22 July 2017

Indro Montanelli – journalist

Veteran writer who cast a critical eye on Italian politics and society

Indro Montanelli, in the offices of Corriere della Sera, working
from an improvised chair made from a pile of books
A writer and journalist regarded as one of the greatest of 20th century Italy, Indro Montanelli, died on this day in 2001 in Milan.

The previous year he had been named as one of 50 World Press Freedom Heroes by the International Press Institute.

Montanelli had been a witness to many of the major events of the 20th century. He was in Danzig when Hitler rejected the ultimatum from Britain and France in September 1939. He was in the streets of Budapest in 1956 when Soviet tanks rolled in and he was shot in the legs by Red Brigades terrorists on an Italian street in 1977.

Montanelli was born Indro Alessandro Raffaello Scizogene Montanelli in 1909 at Fucecchio near Florence.

He studied for a law degree at the University of Florence in the early 1920s and began his journalistic career by writing for the Fascist newspaper, Il Selvaggio.

Montanelli in Ethiopia in 1936
Montanelli in Ethiopia in 1936
He then worked as a crime reporter for Paris Soir before serving as a volunteer with Italian troops in the Eritrean Battalion in Ethiopia - Abyssinia as it was then - where he wrote war reports which later formed the basis for the first of his 40 books. 

It was a book that honestly conveyed what Montanelli had seen, some of which caused him to change his mind about Benito Mussolini, the Fascist leader. It was a little too honest for the Fascist oligarchy, however, and, after his similarly objective reporting on the Spanish civil war did not meet with Fascist approval, his press accreditation was withdrawn.

Despite this, he continued to write, the Corriere della Sera getting around the ban on his working as a journalist by hiring him as a ‘collaborator’, in which capacity he sent back reports from Scandinavia and the Baltic States, the Balkans and Greece.

After witnessing the disastrous Italian invasion of Greece, Montanelli decided to join the partisan movement against the Fascist regime.

During the Nazi occupation of Italy he was arrested and narrowly avoided being executed. His reprieve was thanks to the intervention of some influential admirers who put pressure on the Germans.

His prison experiences inspired him to write a novel, Il Generale della Rovere, based on his meeting in prison with a German spy posing as an Allied military commander, which was later filmed by Roberto Rossellini and won the Venice Golden Lion in 1959.

Montanelli pictred in Milan in 1992
Montanelli pictred in Milan in 1992
After the war, Montanelli co-edited a magazine called Il Borghese, which tried to cater for what remained of right-wing cultural tastes in a country divided between the Communists and Christian Democrats.

His increasing anger at the Communists was to eventually win the approval of media magnate Silvio Berlusconi, who backed the right-leaning newspaper, Il Giornale, which Montanelli had founded in 1973 after breaking away from Corriere following a change in the paper's political direction.

Montanelli remained as the editor until 1994 when he fell out with Berlusconi after criticising his entry into politics.

The journalist was made a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic in 1995.

It was Gianni Agnelli, then proprietor, who persuaded Montanelli to return to Corriere, where he commented on prominent Italians in editorials and on a letter’s page entitled Montanelli’s Room.

He spent his last years vigorously opposing Silvio Berlusconi’s politics.

Montanelli also wrote a series of successful history books, including one about Rome, which became a regular textbook used in schools.

Towards the end of his life, Montanelli lived in an apartment overlooking Piazza Navona in Rome.

He died at the age of 92 after a prostate cancer operation at a clinic in Milan.

The day after his death, Corriere della Sera published a letter he had written on its front page, ‘Indro Montanelli’s farewell to his readers’.

The journalist had also left instructions for his ashes be placed in an urn above his mother’s tomb at Fucecchio.

Montanelli's reputation was tarnished by his admission that he bought a 12-year-old Ethiopian girl to be his wife during Mussolini’s campaign in Ethiopia, in common with other Italian soldiers, who took advantage of local laws that made such marriages legal. Asked about the marriage on a television interview in 1969, Montanelli refused to apologise. 

The house in Piazza Garibaldi in Fucecchio, near Florence, where Montanelli was born
The house in Piazza Garibaldi in Fucecchio, near
Florence, where Montanelli was born
Travel tip:

Fucecchio, where Indro Montanelli was born, is a municipality  of Florence. One of the major sights in the town is the Abbey of San Salvatore which was built in the upper part of Fucecchio in the 11th century. The town is mentioned frequently in the 1917 opera Gianni Schicchi by Giacomo Puccini.

Travel tip:

Indro Montanelli was among many distinguished Italian writers who worked for Corriere della Sera, a daily newspaper founded in 1876 in Milan. The newspaper’s headquarters have been in the same building in Via Solferino in the centre of Milan since the beginning of the 20th century.

