4 October 2021

4 October

Giovanni Battista Piranesi – artist

Genius who put 18th century Rome on the map

Draftsman, printmaker and architect Giovanni Battista Piranesi was born on this day in 1720 in Mogliano Veneto near Treviso in the Veneto.  He became famous for his large prints depicting the buildings of Rome, which stimulated interest in Rome and inspired the neoclassical movement in art in the 18th century.  Piranesi went to Rome to work as a draftsman for the Venetian ambassador when he was 20. There he studied with some of the leading printmakers of the day.  It was during this period that he developed his own, original etching technique, producing rich textures and bold contrasts of light and shadow by means of intricate, repeated bitings of the copperplate.  Among his finest early prints are the Prisons - Carceri - imaginary scenes depicting ancient Roman ruins, which are converted into fantastic dungeons filled with scaffolding and instruments of torture.  Piranesi later opened a workshop in Via del Corso and created the series of vedute - views - of Rome that established his fame.  Among his best mature prints are the series Roman Antiquities (Le antichita romane), Views of Rome (Vedute di Roma) and views of the Greek temples at Paestum.  Read more…


Ignazio Boschetto - tenor

Talented singer is known for being the funny guy in Il Volo

Ignazio Boschetto, a singer in the award-winning pop and opera trio Il Volo, was born on this day in 1994 in Bologna in the region of Emilia-Romagna.  His Sicilian parents, Vito Boschetto and Caterina Licari, took him back to live in Sicily and he grew up in Marsala in the province of Trapani in the most western part of Sicily.  He has said in interviews that from being about three years old he used to sing operatic arias alone in his room, such as La donna e mobile from Rigoletto by Giuseppe Verdi, much to the surprise of his parents.  Ignazio could be classed as a lyric tenor, considering the timbre of his voice, which is warm and soft, but strong enough to sing over an orchestra. A complete artist, Ignazio also plays the piano, guitar and drums.  When he was 12 he started to take part in festivals and competitions and in December 2007 he reached the finals of the Premio Nave Punica, winning third place among competitors of all ages.  The following year he won the 11th Festival della Canzone di Custonaci singing Il mare calmo della sera. In December, when he had turned 13, he won the third edition of the Premio Nave Punica.  Read more…


Bernardino Ramazzini - physician

Pioneer in knowledge of occupational diseases, cancer and malaria

The physician Bernardino Ramazzini, often described as the “father of occupational medicine” and responsible also for pioneering work in the study of cancer and the treatment of malaria, was born in Carpi in Emilia-Romagna on this day in 1633.  Ramazzini’s tour de force, which he completed at the age of 67, was his book De Morbis Artificum Diatriba - Discourse of the Diseases of Workers - which came to be regarded as a seminal work in his field, the lessons from which still influence practice today in the prevention and treatment of occupational diseases.  A student at the University of Parma, Ramazzini was appointed chair of theory of medicine at the University of Modena in 1682 and professor of medicine at the University of Padua from 1700 until his death in 1714.  It was while he was in Parma that he began to take an interest in diseases suffered by workers.  When he became a departmental head at Modena, he began to study the health problems of workers in a more systematic way.  He would visit their workplaces, observe the activities they undertook in their work and discuss their health problems with them.  Read more…


Francesco Solimena - painter

Neapolitan artist who influenced a generation

Francesco Solimena, a prolific painter in the Baroque style who became one of the wealthiest and most influential artists in Europe, was born on this day in 1657 in Canale di Sereno, a village in Campania about 14km (9 miles) southeast of Avellino.  He spent most of his working life in Naples yet his fame spread far beyond and his work was in such demand among his wealthy patrons, including Prince Eugene of Savoy, Louis XIV of France and Pope Benedict XIII, that he acquired a considerable fortune, was given the title of baron and lived in a palace.  His workshop became effectively an academy, at the heart of the Naples cultural scene. Among many who trained there were the leading painters Francesco de Mura, Giuseppe Bonito, Corrado Giaquinto and Sebastiano Conca.  The Scottish portraitist Allan Ramsay was a pupil in his studio in around 1737-38.  Solimena’s own training came initially from his father, Angelo, a revered painter of frescoes, with whom he worked at the cathedral of Nocera in the province of Salerno, and at the church of San Domenico at Solofra, not far from his home village.  He often worked in Nocera later in life.  Read more…


