6 December 2022

6 December

Baldassare Castiglione – courtier and diplomat

Writer left a definitive account of life at court in Renaissance Italy

Baldassare Castiglione, the author of the Italian classic, The Book of the Courtier, was born on this day in 1478 near Mantua in Lombardy.  His book about etiquette at court and the ideal of the Renaissance gentleman has been widely read over the years and was even a source of material for Shakespeare after it was translated into English.  Castiglione was born into a noble household and was related on his mother’s side to the powerful Gonzaga family of Mantua. After studying in Milan he succeeded his father as head of the family and was soon representing the Gonzaga family diplomatically.  As a result he met Guidobaldo da Montefeltro, Duke of Urbino, and later took up residence in his court, which was regarded as the most refined and elegant in Italy at the time and received many distinguished guests.  The court was presided over by the Duke’s wife, Elisabetta Gonzaga, who impressed Castiglione so much that he wrote platonic sonnets and songs for her.  During this time he also became a friend of the painter, Raphael, who painted a portrait of him.  Castiglione later took part in an expedition against Venice organised by Pope Julius II during the Italian wars.  Read more…


Piero Piccioni – film music composer and lawyer

Politician’s son gave up legal practice to write movie scores

Pianist, conductor and prolific composer Piero Piccioni was born on this day in 1921 in Turin in the northern region of Piedmont.  A self-taught musician, Piccioni became  a composer of film soundtracks, writing more than 300 scores, themes and songs for top directors such as Francesco Rosi, Luchino Visconti, Bernardo Bertolucci, Roberto Rossellini and Vittoria De Sica.  Piccioni had come into contact with the film industry during the 1950s while practising as a lawyer in Rome and working to secure movie rights for Italian distributors such as Titanus and  De Laurentiis.  His interest in music had started as a result of being taken to concerts by his father, Attillio Piccioni, who was a prominent Christian Democrat politician.  Although Piccioni never studied music formally, he became a talented musician by teaching himself. He had listened to jazz during his childhood  and was a fan of Art Tatum and Charlie Parker. He was also influenced by 20th century classical composers and American cinematography and he started writing songs of his own.  Read more…


Niccolò Zucchi – astronomer

Jesuit's invention gave him a clear view of the planets

Niccolò Zucchi, who designed one of the earliest reflecting telescopes, was born on this day in 1586 in Parma.  His invention enabled him to be the first to discover the belts on the planet Jupiter and to examine the spots on the planet Mars. This was before the telescopes designed by James Gregory and Sir Isaac Newton, which, it has been claimed, were inspired by Zucchi’s book, Optica philosophia.  Zucchi studied rhetoric in Piacenza and philosophy and theology in Parma before entering the Jesuit order in Padua at the age of 16.  He taught mathematics, rhetoric and theology at the Collegio Romano in Rome and was then appointed rector of a new Jesuit college in Ravenna. He then served as apostolic preacher (the preacher to the Papal household) for about seven years.  Zucchi published several books about mechanics, magnetism, barometers and astronomy.  When he was sent with other papal officials to the court of Ferdinand II, he met the German mathematician and astronomer, Johannes Kepler, who encouraged his interest in studying the planets. They carried on writing to each other after Zucchi returned to Rome.  Read more…


Luigi Lablache – opera star

19th century giant was Queen Victoria’s singing coach

The singer Luigi Lablache, whose powerful but agile bass-baritone voice and wide-ranging acting skills made him a superstar of 19th century opera, was born in Naples on this day in 1794.  Lablache was considered one of the greatest singers of his generation; for his interpretation of characters such as Leporello in Mozart’s Don Giovanni, Geronimo in Domenico Cimarosa’s Il matrimonio segreto, Gottardo the Podestà in Gioachino Rossini’s La gazza ladra, Henry VIII in Gaetano Donizetti’s Anna Bolena and Oroveso in Vincenzo Bellini’s Norma he had few peers.  Donizetti created the role of Don Pasquale in his comic opera of the same name specifically for Lablache.  Lablache performed in all of Italy’s major opera houses and was a star too in Vienna, London, St Petersburg and Paris, which he adopted as his home in later life, having acquired a beautiful country house at Maisons-Laffitte, just outside the French capital.  He was approached to give singing lessons to the future Queen Victoria a year before she inherited the English throne, in 1836.  He found the future queen to have a clear soprano voice and a keen interest in music and opera and they developed a close bond.   Read more…


