Showing posts with label Writers. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Writers. Show all posts

16 February 2022

The death of Giosuè Carducci – poet

National poet’s work inspired the fight for a united Italy

Carducci's funeral procession drew huge crowds on to the streets of Bologna
Carducci's funeral procession drew
huge crowds on to the streets of Bologna
The poet Giosuè Carducci, who was the first Italian to win the Nobel prize in Literature, died on this day in 1907 in Bologna.

Aged 71, he passed away at his home, Casa Carducci, near Porta Maggiore, a kilometre and a half from the centre of the Emilia-Romagna city. He had been in ill health for some time and was not well enough to travel to Stockholm to receive his prize, awarded in 1906, which was instead presented to him at his home.

His funeral at the Basilica di San Petronio in Piazza Maggiore followed a procession through the streets that attracted a huge crowd.

Carducci had been one of the most influential literary figures of his age and was professor of Italian literature at Bologna University, where he lectured for more than 40 years.

The Italian people revered Carducci as their national poet and he was made a senator for life by the King of Italy in 1890.

Carducci was born in 1835 in the hamlet of Val di Castello, part of Pietrasanta, in the province of Lucca in Tuscany and he spent his childhood in the wild Maremma area of the region.

After studying at the University of Pisa, Carducci was at the centre of a group of young men determined to overthrow the prevailing Romanticism in literature and return to classical models.

Carducci's poetry became an inspiration to patriots fighting for a united Italy
Carducci's poetry became an inspiration
to patriots fighting for a united Italy
Carducci was attracted to Greek and Roman authors and also studied the works of Italian classical writers such as Dante, Torquato Tasso and Vittorio Alfieri.

The poets Giuseppe Parini, Vincenzo Monti and Ugo Foscolo were influences on him, as is evident from his first book of poems, Rime, produced in 1857.

In 1863, Carducci showed both his great power as a poet and the strength of his republican, anticlerical feelings in his Inno a Satana - Hymn to Satan - and, in 1867, in his Giambi ed epode - Iambics and Epodes - inspired by the politics of the time.

The best of Carducci’s poetry came in 1887 with Rime nuove - New Rhymes - and Odi Barbare - Barbarian Odes - which evoke the landscape of the Maremma and his childhood memories, the loss of his only son, and also recall the glory of Roman history.

Carducci’s enthusiasm for the classical led him to adapt Latin prosody to Italian verse and to imitate Horace and Virgil. His poetry was to inspire many Italians fighting for independence and for a united Italy.

The poet became the first Italian to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1906. According to the Swedish Academy this was awarded ‘not only in consideration of his deep learning and critical research, but above all as a tribute to the creative energy, freshness of style and lyrical force, which characterise his poetic masterpieces’.

Carducci also wrote prose prolifically in the form of literary criticism. biographies, speeches and essays and he translated works by Goethe and Heine into Italian.

After his funeral on 19 February he was laid to rest at the Certosa di Bologna, the city’s monumental cemetery.

Pietrasanta's Cattedrale di San Martino
Pietrasanta's Cattedrale
di San Martino
Travel tip:

Pietrasanta, the town where Carducci was born, is on the coast of northern Tuscany, to the north of Viareggio. It had Roman origins and part of a Roman wall still exists. The medieval town was built in 1255 upon the pre-existing Rocca di Sala fortress of the Lombards and the Duomo (Cathedral of San Martino) dates back to the 13th century. Pietrasanta grew in importance in the 15th century due to its marble, the beauty of which was first recognised by the sculptor, Michelangelo.

Find accommodation in Pietrasanta with

Leonardo Bistolfi's monument to Giosuè Carducci in the garden of the Casa Carducci in Bologna
Leonardo Bistolfi's monument to Giosuè Carducci
in the garden of the Casa Carducci in Bologna
Travel tip:

The Museum of the Risorgimento in Bologna is now housed on the ground floor of the house where Carducci died in Piazza Carducci in the centre of the city. The museum has exhibits and documents that chronicle the history of the Risorgimento from the Napoleonic invasions of Italy to the end of the First World War. The museum was first inaugurated in 1893 and moved to Casa Carducci, the last home of the poet, in 1990.  In the garden, there is an imposing monument to Carducci by the sculptor Leonardo Bistolfi.

Stay in Bologna with

More reading:

How the revolutionary Ugo Foscolo expressed Italian sentiment in verse

Why Dante Alighieri remains in exile from his native Florence

The nobleman whose poetry inspired the oppressed

Also on this day:

1740: The birth of type designer Giambattista Bodoni

1918: The birth of designer Achille Castiglioni

1935: The birth of vocalist Edda Dell’Orso

1970: The birth of footballer Angelo Peruzzi

1979: The birth of motorcycle world champion Valentino Rossi

(Picture credits: Pietrasanta cathedral by Stephencdickson; Bologna monument by Nicola Quirico; via Wikimedia Commons)



16 January 2022

Mario Tobino – poet, novelist and psychiatrist

Doctor was torn between literature and his patients

Tobino combined his work in mental health with a literary career
Tobino combined his work in mental
health with a literary career
The author and poet who was also a practising psychiatrist, Mario Tobino, was born on this day in 1910 in Viareggio in Tuscany.

Tobino was a prolific writer whose works dealt with social and psychological themes. His novel, Il clandestino, inspired by his experiences fighting as a partisan to liberate Italy in 1944, won him the Premio Strega, the most prestigious Italian literary award.

After completing his degree in medicine in 1936, Tobino embarked on a career working in a mental hospital, treating people with mental disabilities.

He went to work as a doctor in Libya in 1940 but had to flee when war broke out in the country. His experiences were recorded in his book, Il deserto della Libia, which was published in 1952.

In 1953, his novel, Libere donne di Magliano, established him as an important Italian writer. In 1972, another novel, Per le antiche scale won the Premio Campiello, an annual Italian literary award. Both novels were inspired by his experiences as a director of a psychiatric hospital at Maggiano, a suburb of Lucca.