Feast of Saint Francis of Assisi

Lamps light up Assisi in memory of saint

The city of Assisi in Umbria is today celebrating the Feast Day - la festa - of their famous Saint, Francis - Francesco -  who is one of the most venerated religious figures in history.  It is the most important festival in the Franciscan calendar as it commemorates Saint Francis’s transition from this life to the afterlife.  For two days Assisi is illuminated by lamps burning consecrated oil. Special services are held in the Basilica Papale di San Francesco and the Basilica di Santa Maria degli Angeli.  The feast day is also celebrated in other churches all over the world and children are encouraged to bring their pets to be blessed in memory of Saint Francis’s love for animals.  Saint Francis was born Giovanni di Pietro di Bernardone in about 1181 in Assisi but he was informally known as Francesco by his family.  A theory is that his father, Pietro di Bernardone, a prosperous silk merchant, decided to call his new son Francesco - the Frenchman - because he had been on business in France at the time of the birth.  His wife, Pica de Bourlemont, was a noblewoman from Provence, although it was she who chose the name Giovanni.  Read more…

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3 October 2021

3 October

Eleonora Duse – actress

Performer 'became' the person she played with her whole being

Regarded as one of the greatest acting talents of all times, Eleonora Duse was born on this day in 1858 in Vigevano in Lombardy.  Often simply known as Duse, she was admired for her total assumption of the roles she played. In 1947, the film, Eleonora Duse, was made about her life.  She began acting at the age of four, joining her father and grandfather in the profession. She worked in a troupe with her family, travelling from city to city. Duse became famous for creating Italian versions of roles made famous by the actor Sarah Bernhardt.  Duse toured South America, Russia and the US, beginning the tours as an unknown actor, but leaving in her wake a general recognition of her genius.  She had an affair with the Italian poet, Arrigo Boito, who was the librettist for the composer, Giuseppe Verdi.  They carried out their relationship in a clandestine manner, but the letters they exchanged have survived and they remained on good terms until Boito’s death in 1918.  In 1895 Duse met the writer Gabriele D’Annunzio and they became involved romantically as well as professionally.  D’Annunzio wrote four plays for her but when he gave the lead in La Città Morta to Sarah Bernhardt instead of her, Duse ended her relationship with him.  Read more…


Alessandro Mazzinghi - boxing champion

Tuscan fighter held world title twice

The boxer Alessandro 'Sandro' Mazzinghi, who won the world light middleweight championship twice in his 64-fight career, was born on this day in 1938 in Pontedera in Tuscany.  Mazzinghi won the title for the first time at the Velodromo Vigorelli in Milan in September 1963, defeating the American Ralph Dupas, defending his title successfully in a rematch in Sydney, Australia in December of the same year.  He lost the crown to fellow Italian Nino Benvenuti in 1965 at the San Siro football stadium in Milan but regained it at the same venue in May 1968, defeating  the South Korean Ki-Soo.  He did so after recovering from an horrific car crash in January 1964 that claimed the life of his young wife, Vera, only 12 days after they were married.  The couple had been on their way home to Pontedera from a gala dinner in Montecatini Terme in Tuscany when their car slid off a muddy road in heavy rain and collided with a tree.  Vera was killed instantly and Mazzinghi, who was thrown from the car, suffered a fractured skull.  He was in a critical condition for several days but recovered. Amazingly, he was back in the ring within weeks.  Read more…


