21 July 2020

21 July

Beppe Grillo - comedian turned activist

Grillo founded populist Five Star Movement 

The comedian turned political activist Beppe Grillo was born on this day in 1948 in Genoa.  Grillo is the founder of the Five Star Movement - Movimento Cinque Stelle - an Italian political party that has enjoyed rapid growth in recent years. It enjoyed one of its most high-profile successes when Virginia Raggi was elected Mayor of Rome in 2016, while Luigi Di Maio, who succeeded Grillo as leader, is Italy’s foreign minister. The Five Star Movement - M5S - polled more than 25 per cent of the votes for the Chamber of Deputies at the 2013 elections in Italy, increasing its share to 32.7 per cent in 2018, which made it Italy’s largest party.  At the same time as Raggi won 67 per cent of the vote in Rome, another M5S candidate, Chiara Appendino, was elected Mayor of Turin, beating the Democratic Party candidate into second place.   Grillo launched M5S as a protest group in 2009 but his ability to inspire audiences led to a rapid growth in popularity.  It has positioned itself as anti-corruption, anti-globalisation and pro-transparency in the political system.  It wants a system introduced to provide universal income support for the poor and campaigns for a referendum that would give Italians the chance to ditch the euro.  Read more…


Suso Cecchi D'Amico - screenwriter

Woman who scripted many of Italy's greatest movies

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).  Read more…


Guglielmo Ferrero - journalist and historian

Nobel prize nominee who opposed Fascism

The historian, journalist and novelist Guglielmo Ferrero, who was most famous for his five-volume opus The Greatness and Decline of Rome, was born on this day in 1871.  The son of a railway engineer, he was born just outside Naples at Portici but his family were from Piedmont and while not travelling he lived much of his adult life in Turin and Florence.  A liberal politically, he was vehemently opposed to any form of dictatorship and his opposition to Mussolini’s Fascists naturally landed him in trouble. He was a signatory to the writer Benedetto Croce's Anti-Fascist Manifesto and when all liberal intellectuals were told to leave Italy in 1925, he refused. Consequently he was placed under house arrest.  It was only after four years, following appeals by officials from the League of Nations and the personal intervention of the King of Belgium, that he was allowed to leave Italy to take up a professorship at the Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva.  Ferrero’s earliest works were in the field of sociology and criminology, inspired by his friendship with Cesare Lombroso, sometimes called the ‘father of modern criminology’.  Read more…

20 July 2020

20 July

Giorgio Morandi – painter

The greatest master of still life in the 20th century

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 became associated with a Fascist-influenced Futurist group in Bologna.  Read more…


Death of Marconi

State funeral for engineer who was at first shunned

Guglielmo Marconi, the Italian electrical engineer who is credited with the invention of radio, died on this day in Rome in 1937.  Aged 63, he passed away following a series of heart attacks.  He was granted a state funeral in recognition of the prestige he brought to Italy through his pioneering work. In Great Britain, where he had spent a significant part of his professional life, all BBC and Post Office radio transmitters observed a two-minute silence to coincide with the start of the funeral service in Rome.  Marconi was born in Bologna on April 25, 1874. His father, Giuseppe Marconi, was an Italian country gentleman who was married to Annie Jameson, a member of the Jameson whiskey family from County Wexford in Ireland.  A student of physics and electrical science from an early age, Guglielmo conducted experiments at his father's country estate at Pontecchio, near Bologna, where he succeeded in sending wireless signals between two transmitters a mile and a half apart.  Disappointingly, the initial response to his discovery was sceptical and Marconi's request to the Italian government to help fund further research did not even receive a reply.  As a result, in 1896, he moved to London.  Read more…


