8 October 2018

Giulio Caccini - composer

16th century singer who helped create opera genre

Giulio Caccini was at the forefront
of a new musical movement
The singer and composer Giulio Caccini, who was a key figure in the advance of Baroque style in music and wrote musical dramas that would now be recognised as opera, was born on this day in 1551.

The father of the composer Francesca Caccini and the singer Settimia Caccini, he served for some years at the court of the Medici family in Florence, by whom he was also employed, as a somewhat unusual sideline, as a spy.

Caccini wrote the music for three operas and published two collections of songs and madrigals.  His songs for solo voice accompanied by one musical instrument gained him particular fame and he is remembered now for one particular song, a madrigal entitled Amarilli, mia bella, which is often sung by voice students.

Caccini is thought to have been born in Tivoli, just outside Rome, the son of a carpenter, Michelangelo Caccini, from Montopoli, near Pisa.  His younger brother, Giovanni, became a sculptor and architect in Florence.

He developed his voice as a boy soprano in the prestigious Cappella Giulia at St. Peter’s basilica in Rome, studying under maestro di cappella Giovanni Animuccia.  Subsequently, he was invited to Florence by Prince Francesco de’ Medici to perform at his wedding to Johanna of Austria.

The title page of Caccini's collection Le Nuove Musiche, published in 1601
The title page of Caccini's collection
Le Nuove Musiche, published in 1601
Caccini would for the most part remain in Florence for the rest of his life.  By the late 1570s, he was established as a tenor in the Medici court and accompany himself on the viol or the archlute. He took part in the elaborate musical, dramatic, visual spectacles known as intermedi that were the precursors of opera.

He became part of a movement of humanists, writers, musicians and scholars known as the Florentine Camerata, which was dedicated to restoring public appreciation of ancient Greek dramatic music. It was the Camerata who developed the new concept of monody—an emotionally affective solo vocal line, accompanied by relatively simple chordal harmony on one or more instruments.

Caccini became a teacher as well as a singer and composer, training dozens of musicians to sing in the new style, including the castrato Giovanni Gualberto Magli, who sang in the first production of Monteverdi's first opera Orfeo.

He also acquired a reputation as a man driven by jealousy, envy and greed. To advance his position within the Medici court, for example, he spied on behalf of Pietro de’ Medici on Pietro’s wife, Eleonora di Garzia da Toledo, and uncovered an affair, which led an enraged Pietro to murder his wife and have her lover killed.

In 1584, he married another singer, Lucia di Filippo Gagnolanti, with whom he had his two daughters, Francesca and Settimia.

Pietro de' Medici, the prince who employed Caccini to spy on his unfaithful wife
Pietro de' Medici, the prince who employed
Caccini to spy on his unfaithful wife
Caccini helped create musical entertainments for the weddings of two Medicis in the late 1580s.  In the first, the marriage of Virginia de’ Medici and Cesare d’Este in 1586, and of Grand Duke Ferdinando I de’ Medici and Christine of Lorraine in 1589.

He continued to be employed by Ferdinando until he lost his job in 1593 after a fight with one of his students. His wife, Lucia, died in the same year.

Caccini was known for his intense rivalry with fellow composers Emilio de' Cavalieri and Jacopo Peri. There are suspicions that it was Caccini who arranged for a furious Cavalieri to be removed from his post as director of festivities for the wedding of Henry IV of France and Maria de' Medici in 1600, while in response to hearing that Peri was working on a opera production of Euridice, based on the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, he hurriedly wrote his own version of the same story and ordered the singers under his charge to have nothing to do with Peri's production.

By around 1603, Caccini had established a singing group consisting of his daughters Francesca and Settimia, his illegitimate son Pompeo, and his second wife, Margherita di Agostino Benevoli della Scala. The group became very famous and, in 1604, were invited to France by Maria de' Medici.  Francesca was offered a position at the French court but could not accept because of the Florentine court’s refusal to release her.

