Famous Italians

If you think of famous Italians, Marco Polo and Christopher Columbus are often the first to come to mind. The travels of the most famous explorers of Italian origin are discussed widely. But there are so many other great Italians you should know.

On this page, we want to show you some more Italian geniuses, artists and explorers and you will not be surprised that these Italians are known, celebrated and treasured all over the world.

Famous Italians | Explorers

  • Marco Polo (1254 - 1324) The Italian explorer and merchant travelled as far as China, Mongolia and Japan and is known as one of the first European travellers along the famous Silk Road and the first to write down his experiences. His stories of encounters and adventures inspired Christopher Columbus to later on search for the passage to the Orient.

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Famous Italians: Christopher Columbus
  • Christopher Columbus (1451 - 1506) also referred to as Christoforo Colombo by his Italian name, was born in Genua. Columbus worked as a cartographer in Italy before becoming a business man trading goods with many countries. He visited England, Ireland, even Iceland, traveled to nearby Spain and Portugal and traded along the Western African coast during his trips. Columbus completed four travels across the Atlantic Ocean and was the first European to reach the Americas in his search for a passage to the Orient. On his four voyages across the Atlantic Ocean he explored the Americas and reached as far as Nicaragua and Honduras. Colombus died in Spain in 1506.
Viajes_de_colon.svg: PhirosiberiaVoyages of Christopher Columbus - wikimedia

Famous Italians | Inventors

Leonardo da Vinci (1452 – 1519) was a real genius. He studied and explored new ideas throughout his life. He was a painter, sculptor, architect, engineer, botanist. His famous painting of 'Mona Lisa' can be seen in the Louvre museum in Paris. Da Vinci also planned and invented many things and explored new concepts, like the calculator, a flight machine similar to a helicopter, a tank and even worked on findings about concentrated solar power. Many works were unfinished though as his interests were very broad. Da Vinci died in France after he left Italy as he did not feel acknowledged by his peers. 

David sculpture by MichelangeloDavid - Sculpture

Michelangelo (1475 – 1564) was a painter, sculptor, engineer and architect of the Renaissance period. Michelangelo was already famous during his lifetime and is still considered to be one of the most talented artists of all time. He is the sculptor of the famous 'David' statue which is situated in Florence. The Papal Basilica of St Peter, the famous church in Vatican City, in Rome was partly build during his time as architect.

Galileo Galilei and his inventionsGalileo Galilei

Galileo Galilei (1564 - 1642) was a mathematician and astronomer. He is often called the 'Father of Science' due to his big influence. He improved the telescope and studied the Milky Way which he found not to be nebulous but consisting of a multitude of stars and he was the also the first to observe sunspots. With his findings he supported the observations of Copernicus who had concluded that the world circled the sun, not that the sun circled the earth as it was believed before. Galilei also discovered the four largest satellites of Jupiter which are called after him: the Galilean moons. An improved military compass was invented by Galilei along with many other instruments.

Famous Italians | Writers

Italy is also home to other fine famous Italians: great poets and litary geniuses. Dante, Boccaccio, Petrarca are certainly the most famous writers, but many others influenced the world like Machiavelli or contempory writers like Luigi Pirandello or Umberto Eco.

  • Dante Alighieri (1265 – 1321) is the foremost Italian poet and thinker and often called the 'father of the Italian Language'. Dante wrote La Divina Comedia (Divine Comedy), a poem with over 14000 lines about the journey through hell, purgatory and paradise. Dante was one of the first to publish his works not in Latin but in the language that the people of Italy spoke at the time.
  • Carlo Collodi (1826 - 1890) is the 'father' of Pinocchio or creator of the children's novel Le Avventure di Pinocchio (Adventures of Pinocchio). His story was adapted by Walt Disney into one of the most popular film productions in 1940.
  • Umberto Eco (1932 - 2016) is famous for his novel Il Nome della Rosa (The Name of the Rose) and numerous children's books.

Famous Italians | Movie: Pinocchio

Do you remember the story of Pinocchio? 