His novel Il manicomio di Pechino, published in 1990, also drew on his medical experiences, his relationships with his patients and his personal dilemma as an individual divided by his allegiance to his profession and his passion for literature.

Per le antiche scale won
the Premio Campiello
Tobino’s strong attachment to his native region of Tuscany is another recurrent motif in his work. He published Gli ultimi giorni di Magliano followed by La ladra in 1984 and Tre amici in 1988. He received the Premio Pirandello on 10 December 1991 in Agrigento and died the next day, aged 81.

He began working in 1942 as a doctor at the mental hospital of Lucca on the outskirts of  the city at Maggiano, where he was to remain for the next 40 years. The hospital, known as Spedale per I Pazzi, was founded by the republic of Lucca in the second half of the 18th century and is thought to be the oldest mental hospital in Italy. It was also in 1942 that Tobino met Paola Olivetti, who was to be his life-long companion.

The Mario Tobino Foundation, based at the site of the former hospital in Via Fregionaia, which was closed in 1999, was created in 2006 to preserve and develop the important cultural heritage of his work as a writer and psychiatrist. The Foundation also aims to promote the regional and national debate about the future of psychiatric help.

Viareggio's sea front is famed for its Liberty-style architecture
Viareggio's sea front is famed for its
Liberty-style architecture
Travel tip:

Viareggio, where Mario Tobino was born, is a popular seaside resort in Tuscany with excellent sandy beaches and some beautiful examples of Liberty-style architecture. The remains of the English poet Shelley, who drowned at sea, were washed up on a beach near the resort in 1822. They were identified because of the volume of poetry by John Keats found in his pocket and he was cremated on the beach under the supervision of his friend, the poet Lord Byron. There is a monument to Shelley in Piazza Paolina in Viareggio.

The hospital complex retained some  features of the monastery
The hospital complex retained some 
features of the monastery
Travel tip:

The Spedale per I Pazzi, where Mario Tobino worked, was formed in 1773 at Maggiano after the Republic of Lucca had put forward a request to Pope Clement to suppress the Monastery of the Lateran Canons of Santa Maria of Fregionaia. The monastery was then adapted for the care of mental patients and was officially opened on 20 April 1773. The day after, the first 11 patients were transferred from Carcere Cittadino della Torre, the city’s Tower prison.

Also on this day:

1728: The birth of composer Niccolò Piccinni

1749: The birth of dramatist and poet Count Vittorio Alfieri

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


18 November 2021

Attilio Bertolucci - poet

Pastoral scenes and family life inspired writer from Parma

Attilio Bertolucci was an important figure in 20th century Italian poetry
Attilio Bertolucci was an important
figure in 20th century Italian poetry 
Writer and poet Attilio Bertolucci was born on this day in 1911 in San Lazzaro, a hamlet in the countryside near Parma in Emilia-Romagna.

Bertolucci wrote about his own family life and became renowned for the musicality of his language while describing humble places and human feelings. He became an important figure in 20th century Italian poetry and was the father of film directors Bernardo and Giuseppe Bertolucci.

Attilio Bertolucci was born into a middle-class, agricultural family. He began writing poems at the age of seven and published his first collection of poems, Sirio, when he was 18.

He went to study law at the University of Parma when he was 19, but soon gave it up in favour of literary studies. He also went to the University of Bologna to study art history. He went on to teach art history at the Maria Luigia boarding school in Parma.

He became a book reviewer and theatre and film critic for the Parma newspaper, La Gazzetta, and developed anti-fascist feelings along with other intellectuals at the time. He worked as foreign editor for the poetry publisher, Guanda, and introduced a range of modern poetry from overseas to Italy.

When he was 20, his work, Fuochi di Novembre, earned him the praise of the Italian poet Eugenio Montale, which enhanced his reputation.

Bertolucci with Bernardo (left), the elder of his two sons, during the shooting of his 1975 epic, Novecento
Bertolucci with Bernardo (left), the elder of his two
sons, during the shooting of his 1976 epic, Novecento 

Bertolucci married Ninetta Giovanardi in 1938 but they continued to live in his parental home near Parma. They had their first son, Bernardo, in 1941 and their younger son, Giuseppe, in 1947.

In 1951 he published La capanna Indiana, which won the Viareggio Prize for Literature. In the same year the family moved to Rome. Among the readers who admired his work was the film director Pier Paolo Pasolini, who became a close friend.

In Rome, Bertolucci worked for the publisher, Garzanti, for Italian radio, and for the daily newspaper, La Repubblica.

From the 1960s onwards the Bertolucci family alternated between their apartment in Rome, their 17th century house in the Apennine village of Casarola, which they visited  in the spring and summer, and their home by the sea in the Ligurian village of Tellaro, where they lived during the autumn. In nearby Lerici, Bertolucci became president of the committee for the Lerici Prize and biennial literary conference.

The cover of Bertolucci's first published poetry
The cover of Bertolucci's
first published poetry

He published Viaggio d’inverno in 1971, which is considered one of his finest works. It was seen as marking a change to a more complex style from that of his earlier works, where he used humble language to describe pastoral situations.

From 1975, he directed the prestigious literary review magazine Nuovi Argomenti, along with Enzo Siciliano and Alberto Moravia. In 1984 he won another Viareggio Prize for the narrative poem Camera da letto.

His last work was La lucertola di Casarola, a collection of works from his youth, which he published in 1997.

Attilio Bertolucci died in Rome in 2000 at the age of 88. Selections of his poetry have been translated into English by the poets and translators, Charles Tomlinson and Allen Prowle.

Parma is famous for Prosciutto di Parma and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Parma is famous for Prosciutto di Parma and
Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Travel tip:

Parma is an historic city in the Emilia-Romagna region, famous for its ham (Prosciutto di Parma) and cheese (Parmigiano-Reggiano), the true ‘parmesan’. The city was given as a duchy to Pier Luigi Farnese, the illegitimate son of Pope Paul III, and his descendants ruled Parma till 1731. The composer, Verdi, was born near Parma at Bussetto and the city has a prestigious opera house, the Teatro Regia. Parma is divided into two parts by a stream. Attilio Bertolucci once wrote about it: ’As a capital city it had to have a river. As a little capital it received a stream, which is often dry.’ This refers to the time when Parma was capital of the independent Duchy of Parma.

