A list of famous Italians from the Renaissance artists to the great Roman emperors and the political founders of modern Italy.
Julius Caesar (100 BC – 44 BC) Under Caesar, the Roman Empire stretched to its furthers points – crossing the Rhine and into Britain for the first time. Ceaser is the epitome of self-aggrandisement. As Ceaser, himself said: “I came, I saw, I conquered”
Virgil (70 BC – 19 BC) Roman poet. Wrote three epics Eclogues (or Bucolics), the Georgics, and the Aeneid.
Augustus Caesar (63 BC-AD 14), The first Roman Emperor, who strengthened the Empire through his administrative skills, diplomacy and military success. Often considered an ‘enlightened dictator.’
Marcus Aurelius (121-180 AD), Roman emperor and philosopher. For many generations, Aurelius symbolized the Golden Age of the Roman Empire.
Charlemagne (742 – 814) King of the Franks. Crowned Emperor of the Romans in 800 by Pope Leo III. Ruled over much of western Europe.
St Francis of Assisi (1182-1226) The son of a nobleman, Francis underwent a religious conversion and forsook his wealth to become a monk devoted to chastity and poverty. Under his inspirational leadership, he founded a new order of monks – The Franciscans, seeking to live the spirit of the Gospels.
Marco Polo (1254 – 1324) Polo was a Venetian traveller and explorer who made ground-breaking journeys to Asia and China. His journeys and writings helped to open up the Far East to Europe and are said to have inspired Christopher Columbus and many other explorers.
Dante (1265–1321) was a major Italian poet of the Middle Ages. His Divine Comedy is one of the most influential European works of literature. