The Sorelle Fontana fashion house was founded in Rome in 1943 by three sisters and Italian designers: Zoe Fontana (1911-1979), Micol Fontana (1913-2015) and Giovanna Fontana (1915-2004). I recently posted about their designs for Rita Hayworth in The Barefoot Contessa (1954).
There’s a fair amount of information available in the public sphere online, including on Youtube.
The actual atelier is featured in Luciano Emmer’s film Le ragazze di Piazza di Spagna. The film was shot in the Sorelle Fontana’s atelier near Piazza di Spagna in Rome.
Above: Lucia Bosè and Zoe Fontana in Le ragazze di Piazza di Spagna.
Below: Anita Ekberg, testimonial of first perfume “Glory by Fontana” with Zoe Fontana.
Below: Raquel Welch, female costar in Eduardo De Filippo’s movie Spara forte più forte, wears Sorelle Fontana designs.
In 1954, the film The Barefoot Contessa was released, starring Rita Hayworth and Humphrey Bogart. I just watched the film on Amazon.it and loved it just for the settings and costumes. The fashion house of the Sorelle Fontana provided the gorgeous costumes worn by Hayworth and some of the other characters.
The Sorelle Fontana fashion house was founded in Rome in 1943 by three sisters and Italian designers: Zoe Fontana (1911-1979), Micol Fontana (1913-2015) and Giovanna Fontana (1915-2004). I’ll be posting strictly about the fashion house soon.
The Barefoot Contessa is considered one of director/producer Mankiewicz’s most glamorous “Hollywood” films, but it was produced out of Cinecittà Studios in Rome, Italy. The exterior scenes were shot at Tivoli (the olive grove), Sanremo, and Portofino. The film’s Italian production was part of the “Hollywood on the Tiber” phenomenon.
The Saturday Review called Ava Gardner “one of the most breathtaking creatures on earth.” It is hard to disagree.
I took a bunch of screen shots of the film to illustrate this post. The pictures aren’t great, but the costumes are.
There’s an interesting place in Florence that was, when it was founded in 1828, an extremely bucolic locale.
Today, it stands isolated as an island (Piazzale Donatello) in a ring road system, which is really too bad. Nevertheless, knowing how land development works all over the world, it is a comfort that the place still survives.
The cemetery was founded to provide a solution to a very real problem. Before 1827, non-Catholics who died in Florence had to be buried in Livorno. The cemetery acquired the name ‘English’ because Protestants, most of whom were English, had to be buried outside the medieval city walls.
The English Cemetery was officially closed in 1877, when the medieval walls of Florence came down, making burials within the city boundary illegal, and for a century and a quarter the mini-necropolis remained locked and neglected.
Fortunately, Julia Bolton Holloway, a literary scholar specialising in the works of Elizabeth Barrett Browning – whose Penguin Classic Anthology she co-edited – took on responsibility for the cemetery. It was reopened to the public in 2003 for the reception of ashes but not bodies, and Holloway is actively raising restoration funds.
Ted Jones, wrote the following in his book, Florence and Tuscany: A Literary Guide for Travellers:
When I called, she [Julia Bolton Holloway] was re-lettering a gravestone, and she has set up a number of charitable institutions to ensure its future maintenance. Today, with the gardens replanted and well-maintained and the memorials inscribed and re-erected, it is a pleasure to visit, and well worth the slalom through the traffic – safe in the knowledge that if you don’t make it to the cemetery, there is a hospital next door.
There’s a grand old hotel facade in Florence that proclaims on a marble plaque that Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, the revered American poet, stayed in this place and called the piazza in front of it “the Mecca for the foreigners.” The plaque also notes that Longfellow translated Dante’s Divine Comedy.
Roughly translated, the plaque reads:
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
(1807 – 1882)
A master in the neo-Latin language
Translator of the Divine Comedy
Among the Florentine palazzi
It was Here
In the Piazza that he called
“The Mecca of the foreigners”
While most Americans are familiar with Longfellow from their high school literature classes, I bet there are many things about the poet that are not commonly known.
Longfellow was born February 27, 1807, in Portland, Maine, to an established New England family. His father, a prominent lawyer, expected his son would follow in his profession. Young Henry attended Portland Academy, a private school and then Bowdoin College, in Maine. Longfellow was an excellent student, showing proficiency in foreign languages.
