venice. Condottieri were professional soldiers who were hired by city states to lead mercenary armies on the battlefield.

With his friend, Brandolino Brandolini, he worked for the Assisi lord, Cecchino Broglia, and later, serving under another condottiero, Braccio da Montone, lord of Perugia, he played his part in the conquests of Todi, Terni, Narni, Rieti, and Spoleto and helped win the Battle of Viterbo against Muzio Attendolo Sforza in 1419.

During the War of L’Aquila, Braccio’s army was defeated and the condottiero himself was killed, so Erasmo led the remaining troops into the service of Florence.

Later, Pope Martin V hired Erasmo to recapture the lands he had lost in the battles against Braccio da Montone. 

Erasmo was also hired by the Republic of Venice to fight against Filippo Mario Visconti of Milan. In the conflict, he came up against another condottiero, Niccolò Piccinino, who defeated him in a battle in 1434 in which Erasmo was wounded.

Braccio da Montone, who fought with Erasmo
Braccio da Montone, who
fought with Erasmo
After successfully defending Brescia and Verona against the Visconti army, Erasmo was granted the title of General Commander of the Armies of the Republic of Venice. He was also made ruler of Padua in 1437. 

The following year, the Venetians lost Legnago, Soave and Verona, which led to criticism of Erasmo, but with the help of Francesco Sforza, he was able to re-enter Verona in 1439.

In 1440, while mustering a flotilla on Lake Garda, Erasmo suffered a cerebral haemorrhage. He never fully recovered from this illness and was unable to lead any further military campaigns. 

Erasmo died in 1443 and was buried in the Basilica di Sant’Antonio in Padua. Donatello’s statue of Gattamelata was later placed outside the front entrance of the church as a tribute to him.

Erasmo’s daughter, Polissena Romagnola, married Tiberto Brandolini, the son of his old friend and military comrade, Brandolino, and they had two sons, Sigismondo and Leonello. Sigismondo, Erasmo’s grandson, was later considered good enough to marry into an important family in Piacenza.

The hill town of Narni is said to be close to the precise geographical centre of Italy
The hill town of Narni is said to be close to the
precise geographical centre of Italy
Travel tip:

Narni, where Erasmo was born, is a hill town in the region of Umbria that is close to the exact geographical centre of Italy and there is a stone in the town marking the precise spot. Erasmo’s birthplace is in Via Gattamelata, which has since been named after him, and there is now a plaque on the outside of the house. You can reach the birthplace from Via Garibaldi, or from the end of Vicolo degli Orti. Narni has retained its mediaeval appearance with stone buildings and narrow cobbled streets, but it is also famous for having the Ponte d’Augusto, one of the largest Roman bridges ever built. One arch of the bridge, which is still standing, is 30 metres (98 feet) high. The imaginary land of Narnia, featured in the works of author C S Lewis, is named after Narni, which was a place name he came across in an atlas that he looked at when he was a child.  

Donatello's bronze statue of Erasmo da Narni as he might have appeared on the battlefield
Donatello's bronze statue of Erasmo da Narni as
he might have appeared on the battlefield
Travel tip:

Donatello’s bronze equestrian statue of Gattamelata is to the left of the Basilica di Sant’Antonio in Padua as you approach the church from the direction of Via del Santo. The statue was completed in 1453 and is believed to be the earliest Renaissance equestrian statue that still survives. It became a precedent for many 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 previous, classical equestrian statues. Donatello had been commissioned by the family to create a monument in memory of the great Commander of the Armies of the Venetian Republic and 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 the expression on his face shows his wonderful fighting spirit. 