Boats fill the tiny quayside at the fishing village of Tellaro in Liguria, where Bertolucci had a home
Boats fill the tiny quayside at the fishing village
of Tellaro in Liguria, where Bertolucci had a home
Travel tip:

Tellaro, where the Bertolucci family had a seaside home, is a small fishing village on the east coast of the Gulf of La Spezia in Liguria and a frazione of the comune of Lerici. Tellaro has been rated as one of the most beautiful villages of Italy by the guide, I Borghi più belli d’Italia. The Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley and his writer wife, Mary Shelley, lived there in the rented Casa Magni in the early 1820s and drew inspiration from their beautiful surroundings for their writing until Shelley’s death at sea in 1822.

Also on this day:

1626: The consecration of St Peter’s Basilica in Rome

1630: The birth of Eleonora Gonzaga, Holy Roman Empress

1804: The birth of Alfonso Ferrero La Marmora, military leader and statesman

1891: The birth of architect and designer Gio Ponti



14 July 2021

Natalia Ginzburg - writer and politician

Sicilian raised in Turin became one of Italy’s great postwar novelists

Natalia Ginzburg (née Levi) with her husband, the  leading anti-Fascist figure, Leone Ginzburg
Natalia Ginzburg (née Levi) with her husband, the 
leading anti-Fascist figure, Leone Ginzburg
The writer and politician Natalia Ginzburg was born on this day in 1916 in the Sicilian capital, Palermo.

The author of 11 novels and short story collections, as well as numerous essays, Ginzburg came to be regarded as one of Italy’s great postwar writers, alongside Primo Levi, Carlo Levi, Alberto Moravia, Cesare Pavese, Elsa Morante and Giorgio Bassani among others.

Her most famous works include Tutti i nostri ieri - All Our Yesterdays - published in 1952, Lessico famigliare  - Family Sayings -  published in 1963, and La famiglia Manzoni - The Manzoni Family - published in 1983.

She was notable for writing about family relationships, politics during and after the Fascist years and World War II, and philosophy.

Ginzburg, who was married to a prominent figure in the Italian resistance movement in World War Two, was an active anti-Fascist and a member of the Italian Communist Party in the 1930s.  In later life, she was elected to the Chamber of Deputies as an independent.

Ginzburg became a leading light in postwar Italian literature
Ginzburg became a leading light
in postwar Italian literature
Although born in Palermo, Ginzburg spent her early life in Turin, where her father, Giuseppe Levi, was a professor of neuroanatomy at the University of Turin, presiding over a research laboratory that produced three winners of Nobel Prizes.

The family was well connected in social and intellectual circles in Turin. Her sister, Paola, married a future president of the business machines company, Olivetti, of which one of her brothers, Gino, became Olivetti’s technical director. Of her two other brothers, Mario was a journalist and Alberto a doctor. 

As a Jewish family - although her mother, Lidia, was a gentile - they were heavily involved in the city’s anti-Fascist movement and suffered for it. Natalia’s brothers were frequently arrested and sometimes jailed for their activities. Guiseppe Levi was in time stripped of his position at the university and moved to Belgium.

Natalia’s brothers were members of the anti-Fascist organization Giustizia e Libertà (Justice and Liberty), the leader of which was Leone Ginzburg, a professor of Russian Literature at the University of Turin, with whom she began a relationship. 

Like her father, Leone was dismissed from his university position. He was under constant surveillance from Mussolini’s secret police and eventually stopped visiting the Levi family home, worried that he was putting the family in danger. Nonetheless, he and Natalia continued to see one another and were married in 1938. They had three children, the eldest of whom, Carlo Ginzburg, is now an eminent historian.

A recent edition of one of Ginzburg's most acclaimed works, Family Lexicon
A recent edition of one of Ginzburg's
most acclaimed works, Family Lexicon
Despite her own Jewish roots and her marriage to Ginzburg, Natalia was allowed to bring up her children largely without harassment. For Leone, however, it was a different story. Placed under precautionary arrest every time an important politician or the King, Victor Emmanuel III, visited the city, in 1941 he was sentenced to internal exile in the remote, impoverished village of Pizzoli in Abruzzo.  He and Natalia and their young family lived there until 1943, when he secretly moved to Rome to edit an anti-Fascist underground newspaper.

Mussolini was deposed but it did not mean the Ginzburgs could rest easy. When Nazi Germany invaded the peninsula, Natalia was determined to be reunited with her husband and managed to persuade a German army unit to take her to Rome, claiming she and her children were refugees who had lost their papers.

They found Leone and went into hiding but it was not long before he was arrested. This time their separation was permanent. By the following February, Leone had died aged 34 after suffering a cardiac arrest in the Rome prison of Regina Coeli, having been subjected to brutal interrogation and torture.

At this time, Natalia Ginzburg’s career as a writer was in its infancy, although she was already the author of a novel published under a pseudonym in 1942 at a time when Mussolini’s race laws barred Jewish authors from seeing their work in print.

After the war, she worked at the Turin publishing house of Giulio Einaudi - of which Leone had been a founder - and became acquainted with some of the leading figures of postwar Italian literature, including Carlo Levi, Primo Levi, Pavese and Italo Calvino.  It was Pavese who is said to have given her the most encouragement to write more herself.

Her own output increased after she was married for a second time, in 1950, to Gabriele Baldini, an academic. They lived in Rome and for many years were at the centre of the city’s cultural life, Ginzburg’s novels, short stories, essays and plays attracting much critical acclaim. Having become friends with the director and writer Pier Paolo Pasolini, she even accepted a small part in his 1964 film, The Gospel According to St Matthew, in which he followed the neorealist tradition of using non-professional actors.

Ginzburg won some of Italy’s most prestigious literary awards, including the Strega Prize for Lessico famigliare and the Bagutta Prize for La famiglia Manzoni.  

