12 May 2021

12 May

Zeno Colò - Olympic skiing champion

Downhill ace reached speeds of almost 100mph with no helmet

Zeno Colò, the first Italian to win an Olympic alpine skiing title when he took the downhill gold at the 1952 Oslo Winter Games, died on this day in 1993, aged 72.  The winner, too, of the downhill and giant slalom World championship titles in Aspen in 1950, Colò achieved his success during a brief window in a life spent on skis.  Deprived of prime competitive years by the Second World War, part of which he spent as a prisoner of war, he began his career late, in 1947 at the age of 27, only to be banned for life in 1954 under the strict rules defining amateur status after he endorsed a brand of ski boots and a ski jacket.  Colò was born in Tuscany but in a mountainous part of the region in the village of Cutigliano, which is 678m (2,044ft) above sea level and is just 14km (9 miles) from Abetone, one of the largest ski resorts in the Apennines, with more than 50km (31 miles) of ski slopes, several of which were designed by Colò himself.   He began competitive skiing at the age of 14 and was selected for the Italian national team at 15. The outbreak of war brought his career to a stop but he maintained his skills as a member of an army alpine patrol in Cervinia, close to the Swiss border.  Read more…


Cosimo II de' Medici - patron of Galileo

Grand Duke of Tuscany maintained family tradition

Born on this day in Florence in 1590, Cosimo II de' Medici, who was Grand Duke of Tuscany from 1609 until his premature death in 1621, was largely a figurehead ruler during his 12-year reign, delegating administrative powers to his ministers.  His health was never good and he died from tuberculosis aged only 30 yet made his mark by maintaining the Medici family tradition for patronage by supporting the astronomer and physicist Galileo Galilei.  Galileo, from Pisa, had been Cosimo's childhood tutor during the time that he was Professor of Mathematics at the University of Padua.  From the beginnings of the Medici dynasty, with Cosimo the Elder's rise to power in 1434, the family supported the arts and humanities, turning Florence into what became known as the cradle of the Renaissance.  Cosimo the Elder gave his patronage to artists such as Ghiberti, Brunelleschi, Donatello and Fra Angelico.  His grandson, Lorenzo the Magnificent, supported the work of such Renaissance masters as Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo.  Galileo, who also had the patronage of Cosimo's eldest son and heir, Ferdinando II de' Medici, dedicated his treatise Sidereus Nuncius, an account of his telescopic discoveries, to Cosimo.  Read more…


Giovanni Battista Viotti – violinist and composer

Brilliant musician wrote the melody for the Marseillaise

Violinist Giovanni Battista Viotti, who was to become court musician to Marie-Antoinette and composed 29 violin concertos, was born on this day in 1755 in Fontanetto Po in the region of Piedmont.  Among Viotti’s many compositions for the violin, string quartets and the piano, his violin concerto No. 22 in A Minor became particularly well known.  He is also credited with having composed the original music of La Marseillaise, the national anthem of France, 11 years before it was officially published by another composer.  Viotti’s musical talent was spotted early and he was taken into the household of Principe Alfonso dal Pozzo della Cisterna in Turin, where he received a musical education.  This prepared him to become a pupil of the virtuoso violinist and composer Gaetano Pugnani, while still a teenager, funded by the prince.  Viotti served at the Savoy court in Turin from 1773 to 1780, before travelling with Pugnani in Germany, Poland and Russia.  He went to France alone, where he made his debut as a violinist in 1782 in Paris.  He was an instant sensation and became court musician to Marie-Antoinette at Versailles.  Read more…


