Giovanni Battista Gigliucci was born in Fermo, Italy, in September 1815. Orphaned at the age of 19 months, Giovanni Battista was brought up by his paternal grandmother and tasked with taking care of the family estate from a young age. While studying law, he grew interested in politics and became an active supporter of the Italian Risorgimento. He lived to see his dream of a united Italy realized in 1861 and was elected to political office as senator soon after.
Giovanni Battista passed on his passion for politics and a zealous sense of patriotism to his children and grandchildren. By marrying Clara Novella, an Englishwoman and renowned soprano singer, he lay the foundations for a social life which straddled English and Italian social circles in both Florence and London. Giovanni Battista and Clara’s sons, Giovanni and Mario, also married Englishwomen, two sisters, Charlotte and Edith Mozely.
Both couples moved to Florence in the late 1870s where they would live for the rest of their lives. Mario and Edith had three children–Nerina, Donatello, and Bona, all of whom were very active in Florentine society as well as in the arts and doing volunteer work. None had children, and, therefore, Mario’s branch of the family died out when his youngest daughter, Bona, passed away in February 1982.
What follows is a brief overview of the Gigliucci family from the birth of Giovanni Battista to the death of his granddaughter, Bona.
The Gigliucci Family Timeline: 1815-1982
On 19 September 1815, Giovanni Battista Gigliucci (1815-1893) is born in Fermo, Italy, into a family of nobility. Giovanni Battista is orphaned at the age of nineteen months and raised by his paternal grandmother. Before reaching the age of twenty, the young count is granted a sovereign decree declaring him of age to manage his family estates.
On 10 June 1818, Clara Anastasia Novello is born in London, England, to composer Vincenzo Novello and Mary Sabilla Hehl. A highly talented soprano singer, it was said that Clara’s sweet voice ‘stirred such emotions…to move even the toughest souls.’ At the age of eleven, Clara begins her studies at the Institution Royale de Musique Classique et Religieuse in Paris, France.
A portrait of Clara, age 11, with her mother.
The Revolution of 1830 in France cuts Clara’s studies short causing her to return to England prematurely. Clara begins to tour, which brings her both monetary success and considerable notoriety due to her extraordinary voice (The Musical Quarterly referred to her as “one of the greatest singers of her day.”).
In the 1830s, Giovanni enrolls at the university to study law and develops a lifelong passion for politics. Influenced by the Risorgimento italiano–the political movement dedicated to creating a unified Italian state free from foreign domination–Giovanni establishes himself at the local and regional levels of government.
Giovanni and Clara meet in Bologna, Italy, during one of Clara’s tours.
On 22 November, 1843, Giovanni Battista and Clara marry in London, England. Clara sets her musical career aside and the couple moves to the Gigliucci family estate in Fermo (Le Marche).
Between 1844 and 1849, their four children are born in Fermo: Giovanni (1844), Porzia (1845), Mario (1847), and Valeria (1849).
In November 1849, Giovanni, Clara, and their children are forced to leave Fermo when their home is confiscated by French troops following the French siege of Rome. For the next eleven years, the Gigliucci move throughout Europe living on the earnings of Clara’s revived musical career.
In 1861, most of the Italian peninsula is finally united under the rule of King Victor Emanuel II of the House of Savoy. After many years of having lived in exile, the Gigliuccis return to Fermo and Giovanni Battista sees his dream of a liberated and unified Italy realized. With the annexation of the Marche, he is elected senator, a title he holds until his death in 1893.
In the early 1860s, sons Giovanni and Mario attend military colleges in Turin and Milan.
In 1866, Mario cuts his studies short to join Giuseppe Garibaldi’s Red Shirts in battle against the Austrians (“a great adventure,” as Mario recalled in his memoirs). He goes on to study at the University of Bologna.
From 1873 to 1875 Mario works as a mining engineer on the island of Sardinia.
In July 1875, Mario marries Edith Margaret Mozely (1847-1909), an Englishwoman he had met seven years previously on a visit to his maternal grandparents’ home in London. For the first three years, the couple lives in Stresa (Piedmont), Italy, where Mario continues to work as a mining engineer.
Between December 1878 and February 1885 Mario and Edith have three children: Nerina (1878), Donatello (1883), and Bona Sabilla (1885).
In 1879, Mario and Edith move to Florence with 1-year-old Nerina and rent an apartment in Palazzo Gherardesca together with Mario’s older brother Giovanni and his wife Charlotte Sophia Mozley (Edith’s sister). After a few months, Mario and his family move to a different apartment, this time on Via Garibaldi, and a year later they move again to an apartment on Via Cherubini where they live from 1881 to 1886. During these years Donatello and Bona are born.
In 1892, construction of Mario’s Villino (la Villa Rossa) is complete. Mario, Edith, and the three children leave Villa Romana to settle in their new home.
29 March 1893: Mario’s father Giovanni Battista Gigliucci dies in Fermo, Italy, at the age of 77. He is buried in Fermo.
6 December 1906: Mario’s brother Giovanni dies in Florence at the age of 62 and is buried in the English Cemetery in Piazzale Donatello.
12 March 1908: Mario’s mother Clara Novello Gigliucci dies in Rome (age 89).
16 November 1909: Mario’s wife Edith dies at the age of 62 and is buried in the English Cemetery in Florence. Mario continues to live with his three adult children in the Villa Rossa.
1914-1918, World War I: Donatello is an official with Italy’s Alpine troops in northern Italy, while Nerina and Bona work in field hospitals as volunteer nurses for the Red Cross.
26 April 1920: Nerina (age 41) marries Gian Angelo (Nino) Medici di Maragnano and moves to her husband’s native town of Briosco (Lombardy).
18 April 1923: Donatello (age 40) marries Dorothy Frances Carey. The couple moves to their own home in Florence.
1920s and ’30s: Mario and Bona continue to live in the family villa, where Bona is able to take care of her aging father.
15 January 1937: Mario Gigliucci dies at the age of 89. He is buried next to his wife Edith in the English Cemetery.
1940s and ’50s: Bona Gigliucci never marries and continues to live in the Villa Rossa. Nerina and Donatello visit often.
Spring 1959: Nerina, Donatello, and Bona are introduced to John Clarke Adams, professor of Syracuse University, who wants to establish a study abroad program in Florence. The Gigliucci siblings rent the first two floors and the basement of the Villa Rossa to Syracuse University on the condition that Bona may live on the top floor.
8 June 1975, Donatello Gigliucci dies in Florence and is buried in the Cimitero Evangelico degli Allori, near Galluzzo.
6 February 1982, Bona Gigliucci dies three weeks before completing her 97th birthday. Syracuse University becomes sole owner and occupant of the Villa Rossa.