She and Baldini had two children, although both were born with severe disabilities and the first died after only a year. Baldini himself died young, in 1969 at the age of only 49.

Ginzburg was never far from active politics. Like so many anti-Fascists from the wartime period, she was at times a member of the Italian Communist Party, although when she was elected to the Chamber of Deputies in 1983 it was as an independent.

Her literary output began to slow down in the 1980s. She died in Rome in 1991 at the age of 75.

Piazza San Carlo in Turin, looking towards the churches of Santa Cristina and San Carlo
Piazza San Carlo in Turin, looking towards the
churches of Santa Cristina and San Carlo
Travel tip:

The original offices of the Einaudi publishing company in Turin were in Via dell'Arcivescovado, a few steps from the beautiful Piazza San Carlo, one of the city's main squares. A stunning example of 16th and 17th century Baroque design, the large piazza is notable for the twin churches of Santa Cristina and San Carlo at the southwest entrance to the square and for the monument to Emanuele Filiberto, a 16th century Duke of Savoy, in the centre. Spectacularly lit up in the evening, the square is home to two of Turin's most famous coffee houses, the Café San Carlo and Café Torino, as well as the Confetteria Stratta, renowned for the exquisite pastries it offers. 

Piazza Municipio is the main square of the  Abruzzo village of Pizzoli
Piazza Municipio is the main square of the 
Abruzzo village of Pizzoli
Travel tip:

Pizzoli was an impoverished village in is a remote, mountainous part of central Italy some 135km (84 miles) northeast of Rome at the time the Ginzburg family were exiled there in 1941. Nowadays it is a well-kept, lively small town popular with visitors to the area as a starting point for trekking holidays in the mountains of the Gran Sasso e Monti della Laga National Park. Situated 15km (9 miles) northwest of the city of L'Aquila, Pizzoli is typical of the region in that it has the feel of a different time when life was less frantic. Its local quisine features pork and mutton in abundance, with thin skewers of salted, flame-grilled mutton called Arrosticini among its specialities.

Also on this day:

1602: The birth of Cardinal Jules Mazarin, ruler of France

1614: The death of Saint Camillus de Lellis, a reformed gambler who devoted himself to caring for the sick

1902: The collapse of the bell tower of St Mark’s Basilica in Venice

1948: The shooting in Rome of Italian Communist Party leader Palmiro Togliatti 


28 May 2021

Luigi Capuana - author and journalist

Sicilian was leading figure in verismo movement

Luigi Capuana combined his writing with working as a theatre critic
Luigi Capuana combined his writing
with working as a theatre critic 
The author and journalist Luigi Capuana, one of the most important writers of the verismo movement that flourished in Italy in the late 19th century, was born on this day in 1839 in Mineo, a medieval town in southeast Sicily, in the province of Catania.

Verismo - meaning ‘realism’ - sought to portray society and humanity in the manner of a photograph, objectively representing life as it really was, stripped of romanticism. It tended to focus on the lower levels of society, using explicit descriptive detail and realistic dialogue.

Capuana, who was influenced by the French writers Honoré de Balzac and Emile Zola, and his fellow Sicilian Giovanni Verga were two of the earliest advocates of the movement, which was at its peak in the final quarter of the 19th century.

It declined in popularity in the early 20th century but its principles were revived in the neorealism movement that dominated Italian cinema in the immediate years after World War II and is often cited as a golden age in the Italian film industry.

Capuana, whose best-known works were his novels Giacinta (1879), a psychological study of a wronged woman and Il marchese di Roccaverdina (1901), a study of guilt, was born into a wealthy family in Mineo.

He was given every opportunity to take advantage of the best education available, although to a large extent he was self-taught. He dropped out of the prestigious Royal College of Bronte on the grounds of ill health and left the Faculty of Law in Catania to take part in the revolt in Sicily inspired by Garibaldi and the Risorgimento movement, becoming secretary of the Secret Committee of Insurrection in Mineo.

Capuana's friend, Giuseppe Verga,
was also prominent in the movement
The experience inspired his first published work Garibaldi: A Dramatic Legend in Three Cantos, released in 1861. Three years later, he left Sicily to settle in Florence, intent on a literary adventure. 

There he struck up friendships with the most famous writers of the time, including Aleardo Aleardi and Gino Capponi and found regular work as a theatre critic on the newspaper La Nazione.

In 1868 he returned to Sicily, intending only to stay for a brief period, although in the event the death of his father and a change in his own economic circumstances meant he remained in Mineo for the next seven years, working as a schools inspector and later served on the town council, where he was eventually elected mayor.

In 1875 Capuana resumed his literary adventure, moving first to Rome and then, on the advice of his friend, Giuseppe Verga, to Milan, where in 1979 he published Giacinta, regarded by some as the manifesto of the verismo movement.  His experience writing for La Nazione helped open doors at the Milan newspaper, Corriere della Sera, where he again worked as a theatre and literary critic.

From Milan he moved back to Rome, where he was editor of the literary review Fanfulla della Domenica and published several volumes of fairy tales, short stories as well as a number of novels, including Il marchese di Roccaverdina. 

Rome’s literary scene enabled him to meet and form friendships with Gabriele D’Annunzio and Luigi Pirandello among others, while his own success earned him a good living. His novel Giacinta was adapted as a five-act comedy, which was performed at the Teatro Sannazaro in Naples.

In 1902, Capuana returned to Sicily, continuing to write while lecturing in lexicography and stylistics at the University of Catania. He died in Catania in 1915 at the age of 76.

Capuana's house in Mineo now contains a museum
Capuana's house in Mineo
now contains a museum
Travel tip:

Mineo is a town of medieval origins, characterised by a network of narrow streets clinging to a hillside in western Catania, about 64km (40 miles) southwest of Catania, 56km (35 miles) north of Ragusa and 22km (14 miles) east of Caltagirone.  With a population of approximately 5,500, it has a number of churches and other buildings of historical and artistic value, including the churches of Santa Maria Maggiore and Sant’Agrippina. The Palazzo Capuana, where Luigi Capuana was born, now houses a museum commemorating his life, while his resting place at the cemetery of Mineo is marked by a funeral monument by the sculptor Michele La Spina.

