1800 A.D. to Present

Gabriele D'Annunzio (Gaetano Rapagnetta)

Gabriele d'Annunzio (12 March 1863 – 1 March 1938) was an Italian poet, writer, novelist, dramatist, daredevil, and dandy who went on to have a controversial role in politics as a political agitator and mentor of Benito Mussolini, and as figurehead of the Italian Fascist movement.

Early Life

Gabriele d'Annunzio was of Dalmatian extraction. He was born Gaetano Rapagnetta on March 12, 1863 in Pescara (Abruzzi). He father's original name was Francesco Paolo Rapagnetta. At the age of 13 Francesco had been adopted by his uncle, Antonio D'Annunzio, and legally added the 'D'Annunzio' to his own name. He inherited his uncle's wealth, became a landowner and dealer in wine and agricultural products, and later became mayor of the town. In 1858 Francesco married Luisa De Benedictis and they had three daughters and two sons. At the time of Gaetano's birth, his father was at sea on a ship named Irene.

As a child, Gaetano's family nicknamed him "Gabriele" after the archangel whom they believed he resembled, and he adopted it. Later on, he also legally added 'D'Annunzio' to his own name.

Besides his cherubic looks, Gabriele's precocious talent was recognized early in life. He was sent to school at the Liceo Cicognini in Prato, Tuscany, one of the best schools in Italy at that time. He published his first poetry while still at school at the age of sixteen with a small volume of verses called Primo Vere (1879), inspired by Giosuè Carducci's Odi barbare, in which, side by side with some almost brutal imitations of Lorenzo Stecchetti, the then fashionable poet of Postuma, were some translations from the Latin, distinguished by such agile grace that Giuseppe Chiarini on reading them brought the unknown youth before the public in an enthusiastic article.

In 1881 he entered the University of Rome La Sapienza, where he became a member of various literary groups, including Cronaca Bizantina and wrote articles and criticism for local newspapers, particularly Fanfulla della Domenica, Capitan Francassa, and Cronaca Bizantina. Here he published Canto novo (1882), Terra vergine (1882), L'intermezzo di rime (1883), Il libro delle vergini (1884) and the greater part of the short stories that were afterwards collected under the general title of San Pantaleone (1886). Canto novo contains poems full of pulsating youth and the promise of power, some descriptive of the sea and some of the Abruzzi landscape, commented on and completed in prose by Terra vergine, the latter a collection of short stories dealing in radiant language with the peasant life of the author's native province. Intermezzo di rime is the beginning of d'Annunzio's second and characteristic manner.

Social and Financial Affairs

After D'Annunzio's father was reluctant to give his blessing to his son's intention to marry his first love, Giselda Zucconi, D'Annunzio broke with him. It is also generally agreed that in Il triomfo della morte (The Triumph of Death) D'Annunzio portrayed him as an incurable womanizer, as he was in real life, but the son soon followed the steps of the father. In 1883 D'Annunzio married Maria Hardouin di Gallese, a duke's daughter and they had three sons, but at the same time he had a string of infidelities. Notably, in 1886 he began an affair with Barbara Leoni which lasted a few years, then came a long liaison with the Countess Gravina Auguissola. The marriage ended in 1891.

During those years, D'Annunzio produced much hack work in order to support the expensive life style and his titled wife. He joined the staff of the Tribuna, working under the pseudonym of "Duca Minimo". To this period belongs his Il libro d'Isotta (1886), a love poem. In it are found most of the germs of his future work, just as in Intermezzo melico and in certain ballads and sonnets we find descriptions and emotions which later went to form the aesthetic contents of his first novel Il piacere (1889), translated into English as The Child of Pleasure.

D'Annunzio in a William II uniform. Photographed by Michetti.

In 1891 came L'innocente (The Intruder), which was admirably translated into French by Georges Herelle, which brought its author the notice of foreign critics. In 1979, it was the basis for a movie directed Luchino Visconti and starring the Istrian-born soft-porno star Laura Antonelli.

As soon as his marriage ended, D'Annunzio moved to Naples in 1891 with his painter friend Francesco Paolo, and went to work on the local newspaper, Il corriere di Napoli. In Naples he met princess Maria Anguissola, princess Gravina who abandoned her husband to live with the poet, and gave birth to his daughter. During this period, he wrote Elegie romane (1892) and Giovanni Episcopo (1892). His poetic work of this period is represented by Il Poema Paradisiaco (1893), the Odi navali (1893).