Giovanna Amati - racing driver

Kidnap survivor who drove in Formula One

Racing driver Giovanna Amati, the last female to have been entered for a Formula One Grand Prix, was born on this day in 1959 in Rome.  The story of Amati’s signing for the Brabham F1 team in 1992 was all the more remarkable for the fact that 14 years earlier, as an 18-year-old girl, she had been kidnapped by a ransom gang and held for 75 days in a wooden cage.  Kidnaps happened with alarming frequency in Italy in the 1970s, a period marked by social unrest and acts of violence committed by political extremists, often referred to as the Years of Lead. Young people with rich parents were often the targets and Amati, whose father Giovanni was a wealthy industrialist who owned a chain of cinemas, fitted the bill.  She was snatched outside the family’s villa in Rome in February 1978 and held first in a house only a short distance away and then at a secret location, where she was physically abused and threatened with having her ear cut off while her captors negotiated with her 72-year-old father.  Eventually, Giovanni is said to have paid 800 million lira (about $933,000 dollars), for her release, partly raised from box office receipts from the Star Wars movie playing at his cinemas.  Read more…


19 July 2020

19 July

Petrarch – Renaissance poet

Writer whose work inspired the modern Italian language

Renaissance scholar and poet Francesco Petrarca died on this day in 1374 at Arquà near Padua, now renamed Arquà Petrarca. Known in English as Petrarch, he is considered to be an important figure in the history of Italian literature.  He is often credited with initiating the 14th century Renaissance, after his rediscovery of Cicero’s letters, and also with being the founder of Humanism.  In the 16th century, the Italian poet, Pietro Bembo, created the model for the modern Italian language based on Petrarch’s works.  Petrarch was born in Arezzo in Tuscany in 1304. His father was a friend of the poet Dante Alighieri, but he insisted that Petrarch studied law.  The poet was far more interested in writing and in reading Latin literature and considered the time he studied law as wasted years.  Petrarch’s first major work, Africa, about the Roman general, Scipio Africanus, turned him into a celebrity. In 1341 he became the first poet laureate since ancient times and his sonnets were admired and imitated throughout Europe.  Petrarch travelled widely throughout Italy and Europe during his life and once climbed Mount Ventoux near Vaucluse in France just for pleasure, writing about the experience afterwards.  Read more…


Jacopo Tiepolo - Doge of Venice

Ruler laid down the law and granted land for beautiful churches

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.  Read more…


Cesare Cremonini - philosopher

Great thinker famous for Galileo ‘denial’

The philosopher Cesare Cremonini, the contemporary and friend of Galileo Galilei who famously refused to look at the Moon through Galileo’s telescope, died on this day in 1631 in Padua.  Cremonini was considered one of the great thinkers of his time, a passionate advocate of the doctrines of the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle. He was paid a handsome salary by his patron, Alfonso II d’Este, the Duke of Ferrara, and kings and princes regularly sought his counsel.  He struck up a friendship with the poet, Torquato Tasso, while he was studying in Ferrara, and met Galileo in 1550 after he was appointed by the Venetian Republic to the chair of the University of Padua.  The two built a relationship of respect and friendship that endured for many years, despite many differences of opinion, yet in 1610 their divergence of views on one subject created an impasse between them.  It came about when Galileo observed the surface of the Moon through his telescope and proclaimed that he had discovered mountains on the Moon.  But Cremonini said that Aristotle had proved that the Moon could only be a perfect sphere and was having none of Galileo’s claim that it was not, refusing Galileo’s invitation to see for himself.  Read more…

18 July 2020

18 July

Gino Bartali - cycling star and secret war hero

Tour de France champion was clandestine courier

Gino Bartali, one of three Italian cyclists to have won the Tour de France twice and a three-times winner of the Giro d’Italia, was born on this day in 1914 in the town of Ponte a Ema, just outside Florence.  Bartali’s career straddled the Second World War, his two Tour successes coming in 1938 and 1948, but it is as much for what he did during the years of conflict that he is remembered today.  With the knowledge of only a few people, Bartali repeatedly risked his life smuggling false documents around Italy to help Italian Jews escape being deported to Nazi concentration camps.  He hid the rolled up documents inside the hollow handlebars and frame of his bicycle and explained his frequent long-distance excursions as part of the training schedule he needed to maintain in order to keep himself in peak physical fitness.   In fact, he was carrying documents from secret printing presses to people who needed them in cities as far apart as Florence, Lucca, Genoa, Assisi, and the Vatican in Rome.  Sometimes he would pull a cart that contained a secret compartment in order to smuggle Jewish refugees in person into Switzerland.  Read more…