Silvio Scaroni - fighter pilot

World War I ace was air force commander in World War II

Silvio Scaroni, a fighter pilot whose tally of aerial victories in the First World War was bettered only by Francesco Baracca among Italian flying aces, was born on this day in 1893 in Brescia.  Flying mainly the French-designed Hanriot HD.1 single-seater biplane, Scaroni had 26 confirmed successes out of 30 claimed.  Baracca, who was shot down and killed only a few months before the war ended, was credited with 34 victories.  Recalled to service, Scaroni became commander of the Italian air forces in Sicily during the Second World War, in which role he clashed with Luftwaffe chief Hermann Goering, who claimed Scaroni did not provide enough support to Germany’s attempts to destroy strategically vital British bases on Malta.  Scaroni enlisted first with the Italian Army as a corporal in the 2nd Field Artillery. With the Italian entry to the First World War looking more likely - they took a neutral position at first - he transferred to the Italian Air Service in March, 1915, flying his first missions in September of that year as a reconnaissance pilot. Piloting French-built Caudron G.3 aircraft, he carried out 114 scouting missions in 20 months.  Read more…


11 May 2021

11 May

Valentino Garavani - fashion icon

Designer favoured by the world's best dressed women

The fashion designer best known simply as Valentino was born in Voghera, a town about 70km (43 miles) south of Milan in the province of Pavia, on this day in 1932.  The favourite designer of the world’s best dressed women from the 1960s onwards, he built up a business that he eventually sold for $300 million.  Born Valentino Clemente Ludovico Garavani, he became interested in fashion while still in primary school. After working initially for his aunt Rosa, with the financial support of his parents he moved to Paris to pursue his interest, studying at the École des Beaux-Arts and at the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne.  His first taste of working life came in the salons of Jean Dessès and Guy Laroche.  Armed with the knowledge and experience he gained at the feet of two French masters, he left Paris in 1959 to set up his first fashion house in Rome, on the fashionable Via Condotti. He quickly gained kudos for his bright red dresses, in a shade that became widely known as "Valentino red."  In July 1960, Valentino met Giancarlo Giammetti at the Café de Paris on the Via Veneto in Rome.  Read more…


Filippo De Pisis - painter and poet

Artist known for extravagant lifestyle

The painter and poet Filippo De Pisis, whose works grace the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice and the Palazzo Ruspoli in Rome among other galleries, was born Luigi Filippo Tibertelli De Pisis in Ferrara on this day in 1896.  A close associate for a while of Giorgio de Chirico and Carlo Carrà, De Pisis is best known for his cityscapes, metaphysically-inspired maritime scenes, and still life pictures, especially depicting flowers.  De Pisis, who was homosexual, also made many homoerotic sketches of the male nude. Later in life, he lived in Venice and became somewhat eccentric, travelling everywhere in his personal gondola.  Born into a noble family, as a boy he was known as Gigi. He was educated at home and was strongly influenced by his sister, Ernesta Tibertelli, who was a distinguished illustrator with libertarian views, and who probably introduced De Pisis to mystical writings.  De Pisis spent his childhood reading, drawing, collecting butterflies and wildflowers and writing poetry. He studied literature and philosophy at the University of Bologna, and published a volume of poems, Canti della Croara, in 1916.  Read more…


Fanny Cerrito - ballerina

Neapolitan star thrilled audiences across Europe

One of the most famous ballerinas of the Romantic era, Francesca 'Fanny' Cerrito was born on this day in 1817, in Naples.  Her talent for dancing emerged early and after training in the ballet school of the famed Naples opera house Teatro di San Carlo she made her debut there in 1832, aged only 15.  She quickly became the darling of the San Carlo and wowed dance audiences in many Italian cities. By the age of 21 she had obtained the position of prima ballerina at La Scala in Milan, working under the direction of Carlo Blasis, another Neapolitan, who was renowned for his rigorous and exacting classes.  When Cerrito and the Swedish-born ballerina, Marie Taglioni, who had Italian heritage, danced in the same programme in Milan, the event caused considerable excitement in the city, with audiences divided in their support for one or the other.  Cerrito's fame spread around Europe and for nine seasons between 1840 and 1848 she became a major attraction at Her Majesty’s Theatre, London, where she worked with the French choreographer Jules Perrot and enjoyed what many critics regarded as her finest performance in Cesare Pugni's Ondine.  Read more…