The port city of Catania sits in the shadow of Sicily's active volcano, Mount Etna
The port city of Catania sits in the shadow of
Sicily's active volcano, Mount Etna
Travel tip:

The city of Catania, which is located on the east coast of Sicily facing the Ionian Sea, is one of the 10 biggest cities in Italy, with a population including the environs of 1.12 million. A little like Naples, which is in the shadow of Vesuvius, it lives with the constant threat of a natural catastrophe, having been virtually destroyed by earthquakes twice, in 1169 and 1693, and regularly witnesses volcanic eruptions from nearby Mount Etna. As such it has always been a city for living life to the full. In the Renaissance, it was one of Italy's most important cultural, artistic and political centres and enjoys a rich cultural legacy today, with numerous museums and churches, theatres and parks and many restaurants.

Also on this day:

1606: The painter Caravaggio flees Rome after allegedly murdering Ranuccio Tomassoni

1692: The birth of composer Gemiano Giacomelli

1999: Da Vinci’s Last Supper goes back on display in Milan after 20 years of restoration

(Picture credit: Catania photo by Herbert Aust via Pixabay


13 November 2020

Dacia Maraini – writer

Long career of a feminist novelist and playwright

Dacia Maraini spent part of her childhood as a prisoner in wartime Japan
Dacia Maraini spent part of her childhood
as a prisoner in wartime Japan
Novelist and short story writer Dacia Maraini was born on this day in 1936 in Fiesole in Tuscany.

An Italian writer who is widely recognised abroad, Dacia Maraini is also a respected critic, poet, journalist and playwright. She established la Maddalena, the first Italian theatrical group composed exclusively of women.

The themes of limitation and oppression in Maraini’s writing have their roots in her childhood years, which she spent in a concentration camp in Japan. She then went to live in Sicily, which she has also described as an oppressive setting.

Her writing expresses the concerns of the Italian feminist movement, focusing on issues such as abortion, sexual violence, prostitution and the mother/daughter relationship.

Many of her works are autobiographical and are written in the form of diaries and letters.

Maraini lived with the writer Alberto Moravia from 1962 until 1983 and was a close friend of Pier Paolo Pasolini and Maria Callas.

She was the daughter of Sicilian princess Topazia Aliata di Salaparuta, who was an artist, and Fosco Maraini, a Florentine ethnologist.

When she was still a young child, Maraini’s family moved to Japan to escape Fascism in 1938. They were interned in a Japanese concentration camp from 1943 to 1946 for refusing to recognise Mussolini’s Republic of Salò.

Dacia Maraini's novels have won her several prestigious literary prizes
Dacia Maraini's novels have won her several
prestigious literary prizes
After the war, the family went to live in Sicily, in the town of Bagheria in the province of Palermo, a few kilometres from the city centre.

Maraini was educated at a boarding school in Florence. After her parents separated and her father moved to Rome, Maraini joined him when she was 18.

She married Lucio Pozzi, a Milanese painter, but they separated after four years. She then met Moravia, who became her long-term partner.

In 1966 she formed a theatre company with Moravia to put on new Italian plays, including her own works. This led to her founding Teatro della Maddalena, for women only, a few years later.  Maraini went on to direct films, write screenplays and also to appear in films.

She became a prolific writer, having produced her first novel, La vacanza, in 1963. Forty years later, her novel Chiara di Assisi – Elogio della Disobbedianza, was published in 2013.

Maraini has won many literary prizes, including the Fregene prize in 1985 for her novel, Isolina, and the premio Camiello in 1990 for her historical novel, la Lunga Vita di Marianna Ucria.

She celebrates her 84th birthday today.

Fiesole's cathedral is said to have been built on the site of the martyrdom of St Romulus
Fiesole's cathedral is said to have been built
on the site of the martyrdom of St Romulus
Travel tip:

Fiesole, a town of about 14,000 inhabitants situated in an elevated position about 8km (5 miles) northeast of Florence, has since the 14th century been a popular place to live for wealthy Florentines and even to this day remains the richest municipality in Florence.  Formerly an important Etruscan settlement, it was also a Roman town of note, of which the remains of a theatre and baths are still visible.  Fiesole's cathedral, built in the 11th century, is supposedly built over the site of the martyrdom of St. Romulus. In the middle ages, Fiesole was as powerful as Florence until it was conquered by the latter in 1125 after a series of wars.

The Villa Palagonia is a great example of Baroque architecture in Sicily
The Villa Palagonia is a great example of
Baroque architecture in Sicily
Travel tip:

Bagheria, where Maraini lived with her family in Sicily, was the subject of her book, Bagheria, published in 1995, which condemns the destruction of Sicily’s artistic and architectural treasures in its transition into a modern city. From the 17th century, when Giuseppe Branciforti, Prince of Butera and former Viceroy of Sicily, built a large villa there, the area, about 10km east of the centre of Palermo, became a preferred location for the vacation homes of the city’s elites.  The Villa Valguarnera and Villa Palagonia, both designed by the architect Tommaso Napoli, were two of the most striking Baroque residences, while the Villa Villarosa were built on more neoclassical lines. Unregulated building in the 20th and 21st centuries has rather diminished the town’s former splendour.

Also on this day:

1868: The death of composer Gioachino Rossini

1894: The death of Sister Agostina Livia Pietrantoni, a nurse murdered by a patient later made a saint

1907: The birth of Princess Giovanna of Italy - Tsaritsa of Bulgaria

1914: The birth of film director Alberto Lattuada


4 May 2020

Osbert Sitwell – English writer

Baronet’s love for a Tuscan castle

Osbert Sitwell (right), pictured with his younger brother, Sacheverell, a writer and critic
Osbert Sitwell (right), pictured with his younger
brother, Sacheverell, a writer and critic
Sir Francis Osbert Sacheverell Sitwell died on this day in 1969 at the Castello di Montegufoni near Florence in Tuscany.

