Lionardo (not Leonardo) da Vinci

Leonardo da Vinci is an artist who certainly needs no introduction and there is no place on this planet where his name is not remembered with admiration. But few people know that the real name of the Florentine genius is not the one everyone uses. This was proven by Prof. Emil Möller, a priest and well-known scholar of Leonardo, discoverer of a document that has allowed us to know the date of birth of the artist.

Presumed self-portrait of Leonardo da Vinci (c. 1510) at the Royal Library of Turin, Italy.

Presumed self-portrait of Leonardo da Vinci (c. 1510) at the Royal Library of Turin, Italy.

We know that Leonardo was baptized in the church of Santa Croce in Vinci. The church, which still stands today, bears what is believed to be Leonardo’s baptismal font, and on one wall there is an inscription with the text found in the State Archives of Florence by Möller, where Leonardo’s grandfather, Ser Antonio, noted the birth of his grandson.

Leonardo da Vinci baptismal font, Chiesa di Santa Croce, Vinci, Italy

Leonardo da Vinci baptismal font, Chiesa di Santa Croce, Vinci, Italy

In the church of Santa Croce there is a framed letter written by Möller to the provost of the church, don Paolo Bonfanti, and sent from München (Gluckstrasse 8/b) on March 31st 1939, in which the scholar clarifies once and for all the true name of the great artist. The original letter is kept in the parish archives of the church.

At this point there is nothing left but to give the word directly to Möller, who writes in that letter as follows (first the original, then the translation):

Rev. e carissimo Prevosto,
Nella festa del 15 e 16 aprile, quando la prima volta si celebreranno le natalizie del Vostro grande concittadino, in prima linea Voi, rev.mo Prevosto, quale rettore della Chiesa di Santa Croce Vi parteciperete, giacché addì 16 d’aprile del 1452, lì fu battezzato da un Vostro predecessore: Ser Piero di Bartolomeo di Guido Cecchi da Vinci, brevemente appellato Ser Piero di Pagneca, rettore della Chiesa di Vinci.

Lionardo nato “adì 15 d’aprile in sabato a ore tre di notte” nel borgo di Vinci, nella casa di suo nonno Antonio di Ser Piero di Ser Michele da Vinci, senza dubbio fu battezzato il giorno seguente, la domenica in albis la di cui messa comincia con un introito propriamente fatto per i neonati e battezzati novelli.

QUASIMODO GENITI INFANTES LAC CONCUPISCITE, ALLELUIA! [1]

In questo giorno nel splendore della primavera toscana, il neonato della casa del borgo fu portato con un seguito di dieci padrini nel Castello alla fonte battesimale della Vostra antica Chiesa di Santa Croce.
Adgiungo una fotografia del testo scritto dal felice nonno con mano sicura bensì già ottantenne, sulla nascita ed il battesimo del suo nipote. La trascrizzione [3] esatta è:

“NACHUE UN MIO NIPOTE, FIGLIOLO DI SER PIERO MIO FIGLIOLO, ADI/15 D’APRILE IN SABATO A ORE 3 DI NOTTE. EBBE NOME LIONARDO. BATEZOLLO PRETE PIERO DI BARTOLOMEO DA VINCCI PAPINO DI NANJ BANTTJ, MEO DI TONINO, PIERO DI MALVOLTO, NANNJ DI VENZO ARIGHO DI GIOVANNI TEDESCHO, MONNA LISA DI DOMENICHO DI BRETTONE, MONNA ANTONIA DI GIULIANO, MONNA NICCHOLOSA DEL BARNA, MONA MARIA FIGLIOLA DI NANNJ DI VENZO, MONNA PIPPA DI NANNJ DI VENZO DI PREVICCHIONE”

Prendete cura, caro Prevosto, che si metta il nome di Lionardo nella forma giusta, toscana, usata allora sempre a Vinci e Firenze e comune in Italia, e non quella lombarda, derivata dal latino Leonardus, in voga soltanto fin dal 1872 per i libri dell’Uzielli!
Penso che Voi Rev.mo Prevosto, volete perpetuare la memoria di un tale fatto storico con una tavola di marmo al portone della Vostra Chiesa!
Col nostro comune amico Don Quirino, concittadino di Lionardo e suo entusiastico ammiratore, Voi farete una iscrizione degna di essere scolpita in questa tavola approfittandovi delle parole autentiche dell’avo di Lionardo.
Non dimenticherete la casa di Santa Barbara [2], conservata finora proprietà e domicilio del padrino Arrigo di Giovanni Tedesco e fondatore di questo beneficio, commemorabile anche per il fatto che in questa casa hanno trovato dimora gli ultimi discendenti della famiglia di Lionardo.

Sempre il Vostro

Devotissimo Fratello EMIL MÖLLER

Plaque celebrating Leonardo's birth, Church of Santa Croce, Vinci, Italy

Plaque celebrating Leonardo’s birth, Church of Santa Croce, Vinci, Italy

Most Reverend and dearest Provost,
On the feast of April 15 and 16, when the first celebration of the birth of your great fellow citizen will take place, you, most reverend Provost, as rector of the Church of Santa Croce will take part in it, since on April 16, 1452, he was baptized there by one of your predecessors: Ser Piero di Bartolomeo di Guido Cecchi da Vinci, briefly called Ser Piero di Pagneca, rector of the Church of Vinci.

Lionardo was born “adì 15 d’aprile in sabato a ore tre di notte” in the village of Vinci, in the house of his grandfather Antonio di Ser Piero di Ser Michele da Vinci, without doubt he was baptized the following day, the Sunday in albis whose mass begins with an introitus properly made for the newborn and baptized novices.