21 July 2017

Suso Cecchi D'Amico - screenwriter

Woman who scripted many of Italy's greatest movies

Suso Cecchi D'Amico, pictured in 1999
Suso Cecchi D'Amico, pictured in 1999
Suso Cecchi D’Amico, the most accomplished and sought-after screenwriter in 20th century Italian cinema, was born on this day in 1914 in Rome.

She collaborated on the scripts of more than 100 films in a career spanning 60 years and worked with almost every Italian director of note, particularly the pioneers of neorealism, the movement in which she was a driving force.

The classic films in which she was involved are some of the greatest in cinema history, including  Vittorio De Sica's Bicycle Thieves (1948), William Wyler's Roman Holiday (1953), Mario Monicelli's I Soliti Ignoti (1958), which was released in the United States and Britain as Big Deal on Madonna Street, and Francesco Rosi's Salvatore Giuliano (1962).

She also worked with Michelangelo Antonioni on Le Amiche (The Girlfriends, 1955) and Franco Zeffirelli on Jesus of Nazareth (1977), but she was best known for her professional relationship with Luchino Visconti, for whom she was the major scriptwriter on almost all his films from Bellissima (1951) to The Innocent (1976), including his acclaimed masterpieces Rocco and His Brothers (1960) and Il Gattopardo - The Leopard (1963).

She was born Giovanna Cecchi in Rome. Just after her birth, her father named her Susannah, of which Suso is a Tuscan diminutive. Her mother, Leonetta Pieraccini, was a painter from a theatrical family in Tuscany, while her father, Emilio Cecchi, from Florence, was a journalist and literary critic. They lived for a while in Ariccia, in the Castelli Romani.

Anna Magnani and Luchino Visconti on the set of Bellissima, scripted by Cecchi D'Amico
Anna Magnani and Luchino Visconti on the set
of Bellissima, scripted by Cecchi D'Amico
For a few years in the early 1930s, her father had worked for Mussolini's government, running the state-backed film company, which brought her into contact with many prominent figures from the film industry and the theatre, including Italy's leading theatre critic, Silvio D'Amico, whose son, Fedele, would later become Cecchi’s husband.

Cecchi was educated in Switzerland and then at Cambridge University before her father pulled strings to find her a job in Mussolini's ministry of foreign trade, where she worked for seven years as a secretary and interpreter.

She left when she married, from which point she became known as Cecchi D’Amico, although it would have been difficult for her to continue to work for the Fascist government given Fedele’s politics.

Fedele was a prominent member of the Italian resistance during the Second World War and edited an anti-Fascist newspaper, which meant he had to go into hiding.

After the war, he was in poor health and went to Switzerland for treatment for tuberculosis. With three children to raise, Cecchi D’Amico was obliged to become the breadwinner. She helped her father translating English literary works into Italian, including Thomas Hardy's Jude the Obscure and Shakespeare plays, which in turn led her into writing scripts for the cinema. She and her father worked together, in fact, on her first film, in 1946.

In 1947 she worked on two films directed by Luigi Zampa -  Vivere in Pace (To Live in Peace) and L'Onorevole Angelina (roughly Angelina: Member of Parliament), the latter starring Anna Magnani, who she had met first during the filming of Roberto Rossellini’s Rome, Open City in 1945, in which she had peripheral involvement, and who became one of her closest friends.

Cecchi D'Amico with her husband, Fedele, in 1943
Cecchi D'Amico with her husband, Fedele, in 1943
In 1948 she was one of several scriptwriters who shared credits with De Sica and Cesare Zavattini on Bicycle Thieves, based on Luigi Bartolini's novel, which followed an impoverished man who searches for his stolen bicycle with his young son. It was Cecchi D’Amico who contributed the moving final scene in which, in a departure from the book’s ending, the man attempts to steal a replacement bicycle but is caught by the crowd and humiliated in front of his son, which leads them, as it happens, to form an even closer bond. She would later work with De Sica on another neorealist masterpiece, Miracle in Milan, in 1951.

She was invited to work on Roman Holiday after Wyler became aware Ben Hecht's original script, about a princess (Audrey Hepburn) who meets an American reporter (Gregory Peck) in Italy, failed to capture the real mood of 1950s Rome.

Cecchi D’Amico made her first film with Visconti in 1951, a satirical look at the film business entitled Bellisima, again starring Magnani. Subsequently she wrote or co-wrote all Visconti's films except two.

She was popular with directors because she was content to make creative suggestions and let them believe the ideas were their own. She had a special relationship, both professionally and in private, with Visconti, who generally conceived the outline of films himself but looked to Cecchi D’Amico for suggestions and advice.