Giacomo Balla - painter

Work captured light, movement and speed

The painter Giacomo Balla, who was a key proponent of Futurism and was much admired for his depictions of light, movement and speed in his most famous works, was born on this day in 1871 in Turin.  An art teacher who influenced a number of Italy’s most important 20th century painters, Balla became interested in the Futurist movement after becoming a follower of the poet Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, who is regarded as the ideological founder of Futurism.  Futurism was an avant-garde artistic, social and political movement. Its ethos was to embrace modernity and free Italy from what was perceived as a stifling obsession with the past.  Balla was one of the signatories of Il manifesto dei pittori futuristi - the Manifesto of Futurist Painters - in 1910.  He differed from some of the other artists who signed the Manifesto, painters such as Carlo Carrà and Umberto Boccioni, whose work tried to capture the power and energy of modern industrial machinery and the passion and violence of social change, in that his focus was primarily on exploring the dynamics of light and movement.  Giacomo Balla was the son of a seamstress and a waiter who was an amateur photographer. He lost his father at the age of nine, at which point he gave up an early interest in music and began working in a lithograph print shop.  Read more…


Mysterious death of Caravaggio

Experts divided over how brilliant artist met his end

The death of the brilliant Renaissance artist Caravaggio is said to have occurred on this day in 1610 but the circumstances and even the location are disputed even today.  Official records at the time concluded that the artist died in the Tuscan coastal town of Porto Ercole, having contracted a fever, thought to have been malaria.  However, there is no record of a funeral having taken place, nor of a burial, and several alternative theories have been put forward as to what happened to him.  One, which came to light in 2010 on the 400th anniversary of the painter's death, is that Caravaggio's death was caused by lead poisoning, the supposition being that lead contained in the paint he used entered his body either through being accidentally ingested or by coming into contact with an open wound.  This was supported by research led by Silvano Vincenti, a prominent art historian and broadcaster, who claimed to have found evidence that Caravaggio had been buried at a cemetery in Porto Ercole that was built over in the 1950s.  Some remains were transferred to the municipal cemetery in Porto Ercole.  Read more…


Alberto di Jorio – Cardinal

Priest spent 60 years accumulating money for the Vatican

Cardinal Alberto di Jorio, who increased the wealth of the Vatican by buying shares in big corporations, was born on this day in 1884 in Rome.  Di Jorio was considered to be the power behind the Istituto per le Opere di Religione, popularly known as the Vatican Bank, which he served for 60 years.  As a young man he had been sent to the prestigious Pontifical Roman Seminary and he became a Catholic priest in 1908.  Di Jorio worked in an administrative role for the Vatican to begin with, but in 1918, when he was still in his early 30s, he took up the position of president of the Istituto per le Opere di Religione - The Institute of Religious Works.  He was directed by Pope Pius XI to form a close working relationship with Bernardino Nogara, a layman working as a financial adviser to the Vatican. Nogara helped di Jorio build up the Vatican’s financial strength.  After the Lateran Treaty settled the Roman Question and made the Vatican an independent state, di Jorio was chosen to run the Vatican Bank and allowed to buy shares in any company, even if it made products that were contrary to Catholic Church teaching.  Read more…

17 July 2020

17 July

NEW - Maria Salviati - noblewoman

Florentine whose line included kings of France and England

The noblewoman Maria Salviati, whose descendants include two kings of France and two kings of England, was born on this day in 1499 in Florence.  Salviati was the mother of Cosimo I de’ Medici, the first Grand Duke of Tuscany and a powerful figure in the mid-16th century.  Her descendants included Louis XIII and Louis XIV of France, and Charles II and James II of England.  Married for nine years to Lodovico de’ Medici, who was more widely known as the condottiero Giovanni dalle Bande Nere, Salviati herself had Medici blood. One of a family of 10 children, her mother was Lucrezia de Lorenzo de’ Medici, who had married the politician Iacopo Salviati, who was from another major banking family in Florence.  Maria’s maternal grandfather was Lorenzo the Magnificent, the Renaissance ruler who famously sponsored Michelangelo and Botticelli.  She was married to Giovanni dalle Bande Nere when she was 18, having known him since she was 10, when he was placed in the care of her parents following the death of his mother, Caterina Sforza, daughter of the Duke of Milan.  As a professional soldier, her husband spent much less time with her than she would have liked and Cosimo was their only child.  Read more…