Also on this day:

1728: The birth of opera composer Niccolò Piccinni

1749: The birth of playwright and poet Count Vittorio Alfieri

1910: The birth of poet and psychiatrist Mario Tobino

1941: The birth of controversial archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò

1957: The death of conductor Arturo Toscanini

1998: The death of interior and set designer Renzo Mongiardino


9 January 2024

Marco Polo - merchant and explorer

Venetian trader who described travels in China 

A 19th century portrait in mosaic of Marco Polo at Palazzo Tursi in Genoa
A 19th century portrait in mosaic of
Marco Polo at Palazzo Tursi in Genoa
The Italian explorer Marco Polo, who achieved a place in history as the first European to write in extensive detail about life in China, is thought by many historians to have died on or close to this day in 1324 in his home city of Venice.

Accounts of his final days say he had been confined to bed with an illness and that his doctor was concerned on January 8 that he was close to death. Indeed, so worried were those around his bedside that they sent for a local priest to witness his last will and testament, which Polo dictated in the presence of his wife, Donata, and their three daughters, who were appointed executors.

The supposition has been that he died on the same evening. The will document was preserved and is kept by the Biblioteca Marciana, the historic public library of Venice just across the Piazzetta San Marco from St Mark’s Basilica. It shows the date of the witnessing of Polo’s testament as January 9, although it should be noted that under Venetian law at the time, the change of date occurred at sunset rather than midnight.

Confusingly, the document recorded his death as occurring in June 1324 and the witnessing of the will on January 9, 1323. The consensus among historians, however, is that he reached his end in January, 1324.

Born in 1254 - again the specific date is unknown - Marco Polo was best known for his travels to Asia in the company of his father, Niccolò, and his uncle, Maffeo.

Having left Venice in 1271, when Marco was 16 or 17, they are said to have reached China in 1275 and remained there for 17 years. Marco wrote about the trip in a book that was originally titled Book of the Marvels of the World but is today known as The Travels of Marco Polo. It is considered a classic of travel literature.

A map showing the journeys said to have been  made by Marco Polo on his travels to China
A map showing the journeys said to have been 
made by Marco Polo on his travels to China
The book, which was written in prison after he had been captured during a war between the rival republics of Venice and Genoa upon returning to Italy, describes his experiences in China in terms of first-hand accounts. Sceptical experts have suggested some of the stories might have been appropriated from other explorers and merchants and passed off by Polo as his own. Yet although some of his descriptions of the exotic animals he ecountered seem somewhat fantastical, the accuracy of much of what he described has generally been confirmed in subsequent years.

The book, which Polo dictated to Rustichello da Pisa, a fellow prisoner of the Genoese who happened to be a writer, introduced European audiences to the mysteries of the Eastern world, including the wealth and sheer size of the Mongol Empire and China, providing descriptions of China, Persia, India, Japan and other Asian cities and countries.

Polo’s father and uncle had traded with the Middle East for many years and had become wealthy in the process. They had visited the western territories of the Mongol Empire on a previous expedition, established strong trading links and visited Shangdu, about 200 miles (320km) north of modern Beijing, where Kublai Khan, founder of the Yuan dynasty, had an opulent summer palace, and which was immortalised by the English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge as Xanadu.

Their journey with Marco originally took them to Acre in present-day Israel, where - at the request of Kublai Khan - they secured some holy oil from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. They continued to the Persian port city of Hormuz and thereafter followed overland routes that later became known as the Silk Road.

Travelling through largely rough terrain, the journey to Shangdu took the best part of three years.  Marco Polo’s long stay owed itself partly to Kublai Khan taking him into his court and sending him on various official missions.  In that capacity, he extended his travels to include what is now the city of Hangzhou and may have crossed the border into India and what is now Myanmar.

A painting of unknown origin of Marco Polo's father and uncle presenting a gift to Kublai Khan
A painting of unknown origin of Marco Polo's
father and uncle presenting a gift to Kublai Khan
The Polos left China in around 1291 or 1292, given the responsibility to escort a young princess to Persia, where she was to marry the Mongol ruler. Their route from Persia took through parts of what is now Turkey, to Constantinople, and then north along the Adriatic to Venice.  They arrived home in 1295.