Ignazio Fiorillo – composer

Talented Neapolitan influenced music in Germany

Ignazio Fiorillo, who is remembered as an opera seria composer, was born in Naples on this day in 1715.  Fiorillo often composed music for the libretti of the acclaimed writer, Pietro Metastasio, creating the type of noble and serious operas that were fashionable in Europe in the 18th century.  After studying music at the Naples Conservatory, Fiorillo composed the opera L’egeste, which premiered in Trieste in 1733.  Another of his operas, Mandane, was first performed at the Teatro Sant’Angelo in Venice in 1736.  Fiorillo was later engaged as a composer for an ensemble specialising in performances for children and toured Europe with them.  In 1749 they stayed in Braunschweig in Germany at the court of Carl I von Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel. Fiorillo was appointed court composer the following year and during his remaining time at Braunschweig composed most of his operas.  He became composer to the court of Frederick II Landgrave of Hesse-Kassel in 1762 and went on to improve significantly the quality of court opera in Kassel. He also composed intermezzi and stage music for court theatre.  Read more…


10 May 2021

10 May

NEWCarlo Filangieri - military general

Brilliant soldier who served several masters

The military general Carlo Filangieri, who fought for both the Napoleonic and Bourbon leaders of Naples in the 19th century and is best known for his suppression of the Sicilian uprising of 1848, was born on this day in 1784 in Cava de’ Tirreni in Campania.  Filangieri was a key strategist for Joachim Murat, the flamboyant cavalry leader Napoleon had made King of Naples, achieving a major victory at personal cost in Murat’s ultimately failed campaign against Austria in 1815.  When Murat was defeated and the Bourbon monarch Ferdinand IV was reinstated as King of Naples, Filangieri was retained, going on to serve his successor, Ferdinand II of the Two Sicilies, under whose orders he put down the revolution of 1848.  Filangieri was from a noble family in Naples, the son of Gaetano Filangieri, a celebrated philosopher and jurist who had the title of Prince of Satriano, a town in Calabria, which Carlo would inherit.  His family were staying at the Villa Eva in Cava de’ Tirreni at the time of his birth, because it was felt his father’s poor health would benefit from living away from Naples.  Read more…


Antonio Ghirelli - journalist

Neapolitan writer specialised in football and politics

Antonio Ghirelli, a patriarch of Italian journalism, was born on this day in 1922 in Naples.  As passionate about football as he was about politics, Ghirelli was equally at home writing about both. At different times he edited the three principal Italian sports daily newspapers, La Gazzetta dello Sport, Tuttosport and Corriere dello Sport, but also wrote with distinction in the editorial and opinion pages of such respected titles as L'Unità, Paese Sera, Avanti!, Corriere della Sera, Il Mondo and Il Globo.  Sandro Pertini, who was President of Italy from 1978 to 1985, so respected his wisdom that he invited him to be head of the Quirinale press office. His politics were in line with those of the Socialist Pertini, as they were with Bettino Craxi, Italy’s first Socialist prime minister, for whom he was principal press officer during Craxi’s two spells in office.  Ghirelli’s first taste of politics came at university in Naples, when he wrote for a young Fascist journal.  Any sympathies he might have had with the Fascists soon disappeared, however, as Mussolini’s early socialist ideals became corrupted by his fervent nationalism and intolerance of political opponents.  Read more…


Miuccia Prada – fashion designer

Talented businesswoman studied politics and mime

Miuccia Prada, the businesswoman behind the fashion label Prada, was born Maria Bianchi on this day in 1949 in Milan.  The youngest granddaughter of the fashion firm’s founder, Mario Prada, she took over the family business in 1978 having previously been a mime student and a member of the Italian Communist Party.  Since then the company, which is famous for its luxury goods, has gone from strength to strength and taken over other labels. Prada has been listed as the 75th most powerful woman in the world, worth an estimated $11 billion.  After graduating with a PhD in political science from the University of Milan, Maria Bianchi trained at the Piccolo Teatro di Milano in mime and was a performer for five years.  As a member of the Italian Communist party she became involved in the women’s rights movement.  She took the name Miuccia Prada in the 1980s, making her first impact on the fashion world with an unusual handbag design in 1985, which was followed by her first women’s ready-to-wear collection.  The Miu Miu line was introduced in 1992 as a less expensive womenswear line.  Read more…


