Alessandro Manzoni: the father of Italian Romanticism
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Alessandro Manzoni

Scholar - Milan 07/03/1785 - Milan 22/05/1873

Biography

A myriad of pages etched in the history of Italian literature can be read through this key 19th-century figure.

Alessandro Manzoni was born in Milan in 1785 to Don Pietro, a country nobleman and rich land owner from Lecco, and Giulia Beccaria, the daughter of jurist Cesare Beccaria, one of the most illustrious representatives of the Lombard Enlightenment and the author of the "On Crimes and Punishments".

A passion for poetry which began in his childhood days in Milan would be a constant companion to Alessandro Manzoni, whose vast literary output began in 1801. In 1822-1823 Manzoni found himself in the limelight, firstly with Adelchi, a tragedy in verse in five acts (1822), the Sacred Hymns and the famous 5 Maggio (May 5). This was followed by first draft (Fermo e Lucia) of the novel that would bring him fame. It had originally been entitled Gli Sposi Promessi (The Betrothed), but the first edition was released with the title I Promessi Sposi (The Betrothed) and the same title was used for the definitive edition of 1927, which was released after a severe linguistic revision to rid it of all its “Lombardisms”, known as the famous “washing of his laundry (vocabularly) in the river Arno”.

Poetry, sonnets, poems, novels and dialogues: Manzoni embraced the entire literary landscape, deploying a vast range of styles, both stately and vulgar, and genres, including literary, historical, scientific, and spiritual. While communication and expression are important, living life is even more so. Indeed, the poet’s own life can be traced in his poetry and texts, which narrate actual feelings and events. Also notable are the friendships he struck with illustrious figures such as Massimo d’Azeglio in 1822, Tommaso Grossi in 1823, Cavour, Victor Emmanuel – who would appoint him as Senator in 1860 – and Garibaldi in 1862; relationships that developed within the city walls and would contribute to Manzoni's fame as the writer-symbol of the city. In 1874, on the anniversary of his death, Giuseppe Verdi composed a Requiem Mass in his honour, conducting it personally in the Church of San Marco.

Anecdotes and curiosities

During his visit to Milan on March 23rd, 1862, Garibaldi wished to shake the hand of Manzoni, who by that time was very famous. “You will allow me”, the general said, “to come and pay homage to a man who honours Italy so much”. “It is not you”, responded Manzoni, “who should pay homage to me; it is I, instead, who finds myself belittled before the man of the Thousand, their leader”. They were both overcome by emotion (according to contemporary reports), prompting Garibaldi to ask if he could embrace the old writer, offering him the legendary “bunch of violets” to which the elderly writer added: “I shall keep it as a souvenir of one of the best days of my life.”

Manzoni remained lucid until the end of his life, though his physical decline began in January 1872, when he fell and hit his head while coming out of the Church of San Fedele in Milan. A monument by Francesco Barzaghi now commemorates the poet in Piazza San Fedele.

Manzoni’s funeral took place in 1873 in the Cathedral (Duomo). Not only the people of Milan, but Italians too, were united in an immense show of national feeling for the first time.

The inns of Milan mentioned in The Betrothed (I Promessi Sposi) include the Locanda della Luna Piena (“Full Moon Inn”), where every Milanese has set foot at least once in their life. It is believed to have originally been located in Via Armorari.

Manzoni was the first Milanese to produce written manuscripts of tragedies in Milan.

The Brera National Library preserves a collection of manuscripts and books that belonged to Manzoni, as well as critical texts about his work.

His texts and manuscripts are also conserved in the Casa Museo Manzoni (Manzoni Museum House) in Via Morone, where the poet lived for many years. The building is also the seat of the Centro Nazionale di Studi manzoniani (National Centre for Manzonian Studies)  and its library.

Related places

Famedio, Cimitero Monumentale (Monumental Cemetery, is where Manzoni rests in peace

March 7th, 1783 Via S. Damiano no. 20

The house where Manzoni was born;

Between Piazzetta Belgioioso and Via Morone, there is the Museum House where Manzoni lived for many years and also where he die;

Church of San Marco in 1974, the Requiem Mass composed by Giuseppe Verdi was celebrated on the anniversary of the poet's death;

Walls of Porta Vittoria;

Church of S. Fedele;

Piazza and statue of S. Fedele;

Duomo;

Brera Library and Art Gallery.

Related characters

Massimo D'Azeglio, Cavour, Garibaldi, Vittorio Emanuele.

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