Again constrained by economic difficulties, he left Naples with Maria Gravina and their daughter in 1893 and moved to Abruzzo as guests of Michetti. A second child with the princess was born. The following year, after a journey to the Aegean islands, Gabriele began an affair with the famed actress Eleonora Duse which became a cause célèbre. That same year he wrote Il trionfo della morte (The Triumph of Death, 1894) with his already mentioned ironic portrayal of his father.

The writings that followed included Le vergini delle rocce (1896) and Il sogno di un mattino di primavera (1897). In 1898, he wrote Sogno di un pomeriggio d'autunno,and La città morta (1898), written for Sarah Bernhardt (?). In 1988, a presentation of this play starred the famed Istrian-born Alida Valli. D'Annunzio then wrote several plays for Duse: La gioconda (1899), and Francesca da Rimini (1901).  Also in 1898 was published the serialized version of L'Innocente in Il corriere di Napoli.

La gioconda, was a fiasco. Nevertheless, Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa - or La Gioconda as it was called in Italy - remained D'Annunzio's obsession. He had already composed a poem on the mysteriously smiling woman om 1889, and republished its shortened version in Il Giornale d'Iltalia after the painting was stolen in 1911. "Ne la bocca era il sorriso / fulgidissimo e crudele / che il divino Leonardo / perseguì / ne le sue tele." Later D'Annunzio claimed that he had seen the painting before it was smuggled to Italy and wrote a treatment for a film, 'The Man who stole the Gioconda'.

His Città Morta (1898), written for Sarah Bernhardt, which is certainly among the most daring and original of modern tragedies, and the only one which by its unity, persistent purpose, and sense of fate seems to continue in a measure the traditions of the Greek theatre.

Politics and Exile

D'Annunzio ritratto da Romaine Brooks
Gabriele d'Annunzio, The Poet in Exile (1912) by Romaine Brooks. Oil on canvas. Musée National d'Art Moderne Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris.© Jean Pierre Prevost and Pascal Legrand

In 1897 d'Annunzio was elected to the Chamber of Deputies for a three-year term, aligning himself in the beginning with the extreme right but moving then to the left. IN 1898 he ended his relationship with Maria Gravina, attempte dto write civic poetry, and the succeeding year he wrote La gloria (1899), an attempt at contemporary political tragedy which met with no success. That same year, D'Annunzio moved to Settignano (Firenze) and lived in the 16th century Tuscan villa of Gamberana called "La Capponcina”. He was defeated in the elections of 1900, but continued living over his income.

The end of the tempestuous relationship between D'Annunzio and Duse finally came in 1910 when another lover entered his life, the Marchioness Alessandra di Rudini-Carolotti. That same year, he also had to flee his creditors again. He sold "La Capponcina" and moved to near Cap Ferret in the Bordeaux region of France, where he found another lover, Romaine Brooks, a rich American painter. She found him a villa for him at Arcachon and, it it said, she also covered a great part of his expenses. He lived a life of luxury there,  frequented the best salons, surrounded by admirers and lovers, and beginning a new career writing in French..

Costume design by Léon Bakst for D'Annunzio's play The Martyrdom of St Sebastian.
Léon Bakst, Costume for dancer Ida Rubinstein (1885-1960) in the leading male role in Gabriele D'Annunzio's Le marthyre de Saint Sébastien, 1912.

His most famous work of the period is Le martyre de Saint Sébastien (The Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian, 1911), a play that he wrote in verse for Ida Rubinstein (1885-1960), a female dancer with whom he likewise had an affair. In the play, she played the leading male role of St. Sebastian. The French composer Claude Debussy set incidental music to the play.

In its premiere, the writer Marcel Proust considered Ida's legs to be the most interesting thing about the event. The work was not successful as a play, but it it still being performed, however, because of the celebrated music. It has also been recorded in adapted versions several times, notably by Pierre Monteux (in French), Leonard Bernstein (sung in French, acted in English), and Michael Tilson Thomas (in French).