It was during the second of four wars between Venice and their trading rival Genoa that Marco Polo was captured.  He remained a prisoner until 1299, when a peace treaty allowed for his release.  Thereafter, he continued his life as a merchant, achieving prosperity, but rarely left Venice or its territories again until his death.

His book, known to Italians under the title Il Milione after Polo’s own nickname, introduced the West to many aspects of Chinese culture and customs and described such things as porcelain, gunpowder, paper money and eyeglasses, which were previously unknown in Europe. Contrary to some stories, his discoveries did not include pasta, which was once held widely to have been imported by Marco Polo but is thought actually to have existed in the Italy of the Etruscans in the 4th century BC. 

Christopher Columbus and other explorers are said to have been inspired by Marco Polo to begin their own adventures, Columbus discovering the Americas effectively by accident after setting sail across the Atlantic in the expectation of reaching the eastern coast of Asia.

Marco Polo is buried at the church of San Lorenzo
Marco Polo is buried at the
church of San Lorenzo
Travel tip:

One of the wishes Marco Polo expressed on his deathbed was that he be buried in the church of San Lorenzo in the Castello sestiere of Venice, about 850m (930 yards) on foot from Piazza San Marco. The church, whick dates back to the ninth century and was rebuilt in the late 16th century, houses the relics of Saint Paul I of Constantinople as well as Marco Polo’s tomb. Castello is the largest of the six sestieri, stretching east almost from the Rialto Bridge and including the shipyards of Arsenale, once the largest naval complex in Europe, the Giardini della Biennale and the island of Sant’Elena. Unlike its neighbour, San Marco, Castello is a quiet neighbourhood, where tourists can still find deserted squares and empty green spaces.

Arched Byzantine windows thought to have been from the Polo family home
Arched Byzantine windows thought to
have been from the Polo family home
Travel tip: 

The Polo family home in Venice, which was largely destroyed in a fire in 1598, was in the Cannaregio sestiere close to where the Teatro Malibran now stands, in Corte Seconda del Milion, one of two small square that recall Marco Polo’s nickname, Il Milione, which may have been coined as a result of his enthusiasm for the wealth he encountered at the court of Kublai Khan in China or as a result of his being from the Polo Emilioni branch of the family. The Byzantine arches visible in Corte Seconda del Milion are thought to have been part of the Polo house.  The Teatro Malibran was originally inaugurated in 1678 as the Teatro San Giovanni Grisostomo, opening with the premiere of Carlo Pallavicino's opera Vespasiano.  It was renamed Teatro Malibran in 1835 in honour of a famous soprano, Maria Malibran, who was engaged to sing Vincenzo Bellini's La sonnambula there but was so shocked as the crumbling condition of the theatre that she refused her fee, insisting it be put towards the theatre’s upkeep instead. 

Also on this day:

1878: The death of Victor Emmanuel II, first King of Italy

1878: Umberto I succeeds Victor Emanuel II

1944: The birth of architect Massimiliano Fuksas

2004: The death of political philosopher Norberto Bobbio


13 September 2023

Francesco Manelli – Baroque composer

Theorbo player staged the world’s first public opera

Manelli worked in Tivoli, Rome and Padua before settling in Venice
Manelli worked in Tivoli, Rome and
Padua before settling in Venice
Musician and opera composer Francesco Manelli, who is remembered for the important contribution he made to bringing commercial opera to Venice, was born on this day in 1595 in Tivoli in Lazio.

Manelli (sometimes spelt Mannelli) was also a skilled player of the theorbo, which is a plucked string instrument belonging to the lute family that has a very long neck.

From the age of ten, Manelli used to sing in Tivoli's Duomo, the Basilica Cattedrale di San Lorenzo Martire, and he was taught music by the various maestri di cappella working there at that time.

Manelli moved to Rome with the intention of studying for a career in the church, but after meeting and marrying a singer, Maddalena, he decided to dedicate himself exclusively to music.

In 1627, Manelli went back to Tivoli where he himself became a maestro di cappella at the Duomo, a post he held for two years. Then he returned to Rome to take up the post of maestro di cappella at the church of Santa Maria della Consolazione.

