12 October 2020

12 October

Piero della Francesca - Renaissance painter

Mathematician famous for exploring perspective

Piero della Francesca, recognised as one of the greatest painters of the early Renaissance, died on this day in 1492 in what was then Borgo Santo Sepolcro, near Arezzo.  He was thought to have been around 77 years old – his exact birth date is not known – and it has been popularly theorised that he was blind in the later years of his life, although evidence to support the claim is sketchy.  Della Francesca’s work was characterised by his exploration of perspective and geometric form, which was hardly surprising since in his own time he was as famous among his peers as a mathematician and geometer as well as an artist.  He came to be recognized in the 20th century as having made a major contribution to the Renaissance.  His fresco cycle The History – or Legend – of the True Cross in the Basilica of San Francesco in Arezzo, painted between 1452 and 1466, and his diptych – two-panelled – portraits of Federico da Montefeltro and Battista Sforza - the Duke and Duchess of Urbino, dated at between 1465 and 1472, which can be seen in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, are among his best-known works.  Read more…


Luciano Pavarotti - tenor

Singer who became known as ‘King of the High Cs’

Luciano Pavarotti, one of the greatest operatic tenors of all time, was born on this day in 1935 in Modena in Emilia-Romagna.  Pavarotti made many stage appearances and recordings of arias from opera throughout his career. He also crossed over into popular music, gaining fame for the superb quality of his voice.  Towards the end of his career, as one of the legendary Three Tenors, he became  known to an even wider audience because of his concerts and television appearances.  Pavarotti began his professional career on stage in Italy in 1961 and gave his final performance, singing the Puccini aria, Nessun Dorma, at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin. He died the following year as a result of pancreatic cancer, aged 71.  The young Pavarotti had dreamt of becoming a goalkeeper for a football team but he later turned his attention to training as a singer.  His earliest influences were his father’s recordings of the Italian tenors, Beniamino Gigli, Tito Schipa and Enrico Caruso. But Pavarotti has said that his own favourite tenor was the Sicilian, Giuseppe di Stefano. Pavarotti experienced his first singing success as a member of a male voice choir from Modena, in which his father also sang.  Read more…


Ascanio Sobrero - chemist

Professor who discovered nitroglycerine

The chemist Ascanio Sobrero, who discovered the volatile compound that became known as nitroglycerine, was born on this day in 1812 in Casale Monferrato in Piedmont.  Nitroglycerine has a pharmaceutical use as a vasodilator, improving blood flow in the treatment of angina, but it is more widely known as the key ingredient in explosives such as dynamite and gelignite.  Its commercial potential was exploited not by Sobrero but by Alfred Nobel, the Swedish businessman and philanthropist who gave his name to the annually awarded Nobel Prizes.  Sobrero, aware of how much damage it could cause, had actually warned against nitroglycerine being used outside the laboratory.  Little is known about Sobrero’s early life, apart from his being born in Casale Monferrato, a town about 60km (37 miles) east of Turin.  He studied medicine in Turin and Paris and then chemistry at the University of Giessen in Germany, earning his doctorate in 1832. In 1845 he returned to the University of Turin, becoming a professor there.  Sobrero had acquired some knowledge of explosives from the French chemist Théophile-Jules Pelouze, who had taught at the University of Turin while he was a student.  Read more…


Gillo Pontecorvo - film director

Most famous film was banned in France

The film director Gillo Pontecorvo, whose best known film, La battaglia di Algeri (The Battle of Algiers) won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival in 1966 and was nominated for three Academy Awards, died on this day in 2006 in Rome, aged 86.  A former journalist who had been an Italian Resistance volunteer and a member of the Italian Communist Party, Pontecorvo had been in declining health for some years, although he continued to make documentary films and commercials until shortly before his death.  Although it was made a decade or so after the peak years of the movement, La battaglia di Algeri is in the tradition of Italian neorealism, with newsreel style footage and mainly non-professional actors.  Pontecorvo also won acclaim for his 1960 film Kapò, set in a Second World War concentration camp, and Burn! (1969) - titled Queimada in Italy - which was about the creation of a so-called banana republic on the fictitious Caribbean island of Queimada, starring Marlon Brando and loosely based on the failed slave revolution in Guadeloupe.   Kapò, which was also nominated for an Oscar, won a Italian National Syndicate of Film Journalists Silver Ribbon award for Didi Perego as best supporting actress.  Read more…