Return to Italy

When World War I broke out in Europe in August 1914, D'Annunzia was still in France. With his marked talent for self-publicity, he campaigned for Italy's entry into the war on the side of the Entente Powers. Following almost a year of an official policy of neutrality, Italy finally entered the war on 23 May 1915. By this time, D'Annunzio had returned home and promptly enlisted with the cavalry before commanding a torpedo boat. 

A man of remarkable energy and continuous enthusiasm (generally self-directed), D'Annunzio achieved further celebrity as a fighter pilot, gaining a reputation as a war hero when he accidentally lost an eye during a bad landing in 1916. In February 1918 he took part in a daring, if militarily irrelevant, raid on the harbour of Bakar (known in Italy as La beffa di Buccari, lit. the Bakar Mockery), helping raise the spirits of the Italian public, still battered by the Caporetto disaster. On August 9, 1918, as commander of the 87th fighter squadron "La Serenissima", he organized one of the great feats of the war, leading nine planes in a 700 mile round trip to drop propaganda leaflets on Vienna. The leaftlets were penned by himself.

D'Annunzio's Folly: The Fiume Incident

Following the armistice D'Annunzio resumed his aggressive pre-war nationalist stance. He charged that the Italian government (led by Vittorio Orlando) had not done enough to achieve Italy's just deserts at the Paris Peace Conference where Italy claimed the port of Fiume on the grounds of self-determination. Little aroused the indignation of so many Italians as much as the question of Fiume. The United States, Britain and France argued that Fiume be included in Yugoslavia and occupied the port. In January 1919, D'Annunzio suggested that the much-disputed port of Fiume should be simply confiscated by the Italians, along with Dalmatia.

In 1897 D'Annunzio was elected to parliament for a three-year term, aligning himself the beginning with extreme right but moving then left. established reputation not only arts world also as political agitator. Consistent his championing of Italian nationalism; he particularly vocal insistence that Italy's "lost" territory on Adriatic be reclaimed.On September 11, 1919, D'Annunzio wrote the following letter to Mussolini:

Mio caro compagno, il dado è tratto!

Parto ora.  Domattina prenderò Fiume con le armi.

Il Dio d'Italia ci assista.

Mi levo dal letto, febbricitante. Ma non è possibile differire. Anche una volta lo spirito domerà la carne miserabile.


Sostenete la causa vigorosamente, durante il conflitto.

Vi abbraccio.

Gabriele D'Annunzio 
11 settembre 1919 

The next day, D'Annunzio marched from Rome to Fiume at the head of a thousand black shirted legionaries (Italian mutineers).  The Allied troops withdrew and D’Annunzio, who announced his intention of remaining in the city until it was annexed by Italy, assumed control of the port city as the ‘Commandante’.

D'Annunzio ignored the Treaty of Rapallo and in his anger declared war on Italy itself. He then  coauthored a constitution, the Charter of Carnaro, with national syndicalist Alceste de Ambris, the leader of a group of Italian seamen who had mutinied and then given their vessel to the service of D'Annunzio. De Ambris provided the legal and political framework, to which d'Annunzio added his skills as a poet. The constitution established a corporatist state, with nine corporations to represent the different sectors of the economy (workers, employers, professionals), and a tenth (d'Annunzio's invention) to represent the "superior" human beings (heroes, poets, prophets, supermen). The Cartarta also declared that music was the fundamental principle of the state.

The inhabitants of Fiume cheering D'Annunzio and his raiders.
The inhabitants of Fiume greet D'Annunzio and his raiders.
A unit of Bersagliari during the taking of Fiume.
September 20, 1919 - Girgio Falcone and other Artiti in Fiume.

While wildly popular with the general populace at home it nevertheless proved a heavy embarrassment to the Italian government. In the face of official opposition D'Annunzio nevertheless managed to hold on to Fiume, only to finally surrender the city in December 1920 after a bombardment of his headquarters by the Italian navy. He thus was forcibly ejected in January 1921.


D'Annunzio (right) with Benito Mussolini.
D'Annunzio (right) with Benito Mussolini.

After the Fiume incident, d'Annunzio retired to his home on Lake Garda and spent his latter years writing and campaigning. Although d'Annunzio had a strong influence on the ideology of Benito Mussolini, he never became directly involved in Fascist government politics in Italy.