After going to Padua, where his wife sang in the opera Ermiona, Manelli and his family settled in Venice in order to be close to his patron.

In 1637, Manelli and another composer and theorbo player, Benedetto Ferrari, put together a company of singers to present an opera in a public theatre, which was the first time this had happened. The singers performed Andromeda, an opera, with music written by Manelli and a libretto written by Ferrari, at Teatro San Cassiano during that year’s Carnevale. Manelli himself sang two of the bass parts.  

A 17th century painting of an English woman playing the theorbo
A 17th century painting of an English
woman playing the theorbo
The following year, the company performed another opera by Manelli, La maga fulminata, with Manelli’s wife, Maddalena, singing the role of Pallade.

In 1639, Manelli composed La Delia, with a libretto by Giulio Strozzi, which premiered at Teatro Santi Giovanni e Paolo in Venice. This was followed by his operas, Adone in 1640 and L’Alcate in 1642, which were both performed at the same theatre.

Between 1639 and 1642, Manelli and Ferrari directed a company of Venetian singers in Bologna, which included Manelli’s wife, Maddalena, and their son, Constantino. In addition to Manelli’s own compositions, the singers performed Il ritorno di Ulisse in patria by Claudio Monteverdi.

In 1645, Manelli and his family went into the service of Ranuccio II Farnese, the Duke of Parma. Manelli composed five operas for the court, which were performed in the ducal theatre of Parma and Piacenza.

Manelli died in Parma in 1667 and his wife, Maddalena, died there in 1680.

A wooden model of how the theatre might have looked
A wooden model of how the
theatre might have looked
Travel tip:

Teatro San Cassiano, which was located in the San Cassiano parish of Venice’s Santa Croce sestiere, was the world’s first ever public opera house thanks to Francesco Manelli and Benedetto Ferrari. This sparked a global opera boom and established Venice as its capital. There is now a project to reconstruct the Teatro San Cassiano of 1637 as faithfully as modern scholarship and traditional craftsmanship will allow to deliver a fully functioning dedicated Baroque opera house and a centre for research into Baroque opera.

Tivoli's attractions include the gardens and fabulous fountains of the 16th century Villa d'Este
Tivoli's attractions include the gardens and fabulous
fountains of the 16th century Villa d'Este
Travel tip:

Tivoli, where Francesco Manelli was born, is a town in Lazio, situated about 30km (19 miles) northeast of Rome. The city offers a wide view over the Roman Campagna, a low-lying area of countryside surrounding Rome. Tivoli is famous for being the site of Hadrian’s villa, a large villa complex built around AD 120 by the Roman Emperor Hadrian, and the Villa d’Este, a 16th century villa, famous for its terraced hillside Renaissance garden and its abundance of fountains. Both villas are UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Also on this day: 

1506: The death of painter Andrea Mantegna

1583: The birth of composer Girolamo Frescobaldi

1808: The death of writer Saverio Bettinelli 

1973: The birth of footballer Fabio Cannavaro



30 March 2023

Faustina Bordoni - mezzo-soprano

Brilliant career overshadowed by infamous on-stage fight

A portrait of Faustina Bordoni by the Venetian painter Rosalba Carriera
A portrait of Faustina Bordoni by the
Venetian painter Rosalba Carriera
Faustina Bordoni, a feted mezzo-soprano ranked as one of the finest opera singers of the 18th century, was born on this day in 1697 in Venice.

Such was her popularity that when she joined her husband, the German composer Johann Adolf Hasse, in the employment of the Court of Saxony, where Hasse was maestro di cappella, her salary was double his.

Yet for all her acting talent and vocal brilliance, Bordoni is more often remembered as one half of the so-called ‘rival queens’ engaged by George Frideric Handel to join the company of the booming Royal Academy of Music in London in the 1720s, where she and the Italian soprano Francesca Cuzzoni allegedly came to blows on stage.

