Historical figueres of Lucca

Historical figueres of Lucca


Famous men and women, are remembered through commemorative statues, squares and streets named after them: Maria Luisa di Borbone, Antonio Civitali, Giacomo Puccini, Francesco Burlamacchi, Elisa Bonaparte…

We have already mentioned Paolo Guinigi and Castruccio Castracani in the previous articles, leading figures of the 1300s/1400s. It is worth noting that Paolo Guinigi was Lord of Lucca in 1400 and was at that time, perhaps the richest man in Europe.


Castruccio Castracani, was one of the most famous Italian Condottieri in medieval history. In 1316 he became Lord of Lucca and implemented an expansionist policy, clashing particularly with the city of Florence. You'll find other info in different articles, for example dediated to Giacomo Puccini, while other characters are examined in Lucca’s legends and traditions.


 Castruccio Castracani (1281, 1328)


Castruccio Castracani

 Castruccio Castranicani Anteminelli, was a great Medieval leader whose exploits filled the Chronicles of the time, leading Lucca to one of the most illustrious periods in its history. Coming from a prominent Ghibelline family, the Antelminelli, Castruccio was exiled in Pisa in 1300. He lived during a significant period in Italian history, when the fights between Guelphs and Ghibellines were at their peak, particularly in Tuscany. Each side lined up in the struggle between Empire and papacy throughout the peninsula.
He returned to Lucca after 14 years in exile, with extensive military and diplomatic experience, and served among other things at the service of the King of England in London: he managed to keep the Florentine Guelphs away from Lucca, but also from places such as Montecatini.  On the 3 February 1328 he died of malarial fever during one of his military campaigns at the age of 47.


Two centuries later, Nicolo Machiavelli transformed Castracani into a legendary character, with his work "The Life of Castruccio Castracani". Machiavelli had been sent to Lucca to protect the interests of Florentine merchants and creditors after a local figure became bankrupt. During this time, he took the opportunity to write about one of the city’s most famous protagonists.

2. Paolo Guinigi (1376, 1432)
Paolo Guinigi was born in Lucca in 1376, son of Francesco e Filippa Serpenti, heir to the family's Castracani wealth. He received the title of Lordship of Lucca in 1400 and held the position for 30 years. He was an enlightened ruler, protector of writers and artists, including Jacopo della Quercia. He embodied the Lucchese dream, held a large Renaissance Court and was crowned in Florence by Lorenzo de' Medici.
Guinigi gained his power thanks to the Church and Emperor Sigismund of Luxembourg, who appointed him vicar and gave him his title. During the war of Venice and Florence against the Visconti of Milan, he chose to support the latter. After the Ferrara peace treaty (1428) Lucca remained isolated. Left alone against Florence, Guinigi, was betrayed by Francesco Sforza, his mercenary leader. During the wars, Lucca had exhausted its finances and Sforza failed in his duty to defend the city. Pietro Cenami and Lorenzo Buonvisi, two noble Lucchesi, hatched a conspiracy in August 1430, which ended with the capture of Paolo Guinigi. He was consequently tried and imprisoned in Pavia prison. He eventually died here, after just two years, at the age of 56 years. His family's assets were confiscated, and dispersed. The sarcophagus of Ilaria del Carretto was also nearly destroyed, but given the sacred nature of the work it thankfully escaped this fate. In subsequent years, Lucca remained at war with Florence and its policy of alliance with the Visconti remained unchanged. Thanks to the indispensable help of the Duke of Milan, the city fiercely resisted and in 1438 it obtained peace with Florence. Its territory was reduced essentially to the city of Lucca itself, which became a kind of City-State, but in return, independence was saved.



Monumento a Ilaria del CarrettoIlaria del Carretto (1379-1405)

Ilaria del Carretto, was the second wife of Paolo Guinigi, Lord of Lucca, of whom we have just spoken. The marriage was celebrated on 3 February 1403, in the Church of San Romano, with great pomp and ceremony which lasted for three days. Anna was much loved by the people of Lucca; she was beautiful, young and had an almost divine grace. Her death at only 26 years old, during the birth of her second daughter (Ilaria minor), shook Lucca’s inhabitants, particularly her husband. In his grief he wanted to remember her with a sculptural work, which has become one of the most famous in Italy: the masterpiece by Jacopo della Quercia, is a funerary monument to Ilaria del Carretto, housed in the Cathedral of San Martino. Even today the white marble monument dedicated to Ilaria never fails to move: the young woman seems to be asleep and a little boxer dog, perhaps the symbol of marital fidelity, is crouched at her feet. Recent studies have established that Ilaria del Carretto was in fact never been buried in her magnificent tomb; her remains were preserved in the Church of Santa Lucia, in the complex of San Francesco, Lucca. Main article: refer to the page dedicated to Ilaria del Carretto.