Andrea Agnelli - Juventus chairman

Fourth member of famous dynasty to run Turin club

The businessman Andrea Agnelli, who from 2010 until recently was chairman of Italy’s leading football club, Juventus, was born on this day in 1975 in Turin.  He was the fourth Agnelli to take the helm of the famous club since 1923, when his grandfather, Edoardo, took over as president and presided over the club’s run of five consecutive Serie A titles in the 1930s.  Andrea’s father, Umberto, and his uncle, the flamboyant entrepreneur Gianni Agnelli, also had spells running the club, which has been controlled by the Agnelli family for 88 years, with the exception of a four-year period between 1943 and 1947. The family still owns 64% of the club.  As well as being chief operating officer of Fiat, which was founded by Andrea’s great-grandfather, Giovanni, Umberto was a Senator of the Italian Republic.  On his mother’s side, Andrea has noble blood.  Donna Allegra Caracciolo di Castagneto is the first cousin of Marella Agnelli - Gianni’s widow - who was born Donna Marella Caracciolo di Castagneto and is the daughter of Filippo Caracciolo, 8th Prince di Castagneto, 3rd Duke di Melito, and a hereditary Patrician of Naples.  Andrea had a private education at St Clare's, an independent college in Oxford, England, and at Bocconi University in Milan.  Read more…



5 December 2022

5 December

Maria De Filippi - television presenter

One of the most popular faces on Italian TV

The television presenter Maria De Filippi, who has hosted numerous talk and talent shows in a career spanning almost 30 years, was born on this day in 1961 in Milan.  De Filippi is best known as the presenter of the long-running talent show Amici de Maria De Filippi, which launched in 2001.  The show’s predecessor, called simply Amici, was hosted by De Filippi from 1993 onwards.  One of the most popular faces on Italian television, De Filippi has been married since 1995 to the veteran talk show host and journalist Maurizio Costanzo, now in his 80s.  The daughter of a drugs company representative and a Greek teacher, De Filippi was born in Milan before moving at age 10 to Mornico Losana, a village in the province of Pavia, where her parents owned a vineyard.  A graduate in law, she had ambitions of a career as a magistrate but in 1989, while she was working in the legal department of a video cassette company, she had a chance meeting with Costanzo at a conference in Venice to discuss ways of combating musical piracy.  Costanzo soon invited her to move to Rome to work for his communication and image company.  Read more…


Francesco Gemianini - composer and violinist

Tuscan played alongside Handel in court of George I

The violinist, composer and music theorist Francesco Saverio Geminiani, who worked alongside George Frideric Handel in the English royal court in the early 18th century and became closely associated with the music of the Italian Baroque composer Arcangelo Corelli, was baptised on this day in 1687 in Lucca, Tuscany.  Although he composed many works and at his peak was renowned as a virtuoso violinist, he is regarded as a significant figure in the history of music more for his writings, in particular his 1751 treatise Art of Playing on the Violin, which explained the 18th-century Italian method of violin playing and is still acknowledged as an invaluable source for the study of performance practice in the late Baroque period.  Geminiani himself was taught to play the violin by his father, and after showing considerable talent at an early age he went to study the violin under Carlo Ambrogio Lonati in Milan, later moving to Rome to be tutored by the aforementioned Corelli.  Returning to Lucca, he played the violin in the orchestra at the Cappella Palatina for three years, after which he moved to Naples to take up a position as Leader of the Opera Orchestra and concertmaster.  Read more…


Armando Diaz - First World War general

Neapolitan commander led decisive victory over Austria

Armando Diaz, the general who masterminded Italy's victory over Austrian forces at the Battle of Vittorio Veneto in 1918, was born on this day in 1861 in Naples.  The battle, which ended the First World War on the Italian front, also precipitated the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, ending more than 200 years of Austrian control of substantial parts of Italy.  The general's announcement of the total defeat of the Austrian Army at Vittorio Veneto sparked one of the greatest moments of celebration in the history of Italy, with some Italians seeing it as the final culmination of the Risorgimento movement and the unification of Italy.  Diaz was born to a Neapolitan father of Spanish heritage and an Italian mother. He decided to pursue his ambitions of a military career despite the preference for soldiers of Piedmontese background in the newly-formed Royal Italian Army.  After attending military colleges in Naples and Turin, Diaz served with distinction in the Italo-Turkish War.  Read more…