11 October 2020

11 October

Pierre-Napoleon Bonaparte – adventurer

Colourful life of Italian-born prince

Prince Pierre-Napoleon Bonaparte, a nephew of the Emperor Napoleon, was born on this day in 1815 in Rome.  He was to become notorious for shooting dead a journalist after his family was criticised in a newspaper article.  Bonaparte was the son of Napoleon’s brother, Lucien, and his second wife, Alexandrine de Bleschamp. He grew up with his nine siblings on the family estate at Canino, about 40 kilometres north of Rome.  The young Bonaparte helped to keep bandits at bay, spending a lot of time with the local shepherds who were armed and had dogs to protect them.  He set out on a career of adventure, joining bands of insurgents in the Romagna region as a teenager.  In 1831 he spent time in prison for a minor offence and was banished from the Papal States.  He went to the United States to join his uncle, Joseph Bonaparte, in New Jersey. He spent some time in New York before going to serve in the army of the President of Columbia. At the age of 17 he became the President’s aide and was given the rank of Commander.  Bonaparte returned to the family estate at Canino where he enjoyed hunting with his brothers.  Read more…


Cesare Andrea Bixio - composer and lyricist

Pioneer of Italian film music left catalogue of classic songs

Cesare Andrea Bixio, the composer behind such classic Italian songs as Vivere, Mamma, La mia canzone al vento and Parlami d'amore Mariù, was born in Naples on this day in 1896.  Bixio enjoyed many years of popularity during which his compositions were performed by some of Italy's finest voices, including Beniamino Gigli, Tito Schipa and Carlo Buti, and later became staples for Giuseppe Di Stefano and Luciano Pavarotti.  He was also a pioneer of film soundtrack music, having been invited to compose a score for the first Italian movie with sound, La Canzone dell'Amore, in 1930. As well as writing more than 1,000 songs in his career, Bixio penned the soundtracks for more than 60 films.  Bixio's father, Carlo, was an engineer from Genoa; his grandfather was General Nino Bixio, a prominent military figure in the drive for Italian Unification and one of the organisers of Garibaldi's Expedition of the Thousand.  Carlo, who died when Cesare was only six years old, married a Neapolitan, Anna Vilone, who wanted him to pursue a career in engineering, like his father. However, after developing an interest in music at an early age he had other ideas.  Read more…


Anita Cerquetti – soprano

Performer with a powerful voice had brief moment in the spotlight

Anita Cerquetti, the singer whose remarkable voice received widespread praise when she stood in for a temperamental Maria Callas in Rome, died on this day in 2014 in Perugia.  Cerquetti had been singing the title role in Vincenzo Bellini’s Norma at Teatro San Carlo in Naples in 1958 when Callas, who had been singing the same part in Rome, walked out after the first act on the opening night.  Despite Callas claiming that her voice was troubling her, the incident, in front of Italian President Giovanni Gronchi, created a major scandal.  Fortunately the performances in Rome and Naples were on alternate days and so for several weeks Cerquetti travelled back and forth between the two opera houses, which were 225km (140 miles) apart. The achievement left her exhausted and three years later she retired from singing and her magnificent voice was heard no more.  Cerquetti was born in Montecosaro near Macerata in the Marche. She studied the violin, but after a music professor heard her singing at a wedding she was persuaded to switch to vocal studies. After just one year she made her debut singing Aida in Spoleto in 1951.  Read more…