 4. Giovanni Arnolfini (ca 1400, 1472)

At this point, let’s look at the Arnolfini, the protagonists of the famous painting by Jan Van Eyck, and their bond with the Church of San Romano in Lucca. Giovanni Arnolfini was a rich silk merchant and banker (working for the De’ Medici family) who was part of the large community of Lucchesi in Bruges, Flanders; at the time the the financial capital of Europe alongside Florence. As well as being rich and powerful, Arnolfini has had the privilege of associating his name with one of the most famous paintings of all time. His wife was also portrayed in the famous painting by Jan Van Eyck: " Ritratto dei Coniugi Arnolfini" (Arnolfini Portrait). This oil masterpiece has influenced painters and the history of art, from Velázquez to David Hockney. The portrait became a symbol of marriage, but the identity of the couple and the meaning of the scene are still uncertain. The picture is also one of the most studied ever.
Only the monarchy, nobles of high ranking or the very rich were able to commission such a picture by an artist of such calibre. Giovanni Arnolfini had all of the required skills. The portrait, now in the National Gallery in London, was painted in Bruges in 1434.

What is immediately striking is the painting’s realism which verges on perfection; the spouses have youthful faces (for the period), but at the same time display the solemnity of the moment. Their clothes are stunningly depicted and the right hand of the woman is abandoned with complete confidence in her husband. The details are so refined that they have created a whole host of literature about their meaning: the carpet, the dog, the hooves, the oranges, the only candle on the chandelier, the Rosary, the brush and especially the mirror. In this you can see reflections of the witness’ shoulders, situated in the same position as the painter, thus creating a complex perspective for the entire setting. For the first time a painter has a multiple representation of space: in one image we can see the room in two respects, one from the painter’s point of view and the other from the characters portrayed. In the mirror we see the couple from behind; between them you can see other two figures: one of the two is obviously Van Eyck who is painting the portrait.

Incredibly, Giovanni Arnolfini, who died in 1472, stipulated to the executors of his will that a daily mass be held in his honour in the Church of San Romano for all eternity! In theory the mass should still be celebrated even today, but there is indeed a time limit to every will. Imagine how substantial his legacy could be, not only for his portrait of Van Eyckm, but also a daily mass in his memory.

The Church of San Romano was the most important Dominican convent in Lucca and its history is also linked to the figure of Girolamo Savonarola and the already mentioned marriage of Paolo Guinigi to Ilaria del Carretto. Unknown to many, the Church was deconsecrated and unused for years and recently reopened to the public as a lavish auditorium. If you want to learn more about the portrait, visit the Arnolfini's portrait article on this website.
5. Elisa Baciocchi Bonaparte (1777, 1820)