Upon graduation, in 1825, he was offered a position to teach modern languages at Bowdoin, but on the condition that he first travel to Europe, at his own expense, to research the languages. He did so, touring Europe from 1826 through 1829. There he developed a lifelong love of the Old World civilizations and taught himself several languages. It must have been at that time that he stayed in the Florentine palazzo, upon which his visit is proudly announced on the plaque.
Upon his return from Europe, Longfellow married and began the teaching of modern languages at Bowdoin. Because the study of foreign languages was so new in America, Longfellow had to write his own textbooks.
In addition to teaching and writing textbooks, he published Outre-Mer: A Pilgrimage beyond the Sea, a collection of travel essays on his European experience. His outstanding work earned him a professorship at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Before he began at Harvard, Longfellow and his wife traveled to northern Europe. Tragically, on this trip his wife, Mary, died in 1836 following a miscarriage. Devastated, Longfellow returned to the United States seeking solace. He turned to his writing, channeling his personal experiences into his work.
He soon published the romance novel Hyperion, where he unabashedly told of his unrequited love for Frances Appleton, whom he had met in Europe soon after his first wife died. After seven years, they married in 1843, and would go on to have six children.
Above: Fanny Appleton Longfellow, with sons Charles and Ernest, circa 1849
Over the next 15 years, Longfellow would produce some of his best work such as Voices of the Night, a collection of poems including “Hymn to the Night” and “A Psalm of Life,” which gained him immediate popularity. Other publications followed such as Ballads and Other Poems, containing “The Wreck of the Hesperus” and the “Village Blacksmith.” During this time, Longfellow also taught full time at Harvard and directed the Modern Languages Department. Due to budget cuts, he covered many of the teaching positions himself.
Longfellow’s popularity grew, as did his collection of works. He wrote about a multitude of subjects: slavery in Poems on Slavery, literature of Europe in an anthology The Poets and Poetry of Europe, and American Indians in The Song of Hiawatha. One of the early practitioners of self-marketing, Longfellow expanded his audience, becoming one of the best-selling authors in the world. He was able to retire from teaching and became the first self-supported American poet.
In the last 20 years of his life, Longfellow continued to enjoy fame with honors bestowed on him in Europe and America. Among the admirers of his work included Queen Victoria, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Prime Minister William Gladstone, Walt Whitman and Oscar Wilde.
Unfortunately, Longfellow experienced more sorrow in his personal life. In 1861, a house fire killed his 2nd wife, Fanny, and that same year, the country was plunged into the Civil War. His young son, Charley, ran off to fight without his approval.
It was after his wife’s death that he immersed himself into the translation of Dante’s The Divine Comedy, which was, by any reckoning, a monumental project.
Why, you might wonder, would he attempt this translation?
In fact, although “The Divine Comedy” is hailed today as a major work in the Western canon, it was not always so highly regarded. Although recognized as a masterpiece in the centuries immediately following its publication in 1320, the work was largely ignored during the Enlightenment, with some notable exceptions such as Vittorio Alfieri; Antoine de Rivarol, who translated the Inferno into French; and Giambattista Vico, who in the Scienza nuova and in the Giudizio su Dante inaugurated what would later become the romantic reappraisal of Dante, juxtaposing him to Homer.
The Comedy was “rediscovered” in the English-speaking world by William Blake – who illustrated several passages of the epic – and the Romantic writers of the 19th century.
Longfellow spent the several years following his 2nd wife’s death by translating Dante’s Divine Comedy. To aid him in perfecting the translation and reviewing proofs, he invited friends to meetings every Wednesday starting in 1864. The “Dante Club,” as it was called, regularly included William Dean Howells, James Russell Lowell, and Charles Eliot Norton, as well as other occasional guests.
In his celebrated translation, instead of attempting hendecasyllables, Longfellow used blank verse (unrhymed iambic pentameter). He followed Dante’s syntax when he could, and wrote compactly in unrhymed tercets (the “Mountain”/”fountain” rhyme here would appear to be accidental). The effect is nothing like Dante’s sinuous tide of terza rima, but Longfellow’s verse flows not un-melodiously, the cadence of the line pleasantly varied with both feminine and masculine endings. In general, the style is plain rather than florid.
The full three-volume translation, the first American translation, was published in the spring of 1867, though Longfellow continued to revise it. It went through four printings in its first year.