10 October 2020

10 October

Stefano Magaddino - mafioso

Longest-ruling Mafia boss in US history

Stefano Magaddino, the Sicilian mafioso who went on to enjoy the longest period of power enjoyed by any crime boss in the history of the American Mafia, was born on this day in 1891 in Castellammare del Golfo.  Known as ‘The Undertaker’ or ‘Don Stefano’, Magaddino controlled a crime empire radiating outwards from Buffalo, on the shores of Lake Erie in New York State.  Geographically, it was a vast area, stretching from the eastern fringe of  New York State to its western outposts in Ohio and extending north-east almost as far as Montreal in Canada, its tentacles reaching across the Canadian border from Buffalo even into Toronto.  One of the original members of The Commission, the committee of seven crime bosses set up in 1931 to control Mafia activity across the whole of the United States, Magaddino was head of the Buffalo Family for more than half a century.  He died in 1974 at the age of 82, having survived all the other Commission members, including the founder Charles ‘Lucky’ Luciano and Chicago boss Al Capone, with the exception of his cousin from Castellammare, Joseph Bonanno, who along with Luciano, headed one of the Five Families of the New York underworld.  Read more…


Andrea Zanzotto - poet

Writer drew inspiration from landscapes of Veneto

Andrea Zanzotto, who was regarded as one of Italy’s greatest 20th century poets, was born on this day in 1921 in Pieve di Soligo, the village near Treviso where he lived almost all of his life.  Zanzotto, who spent 40 years as a secondary school teacher, wrote 15 books of poetry, two prose works, two volumes of critical articles and translations of French philosophers such as Michaux, Leiris and Bataille.  His first book of poetry, Dietro il paesaggio (1951), won a literary award judged by several noteworthy Italian poets. Critics reserved their greatest acclaim for his sixth volume, La beltà (1968), in which he questioned the ability of words to reflect truth.  Zanzotto, whose verse was consistently erudite and creative, was known for his innovative engagement with language and his fascination with the rugged landscapes of the Veneto, from which he drew inspiration and provided him with much symbolism.  His upbringing was difficult at times because his father, Giovanni Zanzotto, a painter who has trained at the Bologna Academy of Fine Arts, was a committed supporter of the Socialist politician Giacomo Matteotti, who was murdered by Fascist thugs in 1924 a few days after accusing Mussolini’s party of electoral fraud.  Read more…


Daniele Comboni – Saint

Missionary who worked miracles after his death

The Feast Day - festa - of Saint Daniel Comboni - San Daniele - is held on this day every year in Italy.  Saint Daniel, who was a Roman Catholic missionary to Africa, died on this day at the age of 50 in 1881 in Khartoum in Sudan. He was canonised in 2003 by Pope John Paul II in recognition of two miracle cures claimed to have been brought about by his intercession.  Comboni was born in 1831 at Limone sul Garda in the province of Brescia in Lombardy in northern Italy.  His parents were poor and he was the only one of their eight children to live to become an adult.  Comboni was sent away to school in Verona and after completing his studies prepared to become a priest.  He met and was profoundly influenced by missionaries who had come back from Central Africa and three years after his ordination set off with five other priests to continue their work.  After they reached Khartoum some of his fellow missionaries became ill and died because of the climate, sickness and poverty they encountered, but Comboni remained determined to continue with his mission.  On his return to Italy, while praying for guidance at the tomb of Saint Peter in Rome, Comboni came up with the idea of a missionary project to save Africa.  Read more…


9 October 2020

9 October

Fra’ Filippo Lippi - Renaissance painter

Mentor of Botticelli who led life of scandal

The controversial 15th century painter Fra’ Filippo Lippi, who famously eloped with a nun who had agreed to pose for him at a Dominican monastery in Prato, died on or close to this day in 1469 in Spoleto, a city in Umbria then part of the Papal States.  He was aged 62 or 63. Because of the scandalous nature of his life, there was speculation after his death that he had been poisoned, possibly by relatives of Lucrezia Buti, the nun who fell for his charms and was the mother of two children by him.  Aside from his colourful private life, Lippi was an important figure in the development of painting.  Himself influenced by Masaccio and Fra’ Angelico, he developed a signature style of his own that was colourful and decorative and characterised by clarity of expression.  His own influence was seen in the works of his pupil Sandro Botticelli and his son, Filippino Lippi.  Born in Florence in 1406, the son of a butcher, Lippi was orphaned when he was two years old. Until he was eight, he lived with an aunt, who then placed him in a Carmelite convent. In 1420 he entered the community of friars at the Monastery of Santa Maria del Carmine in Florence.  Read more…