Pope Julius II

Patron of the arts who commissioned Michelangelo's greatest works

Giuliano della Rovere, who was to become Pope Julius II, was born on this day in 1443 at Albisola near Genoa.  He is remembered for granting a dispensation to Henry VIII of England to allow him to marry Catherine of Aragon, the widow of his older brother, Arthur, and for commissioning Michelangelo to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican.  Giuliano was born into an ecclesiastical family. His uncle, Franceso della Rovere, later became Pope Sixtus IV and it was the future pope Francesco who arranged for his nephew to be educated at a Franciscan friary in Perugia. Giuliano became a bishop in 1471 and then a cardinal before being himself elected Pope in 1503.  Giuliano was Pope for nine years until he died of fever in 1513. When Henry VIII later asked for his marriage to Catherine of Aragon to be annulled so that he could marry Anne Boleyn, he claimed that Pope Julius II should never have issued the dispensation to allow him to marry his sister in law. But the Pope at the time, Clement VII, refused to annul the marriage so Henry VIII divorced the Catholic Church instead, leading to the English Reformation.  Read more…

EN - 728x90


4 December 2022

4 December

Gae Aulenti – architect

Designer who made mark in Italy and abroad

The architect Gae Aulenti, who blazed a trail for women in the design world in post-War Italy and went on to enjoy a career lasting more than half a century, was born on this day in 1927 in Palazzolo dello Stella, a small town midway between Venice and Trieste.  In a broad and varied career, among a long list of clients Aulenti designed showrooms for Fiat and Olivetti, furniture for Zanotta, department stores for La Rinascente, a railway station in Milan, stage sets for theatre and opera director Luca Ronconi and villas for wealthy private clients.  She lectured at the Venice and Milan Schools of Architecture and was on the editorial staff of the design magazine, Casabella.  Yet she is best remembered for her part in transforming redundant buildings facing possible demolition into museums and galleries, her most memorable project being the interior of the Beaux Arts-style Gare d'Orsay railway station in Paris, where she turned the cavernous central hall, a magnificent shed lit by arching rooflights, into a minimalist exhibition space for impressionist art.  Aulenti also created galleries at the Pompidou Centre in Paris and the Palau Nacional in Barcelona.  Read more…


Costantino Rocca - golfer

Italian whose success inspired Open champion

Costantino Rocca, who until recently was the most successful Italian in the history of international golf, was born on this day in 1956 in Almenno San Bartolomeo, near Bergamo in northern Italy.  Rocca, who turned professional at the age of 24 in 1981, enjoyed his best years in the mid-1990s, peaking with second place in the Open Championship at St Andrews in 1995.  He was beaten by the American John Daly in a four-hole play-off but was perhaps as popular a runner-up as there has been in the history of the tournament after the incredible putt he sank on the final green to deny Daly victory inside the regulation 72 holes.  Needing a birdie to be level with Daly at the top of the leaderboard after the American finished six under par, Rocca appeared to have blown his chance when his poorly executed second shot - a chipped approach that was meant to leave him in easy putting distance of the hole - did not even make it safely on to the green, coming to rest in an area known colloquially as ‘the Valley of Sin’.  It left him 65ft - almost 20m - short of the hole, needing somehow to hole a putt that had first to go uphill and then break sharply to the right.  Read more…


Luigi Galvani - physicist and biologist

Scientist who seemed to give dead frog new life

Luigi Galvani, the first scientist to discover bioelectricity, died on this day in 1798 in Bologna.  Galvani discovered that the muscles in the leg of a dead frog twitched when struck by an electrical spark. This was the beginning of bioelectricity, the study of the electrical patterns and signals of the nervous system.  The word ‘galvanise’, to stimulate by electricity, or rouse by shock and excitement, comes from the surname of the scientist.  Galvani studied medicine at Bologna University and, after graduating in 1759, became an honorary lecturer of surgery and then subsequently of theoretical anatomy.  He became the first scientist to appreciate the relationship between electricity and animation when he was dissecting a frog one day. His assistant touched an exposed nerve in the leg of the frog with a metal scalpel that had picked up an electrical charge. They both saw sparks and the frog’s leg kicked. The phenomenon was dubbed ‘galvanism’.  In 1797 Galvani refused to swear loyalty to the French, who were then occupying northern Italy, and lost his academic position at the university and also his income.  Read more…


Pope Adrian IV

The warlike conduct of England’s one and only pontiff

The only Englishman to have ever sat on the papal throne, Nicholas Breakspear, became Pope on this day in 1154 in Rome.  Breakspear, who was from Abbots Langley in Hertfordshire, had previously been created Cardinal Bishop of Albano by Pope Eugene III.  After his election as Pope, Breakspear took the name of Adrian IV (also known as Hadrian IV) and immediately set about dealing with the anti-papal faction in Rome.  After Frederick Barbarossa, Duke of Swabia, caught and hanged the leader of the faction, a man known as Arnold of Brescia, Adrian crowned Frederick as Holy Roman Emperor in 1155 to reward him.  He then formed an alliance with the Byzantine Emperor, Manuel Comnenus, against the Normans in Sicily.  Adrian raised mercenary troops in Campania to fight alongside the Byzantine forces and the alliance was immediately successful, with many cities giving in, either because of the threat of force or the promise of gold.  But the Normans launched a counter attack by land and sea and many of the mercenaries deserted leaving the Byzantine troops outnumbered and forced to return home.  Read more…