Gino D'Acampo - celebrity chef

Neapolitan inherited talent from grandfather

The celebrity chef Gino D’Acampo was born on this day in 1976 in Torre del Greco, a conurbation of around 90,000 inhabitants within the Metropolitan City of Naples.  Based in England since 1995, D’Acampo is scarcely known in his native country yet his social media pages have more than two and a half million followers.  The author of 11 books on cooking, his numerous television appearances include several series of his own show, Gino’s Italian Escapes.  He owns a number of restaurants and pasta bars and is the co-owner of a company selling Italian ingredients.  His success is all the more remarkable given that he had to rebuild his life after being convicted in 1998 of burglary, an episode that took place while he was working as a waiter. He described the incident as a mistake he vowed never to repeat and has since spent time helping disadvantaged young people to learn from their mistakes.  Born Gennaro d’Acampo, he grew up around food. His grandfather, Giovanni, who had been head chef for a cruise company, owned a restaurant and although he had early aspirations to become a doctor or a dentist, he eventually enrolled at the Luigi de Medici catering school in Naples.  Read more…


Lady Blessington’s Neapolitan Journals

Irish aristocrat fell in love with Naples

Marguerite, Lady Blessington, an Irish-born writer who married into the British aristocracy, arrived in Naples on this day in 1823 and began writing her Neapolitan Journals.  She was to stay in the city for nearly three years and her detailed account of what she saw and who she met has left us with a unique insight into life in Naples nearly 200 years ago.  Lady Blessington made herself at home in Naples and thoroughly embraced the culture, attending local events, making what at the time were adventurous excursions, and entertaining Neapolitan aristocrats and intellectuals at the former royal palace that became her home.  Those who know Naples today will recognise in her vivid descriptions many places that have remained unchanged for the last two centuries.  She also provides a valuable insight into what life was like at the time for ordinary people as well as for the rich and privileged.  A society beauty, she came to Naples during a long European tour after her marriage to Charles Gardiner, the first Earl of Blessington, and immediately became fascinated by the local customs, food and traditions. She also visited Ercolano, Paestum, Capri, Ischia and Sorrento and made an ascent of Vesuvius on an ass.  Read more…


Michele Casadei Massari - chef and restaurateur

American dream from small beginnings

The chef and businessman Michele Casadei Massari, who is the owner and founder of the Piccolo Cafe and the Lucciola restaurant in New York City, was born on this day in 1975 in Riccione, on the Adriatic coast of Emilia-Romagna.  Massari had planned to become a doctor but abandoned his studies in order to pursue his dream of cooking in his own restaurant.  After working as general manager and executive chef of a restaurant at a holiday resort in Sardinia, Massari and an old school friend decided to go it alone and chose to start a business in New York.  They began by selling coffee from a kiosk on Union Square in Manhattan before graduating to a cafe selling traditional Italian food as well as salads, panini and egg dishes.  Massari and his partner opened their first Piccolo Cafe in Third Avenue, a couple of blocks from Union Square in 2010. Now they have four branches of Piccolo Cafe and a restaurant, Lucciola, that specialises in the cuisine of Bologna and Emilia-Romagna.  Only six years old when he saw the inside of a restaurant kitchen for the first time, Massari acquired his love of cooking from his grandfather, ‘Nonno Gigi’.  Read more…


Maria Salviati - noblewoman

Florentine whose line included kings of France and England

Jacopo da Pontormo's portrait of Maria Salviati (1537-43)
Jacopo da Pontormo's portrait of
Maria Salviati (1537-43)
The noblewoman Maria Salviati, whose descendants include two kings of France and two kings of England, was born on this day in 1499 in Florence.