QUASIMODO GENITI INFANTES LAC CONCUPISCITE, ALLELUIA! [1]

In this day in the splendor of the Tuscan spring, the newborn of the house of the village was brought with a retinue of ten godfathers in the Castle to the baptismal font of your ancient Church of Santa Croce.
I enclose a fotograph of the text written by the happy grandfather with a sure hand but already eighty years old, on the birth and baptism of his grandson. The exact transcription is:

“BORN A MY GRAND SON, SON OF SER PIERO MY SON, THE 15/DAY APRIL ON SATURDAY AT 3 HOURS OF NIGHT. HE HAD THE NAME LIONARDO. HE WAS BAPTIZED BY PRETE PIERO DI BARTOLOMEO DA VINCI PAPINO DI NANJ BANTTJ, MEO DI TONINO, PIERO DI MALVOLTO, NANNJ DI VENZO ARIGHO DI GIOVANNI TEDESCHO, MONNA LISA DI DOMENICHO DI BRETTONE, MONNA ANTONIA DI GIULIANO, MONNA NICCHOLOSA DEL BARNA, MONA MARIA FIGLIOLA DI NANNI DI VENZO, MONNA PIPPA DI NANNJ DI VENZO DI PREVICCHIONE”

Take care, dear Provost, that you put the name of Lionardo in the right form, Tuscan, used then always in Vinci and Florence and common in Italy, and not the Lombard one, derived from the Latin Leonardus, in vogue only since 1872 for the books of Uzielli!
I think that you, Most Reverend Provost, want to perpetuate the memory of such a historical fact with a marble table at the door of your church!
With our common friend Don Quirino, fellow citizen of Lionardo and his enthusiastic admirer, you will make an inscription worthy of being carved in this table taking advantage of the authentic words of the ancestor of Lionardo.
You will not forget the house of Santa Barbara [2], preserved until now property and domicile of the godfather Arrigo di Giovanni Tedesco and founder of this benefit, commemorated also by the fact that in this house have found dwelling the last descendants of the family of Lionardo.

Always Yours

Devoted Brother EMIL MÖLLER

Antonio da Vinci, note on the birth of Leonardo (1452), Florence, Archivio di Stato, Notarile antecosimiano 16912, f. 105v

Antonio da Vinci, note on the birth of Leonardo (1452), Florence, Archivio di Stato, Notarile antecosimiano 16912, f. 105v

So he was born on Saturday April 15, 1452 at 3 AM and was named Lionardo. It is interesting that 3 AM corresponds about to 10 PM, since in those times the night hours were counted from the evening Hail Mary, that is from the moment of the sunset (about 7 PM that day in Vinci).

[1] This expression refers to the first Sunday after Easter, that is, Sunday in albis. The text is taken from the words of the introit of the Latin Mass of that day “Quasi modo geniti infantes”, taken from verse 2, 2 of the First Epistle of Peter. It means “almost like infants you desire pure spiritual milk”.

[2] Santa Barbara is a fraction of Vinci.

[3] This is a typo by Möller, in italian transcription is trascrizione.

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The invention of the internal combustion engine in Florence

Do you know that the invention of the first internal combustion engine was presented in Florence?

Eugenio Barsanti (neé Nicolò) was a teacher of mathematics and physics at the College of San Michele in Volterra. In 1841 he illustrated to his students an experiment about the explosion of an incendiary mixture of air and hydrogen (using a Volta’s electric-phlogopneumatic pistol of his construction); at that time he had the idea to exploit the rapid expansion of the gas to raise a piston.

Eugenio Barsanti

On July 17 1838 Barsanti, who later became a catholic priest belonging to the Order of Poor Clerics Regular of the Mother of God of the Pious Schools, went to Florence with Father Bottari and completed his novitiate at Calasanzio’s Institute “Il Pellegrino” on via Bolognese, where he put on the habit prescribed by Joseph Calasanz for his congregation, and changed his name to Eugenio dell’Addolorata.

He was appointed lecturer of mechanics and hydraulics at the Ximenian Observatory of Florence in 1852, and then he was able to develop his idea of the internal combustion engine. In that period he met Felice Matteucci, who frequented the observatory, and began to collaborate with him.
A manuscript conserved at the Ximenian Observatory reports Barsanti’s idea of generating motive force from the explosion of a gaseous mixture.

“Il Padre Eugenio Barsanti aveva ripetutamente osservato che l’apparecchio subiva, al momento dell’esplosione, un riscaldamento tanto maggiore quanto piu fortemente era calcato il turacciolo e che questo riscaldamento giungeva al maximum allorche il turacciolo stesso veniva cosi fortemente calcato che l’esplosione della mescolanza detonante non valeva a cacciarlo via. Da questa osservazione deduceva che la forza esplosiva dei miscugli composti di idrogeno e di aria non era cosi violenta come l’avrebbe fatto supporre il rumore che si ode quando il turacciolo viene slanciato, e che si poteva regolarne gli effetti dinamici obbligandolo a trasformarsi in parte o anche totalmente in calorico.”

(“Father Eugenio Barsanti had repeatedly noticed that the instrument would heat up at the moment of the explosion and this heat was directly proportional to how much the cork was pressed down and that the heat would reach its maximum when the cork was pressed down so much that the explosion of the mixture could not expel it. From this observation he deduced that the explosive force of the mixture of hydrogen and air was not as violent as the noise it produced would make it seem, and that the dynamic effects could be regulated compelling them to be transformed, partially or totally into heat.”)

Felice Matteucci

Barsanti and Matteucci submitted their invention on June 4 1853 with a letter to the secretary of the Accademia dei Georgofili in Florence, that was read on a regular meeting of the Accademia on the following day, establishing the priority of their invention.

On that occasion they wrote:

“Ill.mo Signore
Desiderando noi sottoscritti di fissare in modo autentico la data di alcuni nostri esperimenti sui quali per ora ci giova mantenere il segreto, abbiamo immaginato di depositare presso codesta illustre Accademia un Rapporto sigillato nel quale tali esperimenti sono descritti.
Nella fiducia di ottenere dalla gentilezza di V.S. Ill.ma che possa aver luogo questo deposito con tutte le opportune formalità, ci permettiamo dirigerle il rammentato Rapporto, pregandola a favorircene un cortese riscontro.
Frattanto ci procuriamo l’onore di segnarci

Firenze li 4. Giugno 1853
Umiliss. Dev. Servitori
Eugenio Barsanti D.S.P.
Felice Matteucci”

(“Dear Sir
Wishing us, the undersigned, to authentically fix the date of some of our experiments on which we wish to maintain secrecy for the moment, we have decided to deposit with your illustrious Academy a sealed Report in which these experiments are described.
In the confidence of obtaining the kindness of Your Excellency to allow this deposit to take place with all the appropriate formalities, we take the liberty of sending you the aforementioned Report, begging you to provide us with a courteous reply.
In the meantime we procure for the honor of marking ourselves

Florence 4 June 1853
Umiliss. Dev. Servitori [Most Humble Devoted Servants]
Eugenio Barsanti D.S.P. [Dei Scholarum Piarum]
Felice Matteucci”)

Model of the Barsanti-Matteucci engine at the Ximenian Observatory of Florence

On June 12 1854, they succeeded in patenting it (patent No. 1072, published on the London Morning Journal with the title “Specifications of Eugene Barsanti and Felix Matteucci obtaining Motive Power by the Explosion of Gases”). In the following years the invention was patented in other countries too (Kingdom of Sardinia, France, Austria, Belgium) and patented again in England on June 12 1857.