Born into a respected Venetian family, Bordoni’s musical talent was nurtured by the composers Alessandro and Benedetto Marcello and by her singing teacher, Michelangelo Gasparini. 

She made her debut in Venice at the age of 19 in Carlo Francesco Pollarolo's Ariodante. The quality of her voice excited the critics, while audiences were instantly charmed by her youthful beauty and stage presence.

Fame came quickly. As well as continuing to perform in her home city, where she performed for composers such as Tomaso Albinoni and Giuseppe Maria Orlandini, Bordoni sang in venues across Italy and in both Vienna and Munich. Her fans began to refer to her simply as ‘Faustina’.

Bordoni's singing rival, Francesca Cuzzoni
Bordoni's singing rival,
Francesca Cuzzoni
Her rivalry with Cuzzoni, a soprano from Parma of approximately the same age, probably began in Venice, although it was not until Bordoni arrived in London in 1726 that it came to a head in dramatic fashion.

Cuzzoni had been in London since 1722, establishing herself as one of the stars of the Royal Academy alongside the celebrated castrato, Senesino. Already known for a fiery temper, she had once allegedly refused to perform a role when she discovered Handel had initially written it for someone else.

When Handel, under pressure from the theatre management to engage more singers so they could meet a growing demand for performances as opera’s popularity soared, announced that Bordoni would be joining them in London, Cuzzoni was said to be furious.

After Bordoni’s debut alongside Cuzzoni in Handel’s Alessandro, London opera fans began to divide into factions who favoured Faustina and others who preferred Cuzzoni.

Watching opera in the 1700s was very different from today. Although theatres had wealthy patrons, they also provided entertainment for the masses and audiences did not necessarily conduct themselves with decorum, even to the extent of booing a singer considered a rival to their favourite. 

Johann Adolf Hesse, to whom Bordoni was married in 1730
Johann Adolf Hesse, to whom
Bordoni was married in 1730
The Cuzzoni-Bordoni rivalry came to a head when they were cast to appear alongside one another in a performance of Giovanni Bononcini’s opera Astianatte at the King's Theatre, Haymarket, in June 1727.

Despite the presence of Caroline, Princess of Wales in the audience, rival factions took turns to jeer and catcall whenever one or the other began to sing and when the two singers appeared on the stage together a fight broke out in the stalls.

Although accounts in the newspapers were almost certainly exaggerated for dramatic effect, Cuzzoni was reported to have turned on Bordoni, sparking an exchange of insults. Soon they were said to have begun pulling at each other’s hair and tearing pieces from their costumes. After they were separated, the performance was abandoned.

Bordoni left England the following year after the Royal Academy was forced into closure with unsustainable debts, driven partly by the high salaries commanded by the singers.  She married Hasse in 1730 and they remained with the Saxon Court in Dresden for 30 years, enjoying the status of a celebrity couple. Bordoni sang in 15 operas written by her husband, as well as continuing to travel regularly to the major opera houses of Italy.

She and Hasse left Dresden for Vienna in 1763 and ultimately to Venice in 1773. Bordoni is said to have continued to sing into her 70s before settling into a comfortable retirement. She died in Venice in 1781 at the age of 84.

Teatro La Fenice staged its first performances in 1792
Teatro La Fenice opened
its doors in 1792
Travel tip:

Opera was so popular in Venice in the 18th century that the city boasted no fewer than seven opera houses. The biggest of these, the Teatro San Benedetto in San Marco, was destroyed in a fire in 1771. Rebuilt, it became the object of a legal dispute involving the Venier family, who owned part of the land on which the theatre was built. The Venier family won the case and the company running the theatre had to sell up. On a different site, they built another opera house and called in Teatro La Fenice - the Phoenix Theatre - to symbolise its rise from the flames. Work was completed in April 1792 and the new opera house inaugurated on 16 May with a performance of I giochi di Agrigento by Giovanni Paisiello, to a libretto by Alessandro Pepoli.