Like his famous elder sister, Edith Sitwell, who was a poet, and his younger brother, Sacheverell, an art and music critic and a prolific writer, Osbert devoted his life to art and literature.

His father, Sir George Reresby Sitwell, had purchased the Castle of Montegufoni, which is 20 km from Florence, in 1909 when it was derelict and restored it beautifully to become his personal residence.

Osbert inherited the castle after his father’s death in 1943 along with the baronetcy and he reigned over Montegufoni for the rest of his life.

Osbert was born in 1892 and grew up at the family homes in Derbyshire and Scarborough. In 1911 he joined the Sherwood Rangers Yeomanry but soon transferred to the Grenadier Guards and was based at the Tower of London, enabling him to go to the theatre and art galleries when he was off duty.

In 1914 he was sent to the trenches near Ypres in French, where the experience inspired him to write his first poems.

Sitwell served in the trenches at Ypres during World War I, reaching the rank of captain
Sitwell served in the trenches at Ypres during
World War I, reaching the rank of captain
He left the Army with the rank of Captain and contested the 1918 general election as a Liberal candidate for Scarborough and Whitby, finishing second.

Osbert, Edith and Sacheverell all worked closely together, dominating literary London between the two world wars.

Osbert wrote poetry, art criticism and was a controversial journalist. He published his first novel, Before the Bombardment, in 1926, receiving good reviews.

In the mid 1920s he met David Stuart Horner who was his lover and companion for the rest of his life.

As a close friend of the Duke and Duchess of York, the future King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, Osbert wrote a poem Rat Week, attacking Edward VIII and Mrs Simpson. When a magazine printed an edited version of the poem in 1937 that made it seem as though he was sympathetic to the Windsors for the way they had been treated, Osbert sued them for breach of copyright and eventually won damages and costs.

In 1946, Osbert settled at the Castle of Montegufoni with his partner. They made the castle an important cultural centre by inviting artists from all over the world to work there.

From the 1950s, Osbert started to suffer from Parkinson’s Disease and by the middle of the 1960s his condition had become so severe he had to abandon writing.

He died on 4 May 1969 in the castle. His body was cremated and his ashes were buried in the Cimitero Evangelico degli Allori in Florence, along with a copy of his first novel, Before the Bombardment.

Osbert left a legacy of essays, novels, travel writing, poetry and an autobiography that ran to five volumes. His novel, A Place of One’s Own, was made into a film in 1945.

Osbert Sitwell inherited the Castello di  Montegufoni from his father
Osbert Sitwell inherited the Castello di
Montegufoni from his father 
Travel tip:

The Castello di Montegufoni, where Osbert Sitwell died after living there for more than 20 years, is near Montespertoli amid the hills and historic wine estates of Chianti country. It was originally owned by the Ormanni family who were mentioned in Dante’s Divine Comedy. It was attacked by Florence in 1135 and left in ruins until the 13th century when the Acciaioli family acquired it, expanding it over the years. The castle was renovated in around 1650 and given the exterior style it has today. During World War II, hundreds of important works from the Uffizi Gallery in Florence were hidden in the castle’s cellars. Osbert Sitwell left the castle to his nephew in his will, who sold it in 1972. It has now been converted into luxury holiday apartments.

Osbert Sitwell's grave at the Cimitero degli Allori in Florence
Osbert Sitwell's grave at the Cimitero degli Allori in Florence
Travel tip:

Osbert Sitwell is one of many famous people buried in the Cimitero degli Allori in Florence. The small cemetery was opened in 1877 when non-Catholics could no longer be buried in the English Cemetery in Piazzale Donatello. The cemetery is in Via Senese between Due Strade and Galluzzo. Alice Keppel, the mistress of Edward VII and great–grandmother of Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, is also buried there.

Also on this day:

1655: The birth of Bartolomeo Cristofori, inventor of the piano

1894: The birth of Anthony Martin Sinatra, father of Frank

1927: The birth of noblewoman and socialite Marella Agnelli


1 May 2020

Ignazio Silone – politician and author

Socialist leader became famous for anti-Fascist novels

Ignazio Silone was a founding member of the Italian Communist Party in 1921
Ignazio Silone was a founding member of
the Italian Communist Party in 1921
Writer and political leader Ignazio Silone was born Secondino Tranquilli on this day in 1900 in Pescina dei Marsi in the region of Abruzzo.

Tranquilli became famous under the pseudonym, Ignazio Silone, during World War II for his powerful anti-Fascist novels and he was nominated for the Nobel prize for literature ten times.

Silone’s father, Paolo Tranquilli, died when he was 11 and he lost his mother, Marianna, and other members of his family four years later in the Avezzano earthquake of 1915.

Two years afterwards he joined the Young Socialist group of the Italian Socialist Party (PSI), eventually becoming their leader and editor of their newspaper Avanguardia.

He was a founding member of the breakaway Italian Communist Party (PCI) party in 1921 and became one of its covert leaders during the Fascist regime, editing their newspaper in Trieste, Il Lavoratore.

His brother, Romolo Tranquilli, was arrested in 1928 for being a member of the PCI and died in prison in 1931 as a result of the severe beatings he had received from the Fascist police.

Silone went to live in Switzerland in 1930 where he declared his opposition to Joseph Stalin and was expelled from the PCI.

Silone's Abruzzo Trilogy won him acclaim as a novelist
Silone's Abruzzo Trilogy won
him acclaim as a novelist
He suffered from tuberculosis and clinical depression and spent nearly a year in Swiss clinics. While recovering, he began writing his first novel, Fontamara, under the pseudonym of Ignazio Silone, which was published in German in 1933.

After the English edition was published by Penguin Books in 1934, the Spanish Civil War and the events leading up to World War II increased the attention on the novel, which was about the exploitation of peasants in a southern Italian village and how they were brutally suppressed while they tried to obtain their rights. It became an international sensation and was published in 14 languages.