Antonio Priuli - Doge of Venice

Doge clamped down on Spanish ‘spies’

Antonio Priuli, who was the 94th Doge of Venice, was born on this day in 1548 in Venice.  He took office in 1618 in the midst of allegations that the Spanish were conspiring to invade Venice. He immediately began a brutal process of ferreting out individuals suspected of plotting against La Serenissima, the Most Serene Republic of Venice.  The so-called ‘spy war’ did not end until 1622 and resulted in the imprisonment and deaths of many innocent people.  Priuli was the son of Girolamo Priuli and Elisabetta Cappello. He grew up to enjoy a successful career as a sailor and a soldier and married Elena Barbarigo, with whom he had 14 children.  In 1618 Priuli was appointed provveditore, a type of governor, of Veglia, an island in the Adriatic, which now belongs to Croatia.  That same year, following the death of Doge Nicolo Donato, Priuli was recalled from Veglia to become the next Doge.  At the time it was believed that the Spanish, led by the Spanish Ambassador to Venice, Alfonso de la Cueva, 1st Marquis of Bedmar, had landed mercenaries on Venetian territory. It was thought Bedmar had successfully infiltrated the Venetian military.  Read more…


Carlo Filangieri - military general

Brilliant soldier who served several masters

Carlo Filangeri was known as a brilliant military strategist
Carlo Filangeri was known as a
brilliant military strategist
The military general Carlo Filangieri, who fought for both the Napoleonic and Bourbon leaders of Naples in the 19th century and is best known for his suppression of the Sicilian uprising of 1848, was born on this day in 1784 in Cava de’ Tirreni in Campania.

Filangieri was a key strategist for Joachim Murat, the flamboyant cavalry leader Napoleon had made King of Naples, achieving a major victory at personal cost in Murat’s ultimately failed campaign against Austria in 1815.

When Murat was defeated and the Bourbon monarch Ferdinand IV was reinstated as King of Naples, Filangieri was retained, going on to serve his successor, Ferdinand II of the Two Sicilies, under whose orders he put down the revolution of 1848.

Filangieri was from a noble family in Naples, the son of Gaetano Filangieri, a celebrated philosopher and jurist who had the title of Prince of Satriano, a town in Calabria, which Carlo would inherit.  His family were staying at the Villa Eva in Cava de’ Tirreni at the time of his birth, because it was felt his father’s poor health would benefit from living away from Naples.

From an early age he was keen to follow a military career and, after making the acquaintance in Milan of the commander of the French army in Italy, who was an admirer of his father’s work, he was introduced to Napoleon Bonaparte and given a place at military school in France. On graduating, he became a lieutenant and fought in the War of the Third Coalition, part of the Napoleonic Wars, in 1805, serving with distinction under General Louis-Nicolas Davout in the French victory against the Austrian and Russian Empires at the Battle of Austerlitz.

The sumptuous palace on the Naples waterfront that became Filangieri's home
The Palazzo Ravaschieri di Satriano a Napoli, the palace,
 on the Naples waterfront that became Filangieri's home
The following year he returned to Italy, where he served under Jean-Andre Massena's command during his campaign against Bourbon Naples, and he would later become an adjutant to Murat when the latter became King of Naples. He lived in some style at the Palazzo Ravaschieri di Satriano a Napoli, on the then-prestigious Riviera di Chiaia, the long waterfront boulevard that stretches west from the Castel dell'Ovo.

On Murat’s behalf, Filangieri pulled off a brilliant victory over the Austrians at the Battle of the Panaro near Modena in northern Italy, although he was severely wounded in the process.  

The campaign ended in defeat for Murat and Naples returned to Bourbon control, initially under the leadership of Ferdinand IV of Naples, who assumed the title of Ferdinand I of the Two Sicilies when the Kingdoms of Naples and Sicily merged in 1816.  Filangieri was retained in his rank but after siding with the Italian patriot and constitutionalist General Guglielmo Pepe in the uprisings of 1820 was dismissed from service.