English Patent for the internal combustion engine by Barsanti and Matteucci, June 12 1857

Barsanti and Matteucci developed a two-cylinder engine with a power of five horsepower in 1856 and in 1858 they designed, with the help of a mechanic from Forlì, Giovanni Battista Babacci, a model with two opposed pistons that was built by the Escher Wyss company in Zurich.

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The Stendhal Syndrome

The hospital of Santa Maria Nuova is the oldest active hospital in Florence. It was founded in 1288 by Folco Portinari, Beatrice‘s father (Dante‘s muse and inspiration). The building retains a significant historical and artistic value, and contains works by various artists, including Giovanni della Robbia, Giambologna, Alessandro Allori, Michelozzo, Andrea del Castagno.

The hospital enjoys a privileged position, because it is located in the historical centre, near the major tourist attractions.

In 1977 the Florentine psychiatrist Graziella Magherini, head of psychiatry unit at Santa Maria Nuova, began observing some cases of foreign tourists visiting Florence affected by acute episodes of sudden and short-term psychic suffering. All these patients had a good level of school education, a strong interest in the works of art, and they were travelling alone from Western Europe or North America. Their psychic discomfort invariably occurred after their arrival in Florence, always inside the museums during the observation of the works of art. The patients reported rapid heartbeat, fainting, dizziness, hallucinations. In total 106 cases were identified, analyzed and reported by Magherini [1] [2] [3].

It is worth noting that this psychosomatic disorder is not listed as a recognised condition in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

Is it really possible that a work of art can upset the human mind so deeply?

In 2018, a foreign visitor to the Uffizi had a heart attack after seeing Botticelli‘s Birth of Venus [4]. What’s peculiar with this condition is that Italians seem to be totally immune to it [5].

From the analysis of the patients’ symptoms, someone in Magherini’s group thought of Stendhal, so that since then this alleged condition is called Stendhal syndrome, hyperkulturemia, or Florence syndrome [6] [7] (Dostoevsky was thought to be affected as well [8]). But why Stendhal?

Marie-Henri Beyle (Stendhal), portrait by Olof Johan Södermark, 1840

We read from Stendhal’s travel book Rome, Naples et Florence on January 22, 1817 [9]:

“At the risk of losing all those little things you have around you when you travel, I had to stop the carriage as soon as I had finished the passport ceremony. I have looked so often at views of Florence that I knew it in advance; I was able to walk there without a guide. I turned left, passed a bookseller who sold me two descriptions of the city (guides). Only twice I asked for directions from passers-by who answered me with French politeness and a peculiar accent, finally I arrived in Santa Croce. There, to the right of the door, is Michelangelo‘s tomb; further on, the tomb of Alfieri, by Canova: I recognize this great figure of Italy. Then I have seen the tomb of Machiavelli; and opposite Michelangelo lies Galileo. What men! And Tuscany could join Dante, Boccaccio and Petrarch. What an astonishing meeting! My emotion is so deep, that it almost goes to piety. The dark religious aspect of this church, its simple roof, its unfinished façade, all this speaks vividly to my soul. Ah! if I could forget!…. A monk approached me; instead of repugnance almost to the point of physical horror, I found myself as a friend to him. Fra Bartolomeo from San Marco was a monk too! This great painter invented the chiaroscuro, he showed it to Raphael, and was the precursor of Correggio. I spoke to this monk, with whom I found the most perfect politeness. He was well pleased to see a Frenchman. I asked him to open the chapel in the northeast corner, where the frescoes of the Volterrano are. He took me there and left me alone. There, sitting on the kneeler of a prie-Dieu, the head upside down and leaning against the desk, to be able to look up at the ceiling, the Sibyls of the Volterrano gave me perhaps the greatest pleasure that painting has ever given me. I was already in a kind of ecstasy at the thought of being in Florence, and the vicinity of the great men whose tombs I had just seen. Absorbed in the contemplation of the sublime beauty, I saw it up close, I touched it, so to speak. I had arrived at that point of emotion where the celestial sensations given by the fine arts and passionate feelings meet. When I left Santa Croce, I had a heartbeat, the so-called nerves in Berlin; life was exhausted in me, I was walking with the fear of falling. I sat down on one of the benches in Santa Croce square; I read again with delight these verses by Foscolo, which I had in my wallet; I did not see the flaws: I needed the voice of a friend sharing my emotion. […] The day after tomorrow, the memory of what I had felt gave me an impertinent idea: it is better, for the happiness, I thought, to have the heart as well as the cordon bleu“.

Stendhal says that he visited Santa Croce on January 20, 1817, but the date is fictitious (on that day he was not in Florence, but in Rome); the visit occurred on September 26, 1811, as Stendhal writes in his Journal 1810-1811 on September 27, 1811 [10]. The episode was not included in the first edition of Rome, Naples et Florence in 1817, but only in the second edition in 1826 [11].

At the opposite of the Stendhal Syndrome there is the Paris Syndrome, which is a condition of disappointment felt by tourists when visiting Paris, feeling that Paris is not as beautiful as they thought. But this is another story.

References:

[1] G. Magherini, La Sindrome di Stendhal. Firenze: Ponte Alle Grazie, 1989.

[2] G. Magherini, La sindrome di Stendhal. Il malessere del viaggiatore di fronte alla grandezza dell’arte, Milano, Ponte alle Grazie, 2003.

[3] Barnas M. Confrontations: an interview with Florentine psychiatrist Graziella Magherini.

[4] J. Jones, Stendhal syndrome: can art really be so beautiful it makes you ill?, The Guardian December 18, 2018.

[5] C. Haberman, Florence’s Art Makes Some Go to Pieces, The New York Times, May 15, 1989.

[6] I. Bamforth, Stendhal’s Syndrome, British Journal of General Practice, 2010.