The story of her life, Suso, aired
on Italian TV in 2007
She helped further the careers of many Italian stars. For instance, the comedy Big Deal on Madonna Street made a star of Marcello Mastroianni and gave Gina Lollobrigida her first significant part.

Cecchi D’Amico scripted several projects for Mario Monicelli. Indeed, her last work was on a Monicelli film, The Roses of the Desert (2006), a war movie set in Libya.

Given a lifetime achievement award at the Venice Film Festival in 1995, she explained that had there been more newspapers in the post-War years she might have been a journalist and that the neorealist movement was in essence another way in which she and others could write stories about the Italy they saw around them.

She died in Rome in 2010, having survived her husband by 20 years. Their three children have all made contributions to Italian cultural life - Silvia as a film producer, Caterina in directing the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia film school in Rome, and Masolino as a translator, critic and teacher.

Masolino's daughter, Margherita, interviewed her grandmother for the 1996 book Storie di Cinema (e d'Altro) – Stories About the Cinema (and Other Things), the closest Cecchi D’Amico came to an autobiography.  In 2007, a film about Cecchi D'Amico's life, entitled Suso, featuring conversations with Margherita and directed by the actor Luca Zingaretti was shown on Italian TV.

The Liceo Chateaubriand in Rome
The Liceo Chateaubriand in Rome
Travel tip:

Cecchi D’Amico went to school in Rome at the Liceo Chateaubriand on Via di Villa Ruffo, not far from Piazza del Popolo at the start of the fashionable Flaminio district, a chic residential area but also home to the Auditorium Parco della Musica, a venue designed by Renzo Piano, the Maxxi Museum of Modern Art and the Ponte della Musica, the modern foot and cycle bridge across the Tiber.

A stall at the Porta Portese market
A stall at the Porta Portese market 
Travel tip:

Many of the sights of Rome have been used for movie locations but some are less well known than others.  The exterior shots for Gregory Peck’s apartment in Roman Holiday were filmed in Via Margutta, a street not far from Piazza di Spagna and the Scalinata di Trinita dei Monti, otherwise known as the Spanish Steps, where Federico Fellini once lived.  Many of the scenes in Bicycle Thieves were shot around Porta Portese in Trastevere, which still hosts the largest Sunday market in Rome.

20 July 2017

Giorgio Morandi – painter

The greatest master of still life in the 20th century

Giorgio Morandi pictured in his studio in Bologna in 1953
Giorgio Morandi pictured in
his studio in Bologna in 1953
The artist Giorgio Morandi, who became famous for his atmospheric representations of still life, was born on the day in 1890 in Bologna.

Morandi’s paintings were appreciated for their tonal subtlety in depicting simple subjects, such as vases, bottles, bowls and flowers.

He studied at the Accademia di Belle Arti di Bologna and taught himself to etch by studying books on Rembrandt. Even though he lived his whole life in Bologna, he was deeply influenced by the work of Cézanne, Derain and Picasso.

In 1910 Morandi visited Florence, where the work of Giotto, Masaccio, Piero della Francesca and Paolo Uccello also impressed him.

Morandi was appointed as instructor of drawing for elementary schools in Bologna, a position he held from 1914 until 1929. He joined the army in 1915 but suffered a breakdown and had to be discharged.

During the war his paintings of still life became purer in form, in the manner of Cezanne. After a phase of experimenting with the metaphysical style of painting he began to focus on subtle gradations of hue and tone.

Morandi's 1956 painting Natura morta
Morandi became associated with a Fascist-influenced Futurist group in Bologna and was sympathetic to the Fascist Party in the 1920s, although he also had friendships with anti-Fascist figures, which led to him being arrested briefly.

He took part in the Venice Biennale exhibitions, in the Quadriennale in Rome and also exhibited his work in different cities.

He was professor of etching at Accademia di Belle Arti from 1930 until 1956 and was awarded first prize for painting by the 1948 Venice Biennale.

Morandi lived for most of his adult life in Via Fondazza in Bologna with his three sisters until his death from lung cancer in 1964.

He was buried at the Certosa cemetery in Bologna in the family tomb, which bears a portrait of him executed by his friend, the sculptor Giacomo Manzù.

During his life Morandi completed 1350 oil paintings and 133 etchings. He once explained: ’What interests me most is expressing what’s in nature, in the visible world, that is.’

A 1952 still life from Morandi
A 1952 still life from Morandi
Morandi is perceived as being one of the few Italian artists of his generation to remain detached from contemporary culture and politics and he is now regarded as one of the best modern Italian painters and the greatest master of still life in the 20th century.

His work has been discussed and written about by many art critics. Director Federico Fellini paid tribute to him in La Dolce Vita, which features his paintings, as does Michangelo Antonioni in La Notte.