Gabriele Falloppio – anatomist and physician

Professor made key discoveries about human reproduction   

Gabriele Falloppio, one of the most important physicians and anatomists of the 16th century, died on this day in 1562 in Padua.  Often known by his Latin name Fallopius, he lived only 39 years yet made his mark with a series of discoveries that expanded medical knowledge significantly.  He worked mainly on the anatomy of the head and the reproductive organs in both sexes and is best known for identifying the tubes that connect the ovaries to the uterus, which are known even today as Fallopian tubes.  He also discovered several major nerves of the head and face, and identified many of the components of the hearing and balance systems.  Falloppio described all of the findings of his research in a book published a year before he died, entitled Observationes anatomicae.  Educated initially in the classics, the death of his father plunged his family – noble but not wealthy – into financial difficulties, prompting him to pursue the security of a career in the church, becoming a priest in 1542. He served as a canon at the cathedral in his native Modena.  Falloppio retained an ambition to study medicine, however, and when the family’s finances had improved sufficiently he enrolled at the University of Ferrara.  Read more…


Vajont Dam Disaster

Catastrophic flood may have killed 2,500

Prone to earthquakes because of its unfortunate geology, Italy has suffered many natural disasters over the centuries, yet the horrific catastrophe that took place on this day 53 years ago in an Alpine valley about 100km north of Venice, killing perhaps as many as 2,500 people, was to a significant extent man-made.  The Vajont Dam Disaster of October 9, 1963 happened when a section of a mountain straddling the border of the Veneto and Fruili-Venezia Giulia regions in the Friulian Dolomites collapsed in a massive landslide, dumping 260 million cubic metres of forest, earth and rock into a deep, narrow reservoir created to generate hydroelectric power for Italy's industrial northern cities.  The chunk of Monte Toc that came away after days of heavy rain was the size of a small town yet within moments it was moving towards the water at 100km per hour (62mph) and hit the surface of the reservoir in less than a minute.  The effect was almost unimaginable.  Within seconds, 50 million cubic metres of water was displaced, creating a tsunami that rose to 250m high.  The dam held, but the colossal volume of water had nowhere to go.  Read more…


Salimbene di Adam – historian

Friar's records provided important information on history of Italy

Salimbene di Adam, a Franciscan friar, whose yearly chronicles became a valued source for historians, was born on this day in 1221 in Parma in Emilia-Romagna.  Sometimes also referred to as Salimbene di Parma, he was the son of Guido di Adam, a wealthy Parma citizen. Salimbene entered the Franciscan Order in 1238 and served his novitiate in the Monastery of Fano on the Adriatic coast.  As Fra Salimbene, he led a wandering existence and never held any office in his order. He transferred from one monastery to another, meeting notable people and becoming an eyewitness to historic events.  In the 1240s he travelled to Lucca, Pisa and Cremona, and also visited France.  On his return to Italy in 1248 he went to Ferrarra where he stayed for several years. But he then went on his travels again, staying in Franciscan convents in northern Italy.  Fra Salimbene began to write his Chronicles (Cronica) in 1282 and continued to work on them until his death.  Organised as yearly records, the Chronicles cover the years 1168 to 1288 starting with the founding of the city of Alessandria to the south of Milan by the Lombard league.  Read more…


Fra’ Filippo Lippi - Renaissance painter

Mentor of Botticelli who led life of scandal

Filippo Lippi, a self-portrait within a fresco in Spoleto's historic cathedral
Filippo Lippi, a self-portrait within a
fresco in Spoleto's historic cathedral
The controversial 15th century painter Fra’ Filippo Lippi, who famously eloped with a nun who had agreed to pose for him at a Dominican monastery in Prato, died on or close to this day in 1469 in Spoleto, a city in Umbria then part of the Papal States.