[7] T.R.J. Nicholson, C. Pariante, D. McLoughlin, Stendhal syndrome: A case of cultural overload, 2009.

[8] E.J. Amâncio, Dostoevsky and Stendhal’s syndrome, Arquivos de Neuro-psiquiatria, 2005.

[9] Stendhal, Rome, Naples et Florence (1826).

[10] Stendhal, Journal (1810-1811) IV, Le Divan, Paris.

[11] https://wukali.fr/2020/01/04/henri-beyle-la-sibylle-et-deux-syndromes-3528/3528

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November 29, 1924: Giacomo Puccini dies

Giacomo Puccini in his deathbed – Bruxelles November 29, 1924

It all started in February 1924 with a sore throat that at first you had probably not given importance to. But, despite the remedies proposed by the doctors, that sordid disease did not heal.

Then they told you that you were serious, but you could do it. From your home in Viareggio you departed for Brussels with death in your heart, with the hope of being able to cure that terrible disease. You alternated between moments of despair and moments of hope.

Turandot was there, unfinished. After composing Liù’s death procession, you interrupted the score with a E-flat minor chord, played by piccolo, violins, violas, cellos and double basses. But you wanted to, you had to heal, to finish your work. It only took a few days. You carried with you 23 sheets of sketches. You were thinking about the final duet. You wrote: “It must be a grand duet. The two almost otherworldly beings enter among humans through love and this love must at the end invade everyone on stage in an orches­tral peroration” [1]. But you couldn’t work.

After Dr. Ledoux’s terrible surgery on your throat, which lasted 3 hours and 40 minutes, you couldn’t talk anymore. Your son Antonio (Tonio) put a block and a pencil in your hands and you wrote: “Will I be saved?”. Then everyone said yes, because the worst was over [2].

But it wasn’t true.

A few days later, on November 28 at about 4 pm, your stepdaughter Fosca was in your room, happily writing a letter to your friend Sybil Seligman to express her joy and hope about your recovery. But that letter was never finished. When Fosca went out of the room to find Sybil’s address, at about 6 pm, you suffered a heart attack and collapsed in your armchair [5]. Dr. Ledoux promptly removed the radium needles from your throat and make an injection [4]. But it was all useless. You spent a restless night, suffering from the torture of thirst, with a gasping respiration and an incessant tossing. You wrote on a paper: “I feel worse than yesterday – hell in my throat – fresh water”. You lost your patience when your son Tonio refused to go to bed. Your hands were constantly moving. At dawn of 29th, the Papal Nuncio Monsignor Micara arrived at the clinic with the Italian Ambassador Orsini-Baroni, called by Tonio. Tonio asked you: “There is Monsignor with Orsini-Baroni. Shall I let them in?”. You said yes, but only Micara was admitted at your bedside, on the pretext of visiting you, and gave you the last benediction. Then entered the nun who assisted you, and that you gently stroked and called Suor Angelica. She placed a bunch of violets in the room every morning, left by an unknown admirer for you in the porter’s lodge. She said that they were the violets sent by Mimì. She approached a small crucifix to your lips. Your agony began. In one last, tragic gesture of farewell to your loved ones, you raised your hand, as if to say goodbye to Fosca and Tonio, who were there next to you. Your fingers ran over the coverlet, as though they were playing some melody, your lips seemed to be whispering an accompaniment. After you had drawn two deep breaths, your head fell on its side [2][3].

On Saturday November 29, 1924, at about 4 am Giacomo Puccini, the most important Italian composer of the 20th century, died in Brussels.

That was the end of Italian melodrama.

Turandot’s last bars composed by Puccini – Act 3

References

[1] G. Puccini, letter to Adami, November 16, 1924
[2] G. Adami, Giacomo Puccini, Il romanzo della vita, Il saggiatore 2014.
[3] R. Specht, Giacomo Puccini, the man, his life, his work, 1933.
[4] M. Carner, Puccini, a critical biography, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1959.
[5] V. Seligman, Puccini among friends, The MacMillan Company, 1938.

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Remembering Enrico Fermi

Enrico Fermi was born in Rome on Sunday September 29, 1901. During high school, he developed a deep interest in physics. He was then suggested by a colleague of his father, engineer Adolfo Amidei, to take the admission test for the prestigious Scuola Normale Superiore, which he effectively passed, first in the ranking, in 1918. He attended both the School and the University of Pisa, graduating in physics in 1922.

In 1924 he was initiated into the Masonic Lodge “Adriano Lemmi” in Rome.

After short visiting periods of study in Göttingen and Leiden he joined the University of Florence in 1924, where in 1926 he developed the Fermi-Dirac statistics, and then moved to Rome, where he was appointed Professor of theoretical physics (the first academic chair in Italy in that field, sponsored by Orso Mario Corbino).

IEEE Milestone celebrating Enrico Fermi’s Statistics – School of Engineering, Florence (Italy)

Fermi and his group of via Panisperna boys made a fundamental discovery in 1934, in the field of radioactivity, regarding the so called slow neutrons.

Fermi left Italy in 1938, after the proclamation of the racial laws of the fascist regime, with his wife Laura Capon, who was Jewish.

After a short trip to Stockholm, to receive the Nobel Prize in Physics, he eventually turned to America, having accepted an academic position at Columbia University.

On December 2, 1942 Fermi, coordinating a group of scientists, succeeded in making the first human-made self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction with the Chicago Pile-1, under the west viewing stands of the original Stagg Field. After the discovery of fire by humans, hypothetically about 125,000 years ago, the nuclear era had begun.

During the WWII, he joined many other scientists in the Manhattan Project in Los Alamos, under the supervision of Robert J. Oppenheimer, which developed the atomic bombs detonated in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing between 129,000 and 226,000 people, on August 6 and 9 respectively, 1945.

During the summer of 1954 Fermi, after a trip in Italy (where he taught at the International School of Physics in Varenna) and South America, feeling ill went to Billings Hospitals in Chicago. He was visited by a intern doctor who didn’t make the correct diagnosis. A further visit by a chief surgeon, and an exploratory operation, revealed an incurable stomach cancer.