Saint Giovanni Calabria

Priest offered himself to God to save a Pope

Giovanni Calabria, who dedicated his life to helping the poor and the sick, died on this day in 1954 in Verona.  Roman Catholics throughout the world will celebrate his feast day today as a result of his canonisation by Pope John Paul II in 1999.  When Pope Pius XII became ill in 1954, Calabria offered himself to God to die in the place of the Pope. Pius XII began to get better and went on to live for another four years, but Calabria died the next day. After the Pope recovered he sent a telegram of condolence to Calabria’s congregation.  Giovanni Calabria was born in 1873 in Verona. He was the youngest of the seven sons of Luigi Calabria, a cobbler, and Angela Foschio, a maid servant.  Calabria was only a young child when his father died but he had to drop out of school to become an apprentice.  However, a rector at his local church saw his potential and gave him private tuition to prepare him for an exam that would determine whether he could begin studying for the priesthood.  But first Calabria had to serve in the army where he converted his fellow soldiers and was renowned for the strength of his faith. Read more…


3 December 2022

3 December

NEW - Matilde Malenchini – painter

The tempestuous life of a talented Tuscan artist

The painter Matilde Malenchini was born on this day in 1779 in Livorno in Tuscany. She was well-known for her paintings of church interiors but turned to portrait painting later in life to make money to help her survive after her long relationship with Belgian writer Louis de Potter ended. Matilde was born into the Meoni family and married the painter and musician Vincenzo Francesco Malenchini at the age of 16. Although they soon separated, she kept his name for the rest of her life.  In 1807 she went to study at the Accademia di Belle Arte in Florence under the guidance of Pietro Benvenuti. To earn money and practise her art, she copied the works of old Italian and Dutch masters in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.  After being given a four-year annual stipend by Elisa Bonaparte, the Grand Duchess of Tuscany, in 1811, Matilde went to Rome to study at the Pontificia Accademia romana delle belle arti di San Luca, in Rome. There she met the French Governor of the Papal States, General Francois de Mollis, who was an art collector. He bought 18 of her paintings and helped her establish a studio in the convent of Trinità dei Monti.  Read more…


Nino Rota – composer

Musician and teacher composed soundtrack for The Godfather 

Giovanni ‘Nino’ Rota, composer, conductor and pianist, was born on this day in 1911 in Milan.  Part of a musical family, he started composing with an oratorio based on a religious subject at the age of 11, but he was to go on to produce some of the best-known and iconic music for the cinema of the 20th century.  Rota studied at the Milan Conservatory and then in Rome before he was encouraged by the conductor, Arturo Toscanini, to move to America, where he studied at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia.  When he returned to Milan he took a degree in Literature and then began a teaching career. He became a director of the Liceo Musicale in Bari in 1950 and kept this post until his death. Orchestra conductor Riccardo Muti was one of his students.  Rota wrote film scores from the 1940s onwards for all the noted directors of the time, including Franco Zeffirelli, Luchino Visconti and Eduardo de Filippo. He wrote the music for all Federico Fellini’s films from The White Sheik in 1952 to Orchestral Rehearsal in 1978. He composed the score for Francis Ford Coppola’s film The Godfather and won an Oscar for best original score for The Godfather Part II in 1974.  Read more…


Angela Luce – actress

Film star and singer was born in Spaccanapoli

Neapolitan actress and singer Angela Luce was born Angela Savino on this day in 1937 in Naples.  She has worked for the theatre, cinema and television, is well-known for singing Neapolitan songs, and has written poetry and song lyrics.  At 14 years old, Angela took her first steps towards stardom when she took part in the annual music festival held at Piedigrotta in the Chiaia district of Naples, singing the Neapolitan song, Zi Carmeli.  Her cinema career began in 1956, when she was only 19, when she appeared in Ricordati di Napoli, directed by Pino Mercanti. Since then she has appeared in more than 80 films and has worked for directors including Luchino Visconti, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Mario Amendola, Luigi Zampa and Pupi Avati.  Angela won a David Donatello award for L’amore molesto directed by Mario Martone and was also nominated for the Palma d’Oro at Cannes.  She has acted opposite such illustrious names as Marcello Mastroianni, Vittorio Gassman, Alberto Sordi, Vittorio de Sica and Totò.  Her voice has been recorded in the historic archives of Neapolitan songs and she has won prizes for her singing.  Read more…