Famous Italians | Composers

Italian is known as the land of the opera. Many composers are world renowned for their creative operas. Think of musical pieces composed by these famous Italians:

  • Gioachino Rossini (1792 - 1868) composer of 39 operas such as Il Barbiere di Siviglia (The Barber of Seville), William Tell and La Cenerentola (Cinderella), some chamber music and sacred music.
  • Giuseppe Verdi (1813 – 1901) composed famous Italian operas such as Aida and La Traviata, Rigoletto and Nabucco. He is the most famous Italian opera composer of the Romantic era.
  • Giacomo Puccini (1858 – 1924) His popular operas La Boheme, Madame Butterfly and Turandot are played in many opera houses all over the world.

Famous Italian Artworks

When asked for famous Italian artworks and artists, you definitely should have heard of:

The famous Mona Lisa by Leonardo da VinciMona Lisa
  • Leonardo da Vinci started painting the 'Mona Lisa' in 1503. This is the portrait of a Lombardy woman called Lisa who was the wife of noblemen Francesco del Giocondo. Therefore the painting is often also referred to as La Gioconda. This is one of the first portrait paintings where the model is depicted in front of an imaginary landscape. Did you know that the Mona Lisa painting does not show eyelashes and only very faint eyebrows? The masterpiece of the Renaissance period is exhibited in the Louvre Museum in Paris/France.
Creation of Adam
  • Michelangelo's masterpiece 'The Creation of Adam' was painted in roughly the same time from about 1508. This painting is part of the main artworks on the ceiling in the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City. The fresco depicts how God created Adam according the the Bible's book of Genesis. See a bigger part of the painting here below:
Michelangelo's Creation of Adam - image by Alonso Mendoza/WikimediaMichelangelo Creation of Adam
Venus
  • Sandro Botticelli's 'La Nascita di Venere'('Birth of Venus') was created around 1480. The major painting is exhibited in the Uffizi Galleries in Forence/Italy. The goddess is depicted nude in a huge scallop shell. Botticelli is also on of the artists who was commissioned on the artworks in the Sistine Chapel.
Sandro Botticelli's painting Birth of Venus

Famous Italians | Italian Designers

Besides the many famous Italian artists of the Renaissance period, modern Italian artists should also be considered. Have you heard about these designers and brands who revolutionised the Italian art and design scene in the last two centuries?

  • Giovanni Alessi: The Italian company Alessi was founded in 1921 designs home ware, kitchen and household assessors such as this stunning cat bowl designed by Miriam Mirri, you can see here. Most of the artefacts by Giovanni Alessi were designed in the 1930s and 1940s. Today Alessi collaborates with artists from around the world.
  • Giorgio Armani: The luxury fashion house Armani was founded in 1975 and with its headquarters in Milan, this company is one of the most well known Italian fashion brands.
  • Guccio Gucci: Another famous fashion brand was founded already in 1921 in Florence and is still one of the most valuable brands worldwide. The luxury brand includes jewellery, clothing and leather goods.
  • Enrico Piaggio: The Italian inherited his families engineering company and decided to build moto scooters after WW2. His company started to build the famous Vespa moto scooters in the 1950s. Piaggio is today one of the world's leading manufacturers of two-wheeled vehicles. Corradino D'Ascanio is considered as the original designer of the Vespa scooters. The Italian scooter is hailed as a design icon and a highly collected item all over the world. By the way, the Miami Auto Museum claims to have the largest Vespa collection in the world!
Famous Italians: Italian design Vespa scooter - image by Nrqemi/shutterstock.comVespa scooter - image by Nrqemi

Did you know...?

Did you know that Antonio Meucci (1808 - 1889) is said to have invented the telephone? Graham Bell, however, put the first patent in 1876 on the invention, which Meucci already had developped years before him. Unfortunately Meucci was to poor to pay for the patent. A court case was opened in 1887 as Meucci fought for his rights. Sadly Meucci died before the case was solved and Bell was granted the right to keep the patent. Only in 2002, a resolution was put up in the US congress that Meucci's invention should be acknowledged.

Useful Resources

  • David Reuteler. "The Drawings of Leonardo da Vinci." DrawingsofLeonardo.org 16 October 1994. Accessed 6 May 2020.
  • The Miami Auto Museum. "Bicycles, Motocycles and Scooters." MiamiAutoMuseum. Accessed 6 May 2020

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Image Credits: Shutterstock.com, sxc.hu, wikimedia files, Italophiles.com and own images


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