3 May 2019

Francesco Algarotti - writer and art collector

Francesco Algarotti was a man of many talents with a colorful love life
Francesco Algarotti was a man of many talents
with a colorful love life

Philosopher and polymath with a playboy lifestyle


The multi-talented writer, philosopher and art connoisseur Francesco Algarotti, one of the most prominent and colourful individuals in 18th century intellectual society, died in this day in 1764 in Pisa.

Algarotti, who wrote many essays and a number of books, was something of a polymath in his breadth of knowledge on a wide number of subjects, including architecture and music as well as art. He was also a charismatic figure who became friends with most of the leading authors of his day, including Voltaire, Jean-Baptiste de Boyer, Marquis d'Argens and Pierre-Louis de Maupertuis.

His urbane manner and suave good looks, combined with his considerable intellect, led him to acquire admirers of both sexes. Indeed, at one time he is said to have found himself at the centre of a colourful bisexual love triangle involving John Hervey, the English peer and politician, and Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, the aristocratic travel writer, who became infatuated with Algarotti at the same time as Hervey, her one-time lover.

Algarotti was often engaged by the courts of European monarchs to acquire or commission paintings and other decorative artworks, or to advise on architectural projects, but also amassed a considerable collection of his own.  He commissioned works by Tiepolo, Pittoni, Piazzetta, Castiglione, Panini and Balestra among others, while helping to further the careers of Giuseppe Nogari, Bernardo Bellotto and Francesco Pavona.

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu is said to have become infatuated with Algarotti
Lady Mary Wortley Montagu is said to have
become infatuated with Algarotti
Giovanni Paolo Panini’s famous view of the interior of the Pantheon in Rome, painted in around 1734, was commissioned by Algarotti.

One painting thought to have been in his collection, Sebastiano Ricci’s Vision of St Bruno, sold at auction in the United States for $500,000 after turning up in a warehouse in Texas in 2008.

Algarotti was born in Venice in 1712. His father, a wealthy merchant, was an art collector and it was expected he would join his older brother, Bonomo, in the family business.

Instead, he went Rome to for a year, and then studied natural sciences and mathematics at Bologna and Florence. At age of 20, he went to Paris, where he became friendly with Voltaire and, in 1737, published Newtonianesimo per le dame, ovvero Dialoghi sopra la luce e i colori (Newtonianism for Ladies, or Dialogues on Light and Colour), a work on Newtonian optics, in which he had a particular expertise.

He spent time in London, where he met Lord Hervey, who would later become Lord Privy Seal in the government led by Robert Walpole. Hervey, who is known to have had many affairs with both men and women, was drawn towards his sophistication and physical attractiveness, but at the same time Algarotti attracted the attention of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, who became so enamoured of him that she left her husband and proposed that they live together in Italy.

Algarotti's tomb, paid for by Frederick the Great, at Campo Santo in Pisa
Algarotti's tomb, paid for by Frederick
the Great, at Campo Santo in Pisa
The relationship came to nothing, however, after Algarotti received an invitation to go to Berlin from Frederick the Great of Prussia, and stayed there for more than nine years as court chamberlain.

A member of the Royal Society, Algarotti was popular in many European courts. Frederick the Great made him a Prussian count.  Augustus III of Poland also honored him with the title of Councillor.

In 1754, he returned to Italy, living in Bologna, Venice and then Pisa, where he died from tuberculosis ten years later at the age of 51. In his memory, Frederick the Great erected a monument to him on the Campo Santo in Pisa.

Algarotti's writings include several studies on classical themes and a series of treatises on language, opera, architecture, the poet Horace, painting and on influences on national character. He is credited with introducing the genre of essay-writing into Italy.

His 1745 book Il congresso di Citera, which was published in English as The Modern Art of Love, was a lighthearted comparison of English, French, and Italian attitudes toward love.

Panini's painting of the interior of  The Pantheon in Rome
Panini's painting of the interior of
The Pantheon in Rome
Travel tip:

The Pantheon in Piazza della Rotonda in Rome is considered to be Rome’s best preserved ancient building. It was built in AD 118 on the site of a previous building dating back to 27 BC. It was consecrated as a church in the seventh century and many important people are buried there, including Victor Emmanuel II, his son, Umberto I, and his wife, Queen Margherita.  It was as much a tourist attraction in Panini’s day as it is today and Panini manipulated the proportions and perspective to include more of the interior that is actually visible from any one vantage point.


