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Luchino Visconti di Modrone, Count of Lonate Pozzolo (2 November 1906 - 17 March 1976) was an Italian theatre, opera and cinema director and writer, best known for films such as The Leopard (1963) and Death in Venice (1971). He died in Rome of a stroke at the age of 69. There is a museum dedicated to the director's work in Ischiamarker.


Born into a noble and wealthy family in Milanmarker (one of the richest in northern Italy), Visconti's father Giuseppe Visconti di Modrone was the Duke of Grazzano, Visconti had six siblings. In his early years he was exposed to art, music and theatre, and met the composer Giacomo Puccini, the conductor Arturo Toscanini, and the writer Gabriele d'Annunzio. During World War II Visconti joined the Italian Communist Party.

Visconti made no secret of his homosexuality. His last partner was the Austrian actor Helmut Berger, who played Martin in The Damned. Berger also appeared in Visconti's Ludwig in 1972 and Conversation Piece in 1974 along with Burt Lancaster.Other lovers included Franco Zeffirelli.



He began his filmmaking career as an assistant director on Jean Renoir's Toni (1935) and Une partie de campagne (1936), thanks to the intercession of a common friend, Coco Chanel. After a short tour of the United States, where he visited Hollywoodmarker, he returned to Italy to be Renoir's assistant again, this time for La Tosca (1939), a production that was interrupted and later completed by German director Karl Koch because of World War II.

Together with Roberto Rossellini, Visconti joined the salotto of Vittorio Mussolini (the son of Benito, at the time the national arbitrator for cinema and other arts) and here presumably met also Federico Fellini. With Gianni Puccini, Antonio Pietrangeli and Giuseppe De Santis he wrote the screenplay for his first film as director: Ossessione (Obsession, 1943), the first neorealist movie and an unofficial adaptation of the novel The Postman Always Rings Twice. In 1948, he wrote and directed La Terra trema (The Earth Trembles), based on the novel I Malavoglia by Giovanni Verga.

Visconti continued working throughout the 1950s, although he veered away from the neorealist path with his 1954 film, Senso, shot in color. Based on the novella by Camillo Boito, it is set in Austrian-occupied Venicemarker in 1866 and in it, Visconti combines realism and romanticism as a way to break away from neorealism. However, as one biographer notes, "Visconti without neorealism is like Lang without expressionism and Eisenstein without formalism" and he describes the film the "most Viscontian" of all Visconti's films. He returned to neorealism once more with Rocco e i suoi fratelli (Rocco and His Brothers, 1960), the story of southern Italians who migrate to Milan hoping to find financial stability.

Throughout the 1960s, Visconti's films became more personal. Il Gattopardo (The Leopard, 1963), based on Lampedusa's novel about the decline of the Sicilian aristocracy at the time of the Risorgimento. It starred Americanmarker actor Burt Lancaster in the role of Prince Don Fabrizio. This film was distributed in America and England by Twentieth-Century Fox, but in the process, they deleted important scenes. Visconti repudiated it, and it was not until The Damned (1969), that Visconti received a nomination for an Academy Award, for "Best Screenplay". The film, one of Visconti's best-known works, concerns a German industrialist's family which slowly begins to disintegrate during World War II. The decadence and lavish beauty are characteristic of Visconti's aesthetic.

Visconti's final film was The Innocent (1976), which has the recurring theme of infidelity and betrayal.


Visconti was also a celebrated theatre and opera director. During the years 1946-1960 he directed many performances of the Rina Morelli-Paolo Stoppa Company, with actor Vittorio Gassman plus many celebrated productions of operas.

Visconti's love of opera is evident in the 1954 Senso, where the beginning of the film shows scenes from the fourth act of Il trovatore, which were filmed at the Teatro La Fenicemarker in Venicemarker. Beginning with a production at Milan's Teatro alla Scalamarker of La vestale in December 1954, which Visconti directed, his career included a famous revival of La traviata at La Scalamarker in 1955 with Maria Callas, and an equally famous Anna Bolena (also at La Scala) in 1957, also with Callas. A significant 1958 Royal Opera Housemarker, Covent Gardenmarker London production of Verdi's five act Italian version of Don Carlos (with Jon Vickers) followed, along with a Macbeth in Spoletomarker in 1958 and a famous black-and-white Il trovatore (scenery and costumes designed by Filippo Sanjust) at Covent Garden in 1964. In 1966 Visconti's luscious Falstaff for the Vienna State Operamarker (conducted by Leonard Bernstein) was critically acclaimed, whereas his austere 1969 Simon Boccanegra with the singers clothed in geometrical costumes caused some controversies.




Further reading

  • Visconti bibliography, showing holdings of the University of California Library, Berkeley
  • Bacon, Henry, Visconti: Explorations of Beauty and Decay, New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998 ISBN 0-521-59960-1
  • Viscontiana: Luchino Visconti e il melodramma verdiano, Milan: Edizioni Gabriele Mazzotta, 2001. (A catalogue for an exhibition in Parma of artifacts relating to Visconti's productions of operas by Verdi, curated by Caterina d'Amico de Carvalho, in Italian. ISBN 8820215187


  1. Horacio Silva, "The Aristocrat", New York Times, September 17, 2006. An account of Visconti's life and work
  2. Geoffrey Nowell-Smith, Luchino Visconti, London: British Film Institute, 2003 ISBN 0-85170-961-3
  3. Geoffrey Nowell-Smith, Luchino Visconti

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