After his return to Florence, Caccini continued  to write music for court celebrations, especially weddings, while trying to find husbands for his daughters.

In the last years of his life, Caccini was in trouble again in 1615 for fighting with the son of a famed singer and was placed under house arrest. Thereafter his health began to decline and he died in December 1618. He is buried in the Basilica of Santissima Annunziata in Florence.

The Arch of Castruccio and the Tower of San Matteo, in the background, are echoes of Montopoli Val d'Arno's history
The Arch of Castruccio and the Tower of San Matteo, in the
background, are echoes of Montopoli Val d'Arno's history
Travel tip:

Montopoli Val D’Arno, where Caccini’s father was born, is a small town on the banks of the Arno river about 40km (25 miles) southwest of Florence and about 30km (19 miles) east of Pisa, roughly halfway between Florence and the mouth of the Arno at Marina di Pisa. It is a town largely of medieval origins, which was regular fought over by Lucca, Pisa and Florence because of its strategic position. The remains of a fortress, the best preserved of which are the Tower of San Matteo and the Arch of Castruccio are worth a visit.  The area is blessed with a beautiful landscape and an economy based culture based on agriculture, arts and crafts and other traditional industries of Tuscany.

Giovanni Caccini's facade of the church of Santissima Annunziata
Giovanni Caccini's facade of the church of Santissima Annunziata
Travel tip:

The Basilica della Santissima Annunziata, where Caccini is buried, is a Renaissance-style minor basilica in Florence, located on the square of the same name, just over a kilometre’s walk north of the Piazza della Signoria. Built between 1469 and 1481 on the site of a pre-existing church by Leon Battista Alberti, it was refurbished in Baroque-style in the 17th century. The facade of the church, of semi-circular arches mounted on columns, was added in 1601 by Giulio Caccini’s brother, Giovanni, imitating the Renaissance-style of Brunelleschi's facade of the Foundling Hospital.

More reading:

Francesca Caccini and the oldest surviving opera composed by a woman

How Jacopo Peri gave the world its first opera

The Medici daughter who became the queen of France

Also on this day:

1881: The birth of Vincenzo Peruggia - the thief who stole the Mona Lisa

1957: The birth of footballer Antonio Cabrini


7 October 2018

Gabriele Corcos - celebrity cook

YouTube recipe blog led to TV fame in US

Gabriele Corcos and his wife, the actress Debi Mazar, in a scene from their TV show
Gabriele Corcos and his wife, the actress Debi
Mazar, in a scene from their TV show
The TV cook and author Gabriele Corcos, whose show Extra Virgin on the Cooking Channel has given him celebrity status in the United States, was born on this day in 1972 in Fiesole, a town in the Tuscan hills just outside Florence.

He was invited to produce and host the show - the first original cookery programme to go out on the network when it launched in 2010 - after his YouTube channel, in which he prepared traditional Tuscan dishes, attracted a large following of devoted fans.

The Cooking Channel show was so successful it ran for five seasons, with 68 episodes, spawning a best-selling book of Tuscan recipes and a further show, Extra Virgin Americana, in which he starred with his wife, the actress Debi Mazar.

Corcos became a star of the kitchen without ever intending it to be his career.

His parents - his father was a surgeon, his mother a schoolteacher - wanted him to achieve his academic potential, while he was eager to find paid employment. He found a compromise by joining the army with the intention of qualifying as a medic, only to realise that the reward for graduating was to be posted to Kosovo, Somalia or Iraq.

Corcos, Mazar and one of their daughters in action in their TV kitchen
Corcos, Mazar and one of their daughters
in action in their TV kitchen
Horrified at the prospect of active service, he abandoned his studies and decided instead to devote himself to his great love, music. Raising money by selling his treasured Ducati motorcycle, he decided to go to Brazil to learn to play the drums.