The Campo Santo is part of the Piazza dei Miracoli complex, the most famous landmark of which is the Leaning Tower
The Campo Santo is part of the Piazza dei Miracoli complex,
the most famous landmark of which is the Leaning Tower
Travel tip:

The Campo Santo, also known as Camposanto Monumentale, is a huge oblong Gothic cloister at the northern edge of the Piazza dei Miracoli in Pisa. Designed by Giovanni di Simone, who began work on it in 1278, it was the fourth and final structure erected in the piazza, following the cathedral, the baptistery and the campanile - the leaning tower. It is thought the building was not meant to be a cemetery, but a church called Santissima Trinità (Most Holy Trinity), but the project changed during construction.  It is called Campo Santo, which literally means ‘holy field’, because it is said to have been built on sacred soil from Calvary, or Golgotha, the site outside the walls of Jerusalem where the Gospels say Christ was crucified, which had been brought back to Pisa from the Third Crusade by Ubaldo Lanfranchi, archbishop of Pisa.


More reading:

Panini's eye for capturing scenes of Rome

Tiepolo's legacy to Venice

How 18th century Venetian playwright Carlo Goldoni reinvigorated commedia dell'arte

Also on this day:

1461: The birth of patron of the arts Cardinal Raffaele Riario

1469: The birth of statesman and diplomat Niccolò Machiavelli

1815: Austria defeats Napoleon's troops at the Battle of Tolentino


Home


2 May 2019

2 May

Marco Pannella - campaigning politician


Radical voice who helped modernise Italian society

The Radical politician Marco Pannella, whose relentless campaigning on civil rights and other issues helped transform modern Italian society, was born on this day in 1930 in Teramo in Abruzzo.  Pannella’s party won only a 3.4 per cent share of vote in the most successful election he fought yet he forced referendums to be held on divorce, abortion, the abolition of nuclear power, the public funding of political parties and many other issues, many of which led to changes in the law.  He was so passionate about the causes for which he campaigned he regularly staged hunger strikes to demonstrate his commitment and to attract publicity.  In 1970, for example, he went 78 days without food, allowing himself to consume only vitamin pills and three cups of coffee per day, losing 27 kilos (60lb) in weight before parliament agreed to hold a debate over the divorce laws.  Read more…

_________________________________________________________________

Pietro Frua - car designer


Built business from a bombed-out factory

The car designer and coachbuilder Pietro Frua, who built some of Italy’s most beautiful cars without achieving the fame of the likes of Giovanni Bertone or Battista “Pinin” Farina, was born on this day in 1913 in Turin.  He is particularly remembered for his work with Maserati, for whom he designed the A6G and the Mistral among other models.  The son of a Fiat employee, Pietro was an apprentice draftsman with Fiat and from the age of 17 worked alongside Battista Farina for his brother, Giovanni Farina. He became director of styling for Stabilimenti Farina at the age of just 22. In 1944, Frua bought a bombed-out factory building, restored it to serviceable order and hired 15 workers to help him launch his own business.  The first car he designed in his own studio was the soft-top Fiat 1100C sports car in 1946.  In 1955 he was approached by Maserati for the first time.  Read more…

_________________________________________________________________

Alessandro Scarlatti - composer


Prolific opera composer was ahead of his time

Baroque composer Alessandro Scarlatti was born on this day in 1660 in Palermo.  He is considered to be the founder of the Neapolitan School of opera, from which modern opera developed, and his two sons, Domenico and Pietro Filippo, also went on to become composers.  When his opera Gli equivoci nel sembiante was produced in Rome he gained the support of Queen Christina of Sweden, an enthusiastic patron of the arts who had taken up residence there. He became her maestro di cappella and joined the Arcadian Academy she had founded.  Along with composers Bernardo Pasquini and Arcangelo Corelli, he regularly visited her home to perform music he had dedicated to her.  In 1684 Scarlatti became maestro di cappella to the royal family in Naples. Scarlatti also enjoyed the patronage of Ferdinando dè Medici and composed operas for his private theatre near Florence.  Read more...