He was aged 62 or 63. Because of the scandalous nature of his life, there was speculation after his death that he had been poisoned, possibly by relatives of Lucrezia Buti, the nun who fell for his charms and was the mother of two children by him.

Aside from his colourful private life, Lippi was an important figure in the development of painting.  Influenced himself by Masaccio and Fra’ Angelico, he developed a signature style of his own that was colourful and decorative and characterised by clarity of expression.  His own influence was seen in the works of his pupil Sandro Botticelli and his son, Filippino Lippi.

Born in Florence in 1406, the son of a butcher, Lippi was orphaned when he was two years old. Until he was eight, he lived with an aunt, who then placed him in a Carmelite convent. In 1420 he entered the community of friars at the Monastery of Santa Maria del Carmine in Florence, where he took religious vows at the age of 16. It was there that he first came across Masaccio, who was working there on some frescoes in the Brancacci chapel that would become some of the most revered works of the Renaissance.

He did not take to studying, often occupying his time drawing pictures, and was allowed to leave the monastery to pursue his interest in painting, although he was not released from his vows.

A scene from Lippi's fresco series in the  cathedral in the Tuscan city of Prato
A scene from Lippi's fresco series in the 
cathedral in the Tuscan city of Prato
He began travelling around Italy, visiting Padua, Ancona and Naples. The art historian Giorgio Vasari claimed that Fra’ Lippi was captured by Barbary pirates during a boat trip and kept as a slave for 18 months, supposedly securing his release only after he drew a picture of his slave master on the wall, using a piece of coal, that was such an accurate likeness that it was assumed he had some miraculous powers.

By the time he returned to Florence, in the 1430s, his reputation as a painter was growing and he was commissioned by a number of prominent families, including the Medicis. At the same time, however, his private life became increasingly turbulent, and when his employers were not dealing with complaints about his behaviour and settling lawsuits, they were paying off the debts he ran up.  The Medici became so exasperated with his unreliability they are said to have kept him locked up at night until he completed various commissions.

He produced his best work after moving to Prato, where he painted frescoes in the choir of the city’s cathedral depicting the stories of St. John the Baptist and St. Stephen. The scene showing the ceremonial mourning over Stephen's corpse is believed to contain a self-portrait of the painter. One of his scenes from his fresco series, Scenes of the Life of the Virgin, in the cathedral in Spoleto, is also said to include a self-portrait.

Lucrezia Buti is thought to be depicted  in Lippi's 1455 Madonna and Child
Lucrezia Buti is thought to be depicted
 in Lippi's 1455 Madonna and Child

It was in Prato that the major scandal of his life occurred. He had been appointed chaplain of the monastery of Santa Margherita and it is said that Lippi asked the mother superior for a nun who could pose for him for a picture he was painting, either of the Madonna or Santa Margherita.

He was sent Lucrezia Buti, the daughter of a Florentine family who, like him, has been sent to a convent as a child.  Lippi was taken with her beauty and seduced her. Soon afterwards, while Lucrezia was taking part in a procession, Lippi effectively kidnapped her. They moved into his house in Prato. Their son, Filippino, was born in 1457, followed a few years later by Alessandra, their daughter.

Given that Filippo and Lucrezia had both taken vows, they were living in sin, which at the time was considered highly scandalous. Eventually, Pope Pius II agreed to dissolve their vows, although they never married.  Lippi frequently depicted Lucrezia in his paintings, including a celebrated Madonna and Child painted in around 1455 that influenced Botticelli’s depictions of the Madonna. The painting hangs in the Uffizi in Florence.