Elisa BacciocchiLet us now turn out attention to one of the most beloved figures in the history of Lucca. At the end of 1700, the town was occupied by Napoleonic troops and within a few years it became a principality headed by Felice Baciocchi and his wife, Elisa Bonaparte, Napoleon's sister.
May we present Elisa ...
Elisa was an enterprising and ambitious woman, as were many members of her family. Free and stubborn from a young age, she chose to marry a Corsican captain, Felice Baciocchi; although Napoleon, in the rise of his power, would have preferred a more significant marriage proving more useful to his strategic objectives. While Felice Baciocchi followed military engagements, Elisa trained in politics in Paris, attending the meetings of senior officials and Ministers, with the ambition of one day ruling her own Kingdom. The break came in 1805, when her husband became Prince of Lucca and Piombino, her Princess Consort. Happy to cede all power to his wife, Baciochhi was a man of arms rather than Government. Elisa immediately showed resourcefulness and determination, surrounding herself with skilled employees and implemented important government initiatives.
Being Princess of Lucca was not without its difficulties for Elisa and her subjects were immediately reluctant towards her, calling her "Madame". However, before long, the citizen’s attitudes began to change, particularly as Elisa’s decision making proved extremely effective. The Princess encouraged trade and put a spotlight on the arts, she reformed administrative bodies, in accordance with the directives of her brother, reformed education, welfare and managed to prevent the Lucchesi from being conscripted into her brother’s imperial wars. Elisa favoured the establishment of the Banque Élisienne, able to provide financial aid and tax breaks to sculptors and marble workmen from the nearby quarries of the Apuan Alps, instituted free medical visits for the poor and ordered the reconstruction of Piombino Hospital. She gave impetus to cultural life by creating schools in the municipalities of the area, attracting artists and scholars from all around.
Felice Baciocchi, her husband, was always removed from Elisa’s political forays, admiring and respecting them, but staying away from their pressing questions. Succeeding in discrediting Maria Luisa of Bourbon, Queen of Etruria, Elisa Bonaparte managed to have her dethroned and later proclaimed herself as the Grand Duchess of Tuscany. The Court was moved to Florence, but Elisa always maintained a relationship with Lucca.
With the fall of the Napoleonic Empire, Napoleon withdrew from his imperial adventures and Elisa fled from Lucca in 1814; she was arrested, lost her titles and retired from public life. She died in Trieste in 1820 at the age of 43 years. Her husband forged a military career and after Elisa’s death retreated to Bologna where he died in 1841. Their remains are now kept in the Basilica of San Petronio in Bologna. Lucca remembers Elisa Bonaparte especially through its city gate, Porta Elisa, east of the old town and also in the street which takes her name.
6. Maria Luisa di Borbone (1782, 1824)
Maria Luisa was the daughter of the King of Spain Charles IV, wife of Louis of Bourbon, Duke of Parma and Piacenza. Due to Napoleon, she was forced to leave Parma together with her husband to accept the throne of Tuscany, which Napoleon abolished later and handed to his sister, Elisa Bonaparte Baciocchi.
In 1814, when Lucca was occupied by troops of the Bourbons and the Austrians, the city took its revenge: the Congress of Vienna in 1815 entrusted Maria Luisa with the Duchy of Lucca, as the Duchy of Parma at the time was assigned to the Emperor's wife Maria Luisa of Austria. The people of Lucca once again had averted an annexation to the Grand Duchy of Tuscany and had kept their precious independence.
Catholic and authoritarian, Maria Luisa was well accepted in Lucca. She restored the clergy and restored the Lucchese Church to the prominence it lost under French rule. She surrounded herself with skilled collaborators such as Ascanio Mansi and Antonio Mazzarosa, both of which were promoters of new public initiatives, the dissemination of education and social progress (the imposing palazzo Mazzarosa resides in Via Santa Croce, near Piazza Santa Maria Fuorisportam). She brought new urban development to the city with trees planted along the walls which became, at her request, a public park. She built a major road from Lucca to Modena. She promoted public education by reforming the university town and providing it with state of the art facilities. The Duchess’ aim was to erase all traces (although she didn’t succeed) of her rival Elisa. Lorenzo Nottolini, the court architect, carried out renovations of the interior of the Town Hall, between 1817 and 1820, with the addition of paintings, statues and furnishings.
Suffering from ill health, Maria Luisa was obliged to abandon the city in 1823 and died a year later. At the time of her death, in 1824, the Palazzo Ducale in Lucca was one of the richest in Italy. Her son, Karl Ludwig, more prone to the good life and drinking than public administration, left much of his power in the hands of Ascanio Mansi. The Duke, an unsuccessful local finance administrator, was forced to borrow money from foreign banks and sell off the city’s remarkable collection of paintings, known as the Palatine gallery (see the chapter dedicated to the history of Lucca). Such behavior was strongly condemned by thrifty Lucchesi, who were witnessing their independence being sold for financial motivations.  Eventually, the city was ceded to the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Peter Leopold II of Lorraine. In return Carlo Ludovico obtained annuity for his private properties in Lucca. Thus ended the first half of 1800, the glorious history of the State of Lucca, a small town that had managed to thrive and stay independent for centuries, began to struggle between economic difficulties and external threats.


7. Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924)

Giacomi PucciniGiacomo Puccini in his time, was the world's richest and most famous living composer. He was born in Lucca in 1858, the 6th of 8 children, in an apartment on the second floor of Corte San Lorenzo 9. His popularity and success came with his third opera, Manon Lescaut, when he was 35 years old. Read  Giacomo Puccini biography.







8. Other characters of Lucca
Statua Burlamacchi in Piazza San Michele a LuccaFrancesco Burlamacchi, a politician form the 1500s, was a staunch supporter of autonomy.  He successfully challenged the powerful Medici family in order to form a federal state with Siena, Pisa and Florence and managed to challenge the Church and papal power, advocating the need for reform. The expansionist ambitions of Burlamacchi were exposed by Emperor Charles V and the former was condemned to beheading in 1548 in Milan. Today, the city remembers him through his famous statue in the square opposite the Church of San Michele in Foro.
Luigi Boccherini, was a great cellist and composer, born in Lucca in the second half of the 1700s. He was among the most prolific composers of Italian Chamber music and definitely one of the greatest, spending the last years of his life in abject poverty in Madrid, with serious health problems. He died in 1805 in the Spanish capital. After more than a century, in 1927 his remains were brought back to his hometown and today are kept in the Church of San Francesco.

Santa Gemma GalganiSaint Gemma Galgani, born in the province of Lucca at the end of 1800, was proclaimed a Saint in 1940. When she died she was only 25 years old and although her life was brief, it was rich in spirituality and religious practice. It is possible to visit the house where the family lived, as well as the room where she died, in Via della Rose 29. A plaque marks the house opposite the beautiful church of Santa Maria della Rosa. The name of this delightful fourteenth century Church, derives from the lintel above the entrance door, decorated and adorned with roses that wrap around the cross. A portion of the left inner wall consists of the remains of the ancient Roman walls. It is possible to visit the sanctuary in Via di Tiglio 271, with its huge domed structure. The remains of the Saint are buried beneath the high altar, in an urn designed by the sculptor Francesco Nagni.
Matteo Civitali (1436 – 1502) was an Italian sculptor active during the Renaissance and renowned for helping bring the relic of the Holy Face of Lucca to the Cathedral temple.   Like many artists of his time, he was also architect and engineer. In piazza San Michele, you can admire the statue (1893) dedicated to him.





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