Home

1 May 2019

1 May

Uberto Pasolini - film producer and director


Roman count who found unexpected fame with The Full Monty

The film director and producer Uberto Pasolini, who gained international recognition when his British comedy The Full Monty became a one of UK cinema’s biggest commercial success stories in 1997, was born on this day in 1957 in Rome.  A nephew of the great Italian director Luchino Visconti, Pasolini worked for 12 years as an investment banker in England before following his dream to work in the film industry, abandoning his career to work, initially without pay, on the set of the David Puttnam-Roland Joffé film, The Killing Fields, in Thailand.  He set up his own company in London in 1994 and went on to direct some of his own productions, including the critically acclaimed 2008 movie Machan, based on a true story about a group of would-be immigrants from Sri Lanka who overcome visa problems stopping them from moving to the West by pretending to be their country’s national handball team.  Read more…

________________________________________________________________

The Portella della Ginestra Massacre


Conspiracy theories behind murder of peasants

Sicily and the whole of Italy was horrified on this day in 1947 when gunmen opened fire on defenceless peasants gathered for a Labour Day celebration in the hills above Palermo, killing 11 and wounding more than 30 in what became known as the Portella della Ginestra Massacre.  The victims included four children between the ages of seven and 15, who were cut down indiscriminately by a gang of men, some on horseback, who appeared suddenly and began firing machine guns as the peasants, numbering several hundred, congregated on a plain along a remote mountain pass between the towns of Piana degli Albanesi and San Giuseppe Jato, where a Labour Day rally had taken place every year since 1893.  Salvatore Giuliano, an outlaw wanted in connection with the killing of a police officer in 1943, was held responsible although many people believed that Giuliano and his gang of bandits were set up as scapegoats in a conspiracy involving the Mafia, wealthy landowners and politicians.  Read more…

___________________________________________________________________

Laura Betti - actress and jazz singer


Long-time companion of director Pier Paolo Pasolini

The actress and singer Laura Betti, who appeared in a number of important Italian films in the 1960s and 1970s, including Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita, Bernardo Bertolucci’s Novecento and Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Teorema, was born on this day in 1927 in Casalecchio di Reno, in Emilia-Romagna.  In addition to Teorema, which won her the coveted Volpi Cup for best actress at the 1968 Venice Film Festival, Betti appeared in six other Pasolini films as the two developed a special and unlikely relationship.  Betti, a vivacious blonde with striking good looks, had no shortage of suitors among the authors, artists, singers and aspiring actors that made up her circle in Rome in the 1950s, but Pasolini was homosexual and had no interest in her in a romantic sense.  Yet he became a regular guest at her apartment near the Palazzo Farnese and she wrote many years later that a kind of love developed between them. Read more… 

__________________________________________________________________

Giovanni Guareschi – writer


Satirical magazine editor who created Don Camillo 

Author Giovanni Guareschi, the creator of the fictional character, Don Camillo, was born on this day in 1908 in Roccabianca in Emilia-Romagna.  The popular stories featuring his famous comic creations, the stalwart Italian priest, Don Camillo, and the Communist mayor, Peppone, have since been made into many radio and television programmes and films.  Guareschi, who was christened Giovannino, started his career writing for the Gazzetta di Parma and then became a magazine editor.  He was called up to serve in the army in 1943 but was quickly taken prisoner, along with other Italian soldiers, by the Germans. He wrote a secret diary while he was in the prison camp, Diario Clandestino.  After the war Guareschi founded a weekly satirical magazine, Candido, where his Don Camillo stories first appeared. Read more…

Home

Uberto Pasolini - film producer and director

Roman count who found unexpected fame with The Full Monty


Uberto Pasolini worked for 12 years as a banker before finding work in the film industry
Uberto Pasolini worked for 12 years as a banker
before finding work in the film industry
The film director and producer Uberto Pasolini, who gained international recognition when his British comedy The Full Monty became a one of UK cinema’s biggest commercial success stories in 1997, was born on this day in 1957 in Rome.

A nephew of the great Italian director Luchino Visconti, Pasolini worked for 12 years as an investment banker in England before following his dream to work in the film industry, abandoning his career to work, initially without pay, on the set of the David Puttnam-Roland Joffé film, The Killing Fields, in Thailand.

Puttnam took him on, at first as a location scout, before Pasolini moved to America to become part of Puttnam’s production team in Los Angeles. He set up his own company in London in 1994 and went on to direct some of his own productions, including the critically acclaimed 2008 movie Machan, based on a true story about a group of would-be immigrants from Sri Lanka who overcome visa problems stopping them from moving to the West by pretending to be their country’s national handball team.

Like Luchino Visconti, who was a descendant of the same Visconti family that ruled Milan between the 13th and 15th centuries, Pasolini was from a noble background. Indeed, he was born Count Uberto Pasolini dell’Onda.