Everything changed again when, during a trip home, he met his future wife, who at the time was working with the pop megastar Madonna on make-up and dramatic presentation during a tour of Italy.   Within a short time, he had decided to travel back with Debi  to Los Angeles to start a new life in America. They married the following year, in 2002.

It was when he was forced to consider how he might make a living that he realised the thing he knew most about was cooking, having been brought up in the family farmhouse in the Tuscan hills, where the stove was always lit. His grandmother was preparing food almost constantly for the farmers and hunters and members of their families who would drop in most days.

Gabriele learned the basics of cooking when he was only six or seven years old and by the time he left home knew how to cook scores of Italian dishes. Noting how few Italian restaurants in the Los Angeles area served Italian food as he knew it, and struck upon the idea of demonstrating the recipes he had grown up with on his own YouTube channel, with his wife, Debi, as his companion in the kitchen.

Gabriele Corcos is active in helping food charities
Gabriele Corcos is active in helping food charities
Corcos boosted his knowledge while in Los Angeles by working in the kitchens of noted chefs such as Gino Angelini.

He never imagined his YouTube channel would be popular but soon the couple were receiving hundreds of emails congratulating them on their project and were encouraged to continue. The channel eventually ran for about five years.

Now based in Brooklyn, New York, Corcos has participated in both the Food Network New York City and Food Network South Beach Wine and Food Festivals since 2011 as a celebrity chef.

He has become involved too with food charities. While making an appearance on Food Network channel's Chopped in April 2013, he competed on behalf of the charity Feeding America and in 2013, Corcos and his family participated in the Live Below the Line Challenge, in which the family tried to feed themselves on $1.50 each per day, which is the equivalent of the poverty line in America.

In 2014, Corcos became a council member of the Food Bank For New York City and hosted a pop-up dinner series in 2014 where a large portion of the proceeds benefited the Food Bank.

Although married to an American and with two daughters born in the United States, Corcos still hankers after a return to Fiesole and the family farm, surrounded by vines and olive trees and hopes that the Food Network’s availability on Italian television may lead to opportunities to work in Italy.

Fiesole offers panoramic views across Florence
Fiesole offers panoramic views across Florence
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.

A typical landscape in Tuscany's Chianti region
A typical landscape in Tuscany's Chianti region
Travel tip:

The Tuscany countryside tends to be associated with Chianti country, the wine-growing area known and appreciated by visitors from across the world. It by no means occupies the whole of the region, although it is a large area.  The borders are not clearly defined but in general it extends over the provinces of Florence and Siena, covering all of the area in between, extending to the east toward the Valdarno and to the west to the Val d'Elsa. It is further defined as Chianti Fiorentino, which includes towns such as Barberino Val d’Elsa, Greve in Chianti, San Casciano in Val di Pesa and Tavarnelle in Val di Pesa, and Chianti Sienese, which includes Radda, Gaiole, Castellina and Castelnuovo Berardenga.

More reading:

How Gino D'Acampo rebuilt his life to become a star cook and TV presenter

The chef from Riccione and his American dream

Gennaro Contaldo's passion for Amalfi

Also on this day:

The Feast of Saint Giustina of Padua

1675: The birth of famed Venetian portrait painter Rosalba Carriera


6 October 2018

Ottavio Bianchi - football coach

The northerner who steered Napoli to first scudetto

Ottavio Bianchi was Napoli's coach for
four seasons from 1985 to 1989
Ottavio Bianchi, the coach who guided Napoli to their first Serie A title in the Italian football championship, was born on this day in 1943 in the northern Italian city of Brescia.

Napoli, who had been runners-up four times in Italy's elite league, broke their duck by winning the scudetto in the 1986-87 season, when Bianchi built his side around the forward line consisting initially of the World Cup-winning Argentina star Diego Maradona, the Italy strikers Bruno Giordano and Andrea Carnevale.  After the arrival of the Brazilian forward Careca to partner Maradona and Giordano, the trio become collectively known as MaGiCa

Bianchi’s team began the 1986-87 season with a 13-match unbeaten run. It came to an end with an away defeat against Fiorentina but Napoli lost only two more matches all season, winning the title by three points from Juventus to spark wild celebrations in Naples.