Salviati was the mother of Cosimo I de’ Medici, the first Grand Duke of Tuscany and a powerful figure in the mid-16th century.  Her descendants included Louis XIII and Louis XIV of France, and Charles II and James II of England.

Married for nine years to Lodovico de’ Medici, who was more widely known as the condottiero Giovanni dalle Bande Nere, Salviati herself had Medici blood. One of a family of 10 children, her mother was Lucrezia de Lorenzo de’ Medici, who had married the politician Iacopo Salviati, who was from another major banking family in Florence.  Maria’s maternal grandfather was Lorenzo the Magnificent, the Renaissance ruler who famously sponsored Michelangelo and Botticelli.

She was married to Giovanni dalle Bande Nere when she was 18, having known him since she was 10, when he was placed in the care of her parents following the death of his mother Caterina Sforza, daughter of the Duke of Milan.

As a professional soldier, her husband spent much less time with her than she would have liked and Cosimo was their only child. He died in 1526 after being wounded in battle while fighting on behalf of a Medici pope, Clement VII, against the army of the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V.

Maria remained a woman of influence, having successfully managed her husband’s business interests while he was away at war, enhancing the family’s wealth as she did so.  After Giovanni was killed, she could easily have sought out a new husband and formed another powerful partnership. Instead, dressing in the sombre clothes of a novice, she withdrew to the Castello del Trebbio, the grand Medici residence in San Piero a Sieve, in the Mugello valley, north of Florence.

Salviati groomed her son, Cosimo, for power in Florence
Salviati groomed her son, Cosimo,
for power in Florence
Her focus was on grooming her son, Cosimo, for power. She ensured he had an education worthy of a Renaissance prince but was determined to shelter him from the intrigues of Florence until an opportunity arose to push his credentials as a leader.

It was when her cousin, Alessandro de’ Medici, Duke of Florence, was assassinated in 1537 by Lorenzino de’ Medici, who had become friends with Cosimo at Trebbio.  Cosimo had held a temporary position in Alessandro’s court and was familiar with the mechanisms of government yet was not tainted by any associations in the city and Maria was able to convince the Florentine elders that he was ready to lead, even at the age of just 17.

Given that he was so young and from a rural background, those elders perhaps thought Cosimo would be easily manipulated but this proved far from the case.  One by one, he removed each obstacle to his total control of Florence and by 1539, he was Duke of Tuscany as well as Florence and had reinforced his power by marrying Eleonora di Garzia di Toledo, the daughter of a powerful Spanish nobleman then living in Florence.

Maria contented herself with being a dutiful and attentive grandmother, settling at the Villa di Castello, Cosimo’s country residence just outside Florence, where she concentrated on creating a nursery for their children, who would eventually number 11.  She also looked after his illegitimate daughter, Bia, and Giulia de’ Medici, an illegitimate daughter of Alessandro, who was of a similar age.

Sadly, Bia died of a virulent infection in 1542 at five years old and a heartbroken Maria herself passed away a year later, aged just 44.

Cosimo, who would rule Florence until 1569 and Tuscany until his death in 1574, was the father of Francesco I de' Medici, who married Johanna of Austria.

Francesco and Johanna were the parents of Marie de' Medici, who married Henry IV of France and was the mother of Louis XIII of France and Henrietta Maria of France. Louis was the father of Louis XIV of France, Henrietta Maria was the mother of Charles II of England and James II of England.

Cosimo I de' Medici used the Villa di Castello outside Florence as his country house
Cosimo I de' Medici used the Villa di Castello
outside Florence as his country house
Travel tip:

Cosimo I de’ Medici is thought to have commissioned Sandro Botticelli to provide some paintings to decorate the walls of his country house, the Villa di Castello, in the hills northwest of Florence, near the town of Sesto Fiorentino and not far from the modern-day city's airport. Cosimo also commissioned an engineer, Piero di San Casciano, to build a system of aqueducts to carry water to the villa and gardens, a sculptor, Niccolo Tribolo, to create fountains and statues in the gardens and the architect Giorgio Vasari to restore and enlarge the main building.