He retired to his estates in Calabria but was persuaded to return by Ferdinand II in 1831. When more uprisings broke out in 1848, he advised the monarch to grant the constitution. However, this was put on hold again when Sicily seceded from Naples he was charged with regaining control of the island.

An 1830 painting shows Joachim Murat helping the wounded Filangieri at the Battle of the Panaro
An 1830 painting shows Joachim Murat helping
the wounded Filangieri at the Battle of the Panaro
After severe fighting and sustained bombardment, he captured Messina, the city at the northeast tip of the island, closest to the mainland, after which he advanced south, laying siege to Catania. By May 1849, at a cost of considerable bloodshed, he had subdued the whole of Sicily, though not without much bloodshed.

He remained in Sicily until 1855. On the death of Ferdinand II in 1859, the new monarch Francis II appointed Filangieri as minister of war and president of the council. However, he soon resigned after Francis rejected another proposal to grant a popular constitution and to ally Naples with France and Piedmont against Austria. 

The following year, Francis at last promulgated the constitution, but by then Giuseppe Garibaldi’s forces were in Sicily and Naples was a cauldron of rebellion. Filangieri refused to fight against Garibaldi and was ordered to leave Naples. 

He initially went to Marseilles, moved for a time to Florence and eventually settled at his villa in San Giorgio a Cremano, in the foothills of Vesuvius, where he died in October 1867 at the age of 81.

The Borgo Scacciaventi is part of Cava's main street
The Borgo Scacciaventi is
part of Cava's main street
Travel tip:

Cava de’ Tirreni, where Filangieri was born, is a fascinating historical town just a few kilometres inland from Vietri sul Mare, the seaside resort at the southern end of the famed Amalfi Coast, occupying the valley between the cities of Salerno and Nocera Inferiore.  It takes its name from its first inhabitants, the Tyrrhenians, who were descended from the Etruscans. The focal point of the town is the long, porticoed Corso Umberto, which runs from one end of the centre to the other, eventually turning into the narrow, winding Borgo Scacciaventi, which was Cava’s 15th century shopping centre. With its nearby Benedictine Abbey, the Abbazia della Santissima Trinità, Cava de' Tirreni has been an important destination for travellers since the 17th century and was popular with poets and Grand Tourists in the 19th century.

The Villa Vannucchi, with its impressive gardens, is one of the Ville Vesuviane in San Giorgio a Cremano
The Villa Vannucchi, with its impressive gardens, is
one of the Ville Vesuviane in San Giorgio a Cremano

Travel tip:

Now a densely populated suburb of the Naples metropolis, San Giorgio a Cremano was a much different place in the 18th and 19th centuries, when it was one of the five traditional towns that travellers would pass through as they made their way south along the Bay of Naples, along with Portici, Ercolano, Torre del Greco and Torre Annunziata. All five towns were then popular summer resorts and many wealthy and aristocratic families chose them for their holiday homes. The sumptuous summer residences they built became known as the Ville Vesuviane (Vesuvian Villas), a great number of which are still preserved in San Giorgio.

Also on this day:

1548: The birth of Doge of Venice Antonio Priuli

1922: The birth of journalist Antonio Ghirelli

1949: The birth of fashion designer Miuccia Prada


9 May 2021

9 May

Giovanni Paisiello - composer

Audience favourite with a jealous streak

The composer Giovanni Paisiello, who wrote more than 90 operas and much other music and was enormously popular in the 18th century, was born on this day in 1740 in Taranto.  Paisiello was talented, versatile and had a big influence on other composers of his day and later, yet he was jealous of the success of rivals and is remembered today primarily as the composer whose passionate fans wrecked the premiere of Gioachino Rossini’s opera Almaviva, which was based on the same French play as Paisiello’s Il barbiere di siviglia, which was regarded as his masterpiece.  Rossini’s opera would eventually be more commonly known as Il barbiere di siviglia, but not until after Paisiello had died.  Nonetheless, Paisiello’s supporters still felt Rossini was attempting to steal their favourite’s thunder and many of them infiltrated the audience at Almaviva’s opening night in Rome and disrupted the performance with constant jeers and catcalls.  History has shown that perhaps they were right to be worried: today, Rossini’s Barber of Seville is one of the world’s most popular operas, yet Paisiello’s is rarely performed.   Read more…