Nicolò Amati - violin maker

Grandson of Andrea Amati produced some of world's finest instruments

Nicolò Amati, who is acknowledged as the greatest in the line of Amati violin makers in the 16th and 17th centuries, was born on this day in 1596 in Cremona.  The grandson of Andrea Amati, who is credited by most experts with being the inventor of the violin in its four-stringed form, Nicolò followed his father, Girolamo, and uncle, Antonio, into the family business.  Girolamo and Antonio went their separate ways in around 1590, Antonio setting up a different workshop, which was thought to specialize in lutes.  Initially, Nicolò made instruments that were very similar to those created by Girolamo but later began to add refinements of his own, the most significant of which came between 1630 and 1640 when he created the Grand Amati design.  This model, slightly wider and longer than the violins his father had produced, yielded greater power of tone than the smaller instruments and soon became sought after.  The bubonic plague outbreak that swept through Italy between 1629 and 1633 claimed the lives of both Girolamo and Nicolò's mother, Laura, and that of his main rival in violin manufacture at the time, Giovanni Paolo Maggini, from the Brescian school.  Read more…


Carlo Oriani - cyclist and soldier

Giro winner died in World War One

The champion cyclist Carlo Oriani, winner of the 1913 Giro d’Italia, died on this day in 1917 in the aftermath of the Battle of Caporetto in the First World War.  The battle was a disastrous one for the Italian forces under the command of General Luigi Cadorna, with 13,000 soldiers killed, 30,000 wounded and 250,000 captured by the victorious army of Austria-Hungary. Countless other Italian troops fled as it became clear that defeat was inevitable.  Oriani, who had previously served his country in the Italo-Turkish War in 1912, was a member of the Bersaglieri, the highly mobile elite force traditionally used by the Italian army as a rapid response unit. He had joined the corps in part because of his skill on a bicycle, which had replaced horses as one of the means by which the Bersaglieri were able to get around quickly.  The Battle of Caporetto took place from October 24 to November 19, near the town of Kobarid on the Austro-Italian front, in what is now Slovenia.  Oriani survived the battle but it was during the retreat that Italian soldiers had to cross the Tagliamento, which links the Alps and the Adriatic and in the winter months is a fast-flowing river, with enemy forces in pursuit.  Read more…


Mario Borghezio – controversial politician

Lega Nord MEP renowned for extremist views

Mario Borghezio, one of Italy’s most controversial political figures whose extreme right-wing views have repeatedly landed him in trouble, was born on this day in 1947 in Turin.  Borghezio was a member of Lega Nord, the party led by Umberto Bossi that was set up originally to campaign for Italy to be broken up so that the wealthy north of the country would sever its political and economic ties with the poorer south.  He has been a Member of the European Parliament since 1999 and has served on several committees, including Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs and the Committee on Petitions.  He was even undersecretary to the Ministry of Justice from 1994-95.  Yet he had regularly espoused extremist and racist views, to the extent that even the right-wing British party UKIP, with whom he developed strong links, moved to distance themselves from him over one racist outburst.  It was at their behest that he was expelled from the European Parliament’s Europe of Freedom and Democracy group after making racist remarks about Cecile Kyenge, Italy’s first black cabinet minister, whom he said was more suited to being a housekeeper.  Read more…


Matilde Malenchini – painter

The tempestuous life of a talented Tuscan artist

Vincenzo Camuccini's portrait of Malenchini, from about 1815
Vincenzo Camuccini's portrait of
Malenchini, from about 1815
The painter Matilde Malenchini was born on this day in 1779 in Livorno in Tuscany. She was well-known for her paintings of church interiors but turned to portrait painting later in life to make money to help her survive after her long relationship with Belgian writer Louis de Potter ended.

Matilde was born into the Meoni family and married the painter and musician Vincenzo Francesco Malenchini at the age of 16. Although they soon separated, she kept his name for the rest of her life.

In 1807 she went to study at the Accademia di Belle Arte in Florence under the guidance of Pietro Benvenuti. To earn money and practise her art, she copied the works of old Italian and Dutch masters in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.

After being given a four-year annual stipend by Elisa Bonaparte, the Grand Duchess of Tuscany, in 1811, Matilde went to Rome to study at the Pontificia Accademia romana delle belle arti di San Luca. There she met the French Governor of the Papal States, General Francois de Mollis, who was an art collector. He bought 18 of her paintings and helped her establish a studio in the convent of Trinità dei Monti. 

While painting church and convent interiors, she worked with students from the Academie Francaise who were living in the Villa Medici, as well as the up-and-coming Italian artists Antonio Canova and Vincenzo Camuccini. In 1815, Matilde was named a Professor of Merit at the Accademia di San Luca and in the same year Camuccini painted her portrait. The years she spent in Rome proved to be the most productive of her career.