In 1467, accompanied by Filippino and his friend and fellow painter, Fra’ Diamante, Lippi left for Spoleto, where he had been commissioned to decorate the choir of the Duomo. They worked together on the Nativity, the Annunciation, the Death of Mary, and the Coronation. He died in 1469 before the work was complete. He was buried in the cathedral, where a monument to him, commissioned by Lorenzo the Magnificent, was designed by his son.

The Palazzo Pretorio is one of a  several important buildings in Prato
The Palazzo Pretorio is one of a 
several important buildings in Prato
Travel tip:

The city of Prato is just half an hour from Florence yet is almost Tuscany's forgotten gem.  It has a commercial heritage founded on the textile industry and its growth in the 19th century earned it the nickname the "Manchester of Tuscany". Prato is the home of the Datini archives, a significant collection of late medieval documents concerning economic and trade history, produced between 1363 and 1410, yet also has many artistic treasures, including frescoes by Lippi, Paolo Uccello and Agnolo Gaddi inside its Duomo and the external pulpit by Michelozzo and Donatello. The Palazzo Pretorio is a building of great beauty, situated in the pretty Piazza del Comune, and there are the ruins of the castle built for the medieval emperor and King of Sicily Frederick II.

Spoleto's beautiful cathdral, where Fra' Filippo Lippi is buried
Spoleto's beautiful cathedral, where
Fra' Filippo Lippi is buried
Travel tip:

Spoleto is an historic and beautiful Umbrian hill town, where the 12th century cathedral is one of a number of interesting buildings including, standing on a hilltop overlooking the town, the imposing 14th century fortress, La Rocca Albornoziana.  There is a Roman amphitheatre, close to Piazza Garibaldi, which dates back to the middle of the first century BC and the early days of the Roman empire.  Two marble busts unearthed nearby, thought to be of Rome’s first emperor, Augustus and his adoptive father, Julius Caesar, may have been part of the decoration of the wall of the stage, which was destroyed in the Middle Ages during the construction of the adjoining Sant’Agata monastery and church, which now houses an archaeological museum.  The town is the home of the Festival dei Due Mondi music festival.

Also on this day:

1221: The death of historian Salimbene di Adam

1562: The death of anatomist Gabriele di Falloppio

1963: The Vajont Dam disaster


8 October 2020

8 October

Antonio Cabrini - World Cup winner

Star of 1982 part of formidable Juventus team

World Cup winner and former Juventus defender Antonio Cabrini was born on this day in 1957 in Cremona.  Cabrini, who was coach of the Italy women’s football team for five years until 2017, took his first steps in professional football with his local team, Cremonese, and moved from there to Atalanta of Bergamo, but it was with the Turin club Juventus that he made his mark, forming part of a formidable defence that included goalkeeper Dino Zoff plus the centre-back Claudio Gentile and the sweeper Gaetano Scirea.  During Cabrini's 13 seasons in Turin, the Bianconeri won the Serie A title six times, as well as the 1985 European Cup, plus the Coppa Italia twice, the UEFA Cup and the European Super Cup, and the Intercontinental Cup.  Milan's Paolo Maldini tends to be recognised as the greatest defensive player produced by Italy but Cabrini's abilities put him only just behind.  Known by his fans as Bell'Antonio for his good looks and the elegance of his football, Cabrini's game possessed all the qualities required of a left-back.  His positional sense and speed of thought served him well in defensive duties and he was also exceptional going forward.  Read more…


Vincenzo Peruggia – art thief

Gallery worker who stole the Mona Lisa

Vincenzo Peruggia, a handyman who earned notoriety when he pulled off the most famous art theft in history, was born on this day in 1881 in Dumenza in Lombardy, a village on the Swiss border.  Peruggia stole Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa from the Louvre in Paris and evaded detection for more than two years, even though he was questioned by police over the painting’s disappearance.  It was only when he attempted to sell the iconic painting - thought to be of Lisa del Giocondo, the wife of a cloth and silk merchant - to an art dealer in Florence that he was arrested.  Experts accept that, although the Mona Lisa - sometimes known in Italy as La Gioconda - was a notable work, it is open to debate whether it was the best of all the magnificent pieces created by the Tuscan Renaissance genius, whose other masterpieces included The Last Supper and The Virgin of the Rocks and other outstanding portraits, such as The Lady with an Ermine.  Yet it is without question the most famous painting in the world and enjoys that status largely because of Peruggia’s audacious crime.  The theft took place on August 21, 1911, a Monday morning, when Peruggia removed the painting from the wall of the Salon Carré in the Musée du Louvre on the Right Bank of the Seine.  Read more…