Emilio Segrè, who soon came to visit Fermi at hospital, recalls:

“I found Fermi at Billings Hospital, fed by a tube that ran directly into his stomach. The patient was measuring the flow of the fluid by counting the drops, using a stopwatch, as though performing a physiology experiment. He was perfectly aware of his condition and started talking about how many months or weeks he might survive, and what he would do in the short span still allotted him.[…] In a lighter vein, he told me he had been blessed by a Catholic priest, a Protestant pastor, and a rabbi. At different times the three had entered his room and demurely and politely asked permission to bless him. He had given it. ‘It pleased them and did not hurt me’, he added.[…] Among other things, Fermi observed that since his wife, Laura, had just finished her book Atoms in the Family, his death would come at the right moment for promoting it, and that he hoped the literary success he anticipated for it might help her overcome the difficult time she faced. At the end of the afternoon I left. When I got out of the hospital, I felt ill; the emotional upheaval produced in me by the visit was too much for my constitution. I could scarcely stand, and I remember going into the first bar I came across to fortify myself with a cognac, something exceedingly rare, perhaps even unique, in my life. I returned to Berkeley gravely upset, and as soon as possible I went back to Chicago. I found Fermi much worse and in a more somber mode. He spoke of his sufferings and of other subjects I will omit. We talked until late in the evening. During the night, I was awakened by a phone call announcing that Fermi had died”. [1]

It was Sunday November 28, 1954 and Enrico Fermi, one of the greatest physicists of modern history, was 53 years old.

At the memorial service St. Francis’ Cantico delle creature (“Canticle of the Creatures”) was read.

References:

[1] E. Segrè, A mind always in motion: The autobiography of Emilio Segrè, Plunkett Lake Press, 1992.

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To Giuseppe Verdi

Giuseppe Verdi at Villa Sant’Agata in his late years

10 Ottobre

Hai cantato
la gioia e la tristezza,
l’amore e il dolore,
l’esaltazione e il terrore,
l’amicizia e l’inimicizia,
la generosità e l’egoismo,
la speranza e la disperazione,
la vita e la morte.

Hai riscattato gli umili,
difeso i deboli,
consolato gli afflitti,
combattuto i soprusi,
sbeffeggiato i potenti,
ridato dignità ai diseredati,
sofferto con gli ammalati,
risollevato gli ultimi.

Ci hai fatto cantare a squarciagola,
fino al colmo della passione.
Ci hai fatto sussurrare parole
di dolcezza e affetto,
di mestizia e malinconia,
di speranza e nostalgia.

Hai teso la tua mano verso di noi,
ci hai rialzati quando eravamo caduti,
ci hai sorretti quando ne avevamo bisogno,
e hai asciugato le nostre lacrime.

Ci hai indicato la luce
quando luce non vedevamo,
ci hai tracciato un sentiero
quando un cammino non trovavamo,
ci hai lasciati correre liberi
per le infinite distese della Natura,
ci hai insegnato ad accettare
quel che di buono e cattivo ci dà la vita.

E quando siamo tornati, cresciuti,
volentieri ti sei seduto in mezzo a noi,
e insieme abbiamo brindato e scherzato.

Hai cantato tutto questo, per noi,
perché tu stesso lo avevi conosciuto.
Ma prima di andartene ci hai salutati
con una risata aperta, genuina e totale,
perché, dopotutto, ne è valsa la pena di vivere.

Oggi ti voglio ricordare così, quando l’Orchestra si muove in un disegno di semicrome, e una settima diminuita prelude a quel momento supremo di Otello che finalmente bacia Desdemona.

E tutto è compiuto.

Otello kisses Desdemona, Otello, Scene 3, Act I

October 10

You sang
joy and sadness,
love and pain,
exaltation and terror,
friendship and enmity,
generosity and selfishness,
hope and despair,
life and death.

You redeemed the humble,
defended the weak,
consoled the afflicted,
fought off the abuse of power,
mocked the powerful,
restored dignity to the dispossessed,
suffered with the sick,
raised the last.

You made us sing our hearts out,
to the height of passion.
You made us whisper words
of sweetness and affection,
of sadness and melancholy,
of hope and nostalgia.

You extended your hand to us,
you got us up when we fell,
you supported us when we needed it,
and wiped our tears.

You showed us the light
when we couldn’t see a light,
you’ve traced a trail for us
when we couldn’t find a path,
you let us run free
through the endless expanses of Nature,
you taught us to accept
what good and bad gives us life.

And when we returned, grown up,
you willingly sat in our midst,
and together we toasted and joked.

You sang all this, for us,
because you knew him yourself.
But before you left, you greeted us
with an open, genuine, total laugh,
because, after all, it was worth living.

Today I want to remember you like this, when the Orchestra moves in a drawing of semiquavers, and a diminished seventh preludes to that supreme moment of Otello finally kissing Desdemona.

And everything is done.

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June 24 in Florence and Leonardo da Vinci

In the Codex Atlanticus (folio 673 recto) we find the last dated annotation from Leonardo da Vinci:

A 24 di giugno il dì di san Giovanni 1518 in Ambosa nel palazzo del Clu

(“On 24th of June St. John’s Day 1518 in Ambosa in the Palace of Clu”)

Leonardo’s last dated annotation, Codex Atlanticus, folio 673 recto

Château de Cloux at Amboise was the residence put at disposal of Leonardo by the king Francis I. Maybe Leonardo remembered St. John’s day, the patron saint of Florence, with a hint of nostalgia, given his distance from Florence in a foreign country.

St. John the Baptist was chosen as the patron saint of the city of Florence only after the conversion of the city to Christianity. Initially, the patron of the city was the god Mars, whose statue was placed at the beginning of the Ponte Vecchio. On August 23 406, the roman militias headed by Stilicho and the Florentines defeated the Ostrogoths of Radagaisus, during the Siege of Florence (Battle of Faesulae). According to the tradition, Florentines said it happened thanks to the miraculous intercession of Saint Reparata, bishop Zenobius of Florence decided to dedicate their first christian cathedral to Saint Reparata (now co-patroness of the city), and Florence started celebrating the day of the martyrdom of the saint (8 October).