Silone’s later novels, Pane e vino (Bread and wine) and Il seme sotto la neve (The seed beneath the snow) portrayed socialist heroes who tried to help the peasants by sharing their sufferings in a Christian spirit.

The US army printed versions of Fontamara and Pane e vino and distributed them to the Italians during the liberation of Italy after 1943. Together with Il seme sotto la neve, they formed the Abruzzo Trilogy.

During World War II, Silone was the leader of a clandestine socialist organisation operating from Switzerland supporting resistance groups in German-occupied northern Italy. He also became an Office of Strategic Services agent.

A poster advertising the film made of Silone's book, Fontamara
A poster advertising the film made
of Silone's book, Fontamara
Silone returned to Italy in 1944 and was elected as a PSI member of the Italian parliament two years later.

In 1969 he was awarded the Jerusalem Prize, an award for writers who deal with the theme of individual freedom and society. In 1971 he received the Prix Mondial Cino del Duca, which recognises authors whose work sends out a message of modern humanism.

Silone wrote ten novels and six essays as well as plays and poetry. A film based on his novel, Fontamara, starring Michele Placido, was released in 1977.

Married to Irish journalist Darina Laracy, Silone died in Geneva in Switzerland in 1978.

In the 1990s, documents emerged that seemed to show Silone had acted as an informant for the Fascist police between 1919 and 1930, causing scholars and biographers to re-evaluate the writer’s political stands and literary work. It was believed he broke away from the police because of the torture they inflicted on his brother.

A plaque marks the birthplace of Ignazio Silone in the Abruzzo town of Pescina dei Marsi
A plaque marks the birthplace of Ignazio Silone in
the Abruzzo town of Pescina dei Marsi
Travel tip:

Pescina dei Marsi, where the writer Ignazio Silone was born, is in the province of L’Aquila in the region of Abruzzo in central Italy. Pescina was badly damaged in the earthquake of Avezzano in 1915 in which Silone’s mother was killed. There were 5,000 victims in Pescina out of a population of 6,000. The oldest part of the town, which was built in the 14th century, was almost destroyed, with only the bell tower of the old church of San Berardo and a few other buildings surviving.

The tomb of Ignazio Silone sits under the bell tower of San Berardo in Pescina dei Marsi
The tomb of Ignazio Silone sits under the bell tower of
San Berardo in Pescina dei Marsi
Travel tip:

Ignazio Silone used the old part of Pescina dei Marsi as the setting for his novel Fontamara. Today, visitors can go to the partially restored old town where Silone’s tomb lies below the medieval bell tower of San Berardo.  His birthplace, one of the few houses to survive the earthquake, is now a museum dedicated to the writer and has some of his manuscripts and original letters.

Also on this day:

1908: The birth of author Giovanni Guareschi 

1927: The birth of actress and jazz singer Laura Betti

1947: The Porto della Ginestra Massacre

1957: The birth of film director Uberto Pasolini


24 April 2020

Giuseppe Marc’Antonio Baretti – author

Dramatic life of the ‘scourge’ of writers

A portrait of Giuseppe Baretti by the English  painter Joshua Reynolds
A portrait of Giuseppe Baretti by the English
painter Joshua Reynolds
Literary critic, poet, writer, translator and linguist Giuseppe Baretti was born on this day in 1719 in Turin, the capital city of Piedmont.

His life was often marred by controversies and he eventually had to leave Italy for England, where the drama in his life continued and he was tried at the Old Bailey for murder in 1769.

Baretti’s father had intended him to enter the legal profession but when he was 16 he fled from Turin to Guastalla in Emilia-Romagna where he worked in the import and export business.

His main interest was studying literature and criticism but, after he became an expert in the field himself, his writing was so controversial that he eventually had to move abroad.

Many students of Italian Literature are familiar with the name of Giuseppe Baretti as the writer, editor and proprietor of the fearlessly sarcastic periodical La frusta letteraria, which means 'Literary Scourge', in which he castigated bad authors.

For a few years Baretti wandered from country to country supporting himself by writing.

A Reynolds portrait of Samuel Johnson, the English writer who befriended Baretti
A Reynolds portrait of Samuel Johnson,
the English writer who befriended Baretti
He was the author of two influential dictionaries, a Dictionary and Grammar of the Italian Language and a Dictionary of the Spanish Language, as well as dissertations on Shakespeare and Voltaire.

Eventually he settled in London, where he was sometimes referred to as Joseph Baretti. He became Secretary of the Royal Academy of Arts and a friend of the writer Samuel Johnson and the actor and playwright David Garrick.

Baretti was a frequent visitor at the home of Hester Thrale, an author whose diaries have been a valuable source of information about both Johnson and 18th century contemporary life. Baretti’s name also occurs repeatedly in James Boswell’s Life of Samuel Johnson.

In 1769, Baretti was tried for murder after inflicting a mortal wound with a knife on a man who had assaulted him in the street. Johnson and other friends supported him and gave evidence in his favour at his trial, which resulted in his acquittal. Baretti could have been sentenced to death, but his actions were regarded as self-defence.

He later said he was extremely satisfied with the outcome of the trial and the support of his friends, which had made him ‘an Englishman forever’.

Baretti died in London in 1789 and was buried in Marylebone Chapel in the city.

The facade of the Palazzo Madama, which  was designed by Filippo Juvara
The facade of the Palazzo Madama, which
was designed by Filippo Juvara
Travel tip:

Turin, where Giuseppe Baretti was born, is the capital city of the region of Piedmont. It has some fine architecture that illustrates its rich history as the home of the Savoy Kings of Italy. Piazza Castello, with the royal palace, royal library and Palazzo Madama, which used to house the Italian senate, is at the heart of ‘royal’ Turin. The elegant Baroque Palazzo Madama, built in white stone, was designed by the architect Filippo Juvara.

