Category: italy

Did you know that handwritten sheets – called avvisi – circulated among the cities and courts of Europe in early modern Europe after public mail routes became common? They were bought on the streets or by subscription, and had information and news from cities like Warsaw, Paris, and Madrid. They sometimes even had information from further afield such as Ireland or the American colonies. It is hard to understand now, by the once or twice weekly avvisi were a revolution in news, connecting Europeans more than ever before.

One newsletter, dated March 19th, 1588, describes the famous Spanish Armada which sailed against Queen Elizabeth I of England. It was described as having “140 or more sailing ships and eight months of provisions” plus “17,000 combat soldiers and 8,000 sailors.” The same avvisi also discusses the reconstruction of the Rialto Bridge in Venice, and how problems with pilings were fixed on-site rather than being replaced due to the “inconvenience” of closing the Grand Canal.

When Michelangelo’s David was unveiled in 1504 in Florence, it was seen to symbolize the civil liberties of the Republic of Florence, which were threatened by the surrounding city-states and the powerful Medici family who wanted to rule.  The republican government had only been in place since 1494. The republic’s concerns were well-founded: Giovanni de’ Medici re-conquered the republic in 1512 and restored Medici rule.

The second Florentine duke, Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici decided to commission Cellini’s Perseus With the Head of Medusa, which was unveiled exactly 50 years after David in 1554. Composed of bronze, Perseus was deliberately placed opposite the David. Medusa’s gaze appeared to have turned David to stone.

The land ceded was relatively small. Still, it was a big change for the people living there! They woke up one day and were suddenly French citizens

In 1760, Horace Benedict de Saussure, a naturalist hoping to gain scientific information, offered a reward to anyone who could make the full climb up Mont Blanc, the highest mountain peak in Europe. It was 26 years before Dr. Michel Paccard was able to complete the climb and earn the reward.

A man with a dog on the Paraggi beach near Portofino, August 1952. Photographed by Thurston Hopkins.

Costumed people arriving at a ball given by M. Bestegui, Venezia, Italy, 1950. Photographed by Frank Horvat.

Most people think the pizzas they know and love – four cheese, pepperoni – were invented in Italy. But they were actually developed by Italian immigrants in the United
States, and then exported back to Italy. Syracuse University
anthropologist Agehananda Bharati calls this the “pizza effect.” Here are some other examples of when
elements of a nation’s culture  developed elsewhere and were then reimported:

  • Mexico City’s Day of the Dead parade was invented for the James Bond film Spectre and then adopted by the city.
  • American blues music influenced English musicians in the 1960s, who then exported blues-rock to the United States.
  • Adapted from India’s chicken tikka, chicken tikka masala became one
    of the most popular dishes in Britain before being re-exported to India.
  • Yoga became popular in India after its adoption in the West.
  • Salsa music originated largely among Cuban and Puerto Rican
    immigrants to New York in the 1920s and then spread throughout the
    Americas.
  • Teppanyaki, the Japanese style of cooking on an iron griddle, grew to prominence in America in “Japanese steakhouses.”

Sunday morning along the Arno River. A man fishing. A passerby casting a shadow, Italy, 1935. Photographed by Alfred Eisenstaedt-LIFE.

Serious American artists during the Early American Period (1789 – 1815) thought that genre scenes were too mean and lowly for
their talent. So major painters such as John Vanderlyn and Samuel Morse
scorned the depicting of ordinary folk – except, said Vanderlyn, Italian
peasants. With their lack of “fashion and frivolity,” Italian peasants,
Vanderlyn declared, were close enough to nature to possess a
neoclassical universality that was worth depicting.