Regular readers of the Crime Writers Chronicle may recall how I chose my pen name: it is my mother's first name and her mother's maiden name, chosen to honor two very bright women who never had my educational opportunities. I have since learned that my great-grandmother's name actually was Annamaria Alfieri. I honor her, too.
Today, I want introduce you to another writer named Alfieri, who is probably no relation at all, but I will brag about him anyway. I had never heard of him when I took his/our name. When my dear Florentine friend Nicoletta Pini told me that Alfieri was a great literary name, I took an interest.
Count Vittorio Alfieri (16 January 1749 – 8 October 1803) was a playwright and is considered Italy’s greatest writer of the eighteenth century and founder of modern Italian drama.
Alfieri was born in the beautiful small city of Asti in Piedmont. His father died when he was very young, and after his mother’s remarriage, he was sent away to the Academy of Turin. His greatest interests were literature, especially ancient Greek plays, and horses. His enthusiasm for equestrian exercise lasted the rest of his life.
After a year in boarding school he went to live with an uncle, who took charge of his education, but who also died within a few years. At age fourteen, having inherited great wealth from his father and uncle, he was free to focus on his third great pursuit: travel – he wandered all over continental Europe and England, looking for an ideal place to live and falling in love with married women. His peccadilloes caused at least one aristocratic divorce. His greatest love was Princess Louise of Stolberg-Gerdern, the wife of Bonnie Prince Charlie. Their love affair began in Rome in 1778 and continued there and in Florence for the rest of his life. He had a Byronic persona, which shows in this portrait painted by David’s pupil François-Xavier Fabre in Florence in 1793. Fabre also painted this portrait of Louise, also known as the Countess of Albany.
Once Alfieri’s first play “Cleopatra” was performed, in Turin in 1775, he was hooked on writing for the theater and continued to produce his verse plays until he died. In the process he transformed Italian drama from stilted set pieces to naturalistic, gripping portrayals of life.
He is buried in Florence’s magnificent Church of Santa Croce, resting place of some of the greatest Italian intellectual lights including Galileo, Ghiberti, and Rossini. I took this picture of his tomb. On either side of him on the south wall of the church are the tombs of Michelangelo and Machiavelli.
The tomb of Princess Louise is also nearby!