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Famous People from Italy
(1254 - 1324 )
Probably the most famous Italian explorer, Marco Polo was born in the Republic of Venice to a prosperous family of merchants. In 1271, his father, Niccolo, and his uncle, Maffeo, took young Marco with them on their second journey to China with an aim to deliver the Pope's response to Kublai Khan, the Mongolian military leader. During the next seventeen year in China, Marco Polo was sent on diplomatic missions throughout the empire, namely to the south, to Burma and Indo-China, to Tibet in the west, and as far in the north as the city of Karakorum. Apart from that, he was forced by Kublai Khan to be the governor of the commercial city of Yangzhoufor and he performed this duty for three years. When he finally returned to his home in Venice, he had supposedly travelled farther than anybody before him, from Acre on the coast of Palestine, through Persia and Turkistan, across the vast Gobi desert. Marco Polo's name has survived until this day and also serves as the name of the Venetian airport.
Giovanni Antonio Canal (Canaletto)
(1697 - 1768 )
This Italian painter gained renown for his landscapes of Venice, called ‘Vedute’. He was born to an artistic family, as his father was a painter as well as his nephew, Bernardo Bellotto(1720 – 1780). Having served an apprenticeship with his father, Giovanni Antonio began his career as a theatrical scene painter; however, he devoted himself to depicturing daily city life. He studied under the older Luca Carlevaris and soon became his master's equal. Among Canaletto's famous works, the two that hold the most renown are ‘Piazzetta’ (1733 – 1735) and ‘The Grand Canal at the Salute Church’ (1738 – 1742). Being noticed by the British merchant Joseph Smith, who later promoted his accurate and perfectly sun-filled paintings in England, Canaletto decided to move to London in 1746, and remained there for nearly ten years, producing pictures of the English capital. Back in Venice, he became a member of the Venetian Academy in 1763.
(1678 - 1741 )
, Address in Venice: Riva Degli Schiavoni 4150
A native of Venice, Vivaldi was a priest and composer of Baroque music. He is particularly known for his violin concertos, four of which he arranged together in the series ‘Four Seasons’ (1723), which is still frequently performed. His father, Giovanni Battista, was a professional violinist, and he toured Venice taking young Antonio with him. In 1693, Vivaldi began his studies to become a priest and was ordained at the age of 25, soon gaining the nickname Il Prete Rosso, “The Red Priest”. In 1706, because of health problems, Vivaldi had to withdraw from active priesthood. He worked at a school for orphans instead, teaching his pupils music, but also devoting himself to composing. Except for concertos, he is also known for his fourty-six operas, seventy-three sonatas, numerous sinfonias and sacred music.
(1416-03-27 - 1480-07-06 )
A native of Florence, Squarcialupi was a famous organist and composer of the 15th Century. Fathered by a butcher named Giovanni, Antonio later adopted a new surname after a well-known Tuscan family. He studied with two other famous Florentine organists: Giovanni Mazzuoli and Matteo di Pagolo da Prato. In 1431, Squarcialupi obtained a position at the Orsanmichele (Kitchen Garden of St Michael), however, after two years he moved to the cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore where he played the organ for the remainder of his life. Moreover, he was also a member of the court of Lorenzo de' Medici, and his name is mentioned in the ruler's epitaph in Florence Cathedral. Unfortunately, none of Squarcialupi's music has survived. Apart from being an organist, he was also a music historian and gave his name to the ‘Squarcialupi Codex’, an illustrated manuscript giving a record of Italian music of the 14th Century.
