The Phrygian Cap

Giuditta Tavani Arquati’s father had spent much time in papal jails because he sustained the fight for the Roman Republic.  His beliefs were based on secular and republican values and it was in this kind of environment that Giuditta grew up in.

At the age of 14, Giuditta married Francesco Arquati  whom she’d met at her father’s fabric warehouse. Giuditta and Franceco shared much political complicity and both joined Garibaldi in his efforts to liberate Rome from papal rule.  In 1865, they helped organize an insurrection using the wool factory (Via della Lungaretta 97, Rome), owned by fellow patriot Giulio Ajani, as a base.  Unfortunately, a spy betrayed them and 300 zuavos (papal soldiers) arrived in Trastevere where the factory was located and began shooting indiscriminately. The c. 40 trapped patriots retaliated with the limited arms they had. Giuditta loaded rifles and threw hand bombs while encouraging her comrades with cries of “Viva Roma!”  They resisted for several hours but were overwhelmed by the zuavos.  The zuavos killed Giuditta’s husband and 12 year old son in front of her then jabbed the pregnant Giuditta as well. Her little girl, Adelaide, hid in the laundry basket and her life was saved.

The Zuavi Killed Giuditta

In 1941, all of the remains of the Risorgimento’s  Roman were transferred to the Ossuary Mausoleum of Garibaldi so Giuditta’s remains are not actually at Verano.  At Verano is a memorial chapel in her honor.

a Phrygian cap in the pediment

Aside from its ties to Giuditta, the memorial “temple”  is of  extreme interest because of its
pediment.  There’s the traditional wreath seen in cemetery art all over the world.  However, there are also two fasces crossing one another as well as a Phrygian cap.

Fasces are bundles of rods tightly wrapped around a double headed axe. And it is from fasces that the term “fascists” comes from. Although Mussolini certainly saw it as an emblem for the authority of Rome, fasces are actually of Etruscan origin.  There are many fasces decorative elements not only at Verano but all over Rome as well.

In the top center of the pediment is a Phrygian cap known in Italian as a berretto frigio and was the typical headgear of young fascists.

Phrygian Caps

The Phrygian cap has been around for a long time.  In Ancient Greece, slaves who’d been freed wore little pointed caps that in later years became confused with the Phrygian cap. The Phrygian cap was of special symbolism in the initiation rites of the Eleusinian Mysteries. The god Mithras wore a Phrygian cap with solar rays. Numerous artworks are shown with Phrygian caps:

Osris wore a white crown

In upper Egypt, Osiris is shown wearing a white crown that’s a kind of Phrygian cap.

the wisemen wore caps

The Three Wise Men wore Phrygian caps in Byzantine mosaics.

Phrygian Caps at St. Priscilla Catacombs

The Three Men in the Fiery Furnace, c. 280-290. Wall-painting from the Priscilla Catacomb, Rome, Fresco on wet plaster.

Probably the most well-known use of the Phrygian cap is that of Marianne, the woman who, since the French Revolution, embodies the ideals of Reason and Liberty. But the Smurfs, Santa Claus and his elves also wear Phrygian caps.

Marianne & Smurfs

In Leonard Bistolfi’s sculptural group, Sacrifice, at the Altare della Patria in Rome, a dying combatant receives a kiss from a female figure representing Freedom.

Freedom Kiss


At Verano, another example of the Phrygian cap can be found on a fresco inside the Cappella Negroni-Floquet (Rampa Caracciolo).

Giuditta Tavani Arquati’s Memoral at Verano


Related: film  In nome del Papa Re (1977) directed by Luigi Magni  +  Associazione Giuditta Tavani Arquati + VIA DELLA LUNGARETTA  + Giuditta and her  family lived in Piazza S. Rufina + “SACRIFICE” BY LEONARDO BISTOLFI: THE ETERNAL IDEALS OF ITALY’S RISORGIMENTO with Phrygian Cap + Il Museo del Risorgimento, Istituto per la Storia del Risorgimento italiano, Complesso del Vittoriano

Bibliography:  Doni, E. ecc. Donne del Risorgimento. Il Mulino. Bologna. 2011. Pp. 221-230



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High Notes and Low Notes

Her mother sung in a choir and her father was an operatic stage manager.  So there is no surprise that Claudia Muzio became an opera singer. Her father’s job kept them on the move.  Although from Italy, Claudia’s family lived in London when she was a child giving her the chance to learn English before moving to Turin where she studied music at the age of 16.

Claudia’s career began early and moved forward with intensity.  Known as La Divina Claudia, she even sang with Caruso. It was the popular opinion of the times that Claudia was unsurpassed in her portrayal of Violetta in La Traviata (The Fallen Woman).

Claudia Muzio as Violetta

Internationally famous, in 1919 she went to Buenos Aires. And it was here that she met Aristotle Onassis. Onassis was born in Smyrna in 1900. During the Smyrna massacre of the Greeks in 1922, much of his family was killed.  It’s said that he had a homosexual relationship with a Turkish lieutenant in order to have his father freed from prison. Afterwards, Onassis and his family moved to Athens.