Malenchini's own portrait of the writer Louis de Potter, her long-time partner
Malenchini's own portrait of the writer
Louis de Potter, her long-time partner
She embarked on a long and intense relationship with Louis de Potter and between 1817 and 1819 they shared a home with the painter Francois-Joseph Navez. The couple attempted to obtain an annulment of Matilde’s previous marriage by appealing to the Roman Curia, but their requests coincided with some scandalous trials involving monks and nuns, which caused the Curia to be more cautious than usual with their decisions. At around the same time, Matilde’s former husband, who was supporting the request, was having problems with the police to further complicate the issue.

In 1820, Matilde had to leave Rome and she returned to Florence where she was named an honorary professor at the Accademia.

De Potter returned to Bruges in 1823 to be with his ailing father, but the following year, after his father’s death, he moved to Brussels and invited Matilde to join him. Their home in the Belgian capital became a meeting place for expatriate Italians and political refugees. With their friend Navez, they organised painting classes. Navez also became a prominent advocate for Belgian independence.

Matilde became restless and travelled for a while before returning to live in Florence. De Potter, who was frustrated at not being able to marry her, ended the relationship in 1826. He later married Sophie van Weydeveldt, 20 years his junior, with whom he had four children.

Although De Potter agreed to give Matilde an annual pension of 1200 francs, the money was spasmodic because of his political problems. He served 18 months in prison after writing a pamphlet denouncing King William I of Belgium and then went into exile in Germany. Matilde turned to portrait painting to make money to keep herself. There was no contact between her and De Potter until 1854, when he wrote her an affectionate letter following the death of his son, and afterwards they maintained contact with each other through letters.

The following year, by which time Matilde was 76, she was accused of pushing one of her maids out of a window after she caught her stealing. She was sentenced to three and a half years detention but the ruling was overturned. However, it was reinstated in 1857 and sadly, one of Matilde’s last paintings was of the interior of the prison in Florence. She died in 1858 in Fiesole in Tuscany at the age of 78.

Livorno, the Tuscan port city where Malenchini was born, has a network of canals
Livorno, the Tuscan port city where Malenchini
was born, has a network of canals
Travel tip:

Livorno, Malenchini’s birthplace, is the second largest city in Tuscany, with a population of almost 160,000. It has a large commercial port and in many respects is the most modern city in the region, yet there are also many remnants of its history.  Designed by the architect Bernardo Buontalenti at the behest of the House of Medici at the end of the 16th century, Livorno was conceived as an "ideal city" of the Italian Renaissance. Notable are the huge Fortezza Vecchia - the Old Fortress - which was built to protect the port, the fortified walls around the city’s pentagonal plan and the dense network of canals, a kind of “Little Venice”, which were originally created to connect the merchants’ residences with their warehouses.  The city has produced many notable painters, including the 19th century landscape and battlefield painter Giovanni Fattori, and the celebrated modernist painter of portraits and nudes, Amedeo Modigliani.  It was also home to the opera composer, Pietro Mascagni.

The remains of a Roman theatre on a hillside near the town of Fiesole in Tuscany
The remains of a Roman theatre on a hillside
near the town of Fiesole in Tuscany
Travel tip:

Fiesole, where Malenchini died, is a town of about 14,000 inhabitants occupying an elevated position about 8km (5 miles) northeast of Florence. Since the 14th century, it has been a popular place to live for wealthy Florentines and even to this day remains the richest municipality in the city. Once an important Etruscan settlement, it was also a Roman town of note, of which the remains of a theatre and baths are still visible.  Fiesole's Romanesque cathedral, built in the 11th century, is supposedly built over the site of the martyrdom of St. Romulus. In the middle ages, Fiesole was as powerful as Florence until it was conquered by the latter in 1125 after a series of wars.

Also on this day:

1596: The birth of violin maker Nicolò Amati

1911: The birth of composer Nino Rota

1917: The death in World War One of cycling champion Carlo Oriani

1937: The birth of actress Angela Luce

1947: The birth of politician Mario Borghezio


2 December 2022

2 December

Maria Bricca - war hero

Humble cook whose actions helped end siege of Turin in 1706

The unlikely war hero Maria Bricca, whose actions would precipitate a major victory for the Duchy of Savoy in the War of the Spanish Succession, was born on this day in 1684 in Pianezza, then a village about 12km (7 miles) northwest of the city of Turin.  Maria, who was born Maria Chiaberge but changed her name after she married Valentino Bricco in 1705, became an important figure in the ending of the four-month siege of Turin by the French in 1706.  She hated the French, who had sacked Pianezza in 1693 when she was just eight years old, killing villagers and looting property before her eyes. In 1706. when they took control of the castle at Pianezza, which occupied a strategic position overlooking the Dora Riparia river, it brought back memories of the scenes she had witnessed as a child.  When Maria, who was nicknamed La Bricassa, heard that Prince Eugene of Savoy had dispatched a force of 9,000 Prussian soldiers led by his ally, Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Dessau, to try to take control of the castle, she knew she had information that could help them.  As a cook, she had previously worked at the castle and knew of the existence of a secret underground passage that led from the village - possibly from her own house - directly into the castle.  Read more…