It is a reflection of how defensively-minded Italian football coaches were at the time that Napoli won the title despite scoring only 41 goals in 30 matches, with Maradona (10) the only individual player to reach double figures.

Bianchi, a midfielder, spent five years  with Napoli as a player
Bianchi, a midfielder, spent five years
 with Napoli as a player
Bianchi’s team also won the Coppa Italia in 1987 and, after finishing second in Serie A in 1987-88, the UEFA Cup in 1989, which is the club’s only European trophy so far.

Napoli won the Serie A title for a second time in 1989-90 but by then Bianchi had left to become coach of AS Roma.

Bianchi was born in the Borgo Trento area of Brescia, a city in Lombardy about 90km (56 miles) east of Milan, about halfway between the lakes of Iseo and Garda.

He joined the Brescia youth system and worked his way through the ranks to make his debut in the senior side in the Serie A in 1965.

A midfielder, he went on to enjoy an 18-year career in which me made 330 league appearances for six clubs, a third of which were in the colours of Napoli during a five-season spell at the Stadio San Paolo, as well as winning two caps for the Italy national team.

In addition, Bianchi had stints with Atalanta, AC Milan and Cagliari and finished his playing career with Ferrara-based SPAL.

Bianchi began his coaching career at lower division clubs such as Siena, Mantova, Triestina and Atalanta, where he won the Serie C1 championship.

Ottavio Bianchi, front row, centre, with his 1986-87 Serie A title-winning Napoli squad
Ottavio Bianchi, front row, centre, with his 1986-87
Serie A title-winning Napoli squad
He moved south for the first time in 1983-84 when he accepted an offer from Avellino, with whom he finished in 11th place in the Serie A. From there he returned to the north and newly-promoted Como where again he managed to reach a mid-table position.

The chance to join Napoli came a year after the arrival of Maradona, who was then in his early 20s and reaching his physical peak. The young South American, who had cost £6.9 million (15.87 billion lire) - at the time a world record fee - from Barcelona, had made an immediate impact, scoring 14 goals in his debut season as Napoli finished eighth in the Serie A table.

Bianchi’s success made him a coach in demand.  After four seasons, he moved to Roma, where he again won the Coppa Italia, and reached the final of the UEFA Cup, where they were beaten by domestic rivals Inter-Milan.

The fabled MaGiCa forward line - Diego Maradona (right), Bruno Giordano (left) and Careca (centre)
The fabled MaGiCa forward line - Diego Maradona (right),
Bruno Giordano (left) and Careca (centre)
Then came a return to Napoli in 1992 to replace Claudio Ranieri. Again he was successful, managing to transform a relegation-threatened team into one challenging for a UEFA Cup place. He remained as technical director, with Marcello Lippi as coach, but the lost important players such as Gianfranco Zola, Careca and Giovanni Galli due to financial difficulties as the club’s fortunes began to wane.

The following season Bianchi returned to the bench as coach of Inter-Milan. But he was not able to generate the success the Milan club had hoped for and he lost his job there in 1995, ironically sacked after a defeat against Napoli.

Since then, apart from a brief spell as Fiorentina’s coach in 2002, Bianchi’s involvement with football has been limited. He lives in Bergamo, which he made his home during his time with Atalanta, the city’s team, and confines his football watching largely to matches on TV.

The Piazza della Loggia, with the Torre dell'Orologio, is at the centre of the historic city of Brescia
The Piazza della Loggia, with the Torre dell'Orologio, is
at the centre of the historic city of Brescia
Travel tip:

The city of Brescia tends not to attract many tourists compared with nearby Bergamo or Verona, partly because of the counter-attraction of the lakes.  Yet it has plenty of history, going back to Roman times, and many points of interest, including two cathedrals – the unusually-shaped Duomo Vecchio and its neighbour, the Duomo Nuovo – and the attractive Piazza della Loggia, with a Renaissance palace, the Palazzo della Loggia, which is the town’s municipal centre.  The Torre dell’Orologio clock tower bears similarities to the one in St Mark’s Square in Venice, a reflection of the town becoming a protectorate of Venice in the 15th century.