The statue of Mars remained in the city until 1333, when a flood of the Arno destroyed it. Dante remembers the statue with these verses in the Commedia (Paradiso, XVI, 145-147)

Ma conveniesi a quella pietra scema
che guarda ’l ponte, che Fiorenza fesse
vittima ne la sua pace postrema

(“Thou near our city camest. But so was doom’d:
Florence! on that maim’d stone which guards the bridge
The victim, when thy peace departed, fell”)

During the period of Longobard domination (VI-VIII century) Saint John the Baptist was recognised as the patron saint of Florence, and the Baptistery named after him was consecrated in 1059. Though, the first celebrations on June 24 in honor of St. John the Baptist only started to took place in the XIII century.

Florentines celebrate June 24 with many events: flag throwing, a historical procession, a historical soccer match (known as Calcio Storico Fiorentino) between the finalist teams of Florence’s quartieri, played in Piazza Santa Croce, and the spectacular fireworks (called by the Florentines fochi).

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The birth of Opera in Florence

Do you like the Opera? Do you know that it was born in Florence?

The story starts with the Camerata de’ Bardi, a group of humanists and musicians active in Florence since January 14 1573. Their members used to meet in Palazzo Bardi, residence of Giovanni de’ Bardi (who later joined the Accademia della Crusca with the nickname Incrusciato).

Palazzo Bardi, in via de’ Benci 5, Florence

Camerata’s members included Vincenzo Galilei, father of the most famous Galileo Galilei, Giulio Caccini, Emilio de’ Cavalieri, Francesco Rasi, Girolamo Mei, Ottavio Rinuccini and Jacopo Peri (nicknamed Zazzerino). The name Camerata was first used by Giulio Caccini.

Jacopo Peri in his performance costume of Arion in the 5. intermedio of La Pellegrina (1589)

Discussing music, literature, science and art related topics, with the goal of proposing a reinassance of the ancient Greek dramatic style, they developed a new delivery style: the stile recitativo (and in particular the so called recitativo secco) through which a melodic line was used to tell a story, accompanied by simple chords played by a harpsichord or a lute. Vincenzo Galilei, in his Dialogo della musica antica et della moderna (Dialogue on Ancient and Modern Music), thought about simplicity as a way to rediscover the ancient Greek tradition, writing about “a return to the simplicity of ancient monody” [3].

Plaque that remembers the Camerata on Palazzo de’ Bardi in Florence

This musical conception eventually evolved in a singing style that revolutionized the way of making theatre: it was the birth of the recitar cantando, the acting while singing. The first Opera to be written was the Euridice by Jacopo Peri and Giulio Caccini, composed in Florence, with a libretto of the poet Ottavio Rinuccini. The first performance was in Florence on 6 October 1600 at the Palazzo Pitti (Peri sang the role of Orfeo).

Bibliography:

[1] Vincenzo Galilei (1581), Dialogo della musica antica et della moderna.
[2] Giovanni de’ Bardi, Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani, vol. 6 1994.
[3] Pirrotta, N., Fortune N., Temperaments and Tendencies in The Florentine Camerata, The Musical Quarterly, XIJ2, 1954, 169-189.
[4] Donington, Robert (1981), The Rise of Opera. New York.
[5] Grout, Donald Jay (1947), A Short History of Opera: One-Volume Edition. New York, Columbia University Press.
[6] Palisca, Claude V. (1989). The Florentine Camerata: Documentary Studies and Translations. Music Theory Translation Series. New Haven, Yale University Press.
[7] Katz, R., Collective ‘problem solving’ in the History of Music: The Case of The Camerata, Journal of the History ofldeas, XLV/3, 1984, 361-377.

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Manzoni in Florence and the national language issue

Alessandro Manzoni is one of the most prominent figures of the Italian literature, and the author of the famous masterwork I promessi Sposi.

Manzoni is regarded as the italian writer who gave the decisive contribution for the foundation of the linguistic unity of Italy.

Alessandro Manzoni (1785-1873), portrait by Francesco Hayez

After the barbarian invasions, that contributed to collapse the Western Roman Empire, Italy was divided in small statelets, and over the centuries was invaded by the Germans, French, Spanish, Austrians and so on. Every italian statelet had a separate jurisdiction and developed its own customs, traditions and…language.

From a linguistic point of view, you can well say that Italy in the 19th century, when Manzoni lived, was a conglomerate of dialects, ofter very dissimilar from each other.

Manzoni started the draft of his novel on 24 April 1821 and completed it on 17 September 1823 [1]. The title of the book, Fermo e Lucia, was not decided by the author, but suggested on 2 April 1822 in a letter of Ermes Visconti to Gaetano Cattaneo. At that time, Manzoni had not effectively dealt with the national language issue: this version of the book (that remained unpublished until 1915, when was published by Giuseppe Lesca with the title Gli sposi promessi [3]) was a mixture of literary language, dialects, latinisms and even foreign languages.

In a letter of 3 November 1821 to Claude Fauriel, Manzoni observed: “Quando un francese cerca di esprimere, com’egli può meglio, le sue idee, vedere un po’ quanta abbondanza e varietà di modi egli trova in quella sua lingua […] Immaginatevi, invece, un italiano, non toscano, che scriva in una lingua la quale egli non ha quasi mai parlato, e che (se pure egli è nato nel paese privilegiato) scrive in una lingua parlata da un picciol numero d’abitanti d’Italia […] manca intieramente a questo povero scrittore [Manzoni si rivolge a sé stesso] il sentimento, per così dire, di comunione col suo lettore, la certezza di maneggiare uno strumento egualmente noto ad entrambi […] Poiché, in tal caso, che cosa significa la parola italiano? Secondo gli uni, quanto si trova registrato nella Crusca, secondo altri quello ch’è compreso in tutta l’Italia o dalle classi colte…“.

(When a french tries to express, at the best he can do, his ideas, you can see how much abundance and variety of modes he finds in that his language […] Imagine, instead, an italian, not tuscan, who writes in a language that he has almost never spoken, and that (even if he was born in the privileged country) writes in a language spoken by a small number of italian inhabitants […] it lacks entirely to this poor writer [Manzoni speaks to himself] the sentiment, so to speak, of communion with his reader, the certainty to manage a tool equally known to both […] Since, in that case, what does it mean the word italian? According to some, what is registered in the Crusca, according to others what is understood in the whole Italy or from the cultered classes…).