Giulio Caccini - composer

16th century singer who helped create opera genre

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.   Read more…


7 October 2020

7 October

Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta - condottiero

Brutal tyrant or sensitive patron of the arts?

One of the most daring military leaders in 15th century Italy, Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta, died on this day in 1468 in Rimini.  He had been Lord of Rimini, Fano and Cesena since 1432 and is remembered as a generous patron of the arts during his rule.  Sigismondo commissioned the architect Leon Battista Alberti to build the most famous monument in Rimini, the Church of San Francesco, which is also known as the Tempio Malatestiano, and he welcomed artists and writers to his court.  But partly as a result of a systematic campaign of defamation by his enemy, Pope Pius II, some historians have ascribed a reputation for brutality to him.  Sigismondo was one of three illegitimate sons of Pandolfo Malatesta, who had ruled over Brescia and Bergamo between 1404 and 1421.  At the age of ten, after the death of his father, Sigismondo went to Rimini with his brothers to the court of his uncle, Carlo Malatesta. His birth was later legitimised by Pope Martin V.  After Carlo’s death, Sigismondo’s older brother inherited the Lordship of Rimini, but after two years he abandoned it to go into a monastery and handed over power to Sigismondo.  Read more…


Rosalba Carriera - portrait painter

Venetian artist specialised in miniatures

One of the most successful women painters in the history of art, Rosalba Carriera is thought to have been born on this day in 1675 in Venice.  A pioneer of the Rococo style, she worked in pastel colours and was best known for her portraits. Her work was so admired that at her peak she had an almost constant stream of commissions from notable visitors to Venice, and from diplomats and nobility in the courts of other countries, principally France and Austria.  Born into a middle-class background, she was able to live a relatively comfortable life, although she would outlive her family, including her two sisters, and had gone blind by the time she died, at the age of 84.  Nowadays, Carriera’s portraits are as highly sought after as they were in the 18th century, with prices in the tens or even hundreds of thousands of pounds realised when examples come up for auction.  One of the finest such examples, a portrait of the Irish politician Gustavus Hamilton, who was a colonel in the regiment of William of Orange at the Battle of the Boyne, fetched £421,250 at Christie’s in 2008.  The daughter of a clerk and a lacemaker, Carriera is said to have learned lacemaking from her mother but as the lace industry declined she began decorating snuff boxes with miniature portraits, to be sold to tourists.  Read more…


Gabriele Corcos - celebrity cook

YouTube recipe blog led to TV fame in US

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.  Read more…


Saint Giustina of Padua

Murdered by Romans in last major purge of Christians

On the Italian catholic calendar, today is the feast day of Santa Giustina of Padua, celebrating the memory of a young woman executed on this day in 304 in the city of Padua.  Little is known about the life of Giustina apart from her faith. Born into a noble family in Padua, she took a vow of chastity and devoted her life to God and teaching the values of Christianity.  She died as a victim of the purge of Christians undertaken by the Roman Emperor Diocletian.  Persecution of Christians by the Romans was nothing new. Christians were regarded with suspicion and seen as subversive at times. When misfortune struck the Roman Empire they were often blamed. Feeding Christians to lions was once seen as entertainment.  Even as Christianity grew and attitudes softened, there were still emperors from time to time who decided to take a hard line.  One was Diocletian, who had come to power in 284.  Following an edict that rescinded all legal rights for Christians and compelled Christians to sacrifice to Roman gods or face imprisonment or execution, Diocletian launched what became known as the Diocletian Persecution.  Read more…