The elite of the New World were already familiar with Dante from their travels to Italy as well as British translations of his work. But, owning a copy of Longfellow’s translation of Dante was a must for those Americans who identified with the highest Western culture.
Instead of attempting hendecasyllables, the American poet uses blank verse (unrhymed iambic pentameter). He follows Dante’s syntax when he can, and writes compactly in unrhymed tercets (the “Mountain”/”fountain” rhyme here would appear to be accidental). The effect is nothing like Dante’s sinuous tide of terza rima, but Longfellow’s verse flows not un-melodiously, the cadence of the line pleasantly varied with both feminine and masculine endings. In general, the style is plain rather than florid.
It was an amazing achievement. Moreover, Longfellow’s translation has held up through the 150 years since it was published. A leading expert in the written word notes it as perhaps the best of the many subsequent translations of the work in English.
You can read her blog post here:
In it, Professor Haven notes:
I have a number of translations of Dante’s The Divine Comedy in my home – among them the translations of Charles Singleton, Dorothy L. Sayers, Peter Dale, and others.
But perhaps the most neglected one is the battered volumes I found on ebay, translated by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. This overlooked translation finds a new champion in Joseph Luzzi, in “How to Read Dante in the 21st Century” in the online edition of The American Scholar:
… one of the few truly successful English translations comes from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, a professor of Italian at Harvard and an acclaimed poet. He produced one of the first complete, and in many respects still the best, English translations of The Divine Comedy in 1867. It did not hurt that Longfellow had also experienced the kind of traumatic loss—the death of his young wife after her dress caught fire—that brought him closer to the melancholy spirit of Dante’s writing, shaped by the lacerating exile from his beloved Florence in 1302. Longfellow succeeded in capturing the original brilliance of Dante’s lines with a close, sometimes awkwardly literal translation that allows the Tuscan to shine through the English, as though this “foreign” veneer were merely a protective layer added over the still-visible source. The critic Walter Benjamin wrote that a great translation calls our attention to a work’s original language even when we don’t speak that foreign tongue. Such extreme faithfulness can make the language of the translation feel unnatural—as though the source were shaping the translation into its own alien image.
Another scholar recently recommends Longfellow’s translation as the best way to read Dante in the 21st century.
You can read Mr. Luzzi’s essay here:
See also: Longfellow’s Dante: Literary Achievement in a Transatlantic Culture of Print
by Patricia Roylance https://www.jstor.org/stable/41428522?read-now=1&seq=14#metadata_info_tab_contents
Or, you can read the translation for yourself. Fortunately for us, in the 21st century you can read Longfellow’s translation online:
As for me, whenever I walk through the piazza that Longfellow is said to have named “the Mecca for the foreigners” I will remember the poet and his time in Florence. I feel the same keen appreciation for this lovely space as he apparently did.
I recently met a friend in front of the church in Piazza Sant’ Ambrogio, near Santa Croce, in a spot that is the terminus for 3 streets : via de’ Pilastri, via di Mezzo, and Borgo la Croce e via Carducci.
While waiting, I noticed for the first time, although I’ve been in this piazza a hundred times before, something new.
Looking a bit higher than I normally do, I saw a glazed terra-cotta tabernacle, in the style of the Della Robbia, of a figure that I assumed was a priest or even a pope, making a sign of blessing.
I ventured nearer to photograph the inscription below, and was rewarded with this information:
Loosely translated, the inscription reads: “Stop, you passers by, and read this. Know that 2 neighborhoods were passed by the immortal Pope Pius VII on 8 May, 1807, where he devotedly and humbly gave an apostolic blessing to the inhabitants.”
I seldom have occasion to discuss the Catholic Church, that foundational stone of Italian culture, in my blog, so let’s do a little something about that now.
Who was Pope Pius VII?
Portrait of Pius VII painted by Jacques-Louis David
He was born in 1742 as Barnaba Niccolò Maria Luigi Chiaramonti. He would rise all the way to head of the Catholic Church and ruler of the Papal States from 1800 until his death in 1823. Chiaramonti was also a monk of the Order of Saint Benedict in addition to being a well-known theologian and bishop throughout his life.
Chiaramonti was born in Cesena, about 30 miles south of Ravenna, in 1742, the youngest son of Count Scipione Chiaramonti (1698 – 1750) and Giovanna Coronata (d. 1777). His mother was the daughter of the Marquess Ghini; though his family was of noble status, they were not wealthy.