The Onassis family had had a successful tobacco business in Turkey but those days were gone and, as many other Greeks who’d been forced to leave Smyrna, Onassis had a difficult time surviving economically.  So he left for South America. Initially he worked for the phone company where he had no qualms listening in on the conversations of others.  This is the way he heard about a film that was to be made with the protagonist constantly smoking cigarettes giving him the idea of going back into the tobacco business and creating his own brand of cigarettes aimed at the female market. And to promote this cigarette, he needed someone famous to sponsor it.  Although he didn’t know her personally at the time, he decided on Claudia.  One evening he showed up in her dressing room with a huge bouquet of flowers and seduced her.  Claudia was 11 years older than Onassis and probably very flattered that he was so interested in her without realizing what his main objective was.

Claudia Muzio Smokes

Onassis convinced Claudia to promote his cigarettes and the publicity he received helped him earn quite a bit of money.  By the time he was 25, he was, thanks to the cigarettes, a millionaire. Now Onassis no longer needed Claudia and dumped her. Eventually he realized that the shipping magnates made more money shipping the cigarettes than he did in making them.  This happened right at the time of the Great Depression so, with the money he’d made from the cigarettes,  he easily bought six ships for half their value.

Not only a millionaire, Onassis was a playboy.  He said “I see every woman as a potential mistress.  Beautiful women cannot bear moderation—they need an inexhaustible supply of excess.”  So excess is what he gave them.

In the meantime, Claudia’s interpretation of Violetta had inspired another opera singer—Maria Callas.  In 1959, Maria and her husband, Battista Meneghini, were invited to a jet set party on Onassis’ yacht “Cristina”.  Other guests included Churchill, the Agnelli couple and Grace Kelly and her husband the prince. Onassis owned stock in the principality of Monaco and, when the value of his stock started going down, he convinced Prince Rainier that he needed to marry someone famous to promote Monaco and its casinos—the same strategy  used with Claudia to promote his cigarettes.  The  two decided upon Grace Kelly.

A Yacht Named Cristina

On board the Cristina, something chemical happened between Onassis and Maria. Maria decided she couldn’t live without the rich tycoon and left her husband to pursue a romance that would only provoke sorrow for her.  She was 36 and Onassis 53. The two had a relationship for years until Onassis dumped Maria for Jackie Kennedy.

So had it not been for Claudia Muzio helping Onassis make so much money, maybe Onassis would not have become rich and famous thus in the position to become Maria Callas’ lover and Jackie Kennedy’s husband.  Who knows.

Soprano e Basso

Poor Claudia was not lucky in love. After Onassis, she married a man who invested her money in the stock market and, with the Wall Street Crash of 1929, she lost everything.  This provoked a series of health problems leading to heart failure.  Claudia died in a hotel room in Rome at the age of 47.

And one could think that Onassis adored opera music having had two soprano lovers. But he once made the remark that opera was like listening to two Italian cooks fighting over a recipe.  It’s more than likely he preferred rebetika, a kind of Greek blues that evolved in the 1920s when the Greeks who fled Turkey settled in Piraeus.

Claudia Muzio (1889 – 1936) is buried at the Verano Monumental Cemetery in a tomb designed by Pietro Canonica.  For fotos go HERE.

Related:  Onassis, Jackie and me

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Bebina Bunny and Alexander von Humboldt

“One curiosity leads to another.”  Bebina Bunny


Recently I read Matteo Farinella’s article “Alexander von Humboldt” where he makes reference to Andrea Wulf’s “The Invention of Nature”.  It was a happy read as I discovered Farinella (illustrator of “Neurocomic”), Wulf and von Humboldt all in one article.

Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859) was addicted to curiosity.  Interested in geography, nature, science, and philosophy, he left his native Prussia to explore the world to feed his addiction.  And the more he explored, the more he realized how all his curiosities were interrelated. This led to his many volume treatise “Kosmos”, where he pursued the unification of all knowledge instead of trying to isolate one idea from another. Von Humboldt perceived the universe as holistic—just one big entangled family and not just groups of unrelated entities.

Curiosity leads to knowledge. That’s why the gods considered it an evil (ex. The Tree of Knowledge that got Adam & Eve in trouble and the vindictive Zeus and Pandora’s Box). The more the gods could control knowledge, the more they could control mankind.

after Eden, they preferred carrots


But curiosity leads to important discoveries.  There’s the example of Heinrich Schliemann’s discovery of Troy as well as that of the 15 year old Canadian, William Gadoury, who recently discovered a Mayan city  by studying the stars.

Bebina Bunny’s Cabinet of Curiosities” is a tribute to curiosity. It is the story of a cabinet of curiosity created not with objects but with mindful pursuits of curiosity.  These pursuits are materialized by being written down, rolled up and placed into empty bottles.  Bebina, realizing that curiosity not only makes the world bigger but provides us with options, strives at collecting enough of these curiosity filled bottles to fill a room so she can create her own unique wunderkammer.

Bebina Bunny's Cabinet of Curiosities Book Cover

Bebina Bunny’s Cabinet of Curiosities

Related:  Paris as a Cabinet of Curiosities



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