Nonetheless, D'Annunzio is often seen as a precursor of the ideals and techniques of Italian Fascism. His own explicit political ideals emerged in Fiume, and Mussolini imitated and learned from d'Annunzio''s method of government there - the economics of the corporate state, stage tricks, large emotive nationalistic public rituals, the Roman salute, rhetorical questions to the crowd, blackshirted followers, the Arditi, with their disciplined, bestial responses and strong-arm repression of dissent.[1]  D'Annunzio advocated an expansionist Italian foreign policy and applauded the invasion of Ethiopia. He is also attributed to having originated the practice of forcibly dosing opponents with large amounts of castor oil to humiliate, disable or kill them. This practice became a common tool of Mussolini's blackshirts.[2][3][4]

In 1924, Mussolini anointed D'Annunzio Prince of Monte Nevoso and in 1937 he was made a president of the Italian Royal Academy. On March 1, 1938, D'Annunzio passed away. Official and/or sources that are sympathetic to D'Annunzio state simply that he died of a cerebral hemorrhage or stroke at his home in Gardone Riviera. Other sources, including from purported eye-witnesses, indicate that he did not die of natural causes but was murdered. There are two versions of that claim, one is that Mussolini had him killed for having voiced opposition to Mussolini's alliance with Hitler. In any case, he was given a state funeral by Mussolini and interred at Il Vittoriale degli Italiani.


D'Annunzio was a prolific writer. At the height of his success, he was celebrated for the originality, power and decadence of his writing. Although his work had immense impact across Europe, and influenced generations of Italian writers, his fin de siècle works are now little known, and his literary reputation has always been clouded by his Fascist associations. Indeed, even before his Fascist period, he had his strong detractors. An 1898 New York Times review of his novel The Intruder referred to him as "evil", "entirely selfish and corrupt".[5] Three weeks into its December 1901 run at the Teatro Constanzi in Rome, his tragedy Francesca da Rimini has banned by the censor on grounds of morality.[6]

The 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica wrote of him:

…The work of d'Annunzio, although by many of the younger generation injudiciously and extravagantly admired, is almost the most important literary work given to Italy since the days when the great classics welded her varying dialects into a fixed language. The psychological inspiration of his novels has come to him from many sources—French, Russian, Scandinavian, German—and in much of his earlier work there is little fundamental originality.

His creative power is intense and searching, but narrow and personal; his heroes and heroines are little more than one same type monotonously facing a different problem at a different phase of life. But the faultlessness of his style and the wealth of his language have been approached by none of his contemporaries, whom his genius has somewhat paralysed. In his later work [up to 1910 or so], when he begins drawing his inspiration from the traditions of bygone Italy in her glorious centuries, a current of real life seems to run through the veins of his personages. And the lasting merit of d'Annunzio, his real value to the literature of his country, consists precisely in that he opened up the closed mine of its former life as a source of inspiration for the present and of hope for the future, and created a language, neither pompous nor vulgar, drawn from every source and district suited to the requirements of modern thought, yet absolutely classical, borrowed from none, and, independently of the thought it may be used to express, a thing of intrinsic beauty. As his sight became clearer and his purpose strengthened, as exaggerations, affectations, and moods dropped away from his conceptions, his work became more and more typical Latin work, upheld by the ideal of an Italian Renaissance.

In Italy some of his poetic works remain popular, most notably his poem "La pioggia nel pineto" (The Rain in the Pinewood), which exemplifies his linguistic virtuosity as well as the sensuosness of his poetry.

Gabriele D'Annunzio
This drawing by David Levine originally appeared with a NY Review of Books article called "Bad Dreams" (October 4, 1973).


  1. ^ The United States and Italy, H. Stuart Hughes, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, l953, pp 76 and 81-82.
  2. ^ Cecil Adams, Did Mussolini use castor oil as an instrument of torture?, The Straight Dope, April 22, 1994. Accessed November 6, 2006 - http://www.straightdope.com/classics/a4_028.html.
  3. ^ Richard Doody, Stati Libero di Fiume - Free State of Fiume, The World At War. Accessed November 6, 2006 - http://worldatwar.net/nations/other/fiume/.
  4. ^ Cali Ruchala, «Superman, Supermidget»: the Life of Gabriele D'Annunzio, Chapter Seven: The Opera, Degenerate magazine, Diacritica (2002). Accessed November 6, 2006 - http://www.diacritica.com/degenerate/6/dannunzio7.html.
  5. ^ "D'Annunzio.; Books That Prove Him to Be Entirely Selfish and Corrupt", New York Times, March 5, 1898. p. RBA145.
  6. ^ "D'Annunzio's Tragedy Prohibited by Censor.; Further Performances of Francesca da Rimini at Rome Forbidden on Moral Grounds", New York Times, December 31, 1901. p. 5.