Travel tip:

Faustina Bordoni and her husband Johann Adolf Hasse are buried within the Church of San Marcuola in the Cannaregio district of Venice, overlooking the Grand Canal, opposite the Fontego dei Turchi, between Santa Lucia railway station and the Rialto.  The church is actually dedicated to Saints Ermagora and Fortunato. The name San Marcuola is thought to be rooted in Venetian dialect. The church is thought to have been built originally in the 12th century. It was restructured in the 18th century by Giorgio Massari in accordance with plans drawn up by Antonio Gaspari, but the façade remained unfinished.  The interior is notable for a Last Supper by Jacopo Tintoretto, thought to be one of the Venetian painter’s earliest works.  

Also on this day:

1282: Sicily rises up against the French

1815: The Proclamation that began the Risorgimento movement

1892: The birth of Futurist painter and graphic artist Fortunato Depero

1905: The birth of urban engineer and architect Ignazio Gardella


26 November 2022

Giorgio Cini - heroic entrepreneur

Name lives on in cultural life of Venice

Giorgio Cini was born into a wealthy family
Giorgio Cini was born into
a wealthy family
Giorgio Cini, the man whose name was given to a major cultural institution on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore in Venice was born on this day in 1918 in Rome.

The eldest child of Vittorio Cini, who in the early 20th century was one of Italy’s wealthiest industrialists, and the celebrated silent movie actress Lyda Borelli, Giorgio took on an entrepreneurial role in his father’s businesses, which encompassed a broad range of interests, in the financial and insurance sector, steel and electrical, maritime and tourism.

Vittorio was born in Ferrara, owned a castle in Monselice near Padua, but adopted Venice as his home and devoted much of his energy to enhancing the wealth of the city. A key figure in the development of the port of Marghera, he was a close friend and business partner of Giuseppe Volpi, the businessman and politician who founded the Venice Film Festival.

Giorgio’s life was tragically cut short when he was killed in a plane crash in 1949 at the age of just 30, shortly after taking off from the small airport of Saint-Cassien near Cannes, where he had been with his fiancee, the American-born actress Merle Oberon. He had just been handed the controls by the pilot of the twin-engined aircraft when it came down.

Vittorio was plunged into grief at the sudden loss of his son, not least because he owed his life to Giorgio’s heroism during World War Two.

A politician as well as a businessman, Vittorio joined Mussolini’s Fascist party in the 1930s. He was appointed minister of communications in February 1943 but resigned after six months, one of several members of Mussolini’s cabinet who had implored the dictator to find a way to withdraw from a war that was having disastrous consequences for Italy.

Vittorio Cini was one of Italy's richest men in the early part of the 20th century
Vittorio Cini was one of Italy's richest men
in the early part of the 20th century
After Mussolini was toppled and Italy signed an alliance with the Allies, Vittorio was identified as one of those who had turned against Mussolini, arrested by the Gestapo and taken to the Dachau concentration camp, near Munich.

With his father’s fate unknown, Giorgio took it upon himself to try to help him escape. Armed with a substantial sum of money from the sale of his mother’s jewellery, he managed to make his way successfully to Dachau, despite the dangers of undertaking such a journey. His father had been moved to a hospital wing, where Giorgio bribed the staff to release his father.

The two then travelled the 200km (124 miles) or so to the safety of neutral Switzerland, where they remained until it was safe to return to Italy. While in exile, Vittorio provided substantial financial support to the Italian Resistance movement in their operations against the Nazis and the Fascist stronghold in the north of Italy.

With Giorgio’s death, Vittorio decided to devote himself to philanthropy in the name of his son. 

The Cini family also gave Venice the former Palazzo Foscari
The Cini family also gave Venice
the former Palazzo Foscari 
Granted a concession by the Italian state to develop the island of San Giorgio Maggiore, which apart from Andrea Palladio’s famous basilica of the same name was home to a convent destroyed by Napoleon and military facilities once used by the Austrian and Italian armies, in 1951 he announced the launch of the Giorgio Cini Foundation. 