Napoli's Stadio San Paolo has a capacity of more than 60,000, making it Italy's third largest football ground
Napoli's Stadio San Paolo has a capacity of more than
60,000, making it Italy's third largest football ground
Travel tip:

The home of SSC Napoli is the Stadio San Paolo, built in the Fuorigrotta neighbourhood on the north side of the city and completed in 1959, more than 10 years after work began.  It is the third largest football ground in Italy with a capacity of 60,240, and hosted the 1990 World Cup semi-final between Italy and Argentina. The local council wanted to rename the ground Stadio Diego Maradona but Italian law prohibits the naming of a public building after any person who has not been dead at least 10 years.

More reading:

Gianfranco Zola, the Napoli favourite who became a great in England

Walter Mazzarri and the return of fallen giants Napoli

How Marcello Lippi won the World Cup in Germany

Also on this day:

1888: The birth of wartime nurse Saint Maria Bertilla Boscardin

1935: The birth of champion wrestler Bruno Sammartino


5 October 2018

Alberto Sughi - painter

20th century artist who was unwitting victim of plagiarism

Alberto Sughi's work was copied by a Japanese artist who had visited his studio in Cesena
Alberto Sughi's work was copied by a Japanese artist
who had visited his studio in Cesena
The artist Alberto Sughi, an acclaimed  20th century painter whose style was defined as “existential realism”, was born on this day in 1928 in Cesena in Emilia-Romagna.

Sughi was regarded as one of the greatest artists of his generation but is often remembered mainly for his unwitting part in a famous case of plagiarism.

It happened in 2006 when a Japanese painter, Yoshihiko Wada, was awarded the prestigious Art Encouragement Prize, the Japanese equivalent of the Turner Prize, for a series of paintings depicted urban life in Italy - one of Sughi’s specialities.

A month after the award was announced in March of that year, the Japan Artists Association and Agency for Cultural Affairs received an anonymous tip-off questioning the authenticity of Wada's work, which then sparked an investigation into possible plagiarism.

The anonymous accuser had noted that several pieces of Wada’s art in an exhibition before the award was decided bore striking similarities to paintings by Sughi. Two examples were Wada’s Boshi-zo (Mother and Child), which looked almost exactly like Sughi’s Virgo Laurentana, even in tiny details, and Wada’s Muso (Reverie), which appeared to be a near-identical copy of Sughi’s Piano Bar Italia.

One of the paintings Wada passed off as his own was one of  Sughi's many works depicting women in bars
One of the paintings Wada passed off as his own was one of
Sughi's many works depicting women in bars
Wada initially denied plagiarism. He claimed he he had known Sughi since he studied in Italy in the 1970s, and had been influenced by him while studying with him.

Later, Wada changed his story, saying he had painted with Sughi "in collaboration" and therefore the paintings were not plagiarised. He described his own paintings as "an homage to Sughi".

However, when contacted by the Japanese embassy in Italy in early May, Sughi denied the pair had worked together and said he was unaware Wada was even an artist. According to Sughi, Wada had introduced himself merely as a fan and had visited him as many as five times, always asking if he could photograph his work.

Subsequently, Japan’s Agency for Cultural Affairs took the decision to strip Wada of the award, the first time such a decision had been taken since the Art Encouragement Prize was inaugurated in 1950.  Sughi considered suing but later revealed he had received a visit from Wada shortly before the decision to disqualify him was announced, after which he had concluded that the shame he would suffer was punishment enough.