Ottavio Missoni - fashion designer

Former prisoner of war was also an Olympic hurdler

The fashion designer Ottavio Missoni died on this day in 2013 at the age of 92 following an extraordinary life.  He passed away at his home in Sumirago, 55km (34 miles) north-west of Milan, having requested his release from hospital in order to spend his last days with his family.  Missoni was the co-founder of the Italian fashion brand Missoni, which he set up in 1953 with his wife, Rosita. The company became known around the world for its brightly coloured geometric knits and zigzag patterns and were among the pioneers of Italian ready-to-wear clothing lines.  Earlier, he had been an infantryman during the Second World War, fighting at the Battle of El Alamein in 1942. He was captured by the 7th Armoured Division of the British Army, popularly known as the Desert Rats, and spent the remainder of the war in an English prisoner-of-war camp in Egypt.  After the war, he pursued his passion for competitive athletics, becoming good enough to be selected in the Italian team for the 1948 Olympics in London, where he reached the final of the 400m hurdles event.  Missoni was born in Dubrovnik, on the Dalmatian coast, in 1921. His mother was a countess.  Read more…


Victor Emmanuel III abdicates

Last ditch bid to save the monarchy fails

Italy’s longest-reigning King, Victor Emmanuel III (Vittorio Emanuele III di Savoia), abdicated from the throne on this day in 1946.  To try to save the monarchy, Victor Emmanuel III had earlier transferred his powers to his son, Umberto. But he formally abdicated 70 years ago today, hoping the new King, Umberto II, would be able to strengthen support for the monarchy.  Victor Emmanuel III went to live in Alexandria in Egypt , where he died, after just 18 months in exile, in December 1947.  In contrast with his father, who had been King of Italy for nearly 46 years, Umberto reigned for just over a month, from 9 May to 12 June. The country had voted in a referendum to abolish the monarchy and Italy was declared a republic. Umberto went into exile and was later nicknamed Re di maggio, the May King.  Victor Emmanuel III had at one time been a popular King of Italy, ascending to the throne in 1900 after his father was assassinated in Monza.  During his reign, Italy had been involved in two world wars and experienced the rise and fall of fascism.  At the height of his success he was nicknamed by the Italians Re soldato (Soldier King).  Read more…


Carlo Maria Giulini - conductor

Boy violinist who became a maestro of the baton

Carlo Maria Giulini, who conducted many of the world’s great orchestras in a career spanning 54 years, was born on this day in 1914 in Barletta, a town on the Adriatic coast 66km (41 miles) north of the port city of Bari.  Appointed musical director of Teatro alla Scala in Milan in 1953, he went on to become one of the most celebrated conductors of orchestral performances, developing long associations with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Philharmonia of London in particular, as well as the orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, the Vienna Symphony Orchestra and the Los Angeles Philharmonic.  He became renowned for projecting serene authority from the podium, as well as his selfless devotion to the score. A handsome man who was always impeccably tailored, he had a magisterial presence. Initially most recognised for the breadth and detail he brought to the operas of Verdi and Mozart, he eventually became as well known for his orchestral repertoire.  Carlo Maria Giulini was born to a Neapolitan mother and a father from Lombardy. Although born in the south of Italy, he was raised in Bolzano. Read more…

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8 May 2021

8 May

Italy's first football championship

Four teams played three matches - all in one day

Genoa became the first football champions of Italy on this day in 1898, winning a four-team tournament that took place in Turin in the space of a single day.  The event was organised by the newly-formed Italian Football Federation, set up earlier in the year after Genoa and FC Torinese had met in the first organised match played on Italian soil.  The two other teams invited to take part were also from Turin, namely Internazionale di Torino and Ginnastica Torino.  They assembled at the Velodromo Umberto I, where there was space for a pitch at the centre of a cycle track, with the first match kicking off at 9am.  Internazionale beat FC Torinese 1-0 in the opening game, after which Genoa defeated Ginnastica 2-1. After a break for lunch, the final kicked off at 3pm, Genoa winning again by a 2-1 scoreline, reportedly after playing extra time.  The trophy was presented by the Duke of the Abruzzi.  At least four members of the Genoa team were British, including the goalkeeper, James Spensley, a doctor from Stoke Newington in London who had arrived in the port city in 1897 to look after the health needs of British sailors.  Read more…