References and further reading:

  • Biographical Dictionary of the Extreme Right Since 1890 edited by Philip Rees (1991, ISBN 0-13-089301-3) - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biographical_Dictionary_of_the_Extreme_Right_Since_1890
  • Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition article "Annunzio, Gabriele D", a publication now in the public domain.
  • Bleiler, Everett (1948). The Checklist of Fantastic Literature. Chicago: Shasta Publishers, 22.
  • Bonadeo, Alfredo. D'Annunzio and the Great War (Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1995, ISBN 0-8386-3587-3)
  • Hamilton, Alistair. The Appeal of Fascism: A Study of Intellectuals and Fascism 1919-1945 (London, 1971, ISBN 0-218-51426-3) - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Appeal_of_Fascism
  • Ledeen, Michael A. D'Annunzio: The First Duce (ISBN 0-7658-0742-4)
  • Nardelli, Federico & Livingston, Arthur. Gabriele the Archangel: Gabriele D'Annunzio. Harcourt, Brace, (New York, 1931)
  • Rhodes, Anthony. Dannunzio: The Poet As Superman, Weidenfeld & Nicholson (London, 1959), ISBN 0-8392-1022-1
  • Valesio, Paolo. Gabriele D'Annunzio: The Dark Flame (trans. by Marilyn Migiel, ISBN 0-300-04871-8)
  • Winwar, Frances. "Wingless Victory: A Biography of Gabriele D'Annunzio and Eleonora Duse". New York: Harper, 1956
  • Woodhouse, J.R. Gabriele D'Annunzio: Defiant Archangel  (2001, ISBN 0-19-818763-7)


  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gabriele_d%27Annunzio
  • http://www.marcelproust.it/gallery/dannunzio.htm
  • http://www.italialibri.net/autori/dannunzio.html
  • Cartoon - New York Review of Books - http://www.nybooks.com/gallery/472, Copyright © 1963-2002 NYREV, Inc

See also:

External links:

  • www.gabrieledannunzio.net
  • Gabriele D'annunzio - http://www.liceopertini.net/progetti/gabriele_dannunzio/
  • Casa D'Annunzio - http://h1.ath.cx/muvi/museodannunzio/
  • La vita a fumetti - http://www.pescaraffari.it/dannunzio/
  • D'Annunzio's museum "Il Vittoriale" - http://www.vittoriale.it/
  • IL VITTORIALE "La Cittadella del d'Annunzio" - http://digilander.libero.it/vanessaviaggi/galleria_vittoriale/
  • Per non dormire Eleganze notturne al Vittoriale - http://www.castellionline.it/mostradannunzio/index.html
  • Eleganze_notturne_al_Vittoriale - http://www.fotovideolab.it/MOSTRE/ELEGANZE_NOTTURNE_AL_VITTORIALE.htm
  • Chronology of his short-lived rule of Fiume - http://worldatwar.net/nations/other/fiume/
  • Decennale di Fiume - http://www.hist.uib.no/antikk/stamps/stmp399.htm
  • Stamp Fiume - http://www14.brinkster.com/philayu/CRO/fiume/fiume.htm#pic4
  • Le Martyre de Saint Sebastien "Epistolario D'Annunzio Debussy" - http://www.leadershipmedica.com/culturale/culgiu03/culturaleita/6bassi/6bassi03.htm
  • Le Martyre de Saint Sebastien "Ida Rubinstein" - http://theatre.msu.edu/Academics/TheatreArchive/Rubinstein_Ida/
  • Gabriele D'Annunzio poems - http://www.0web.it/poesia/gabriele-d-annunzio

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Created: Thursday, May 17, 2007; Updated Wednesday, October 05, 2016
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