Ruggero Raimondi - opera star

Singer overcame shyness to become a great bass-baritone

The bass-baritone singer Ruggero Raimondi, who would become famous for his performances in the operas of Verdi, Rossini, Puccini and Mozart, was born on this day in Bologna in 1941.  Blessed with a mature voice at an early age, he was soon encouraged to pursue a career in opera and enrolled at the Giuseppe Verdi Conservatory in Milan at the age of only 16, later continuing his studies in Rome at the Accademia di Santa Cecilia.  He won a national competition for young singers in Spoleto and made his debut in the same Umbrian city in 1964 in the role of Colline in Giacomo Puccini's La bohème in 1964. Soon afterwards, he appeared in the leading role of Procida in Verdi’s I vespri siciliani at the Rome Opera House.  Raimondi was also studying accountancy, wary that his ambitions in opera might not materialise.  But then came an audition at La Fenice opera house in Venice, after which Raimondi was offered a five-year contract.  Naturally shy, he struggled with the acting element to operas but was able to conquer his inhibitions with the help of acting lessons and work with a vocal coach who taught him interpretation.  Read more…


2 October 2021

2 October

Joe Profaci - Mafia boss

Sicilian who influenced profile of Mario Puzo’s Godfather

The Mafia boss Giuseppe ‘Joe’ Profaci, one of the real-life gangsters who influenced the author Mario Puzo as he created the character of his fictional mob boss Vito Corleone in The Godfather, was born in Villabate in Sicily on this day in 1897.  It was after studying Profaci’s crime career that he decided that Corleone, who is thought to have been based largely on one of Profaci's fellow mob bosses, Carlo Gambino, should hide his criminal activities behind his ‘legitimate’ identity as an olive oil importer, mirroring what Profaci did in real life in New York.  Profaci is believed to have started importing olive oil before he became heavily involved in crime but chose to keep the business going as one of a network of legitimate companies, so that he could mask the proceeds of his crime empire and satisfy the authorities that he was paying his taxes.  In fact, the olive oil business became a hugely lucrative concern, particularly when shortages in the Second World War enabled him to sell the product at premium prices. The irony of Profaci’s criminal life was that his legitimate companies, of which he had as many as 20, actually provided work for hundreds of New Yorkers.  Read more...


Antonio Di Pietro – magistrate and politician

Former policeman who led Mani Pulite corruption investigations

The politician and former magistrate Antonio Di Pietro, who uncovered wide-ranging corruption in the Italian government in a scandal that changed the landscape of Italian politics, was born on this day in 1950 in Molise.  Di Pietro was the lead prosecutor in the so-called Mani Pulite trials in the early 1990s, which led to many politicians and businessmen being indicted and to the collapse of the traditional Socialist and Christian Democratic parties.  The Christian Democrats had been the dominant force in Italian politics since the formation of the Italian Republic at the end of the Second World War but after several high-profile arrests and resignations and poor results in the 1992 general election and 1993 local elections the party was disbanded in 1994.  The Italian Socialist Party was dissolved in the same year following the resignation of party secretary and former prime minister Bettino Craxi, who was the most high-profile casualty in the corruption scandal. It was also known as Tangentopoli, which can be roughly translated as “Bribesville”.  Di Pietro was born into a poor rural family in Montenero di Bisaccia, a hill town in the province of Campobasso in the Molise region.  Read more…


Saint Charles Borromeo

Great reformer earned appreciation after his death

Charles (Carlo) Borromeo, a leading Catholic figure who led the movement to combat the spread of Protestantism, was born on this day in Milan in 1538.  Part of the noble Borromeo family, he became a Cardinal and brought in many reforms to benefit the Church, which made him unpopular at the time. But he was held in high regard after his death and was quickly made a saint by Pope Paul V.  Borromeo was born at the Castle of Arona on Lake Maggiore, near Milan. His father was Count of Arona and his mother was part of the Medici family.  He was educated in civil and canon law at the University of Pavia.  When his uncle, Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Medici became Pope Pius IV in 1559, Borromeo was brought to Rome and given a post in the Vatican.  The following year the Pope made him a Cardinal and asked him to supervise the Franciscans, Carmelites and Knights of Malta and organise the last session of the Council of Trent, which was being held in Trento to reform the Church and counter the spread of Protestantism.  The Council issued a long list of decrees covering disputed aspects of the Catholic religion as well as denouncing what it considered to be heresies committed in the name of Protestantism.  Read more…