Giovanni Battista Gaulli – artist

Baroque painter decorated leading Jesuit church in Rome

Painter Giovanni Battista Gaulli, whose nickname was Baciccio, was born on this day in 1639 in Genoa.  He became a leading baroque painter whose work was influenced by the sculptor and architect Gian Lorenzo Bernini. He is most remembered for his beautiful frescoes in the Church of Gesù in Rome, which are considered a masterpiece of quadratura, or architectural illusionism.  Gaulli was born in Genoa and his parents died when he was just a teenager in an outbreak of plague in the city.  He was apprenticed with the painter Luciano Borzone but would also have been influenced by some of the foreign artists who were working in Genoa in the mid 17th century.  Peter Paul Rubens and Anthony van Dyck were in Genoa at the time but it is also said that Gaulli adopted the warm palette of Genoese artist Bernardo Strozzi.  Gaulli was introduced to Bernini, who recognised his talent and helped to promote him. In 1662 he was accepted into the Roman artists’ guild, the Accademia di San Luca.  The following year Gaulli received his first public commission, for an altarpiece in the Church of San Rocco in Rome.  Read more…


Franco Baresi - AC Milan great

Defender voted club's 'player of the century'

The great AC Milan and Italy footballer Franco Baresi was born on this day in 1960 in Travagliato, a town in Lombardy about 13km (8 miles) south-west of Brescia.  Baresi, a central defender who was at his most effective playing in the libero – sweeper – role, made 719 competitive appearances for the rossoneri, with whom he spent his entire playing career, spanning 20 years.  During that time he won the Italian championship – the Scudetto – six times and the European Cup three times, as well as many other trophies. He was made captain of the team at just 22 years old.  At Milan he was part of one of the most formidable defences of all time, alongside Paolo Maldini, Alessandro Costacurta, Mauro Tassotti, and later Christian Panucci, with Giovanni Galli in goal.  He and Maldini shared the extraordinary record that in 196 matches they played together, AC Milan conceded only 23 goals.  Baresi also won 81 caps for the Azzurri in an international career in which he went to three World Cups.  Although he did not make an appearance, he was part of the Azzurri squad that won the competition in Spain in 1982.  Read more…


Victor Amadeus I of Savoy

Duke’s French connection may have proved fatal

Victor Amadeus I, who during his seven-year reign over Savoy was forced to give strategic territory to France, was born on this day in 1587 in Turin.  He was the son of Charles Emmanuel I, Duke of Savoy, and Catherine Micaela of Spain, daughter of Philip II of Spain.  Victor Amadeus spent much of his childhood in Madrid at the court of his grandfather.  He became heir-apparent to the Duchy of Savoy, when his brother, Filippo Emanuele, died in 1605 and he succeeded to the Dukedom after his father’s death in 1630.  Charles Emmanuel’s policies had made relationships with France and Spain unstable and troops were needed to defend the Duchy.  But as there was no money to recruit mercenaries or train local soldiers, Victor Amadeus signed a peace treaty with Spain.  In 1619 he married Christine Marie of France, the daughter of Henry IV of France and Marie de Medici.  After war broke out amongst rival claimants to the city of Mantua, the French took the fortress of Pinerolo, part of the Duchy of Savoy, in 1630.  The Treaty of Cherasco the following year brought peace again to northern Italy.  Read more…