Pasolini had always dreamed of emulating his uncle, the director Luchino Visconti
Pasolini had always dreamed of emulating his uncle,
the director Luchino Visconti
He met Visconti on only a handful of occasions but admits he was to a degree inspired by his uncle’s films, particularly the early ones, made in the era of neorealism, which provided a window into a world and social circumstances very different from his own life of privilege, which he ultimately found uninspiring.

Pasolini left Italy as a teenager, first to attend an obscure college in Wales and then the London School of Economics, where he embraced the 1970s punk movement, but in time followed a natural progression into the City of London, where his talent enabled him quickly to climb the banking ladder.

After 12 years, however, his desire to emulate his uncle Luchino became too powerful. He obtained an interview with Puttnam, who was recruiting candidates to work on his production team for The Killing Fields. He was rejected but travelled to Bangkok anyway, at his own expense, and turned up on the set, willing to do nothing more testing than make tea if it meant being involved. In the event, Puttnam was impressed with Pasolini’s persistence and took him on as a runner.

It was not long before he was working as a location scout, which he did not only on The Killing Fields but on two others Joffé films, The Frog Prince and his 1986 hit The Mission, starring Robert De Niro, for which he was also named as assistant producer.

The unexpected success of The Full Monty made Pasolini's name in the movie business
The unexpected success of The Full Monty made
Pasolini's name in the movie business
After following Puttnam to Colombia Pictures in Los Angeles, where he worked on a number of productions, Pasolini returned to London in 1988, first to work for Enigma Films, before launching his own production company, Redwave Films.

He threw himself into learning all he could about working class Britain, drawing on the fascination instilled in him by Luchino Visconti’s early films about the less privileged levels of society.  After receiving some acclaim for Palookaville, a comedy caper about three burglars, he came up with the idea for The Full Monty, about six unemployed men in Sheffield, four of them former steelworkers, who decide to form a striptease act.

The comedy, directed by Peter Cattaneo, explored subjects such as unemployment, fathers' rights, homosexuality, body image and working class culture, even suicide. It was a major success with the critics and at the box office, grossing more than $250 million from a budget of only $3.5 million and for a time was the highest-grossing film in UK history. It won the BAFTA Award for Best Film, and was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay and Best Original Musical or Comedy Score, winning the last.

Pasolini went on to have more success with The Closer You Get (2000) and The Emperor’s New Clothes (2001) before throwing himself into another major project, a story inspired by a real event in 2004, when 23 Sri Lankan men convinced immigration authorities in Germany that they were members of the non-existent Sri Lanka national handball team, were granted visas, played in a tournament, in which unsurprisingly they lost every match, and then disappeared.

The result was a 2008 movie, Machan, which he directed as well as produced. It premiered at the Venice Film Festival, where it received a 10-minute standing ovation.

Pasolini, married to the film music composer Rachel Portman, enjoyed further acclaim for his 2013 movie Still Life, his second as director, which won him a best director award at the Venice Film Festival and a number of other awards.

Luchino Visconti's family lived in the 16th century  Palazzo Visconti di Modrone in Milan
Luchino Visconti's family lived in the 16th century
Palazzo Visconti di Modrone in Milan 
Travel tip:

Pasolini’s uncle, Luchino Visconti, grew up in the Palazzo Visconti di Modrone, a 16th century palace that can be found in Via Cino del Duca, about one kilometre from the centre of Milan.  It came into the possession of the modern Visconti family in the 19th century, when it changed hands for 750,000 lire Milanese.  The building, spread over three floors, is one of the richest examples of Milanese rococo.

The elegant Palazzo Santacroce in Rome, which  became the Pasolini dall'Onda residence
The elegant Palazzo Santacroce in Rome, which
became the Pasolini dall'Onda residence
Travel tip:

The family seat of the Pasolini dall’Onda family in Rome was at one stage the monumental Palazzo Santacroce in Piazza Benedetto Cairoli. Commissioned by Onofrio Santacroce and designed by Carlo Maderno between 1598 and 1602, it was modified by Francesco Peparelli in 1630 and underwent further changes during the 19th century. Once the home of a valuable paintings collection, Palazzo Santacroce is nowadays home to the Italian Latin American Institute. A beautiful fountain featuring Venus, winged angels and dolphins embellishes the former garden.

More reading:

Luchino Visconti, the aristocrat of Italian cinema

The enigma that was Michelangelo Antonioni

How pasta seller Dino De Laurentiis put Italian cinema on the map worldwide

Also on this day:

1908: The birth of writer Giovanni Guareschi

1927: The birth of actress and jazz singer Laura Betti

1947: The Portella della Ginestra massacre


Home