Gianni Versace – designer

Meteoric rise of the talented son of a dressmaker

Gianni Versace, the founder of the international fashion house Versace, was born on this day in 1946 in Reggio di Calabria in the south of Italy. He went on to start a highly successful clothing label and also designed costumes for the theatre and films. He was a personal friend of the late Princess Diana and numerous celebrities, including Elton John and Madonna.  Christened Giovanni Maria Versace, the designer literally learnt his trade at his mother’s knee as she was herself a dressmaker and employed him as an apprentice in her business from an early age.  He moved north to Milan to work in the fashion industry for other designers and, after presenting his own first signature collection in the city, opened a boutique in Via della Spiga in 1978. His career immediately took off and his exclusive designs were highly sought after.  He became one of the top designers of the 1980s and 90s and employed his brother, Santo, and his sister, Donatella, in his successful and profitable business.  One of his most famous creations was a black dress held together by safety pins, worn by the actress, Elizabeth Hurley, to a film premiere.  Read more…


Paolo Tosti - composer

How a poor boy from Abruzzo became an English knight

Paolo Tosti, the composer of the popular Neapolitan song, Marechiare, died on this day in 1916 in Rome.  Many of the light, sentimental songs he composed were performed by the top opera singers of the time and are still regularly recorded by the stars of today.  At the height of his career, Tosti was singing professor to Princess Margherita of Savoy, who later became the Queen of Italy. He then went to live in England, where his popularity grew even more.  He was appointed singing master to the British Royal Family and was eventually knighted by King Edward VII, who had become one of his personal friends.  Born Francesco Paolo Tosti in Ortona in the Abruzzo region, the composer received an early musical education in his home town and then moved on to study at the Naples Conservatory.  His teachers there were so impressed with him that they appointed him a student teacher, which earned him a small salary.  Ill health forced Tosti to return to Ortona, but while he was confined to bed, he began composing songs.  Once he had recovered from his illness he moved to live in Ancona where, it is said, he was so impoverished that he had to exist on stale bread and oranges.  Read more…


Ferdinando Galiani - economist and philosopher

Leading figure in the Neapolitan Enlightenment

The economist and philosopher Ferdinando Galiani, whose theories on market economics are considered to be years ahead of his time, was born on this day in 1728 in Chieti, now in Abruzzo but then part of the Kingdom of Naples.  Galiani spent much of his life in the service of the Naples government, spending 10 years as secretary to the Neapolitan ambassador in Paris before returning to Naples in the role of councillor of the tribunal of commerce, being appointed administrator of the royal domains in 1777.  A fine writer and wit as well as a talented economist, Galiani wrote a number of humorous works as well as two significant treatises, the first of which, Della Moneta, was written while he was still a student, at the age of 22.  Initially published anonymously, Della Moneta - On Money - was ostensibly a work about the history of money and the monetary system, but Galiani used it as an opportunity to intervene in the Neapolitan debate on economic reform, his opinions on the development of the Neapolitan economy evolving into a theory of market value based on utility and scarcity.  Read more...


Roberto Capucci - fashion designer

'Sculptor in cloth' who rejected ready-to-wear

The fashion designer Roberto Capucci, whose clothes were famous for their strikingly voluminous, geometric shapes and use of unusual materials, was born on this day in 1930 in Rome.  Precociously talented, Capucci opened his first studio in Rome at the age of 19 and by his mid-20s was regarded as the best designer in Italy, particularly admired by Christian Dior, the rising star of French haute-couture.  It was during this period, towards the end of the 1950s, that Capucci revolutionised fashion by inventing the Linea a Scatola – the box-line or box look – in which he created angular shapes for dresses and introduced the concept of volume and architectural elements of design into clothing, so that his dresses, which often featured enormous quantities of material, were almost like sculpted pieces of modern art, to be not so much worn as occupied by the wearer.  Growing up in Rome, Capucci was artistically inclined from an early age. He attended the Accademia di Belle Arti di Roma and wanted to become either an architect or a film director, designing clothes initially as no more than a diversion.  Read more…