7 May 2021

7 May

Andrea Lo Cicero - rugby star 

Prop nicknamed "il Barone" now bona fide Knight

Former Italian international rugby star Andrea Lo Cicero was born on this day in 1976 in Catania, Sicily.  The 113 kilo (249lb) prop forward played rugby for the Azzurri between 2000 and 2013, retiring with 103 caps.  At the time it was the highest number won by any player and Lo Cicero was only the second player in the history of the national team to win more than 100 caps.  He made his debut against England at the Stadio Flaminio in Rome in March 2000, as the Five Nations Championship became the Six Nations with the inclusion of Italy for the first time, and ended his international career in the capital, although this time at the Stadio Olimpico, in a 22-15 victory over Ireland in the 2013 Championship, in front of a crowd of 80,054.  Highlights along the way included an outstanding performance in the 2004 Championship, when Italy beat Scotland in Rome and Lo Cicero was named in the BBC's Dream XV.  Later that year he was the only European player selected for the Barbarians team that took on New Zealand, in which he scored a rare try.  He also played in three rugby World Cups, in Australia in 2003, France in 2007 and New Zealand in 2011.  Read more…


Raimondo Vianello - actor and TV host

Big-screen star who conquered television too

Raimondo Vianello, who enjoyed a career that brought success on the big screen and small screen in equal measure, was born on this day in 1922 in Rome.   Vianello first rose to fame in the 1950s through a satirical TV show in which he starred with the great commedia all’Italiana actor Ugo Tognazzi, which was eventually banned.  From television he moved into movies, appearing in no fewer than 79 films in the space of just 21 years, between 1947 and 1968, some with Tognazzi, but also alongside other stars such as Totò and Virna Lisi.  His notable successes included his portrayal alongside Raffaella Carrà of a hopeless secret agent in Mariano Laurenti’s 1966 film Il vostro superagente Flit - a parody of Our Man Flint, an American production that was in itself a parody of the James Bond movies - and Michele Lupo’s comedy Sette volte sette (Seven Times Seven) in 1968, in which he portrayed an inmate in a London prison.  Vianello’s ban from television in 1954 followed a sketch on he and Tognazzi’s popular show Un due tre, broadcast by the Italian state network Rai, in which they sent up an incident at La Scala opera house in Milan the night before.  Read more…


Marco Galiazzo - Olympic champion

First to win gold medal for Italy in archery

Marco Galiazzo, the first Italian to win an Olympic gold medal in archery, was born on this day in 1983 in Ponte San Nicolò, just outside Padua.  He won the men’s individual competition at the 2004 Games in Athens at the age of 21, defeating Great Britain’s Larry Godfrey 110-108 in the semi-finals before winning the gold medal match 111-109 against 42-year-old Hiroshi Yamamoto, of Japan. Galiazzo was only one when the veteran Yamamoto competed at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles.  Galiazzo was one of 10 Italian gold medal winners at the 2004 Olympics, in which Paolo Bettini won the men’s road race in the cycling competition and Stefano Baldini the men’s marathon.  Eight years later, at the London Games of 2012, Galiazzo won his second Olympic gold as part of the Italian team, alongside Michele Frangilli and Mauro Nespoli, that defeated the United States in the final of the team event at Lord’s Cricket Ground, where Frangilli’s 10 with the last arrow of the match clinched the title.  In between, at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, along with Nespoli and Ilario Di Buò, he had won the silver in the team event.  Read more…


Domenico Bartolucci – composer

Talented musician served under six popes

Cardinal Domenico Bartolucci, director of the Sistine Chapel Choir for 40 years and a talented and prolific composer, was born on this day in 1917 in Borgo San Lorenzo in Tuscany.  Bartolucci was considered one of the most authoritative interpreters of the works of composer Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina and he led the Sistine Chapel Choir in performances all over the world.  His own compositions are said to fill more than 40 volumes and include masses, hymns, madrigals, orchestral music and an opera.  Bartolucci was born in Borgo San Lorenzo near Florence, the son of a brick factory worker who loved the music of Verdi and Donizetti. Bartolucci was recruited as a singer at the seminary in Florence at a young age. After the death of his music master, Bartolucci succeeded him as director of music for the Chapel of the Duomo of Florence and began to compose masses, motets and organ music.  Bartolucci went to Rome to deepen his knowledge of sacred music and served as deputy master of the choir at the Church of St John Lateran. In 1947 he was appointed Master of the Choir of Santa Maria Maggiore.  Read more…