The Castello di Trebbio, the villa that was turned into a castle by architect Michelozzo Michelozzi
The Castello di Trebbio, the villa that was turned
into a castle by architect Michelozzo Michelozzi
Travel tip:

The Castello di Trebbio was in fact not a castle but a fortified villa, another property acquired by the Medici family and handed down through generations. It was effectively turned into a castle in 1364 by the Florentine architect Michelozzo Michelozzi, on behalf of Giovanni di Bicci de’ Medici. It was given Pierfrancesco de’ Medici and inherited by Giovanni delle Bande Nere.  Situated close to the village of Scarperia and San Piero in Mugello, it was expanded by Cosimo I, who loved to go hunting on his estate, and by his son Ferdinando I. It was sold in 1644 by Ferdinando II to a wealthy Florentine, Giuliano Serragli.

Also on this day:

16 July 2020

16 July

Vincenzo Gemito - sculptor

Neapolitan who preserved figures from local street life

Vincenzo Gemito, one of the sculptors responsible for eight statues of former kings that adorn the western façade of the Royal Palace in Naples, was born on this day in 1852.  The statues are in niches along the side of the palace that fronts on to the Piazza del Plebiscito, displayed in chronological order beginning with Roger the Norman, also known as Roger II of Sicily, who ruled in the 12th century, and ends with Vittorio Emanuele II, who was on the throne when his kingdom became part of the united Italy in 1861.  Gemito sculpted the fifth statue in the sequence, that of Charles V, who was the Holy Roman Emperor from 1519 to 1556 and, by virtue of being king of Spain from 1516 to 1556, also the king of Naples. Gemito was known for the outstanding realism in his work, as can be seen in his sculpture Il giocatore di carte – the Card Player - which he created when he was only 16. Born in Naples, Gemito’s first steps in life were difficult ones.  The son of a poor woodcutter, he was taken by his mother the day after his birth to the orphanage attached to the Basilica of Santissima Annunziata Maggiore in the centre of the city and left on the steps.  Read more…


St Clare of Assisi

Birth of the founder of the Poor Clares

St Clare was born on this day in 1194 in Assisi as Chiara Offreduccio, the beautiful daughter of a Count.  As a young girl Clare was extremely devout and at the age of 18 she was inspired by hearing Francis of Assisi preach and went to see him to ask for help to live her life according to the Gospel.  In 1212, Clare left her father’s home and went to the chapel of Porziuncola to meet Francis. Her hair was cut off and she was given a plain robe and veil in exchange for her rich gown.  Clare joined a convent of Benedictine nuns and when her father tracked her down refused to leave it to return home.  Francis sent her to another monastery, where she was later joined by her sister. Over the years other women came to be with them who also wanted to serve Jesus and live with no money. They became known as the Poor Ladies of San Damiano because of the austere lifestyle they lived.  Clare took care of St Francis when he became old and after his death continued to lead her Order of Poor Women in the Franciscan tradition, which later became known as the Order of St Clare, also often referred to as The Poor Clares.  Read more…


Andrea del Sarto – painter

The brief career of an artist ‘senza errori’

Renaissance artist Andrea del Sarto was born Andrea d’Agnolo di Francesco di Luca di Paolo del Migliore on this day in 1486 in Florence.  He had a brilliant career but died at the age of 43 during an outbreak of plague and afterwards his achievements were eclipsed by the talents of Da Vinci, Michelangelo and Raphael.  Andrea’s father, Agnolo, was a tailor and therefore the child became known as del Sarto, meaning son of the tailor.  As a young boy del Sarto was apprenticed to a goldsmith and then a woodcarver before being sent to learn to be an artist.  He decided to open a joint studio with an older friend, Franciabigio, and from 1509 onwards they were employed to paint a series of frescoes at Basilica della Santissima Annunziata in Florence. Del Sarto also painted a Procession of the Magi, in which he included a self-portrait, and a Nativity of the Virgin for the entrance to the church.  He married Lucrezia del Fede, a widow, in 1512 and often used her as a model for his paintings of the Madonna.  After spending a year as court painter to Francis I of France in 1518, del Sarto returned home to his wife and was offered a major commission by the Medici family.  Read more…