1 December 2022

1 December

Lorenzo Ghiberti – sculptor

Goldsmith renowned for 'Gates of Paradise'

Sculptor, goldsmith and architect Lorenzo Ghiberti died on this day in 1455 in Florence.  Part of his legacy were the magnificent doors he created for the Baptistery of the Florence Duomo that have become known as the Gates of Paradise.  Ghiberti had become a man of learning, living up to the image of the early 15th century artist as a student of antiquity, who was investigative, ambitious and highly creative.  His Commentaries - I Commentarii - which he started to write in 1447, include judgements on the great contemporary and 14th century masters as well as his scientific theories on optics and anatomy.  Ghiberti was born in 1378 in Pelago near Florence and was trained as a goldsmith by Bartolo di Michele, whom his mother had married in 1406 but had lived with for some time previously.  Ghiberti took his name from his mother’s first husband, Cione Ghiberti, although he later claimed that Di Michele was his real father.  He moved to Pesaro in 1400 to fulfil a painting commission from the city's ruler, Sigismondo Malatesta, but returned to Florence when he heard about a competition that had been set up to find someone to make a pair of bronze doors for the Baptistery of the cathedral.  Read more…


Eugenio Monti - bobsleigh champion

Olympic winner who was honoured for sportsmanship

The double Olympic bobsleigh champion Eugenio Monti, who became the first athlete to be awarded the Pierre de Coubertin Medal for sportsmanship, died on this day in 2003 in Belluno.  Monti was recognised with the award after the 1964 Winter Games in Innsbruck, during which he twice made gestures of selfless generosity towards opponents, both of which arguably cost him the chance of a gold medal.  The preeminent bobsleigh driver in the world going into the 1964 Games and an eight-time world champion in two and four-man events, Monti was desperate to add Olympic golds to his medal collection.  He had won silver in both his specialisations when Italy hosted the Winter Olympics in 1956 and was denied the opportunity to improve on that four years later when the 1960 Games at Squaw Valley in California went ahead with no bobsleigh events, due to the organisers running out of time and money to build a track.  In Innsbruck, Monti and his brakeman Sergio Siorpaes were favourites in the two-man event,  After two runs on the first day, Britain’s Tony Nash and Robin Dixon led the field. Read more…


Salvatore 'Toto' Schillaci - footballer

Golden boy of Italia ‘90 now coaches future players

The star of Italy’s 1990 World Cup campaign, Salvatore 'Toto' Schillaci, was born on this day in Palermo in Sicily in 1964.  Schillaci was born into a struggling, working class household. He began his football career with Messina in Sicily, playing in Serie B, but his goals earned him a move to Serie A giants Juventus in 1989.  He hit  21 goals in his first season for Juventus, earning a call-up to the national team. He made his debut in a friendly in March, just three months before the World Cup finals began.  Despite his status as a novice in terms of international football, coach Azeglio Vicini named him for the Italy squad seeking to win the World Cup as hosts.  Schillaci was the sensation of the tournament, coming off the bench to score the only goal in Italy's opening match against Austria.  He made his first start against Czechoslovakia in the third of their group games and scored again. Schillaci grabbed further goals against Uruguay in the first knock-out round and Ireland in the quarter-finals, taking his team to a semi-final against Argentina in Naples, where he scored again but Italy's adventure ended in a penalty shoot-out.  He retired in 1999, returning to his native Palermo, where he set up his own football academy.  Read more…


Alberto Cova - Olympic champion

Los Angeles gold completed 10k hat-trick

Alberto Cova, the athlete who won the 10,000 metres gold medal at the 1984 Olympics, was born on this day in 1958 in Inverigo, a small town not far from Lake Como and a little under 40km (25 miles) north of Milan.  Cova's triumph at the 1984 Los Angeles Games completed a golden hat-trick of 10,000m titles, following on from his gold medals over the distance at the 1982 European Championships in Athens and the 1983 World Championships in Helsinki.  He was not able to maintain that form, however.  He was run out of the gold on the final lap of the 10,000m by fellow Italian Stefano Mai at the European Championships in Stuttgart in 1986 and failed to qualify for the final at the Seoul Olympics in 1988, which proved to be his last international competition.  Cova's chief asset was his devastating sprint finish, which could be nullified in a race run at a strong pace throughout but often was not.  He was an outsider when he sprang a surprise in Athens in 1982, when his finishing speed enabled him to charge through to beat the favourite, Werner Schildhauer from East Germany, to win his first international championship title.  His disciplined running style enabled him to triumph again in Helsinki the following year.  Read more…

EN - 728x90