Manzoni, evidently unsatisfied with the first work, worked at a revision of the book that was published in 1827 (this version is called the ventisettana, from the year of publication ventisette, 27) with the title I promessi sposi, and the subtitle storia milanese del secolo XVII, scoperta e rifatta da Alessandro Manzoni (milanese history of XVII century, discovered and redone by Alessandro Manzoni). Indeed, Manzoni in the introduction of the book states that he adapted the novel from an anonimous manuscript. Though, according to Giovanni Getto, Manzoni took the novel from the Historia del cavalier perduto by Pace Pasini [11][12], scholars generally looked at Manzoni’s statetement as a literary expedient to add more realism to the story [13][14].

Manzoni, urged to find a way to clean up his book with a new italian common language (that would contribute to establish the language unification of Italy), eventually came to Florence on 29 August 1827, with all his family (14 people!): his wife Enrichetta Blondel, his mother Giulia Beccaria, his six sons and five housekeepers. He took up residence in the Hotel delle Quattro Nazioni (Hotel of the Four Nations), formerly belonged to the Gianfigliazzi family, now Palazzo Gianfigliazzi-Bonaparte, in Lungarno Corsini, 4.

Palazzo Gianfigliazzi-Bonaparte, Firenze

Palazzo Gianfigliazzi-Bonaparte, commemorative plate of Manzoni’s visit of 1827

But, why Florence?

Since the Dolce Stil Novo, the tuscan literary school emerged as a model of stilistic beauty, the most notable exponent being Dante Alighieri. The fortune of the tuscan school consolidated with the works of Francesco Petrarca and Giovanni Boccaccio. Later on, Niccolò Machiavelli, in his Discorso o dialogo intorno alla nostra lingua, stated that the florentine language must be considered as the superior language to be preferred. It is worth noting that all these writers were of florentine origins. With centuries of distinguished literary fortune of the tuscan school, it’s not surprising then, that Manzoni looked at the florentine language as the model to follow. Lacking a florentine vocabulary, he thought that the best option for him would be to study the language directly on site.

During his stay in Florence, Manzoni had the occasion to meet a number of personalities at Gabinetto Viesseux (at that time in Palazzo Buondelmonti), including Giovan Battista Niccolini, Gaetano Cioni, Mario Pieri, Terenzio Mamiani, Giacomo Leopardi, and Pietro Giordani. He was particularly interested in listening to the native florentines speaking, and overall took advantage of the help of Cioni and Niccolini, often consulted for linguistic issues. He became a friend of Cioni, who frequently met at his house in via del Campuccio 64, near via dei Serragli.

In a letter of 17 September 1827 to Tommaso Grossi he used an expression that became famous [4]: “Ma tu sai come sono occupato: ho settantun lenzuola da risciacquare, e un’acqua come Arno e lavandaie come Cioni e Niccolini, fuor di qui, non le trovo in nessun luogo” (but you know how much I am busy: I have seventy-one sheets to wash, and a water like that of Arno and laundresses like Cioni and Niccolini, far from here, I don’t find anywhere).

According to Niccolò Tommaseo [5] “Si lagnava a ragione il Nostro che i Toscani confondessero con la lingua viva in loro il linguaggio dei testi; e che quand’egli ito nel ventisette in Toscana a lavare, diceva, i suoi panni sudici, rileggendo col Cioni il romanzo, e domandandogli se tale o tale parola si dicesse, il Cioni, che pure d’eleganze viventi ne sapeva più che altri molti, rispondesse: «Si dice; l’ha il Lippi». «Io non domando, – replicava il milanese, – se il Lippi l’abbia scritto, ma se a Firenze si dica»” (he rightly complained that Tuscans confused with the living language in them the language of the texts; and when he came in 1827 in Tuscany to wash, as he said, his dirty clothes, reading with Cioni the novel, and asking him if that or that word you’d say, Cioni, even if he knew more than many others about living elegances, replied: «You say it; Lippi has it». «I do not ask, – replied the milanese, – if Lippi wrote that, but if in Florence you say it»).

Manzoni departed from Florence on 1 October 1827, continuing the long revision of his book, that culminated with the publication of the definitive version in 1840 with illustrations by Francesco Gonin and an appendix (Storia della Colonna Infame) [6]. This version is called the quarantana, from the year of publication quaranta, 40.

I Promessi Sposi, frontespice of the last edition (1840)

In the following years, Manzoni was a firm supporter of the adoption of florentine (not to be confused with a generic tuscan language) as the national language. Invited by the Ministry of Education Emilio Broglio, in 1868 he wrote the report Dell’unità della lingua e dei mezzi di diffonderla (On the unity of language and the ways of disseminating it) [7]. He wrote: “Uno poi de’ mezzi più efficaci e d’un effetto più generale, particolarmente nelle nostre circostanze, per propagare una lingua, è, come tutti sanno, un vocabolario. E, secondo i princìpi e i fatti qui esposti, il vocabolario a proposito per l’Italia non potrebbe esser altro che quello del linguaggio fiorentino vivente” (one of the most effective ways and of a most general effect, particularly in our circumstances, to disseminate a language, is, as everyone knows, a vocabulary. And, according to the principles and the facts here exposed, the vocabulary of Italy couldn’t be other than that of the living florentine language). In the same year he wrote on the same topic in his Lettera intorno al vocabolario (Letter on the vocabulary) [8], and was extremely clear that the only way to disseminate a national language would be the redaction of a florentine vocabulary, and that the florentine language had to be the national idiom: “Carissimo Bonghi, […], voi, da bon amico e da bon complice, avete detto che per fiorentino intendevo fiorentino. E sta bene” (Dearest Bonghi, you, as good friend and good partner, said that for florentine I intended florentine. All right).

The florentine vocabulary, promoted by the Ministry of Education (Nòvo vocabolario della lingua italiana secondo l’uso di Firenze, curated by Giovanni Battista Giorgini, who was Manzoni’s son in law, and Broglio) was eventually published between 1870 and 1897 [9].