(1826-11-24 - 1890-10-26 )
This famous writer was born Carlo Lorenzini in Florence; however, from 1856 he was known as Collodi, a name derived from his mother's hometown. As a journalist and writer, he gained international renown due to his children's novel, ‘The Adventures of Pinocchio’. He volunteered in the Wars of Independence of 1848 and 1860 in the Tuscan army. Interested in politics, he founded a satirical newspaper, ‘Il Lampione’, which in 1849 was censored by the Grand Duke of Tuscany, yet it was re-issued in 1860. He received recognition as a writer in 1856 with the release of his novel, ‘In Vapore’. At the time, Collodi both worked for the Censorship Commission for the Theatre and wrote satirical sketches and stories, such as ‘Macchiette’ (1880), ‘Occhi e Nasi’ (1881), ‘Storie Allegre’ (1887). Collodi's first book was a translation of French fairy tales by Perrault and was geared especially towards children. It was in the 1880s that he started work on ‘Storia di un Burattino’ (The Story of a Marionette), creating the character of Pinocchio. It was originally published weekly in the first children's newspaperr, ‘Il Giornale dei Bambini’, and it became an instant classic. Carlo Collodi is buried at San Miniato al Monte in Florence.
(1386 - 1466-12-13 )
Donatello was one of the greatest Italian sculptors of the Renaissance period. He gained fame for his realistic style, which, at first, was influenced by the Antique and later he improved by incorporating ‘perspective’ into some of his carvings. Born in Florence as Donato di Niccolò di Betto Bardi, he received his education at the house of the Martelli family. From 1404 to 1407, he studied and worked with Filippo Brunelleschi in Rome. Back in Florence, he assisted Lorenzo Ghiberti with a project of the door of The Battistero di San Giovanni. Between 1409 and 1411, Donatello worked on the imposing figure of Saint John the Evangelist, and later on a statue of St Mark for the Orsanmichele. Between 1415 and 1426, he created five sculptures for the campanile of Florence’s Duomo. Also notable is Donatello's ‘Crucifix’ for Santa Croce, which was executed in 1425. His most famous work, the bronze 'David', was commissioned in 1430 by Cosimo de' Medici for his palace. Donatello's figures not only influenced other sculptors, but also painters, including Masaccio and Bellini.
(1469-05-03 - 1527-06-25 )
, Address in Florence: Sant'Andrea in Percussina, Albergaccio
Native of Florence, Machiavelli was a politician and significant philosopher of the Renaissance and author of ‘The Prince’, a treatise in which he established methods in which politicians should use to maintain power. Machiavelli started his diplomatic career as a young lawyer and became secretary of the ‘Council of Ten’, which, at the time, governed the affairs of Florence along with other cities and states. Between 1499 and 1512, he was regularly sent on diplomatic missions to France, Germany and to the Papacy in Rome. Meanwhile, in 1502, Machiavelli was a representative at Cesare Borgia's court. This one-year experience let him observe the duke's state-building methods – an inspiration for his most famous work. ’The Prince’ was written in 1513, however, it wasn't published until 1532. Ever since, the pejorative term ‘Machiavellism’ stands for treacherous and cunning practises used in order to obtain power – the ends justify the means. Although accused of offering the aforementioned advice to ambitious rulers, the Italian actually just put his observations on paper. Machiavelli was the author of ‘The Discourses on Livy’ as well as numerous plays, poetry and classical works translations.
(1265 - 1321-09-13 )
, Address in Florence: Casa di Dante, Via Dante Alighieri
Dante Alighieri was an Italian poet from Florence, whose greatest work, ‘The Divine Comedy’, has become a classic of world literature, having been translated into almost every language. He was raised in the prominent and politically involved Alighieri family. As a boy, he fell in love with the beautiful Beatrice Portinari, who later became the subject of his series of poems, ‘La Vita Nuova’ (The New Life). In 1290, her death became the reason for his sorrow. However, already at the age of 12, Dante was promised as the future husband to Gemma di Manetto Donati. It is known that he studied Tuscan poetry and Latin poetry of Antiquity, with an emphasis on Virgil. Also, he devoted his time to philosophical studies. He even received qualifications as a doctor and a pharmacist, professions that allowed him to enter city politics. His political party fell from power in 1302 and Dante was forced to leave Florence, never to return. Around 1303, he began work on ‘Divina Commedia.’. In the poem he describes a travel through Hell, Purgatory and Paradise, meeting famous people and his close friends, including his beloved Beatrice. It was the first significant work in the Tuscan dialect. Dante spent his last years in Ravenna, where he is buried.