Like his brothers, he attended the Collegio dei Nobili in Ravenna but decided to join the Order of Saint Benedict at the age of 14 on 2 October 1756 as a novice at the Abbey of Santa Maria del Monte in Cesena. In 1758, he became a professed member and assumed the name of Gregorio. He taught at Benedictine colleges in Parma and Rome, and was ordained a priest on 21 September 1765.
In 1789, as the French Revolution took place, a series of anti-clerical governments came into power. During the French Revolutionary Wars, troops under Napoleon Bonaparte invaded Rome and took Pope Pius VI as a prisoner. He was taken as prisoner to France, where he died in 1799. The following year, after a sede vacante period lasting approximately six months, Chiaramonti was elected to the papacy, and took as his pontifical name Pius VII, in honor of his immediate predecessor.
He was crowned on 21 March 1800 in a rather unusual ceremony, wearing a papier-mâché papal tiara as the French had seized the tiaras held by the Holy See when occupying Rome and forcing Pius VI into exile. Pius VII then left for Rome, sailing on a barely seaworthy Austrian ship, the Bellona. The twelve-day voyage ended at Pesaro and he proceeded to Rome.
Pius at first attempted to take a cautious approach in dealing with Napoleon. He signed the Concordat of 1801, through which he succeeded in guaranteeing religious freedom for Catholics living in France, and presided over his coronation as Emperor of the French in 1804. Pius VII presided at the coronation of Napoleon I in 1804.
Once again, in 1809, Napoleon invaded the Papal States during the Napoleonic Wars; this earned him ex-communication. Pius VII was taken prisoner and transported to France. He remained there until Napoleon abdicated in 1813 and Pius VII returned to Rome. He was greeted warmly as a hero and defender of the faith and immediately revived the Inquisition and the Index of Condemned Books.
His works, some notable, some to be regretted:
Pius VII joined the declaration of the 1815 Congress of Vienna, represented by Cardinal Secretary of State Ercole Consalvi, and urged the suppression of the slave trade. This pertained particularly to places such as Spain and Portugal where slavery was economically important. The pope wrote a letter to King Louis XVIII of France dated 20 September 1814 and to the King John VI of Portugal in 1823 to urge the end of slavery. He condemned the slave trade and defined the sale of people as an injustice to the dignity of the human person. In his letter to the King of Portugal, he wrote: “the Pope regrets that this trade in blacks, that he believed having ceased, is still exercised in some regions and even more cruel way. He begs and begs the King of Portugal that it implement all its authority and wisdom to extirpate this unholy and abominable shame.”
Under Napoleonic rule, the Jewish Ghetto had been abolished and Jews were free to live and move where they would. Following the restoration of Papal rule, Pius VII re-instituted the confinement of Jews to the Ghetto, having the doors closed at nighttime.
Pius VII was a man of culture and attempted to reinvigorate Rome with archaeological excavations in Ostia which revealed ruins and icons from ancient times. He also had walls and other buildings rebuilt and restored the Arch of Constantine. He ordered the construction of fountains and piazzas and erected the obelisk at Monte Pincio.
The pope also made sure Rome was a place for artists and the leading artists of the time like Antonio Canova and Peter von Cornelius. He also enriched the Vatican Library with numerous manuscripts and books.
The so-called “miracle” of Pius VII. On 15 August 1811 – the Feast of the Assumption – it is recorded that the pope celebrated Mass and was said to have entered a trance and began to levitate in a manner that drew him to the altar. This particular episode aroused great wonder and awe among attendants which included the French soldiers guarding him who were in disbelief of what had occurred.
Relationship with the United States. On the United States’ undertaking of the First Barbary War to suppress the Muslim Barbary pirates along the southern Mediterranean coast, ending their kidnapping of Europeans for ransom and slavery, Pius VII declared that the United States “had done more for the cause of Christianity than the most powerful nations of Christendom have done for ages.”
For the United States, he established several new dioceses in 1808 for Boston, New York City, and Philadelphia. In 1821, he also established the dioceses of Charleston, Richmond and Cincinnati.
Pius VII died in 1823 at the age of 81. He was later buried in a monument in Saint Peter’s Basilica by the leading sculptor of the day, the Danish Bertel Thorvaldsen.