He restored the convent and repurposed it as a centre for Venetian culture. It now houses a library containing around 15,000 historical volumes, as well as an archive of manuscripts and documents about history, music, theatre and art. It also serves as a venue for exhibitions, concerts and meetings.

As well as the Foundation, the Cini family have also given Venice the Palazzo Foscari on the Grand Canal, which was Vittorio’s Venice home until his death in 1977.

The palace - now the Palazzo Cini - was donated to the Foundation in 1984 by Vittorio’s daughter, Yana, to house her father’s personal collection of Tuscan paintings and decorative arts, and to offer a space for exhibitions in conjunction with the Venice Biennale. 

Both Vittorio and Giorgio are buried with other family members in the family tomb within the monumental cemetery of the Certosa di Ferrara.

The Castello Monselice was painstakingly restored by Vittorio Cini in the 1930s
The Castello Monselice was painstakingly
restored by Vittorio Cini in the 1930s
Travel tip:

The Castello Monselice, at the town of Monselice, about 25km (15 miles) south of Padua, expanded over several hundred years. The oldest part is the Casa Romantica, built in the 11th century, to which was added the Castelletto in the 12th century. During the 13th century, the Torre Ezzelino was erected and in the 15th century, after it had been acquired by the Marcello family of Venice, the Ca’ Marcello was built as a connecting building to link the defensive tower with the main building. An elegant library and a Venetian courtyard were added in subsequent centuries but the complex suffered during the First World War, when it was used by the Royal Italian Army and left in a poor state. Vittorio Cini inherited it from his family in 1935 and set about its restoration, a seven-year project in which he took care with the use of furnishings and decoration to be faithful to period detail. Still named the Castello Cini, but now owned by the Veneto region, it now offers visitors a number of guided tours each day.

The white marble facade of the church of San Giorgio Maggiore is a familiar sight in Venice
The white marble facade of the church of San
Giorgio Maggiore is a familiar sight in Venice
Travel tip:

Andrea Palladio’s church of San Giorgio Maggiore is a 16th-century Benedictine church built between 1566 and 1610. Constructed in classical Renaissance style, the basilica’s brilliant white marble facade is visible directly across the Venetian lagoon from the Piazzetta di San Marco and its presence draws the eye from every part of the Riva degli Schiavoni. When Palladio arrived in Venice in 1560, the site was occupied by a Benedictine church and monastery that had been rebuilt following an earthquake in the 13th century. The architect, whose work in Venice also includes the Chiesa del Santissimo Redentore on the Giudecca island, died in 1580 and so did not live to see San Giorgio Maggiore completed, although his successors in the project kept faithfully to his designs.

Also on this day:

1908: The birth of businessman Charles Forte

1940: The birth of mathematician Enrico Bombieri

1949: The birth of politician and businesswoman Letizia Moratti

1963: The death of popular soprano Amelita Galli-Curci


3 November 2022

La cambiale di matrimonio - opera

Rossini’s first professional work premieres in Venice

The title page of the libretto for the opera, by Gaetano Rossi
The title page of the libretto
for the opera, by Gaetano Rossi
La cambiale di matrimonio - the first opera by Gioachino Rossini to be performed before a paying audience - premiered at the Teatro San Moisè in Venice on this day in 1810.

Although the Pesaro-born composer, who would go on to write 39 operas including Il barbiere di Siviglia (The Barber of Seville) and La Cenerentola (Cinderella), had tried his hand at the genre earlier, La cambiale di matrimonio was the first to be staged in public.

Rossini had written the one-act farce - translated in English as The Bill of Marriage or The Marriage Contract - in the space of just a few days while he was an 18-year-old student at the Liceo Musicale in Bologna.

Based on a play of the same name by Camillo Federici, an 18th century dramatist from Piedmont, La cambiale di matrimonio revolves around the attempts by a London merchant, Tobias Mill, to marry off his daughter, Fanny, to a somewhat mature Canadian businessman by the name of Slook.