The novelists Sarah Hall and Don DeLillo and the poet Ivor Cutler have all written about him. Barack Obama chose two oil paintings by Morandi, which are now part of the White House collection.

A Giorgio Morandi museum - the Museo Morandi - which includes a reconstruction of his studio, was opened in 1993 in Bologna.

Many famous photographers took images of him at his house or in his studio and the interior of his house has been filmed. In 2016 the American photographer Joel Meyerowitz published Morandi’s Object, a book containing his photographs of more than 260 objects that the painter had collected during his life.

Morandi's tomb at the Certosa di Bologna
Morandi's tomb at the Certosa di Bologna
Travel tip:

The Certosa di Bologna, where Morandi, is buried is a former Carthusian monastery founded in 1334 and suppressed in 1797, located just outside the walls of the city. In 1801 it became the city’s monumental cemetery and would later be praised by Byron in his writings. In 1869 an Etruscan necropolis was discovered there.

Travel tip:

The Museo Morandi, which displays a large collection of works by the painter, is being temporarily housed in the Museo d’Arte Moderna di Bologna, which is in Via Don Giovanni Minzoni in Bologna.

19 July 2017

Jacopo Tiepolo - Doge of Venice

Ruler laid down the law and granted land for beautiful churches

Jacopo Tiepolo was Doge of Venice for 20 years
Jacopo Tiepolo was Doge of Venice for 20 years
Jacopo Tiepolo, the Doge who granted the land for the building of Basilica di Santi Giovanni e Paolo and Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, died on this day in 1249 in Venice.

His election as Doge in 1229 had sparked a feud between the Tiepolo and Dandolo families, which led to the rules being changed for future elections. He also produced five books of statutes setting out Venetian law which was to change life in Venice significantly, bringing a raft of civil and economic regulations to which Venetians were obliged to adhere.

Tiepolo, who was also known as Giacomo Tiepolo, had previously served as the first Venetian Duke of Crete and had two terms as podestà – chief administrator - in Constantinople.

He acted as the de facto ruler of the Latin Empire, negotiating treaties with the Egyptians and the Turks.

Tiepolo was elected Doge, a month after his predecessor, Pietro Ziani, abdicated. At the election a stalemate was reached between Tiepolo and his rival, Marino Dandolo, both of them having 20 votes each. The contest was decided by drawing lots, which led to Tiepolo’s victory.

A feud then broke out between the Dandolo, who were an old Venetian aristocratic family, and the Tiepolo, who were seen as ‘new money’.

The Basilica of Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari was built on land granted by Doge Jacopo Tiepolo
The Basilica of Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari was
built on land granted by Doge Jacopo Tiepolo
In an attempt to prevent a split vote in the future, the number of electors was increased from 40 to 41. Tiepolo also had to sign a promissione, a document limiting his powers.

Tiepolo was married twice and had three children with his first wife and, after her death, two more with his second wife.

Relations between the republic of Venice and the Holy Roman Empire deteriorated during Tiepolo’s reign. Venice joined the Lombard League in 1239 and fought against Ezzelino III da Romano, a feudal lord of the Veneto who was a powerful ally of the Emperor, Frederick II.

One of the Doge’s sons, Pietro Tiepolo, was captured at the Battle of Cortenuova and taken to Frederick II’s castle in Trani, where he was hanged, making relations between the two powers even worse.

Tiepolo abdicated in 1249 and retired to live at his private residence in San Polo in Venice. He died on 19 July and was buried in the Church of San Zanipolo, for which he had given the land during his time as ruler of Venice.

The Doge's Palace was traditionally the seat of the  Government of Venice under the Doge
The Doge's Palace was traditionally the seat of the
Government of Venice under the Doge
Travel tip:

The Doge’s Palace was the seat of the Government of Venice and the home of the Doge from the early days of the republic. For centuries this was the only building in Venice entitled to the name palazzo. The others were merely called Cà, short for Casa. The current palazzo was built in the 12th century in Venetian Gothic style, one side looking out over the lagoon, the other side looking out over the piazzetta, the small square linking the large Piazza San Marco with the waterfront. It opened as a museum in 1923 and is now run by the Fondazione Musei Civici di Venezia.

The Basilica of Santi Giovanni e Paolo, where Jacopo Tiepolo was buried after he died soon after abdicating
The Basilica of Santi Giovanni e Paolo, where Jacopo
Tiepolo was buried after he died soon after abdicating
Travel tip:

The Basilica di Santi Giovanni e Paolo, known in Venice as San Zanipolo, is in the Campo Santi Giovanni e Paolo in the Castello district. The land was donated to the Dominicans by Tiepolo after he dreamt of a flock of white doves flying over it. One of the largest churches in Venice, it has the status of a minor basilica and a total of 25 of Venice’s Doges are buried there.