References:

[1] L. Caretti, Manzoni. Ideologia e stile, Torino, Einaudi, 1975.
[2] A. Manzoni, Fermo e Lucia, a cura di Silvano Salvatore Nigro ed Ermanno Paccagnini, 2ª ed., Milano, Arnoldo Mondadori Editore, 2009.
[3] Gli sposi promessi per la prima volta pubblicati nella loro integrità di sull’autografo, da Giuseppe Lesca, Napoli, F. Perrella, 1915-1916.
[4] A. Manzoni, Carteggio, parte seconda (1822-1831), a cura di Giovanni Sforza e Giuseppe Gallavresi, Milano, Hoepli, 1921.
[5] N. Tommaseo, Colloqui col Manzoni, Firenze, Sansoni 1929.
[6] A. Manzoni, I promessi sposi; Storia della colonna infame, inedita: storia milanese del secolo XVII scoperta e rifatta da Alessandro Manzoni, Tipografia Guglielmini e Redaelli, 1840.
[7] A. Manzoni, Dell’unita della lingua e dei mezzi di diffonderla, coi tipi della Perseveranza, Milano, 1868.
[8] A. Manzoni, Lettera intorno al vocabolario, in Opere Varie, Redaelli dei fratelli Rechiedei, Milano 1870.
[9] G. B. Giorgini, Emilio Broglio, Novo vocabolario della lingua italiana, Firenze, Cellini, 1870.
[10] F. Capelvenere, Manzoni a Firenze e la risciacquatura in Arno, Franco Cesati editore 1985.
[11] G. Getto, Echi di un romanzo barocco nei «Promessi sposi», in Lettere italiane, XII (1960), pp. 141-167.
[12] Il Manzoni e Vicenza. Il “Cavalier Perduto” del vicentino P. P. e i “Promessi sposi”, in Manzoni, Venezia e il Veneto, a cura di V. Branca – E. Caccia – C. Galimberti, Firenze 1975, pp. 89-124.
[13] E. N. Girardi, Manzoni e Cervantes, in Manzoni reazionario, Cappelli, Rocca S. Casciano 1966, pp. 87 ss.
[14] G. Santarelli, La finzione di un manoscritto ritrovato ne “I promessi sposi” del Manzoni e nel “Cicerone” del Passeroni, Aevum 43, Fasc. 3/4 (Maggio-Agosto 1969), pp. 324-327.

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The birth of Freemasonry in Florence

Everyone knows that Florence is a city of art and beauty, but it happens to be also a city of…mistery.

Freemasonry is an organisation which dates back its origins from the operative stone masons who built cathedrals and castles in the middle ages (indeed freemason means worker in freestone).

Through the course of the history Freemasonry developed from being operative to speculative (modern freemasonry), organised in masonic lodges.

The birth of modern Freemasonry is often referred to a precise event: 24 June 1717 (the solemnity of St. John the Baptist), when four english lodges met at the Goose and Gridiron, in St. Paul’s Churchyard, and decided to merge into the Grand Lodge of London and Westminster. After that, the spread of Freemasonry across England and Europe was unbelieveably fast.

Freemasonry eventually reached Italy in 1731 when a masonic lodge was founded in Florence (the most ancient italian lodge which we have documented knowledge about) by Charles Sackville 2nd Duke of Dorset, Earl of Middlesex. This lodge is simply known as Loggia degli Inglesi (Lodge of the Englishmen). It seems that the first Worshipful Master was Henry Fox, 1st Baron Holland, followed in August 1732 by Sewallis Shirley; First Warden was Rev. Joseph Spence, tutor of Charles Sackville, who was the Second Warden. They held their meetings in an inn of via Maggio, and then at a hotel managed by the brother Collins.

Charles Sackville, 2nd Duke of Dorset, Earl of Middlesex (1711-1769)

The first italian to be initiated in the florentine lodge was the physician Antonio Cocchi; on 4 August 1732 he wrote in his diary Le Effemeridi (which was written in italian, english, french, german, latin, greek and hebrew and is now conserved at the Biomedical Library of the University of Florence) “…in the evening I was received among the Free-Masons and remained to supper. Their Master was Mr. Shirly (Shirley), others were Capt. Spens (Spence), Mr. Clarke, Capt. Clarcke, Mild. Middlesex, Milord Robert Montaigu, Mr. Frolik (Frolich), Mr. Collins, Baron Stosch; initiates with me were Sr. Archer and Mr. Harris“.

Antonio Cocchi (1695-1758)

Overall, the first italian mason was the violinist and composer Francesco Xaverio Geminiani, who was initiated at Queen’s Head lodge on 1 February 1725.

Francesco Xaverio Geminiani (1687-1762)

The birth of masonic lodges in Italy also drew the attention of the Catholic Church. On 28 April 1738, Pope Clement XII (who, irony of fate, was florentine) issued a papal bull (In eminenti apostolatus specula) which banned Catholics from becoming Freemasons. Nowadays, Catholics are still prohibited from joining Freemasonry, as confirmed in 1983 by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith with its Declaration on Masonic Associations.

Pope Clement XII (1652-1740)

From there on, freemasons’ life became every day more complicated; they were regarded as heretics by the Inquisition and imprisoned (notable examples include Tommaso Crudeli, Giacomo Casanova and Alessandro Cagliostro).

Tommaso Crudeli (1702-1745)

Giacomo Casanova (1725-1798)

Alessandro Cagliostro (1743-1795)

Freemasonry apparently pursues the personal improvement of the person, with a detailed scheme of rituals and symbols, that every member must follow through a precise path of symbolic grades.

Freemasonry is also generally known as a secret society but, if you ask a freemason about it, he probably will reply that Freemasonry is a confidential society.

At this regard, Florence is the italian city with the highest concentration of masonic lodges. The Grand Orient of Italy (the biggest masonic organisation in Italy) has about 43 lodges in Florence (and one in Fiesole)! Have you ever spotted one of them?

References:

F. Sbigoli – Tommaso Crudeli e i primi framassoni in Firenze: narrazione storica corredata di documenti inediti, Ditta Natale Battezzati Editore, Milano 1884.

J. H. Lepper – The Earl of Middlesex and the English Lodge in Florence, Ars Quatuor Coronatorum, Being the Transactions of the Quatuor Coronati Lodge n. 2076, London, LVIII, 1947.

W. J. Songhurst – The Earl of Middlesex and the Sackville Medal, Ars Quatuor Coronatorum, Being the Transactions of the Quatuor Coronati Lodge n. 2076, London, XXXVIII, 1925.

M. Pellizzi – The English Lodge in Florence, Ars Quatuor coronatorum, Being the Transactions of the Quatuor Coronati Lodge n. 2076, London, 105 (1992), pp. 129–137.

C. Francovich – Storia della massoneria in Italia. I Liberi Muratori italiani dalle origini alla Rivoluzione francese, Ghibli 2013.

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