Mill makes this arrangement, which is designed primarily for his own financial gain, without knowing that Fanny has a lover, Edward Milfort, whose existence she has kept secret from her father on account of his lowly financial status.

The action takes place in the drawing room of the Mill house, where Edward and Fanny are together at just the moment Slook arrives.

La cambiale di matrimonio had a brief run, lasting just 13 performances, but the presence of a well-regarded mezzo-soprano, Rosa Morandi, in the role of Fanny attracted attention and the two baritones cast as Mill and Crook are said to have played to the gallery as the composer intended.

The young Rossini wrote a series of farces for the Teatro San Moisè
The young Rossini wrote a series of
farces for the Teatro San Moisè
Rossini himself was pleased enough with one aria, performed by Morandi, that he used it as the basis for a duet between Figaro and Rosina in Il barbiere di Siviglia, which premiered in 1816, by which time the composer was enjoying enormous fame and the wealth that came with it.

The Teatro San Moisè, meanwhile, invited the young Rossini to compose more works along the same lines. He obliged by delivering three more farces, L'inganno felice (The Fortunate Deception), La scala di seta (The Silken Ladder) and Il signor Bruschino.

Active from 1620 to 1818, the Teatro San Moisè, which could be found near the start of the Grand Canal and just a few steps from Piazza San Marco, was a small theatre but an influential one.

Its first opera production was Claudio Monteverdi's L'Arianna in 1640, while in the 18th century the music of the Baroque composers Francesco Gasparini, Antonio Vivaldi and Tomaso Albinoni was frequently performed there. 

When the Neapolitan opera buffa genre arrived in Venice in the 1740s, San Moisè became something of a showcase for the genre, staging works by Baldassare Galuppi, who formed a partnership with the brilliant playwright and librettist, Carlo Goldoni.

The theatre closed in 1818 and was later revived as a puppet theatre and a cinema but the building was demolished in the 20th century.

The church of San Moisè contains works by Tintoretto and Palma il Giovane
The church of San Moisè contains works
by Tintoretto and Palma il Giovane
Travel tip:

The church of San Moisè, from which the theatre took its name, can be found just 124m (135 yards) from Piazza San Marco in Campo San Moisè, flanked on one side by the modern, five-star Hotel Bauer and on the other by the Venice stores of Versace and Prada. Built originally in the eighth century, the church’s elaborately decorated Baroque facade was added in the late 17th century to a design by the Padua architect Alessandro Tremignon. The interior is dominated by Heinrich Meyring's huge altarpiece, depicting Moses at Mount Sinai receiving the Tablets. The Old Testament prophets were considered by the Venetians as saints. Also inside are a Washing of the Feet by Tintoretto and a Last Supper by Palma il Giovane.

The Ducal Palace in Pesaro was commissioned by ruler Alessandro Sforza in the 15th century
The Ducal Palace in Pesaro was commissioned
by ruler Alessandro Sforza in the 15th century
Travel tip:

Pesaro, while a major centre for tourism due to its location on the Adriatic coast, is also a former mediaeval city of some standing, ruled by Giovanni Sforza between 1483 and 1510. It had a 15th century Ducal Palace, commissioned by Alessandro Sforza, one of Giovanni’s ancestors, and an imposing castle, the Rocca Costanza, built by Costanza I Sforza, the condottiero who was Alessandro’s son. Today, it is known as the city of music. Each summer, in honour of Gioachino Rossini, born in 1792, it hosts the Rossini Opera Festival, and the town is home to the Conservatorio Statale di Musica Gioachino Rossini, which was founded from a legacy left by the composer.

Also on this day:

1560: The birth of painter Annibale Carracci

1801: The birth of composer Vincenzo Bellini

1908: The birth of politician Giovanni Leone

1918: The Villa Giusti Armistice

1931: The birth of actress Monica Vitti