The Piazza Mazzini is the beautiful main square of the town of Guastalla in Emilia-Romagna
The Piazza Mazzini is the beautiful main square of
the town of Guastalla in Emilia-Romagna
Travel tip:

Guastalla, where Baretti went to escape a legal career, is a town in the province of Reggio Emilia in the region of Emilia-Romagna. It lies on the banks of the Po River in the Po Valley, about 30 kilometres (19 miles) from the cities of Reggio Emilia, Parma and Mantua. In the 16th century Guastallo was the capital of  a duchy ruled by the Gonzaga family and it was visited by the artist Guercino and the writer Torquato Tasso. The town is the headquarters of SMEG, a manufacturer of high-design domestic appliances, which was founded there in 1948.

Also on this day:

1859: The birth of coffee maker Luigi Lavazza

1966: The birth of footballer Alessandro Costacurta

2010: The death of art collector Giuseppe Panza


20 April 2020

Pietro Aretino – writer

Satirist was both admired and feared by the nobility

Pietro Aretino, captured by his friend, the Venetian painter Titian in around 1545
Pietro Aretino, captured by his friend, the
Venetian painter Titian in around 1545
Poet, playwright and prose writer Pietro Aretino was born on this day in 1492 in Arezzo in Tuscany.

Aretino became famous for his satirical attacks on important figures in society and grew wealthy from the gifts he received from noblemen who feared being exposed by his powerful pen.

Although he was the son of an Arezzo shoemaker, he pretended to be the natural son of a nobleman and took his name from Arretium, the Roman name for Arezzo.

He moved to Perugia while still very young and lived the life of a painter, but in 1517 when he was in his early twenties, Aretino moved on to Rome, where he secured the patronage of the rich banker, Agostino Chigi.

When Pope Leo X's pet elephant, Hanno, died, Aretino wrote a satirical pamphlet, The Last Will and Testament of the Elephant Hanno, cleverly mocking the leading political and religious figures in Rome at the time. This established his fame as a satirist. He then wrote a series of viciously satirical lampoons supporting the candidacy of Giulio de’ Medici for the papacy. Giulio duly became Pope Clement VII in 1523.

Despite being supported by the Pope and his patron, Chigi, Aretino was finally forced to leave Rome because of writing a collection of ‘lewd sonnets’, sonetti lussuriosi, in 1524.

The painter Titian became a good friend
and supporter of Aretino
By 1527 Aretino had settled in Venice where he was admired but also feared by those in power and he received enough money to be able to live in a grand - albeit dissolute - style.

He became a close friend of the painter Titian and sold paintings on Titian’s behalf to Francis I, the King of France.

Titian’s portrait of Aretino, painted in around 1545, shows him wearing a gold chain that he had received as a gift from the King of France.

It is claimed Francis I of France and Charles V of Spain both paid him a pension at the same time, each hoping he would damage the reputation of the other.

Aretino wrote six volumes of letters that were published from 1537 onwards which reveal his cynicism and justify the name he gave to himself, ‘flagello dei principe’ - scourge of princes.

He was particularly vicious in his attack on Romans, not forgetting that they had forced him to move to Venice. In his Ragionamenti - Discussions - written between 1534 and 1536, Roman prostitutes reveal to each other the moral failings of many of the important men in the city and in his Dialogues, he examines the carnality and corruption among Romans at the time.

Aretino’s dramas present well observed pictures of lower-class life, free from the conventions that burdened other contemporary dramas. The best known is Cortigiana - The Courtesan - published in 1534, a lively and amusing insight into the life of the lower classes in Rome.

Aretino captured in another portrait  by Titian, painted in 1512
Aretino captured in another portrait
by Titian, painted in 1512
Aretino also wrote a tragedy, Orazia, published in 1546, which has been judged to be the best Italian tragedy written in the 16th century.

Pietro Aretino died in 1556 in Venice aged 64. It was claimed at the time that he either suffocated because he could not stop laughing, or fell backwards and hit his head while laughing.

He was buried in the Church of San Luca, which lies between St Mark’s Square and the Rialto bridge in Venice.

In 2007, the composer Michael Nyman set some of Aretino’s Sonetti lussoriosi to music under the title 8 Lust Songs. Aretino’s texts again caused controversy when the songs were performed in London in 2008 as the printed programmes containing extracts had to be withdrawn after there were allegations of obscenity.

The interior of the 13th century Basilica di San Francesco in Piazza San Francesco in the heart of Arezzo
The interior of the 13th century Basilica di San Francesco
in Piazza San Francesco in the heart of Arezzo
Travel tip:

Arezzo, where Pietro Aretino was born and acquired his surname, is an interesting old town in eastern Tuscany, which was used as the location for the 1997 film Life Is Beautiful. One of the scenes in the film took place in front of the Badia delle Sante Flora e Lucilla, a medieval abbey. Right in the centre of the town, the 13th century Basilica di San Francesco in Piazza San Francesco is the most famous sight in Arezzo and attracts many visitors as it contains Piero della Francesco’s cycle of frescoes, The Legend of the True Cross, painted between 1452 and 1466 and considered to be his finest work.

The church of San Luca in Venice, which can be found between Piazza San Marco and the Rialto bridge
The church of San Luca in Venice, which can be found
between Piazza San Marco and the Rialto bridge
Travel tip:

Pietro Aretino was buried in the Church of San Luca close to Salizzada San Luca in the St Mark’s sestiere of Venice. On his tombstone was the epitaph: ‘Here lies Aretino, poet Tosco, that everyone spoke poorly about, except Christ, who apologised saying: ‘I do not know him.’’ This inscription was later removed, either by the Inquisition, or during restoration work on the floor of the church in the 18th century. It is claimed many journalists, writers and non-believers used to visit the church looking for Aretino’s tomb. On either side of the altar there used to be paintings from the 16th century, in which Aretino was portrayed as part of the crowd. It has been claimed that the paintings were removed by one of the priests in the 19th century to discourage the interest and they have still not been put back.

Also on this day:

1317: The death of Sant’Agnese of Montepulciano

1949: The birth of Massimo D’Alema, Italy’s first Communist prime minister

1951: The death of anti-Fascist politician Ivanoe Bonomi