Sughi painted a number of works in which his theme was the relationship between man and nature
Sughi painted a number of works in which his theme was
the relationship between man and nature
Self-taught, Sughi began drawing before he could write, inspired by an uncle who painted as a hobby. He worked as an illustrator for the newspaper Gazzetta del Popolo in Turin in the 1940s and began to paint at the same time, choosing the realism of figurative art over the abstract styles that were fashionable. His paintings often depicted moments from daily life, with no attempt to moralise.

It was a visit to the Venice Biennale in 1948, where he was captivated by a still life by the French painter André Fougeron, that did most to influence the style he favoured. Later that year, Sughi moved to Rome where he remained until 1951. There he met several artists, including Marcello Muccini and Renzo Vespignani who were part of the Gruppo di Portonaccio, an affiliation of like-minded painters who would meet and work in Portonaccio, a poor, industrialised suburb.

He returned to Cesena, where he would be based until the early 1970s, when he left his studio in the city for a country house in the hills.

Sughi was still active as a painter well into his eighth decade of life
Sughi was still active as a painter well into
his eighth decade of life
Sughi’s work followed thematic cycles, beginning with his so-called 'green paintings', which examined the relationship between man and nature (1971–1973), followed by the Cena - Supper - cycle (1975–1976), in which his focus was on bourgeois society. This preceded Imagination and Memory of the Family, dating from the early 1980s, and Evening or Reflection, from 1985.  In 2000 he exhibited a series of large canvases entitled Nocturnal.

The director Ettore Scola chose as poster for his 1980 film La terrazza one of Sughi’s paintings from his Cena series.

Sughi’s standing in the art world was such that galleries and museums not only in Italy but in Russia and South America staged regular exhibitions of his work.

Between December 2005 and January 2006, a large retrospective exhibition of Sughi’s work was held at the Palazzo della Pilotta in Parma, containing 642 of his works, including paintings, tempera, drawings, and lithographs, made between 1959 and 2004.

Sughi died in Bologna in March 2012 at the age of 83.  Today, his works are held in the collections of the Hungarian National Gallery in Budapest, the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, and the Galleria d’Arte Maggiore in Bologna, among others.

The Piazza del Popolo is the main square of Cesena
The Piazza del Popolo is the main square of Cesena
Travel tip:

Cesena, where Alberto Sughi was born, is an historic city in Emilia-Romagna, about 38km (24 miles) south of Ravenna and a similar distance northwest of Rimini. The city found fame of an unwanted kind in 1377 when Pope Gregory’s legate ordered the murder of thousands of citizens for revolting against the papal troops, in the so-called ‘Cesena bloodbath’. The city recovered and prospered under the rule of the Malatesta family in the 14th and 15th centuries, who rebuilt the castle, Rocca Malatestiana, and founded a beautiful library, Biblioteca Malatestiana, which has been preserved in its 15th century condition and still holds valuable manuscripts.

A pair of giant hands reaching from the water to prop up the Ca' Sagredo Hotel was an exhibit at the 2017 Venice Biennale
A pair of giant hands reaching from the water to prop up the
Ca' Sagredo Hotel was an exhibit at the 2017 Venice Biennale
Travel tip:

The Venice Biennale is an international art exhibition featuring architecture, visual arts, cinema, dance, music, and theatre that is held at various venues in the Castello district of Venice every two years during the summer. It was founded in 1895 as the International Exhibition of Art of the City of Venice to promote “the most noble activities of the modern spirit without distinction of country.” The festival expanded in 1932 to include the Venice International Film Festival and again in 1934 with the addition of the International Theatre Festival. After World War II it became the leading showcase for contemporary and avant-garde art and in 1998 it expanded again to include architecture and dance. It typically attracts more than 300,000 visitors to the city.

More reading:

Giorgio Morandi - the 20th century master of still life

How Giorgio de Chirico founded the scuola metafisica

The man who invented Concrete Art

Also on this day:

1658: The birth of Mary of Modena

1712: The birth of the great Venetian artist Francesco Guardi