1 October 2021

1 October

Attilio Pavesi - Olympic cycling champion

Rider from Emilia-Romagna won Italy's first road racing gold 

Attilio Pavesi, the first winner of an individual Olympic gold medal in Italian cycling history, was born on this day in 1910 in the small town of Caorso in Emilia-Romagna.  At the Los Angeles Olympics of 1932, Pavesi won the individual road race and picked up a second gold medal as a member of the Italian quartet that won the team classification in the same race.  Italy had already won gold medals for the team pursuit in track cycling - indeed, they won that title for the fourth time in a row in 1932 - but had not enjoyed success on the road before Pavesi's triumph.  Pavesi, the last of 11 children born to Angelo, a poultry farmer, and his wife Maria, was a natural all-round sportsman, excelling at running, long jump, swimming, diving, gymnastics and football as he grew up.  He was such a strong swimmer he once saved a boy from drowning in a local river by pulling him to the bank by his hair.  His interest in cycling developed after he left school at the age of 10 to take a job in a workshop, learning how to repair all modes of transport from bicycles to tractors.  He joined a cycling team and won a number of trophies and continued to compete during his national service.  Read more…


Walter Mazzarri - football coach

Former Watford manager with outstanding record in Italy

The football coach Walter Mazzarri, whose disappointing spell in English football as Watford manager contrasts with a fine record as a coach in his native Italy, was born on this day in 1961 in San Vincenzo, a resort on the coast of Tuscany.  Mazzarri won promotion to Serie A with his local club Livorno and kept tiny Calabrian team Reggina in Serie A against the odds for three consecutive seasons, on the last occasion despite an 11-point deduction for involvement in an alleged match-fixing scandal.  He subsequently had two seasons as coach of Sampdoria, qualifying for the UEFA Cup by finishing sixth in the first of those campaigns and then reaching the final of the Coppa Italia with a team that included the potent attacking duo Antonio Cassano and Giampaolo Pazzini.  After that he returned to Napoli, where he had previously been assistant to Renzo Ulivieri, to be appointed head coach in 2009, guiding the azzurri to sixth place - their best Serie A finish for 25 years - to qualify for the Europa League in his first season in charge, and doing even better in his second season, when Napoli were third, their highest placing since the golden days of the late 1980s.  Read more…


Leonello d’Este - Marquis of Ferrara

Ruler who spent money on the arts and education

Leonello d’Este, who is remembered as a dedicated patron of the arts, literature and culture, died on this day in 1450 in Ferrara.  Leonello was Marquis of Ferrara and Duke of Modena and Reggio Emilia from 1441 to 1450.  An illegitimate son of Niccolo III d’Este, Leonello was favoured by his father as his successor ahead of his legitimate children.  As he was well educated and popular with the common people, he was considered by his father to be the most suitable heir.  During his rule over Ferrara, Leonello transformed the city and reformed the University of Ferrara, actions which influenced the political and artistic achievements of his successors.  Leonello was tutored by Guarino Veronese, who instructed him on the traits of a desirable ruler and how to govern. Veronese was later appointed as a professor at the University of Ferrara.  Because of his strong academic background, Leonello made economic, political and cultural changes to Ferrara as soon as he took over. He was responsible for the building of the first hospital in Ferrara.  Artists such as Pisanello, Bellini, Mantegna and Della Francesca worked for him in Ferrara.  Read more…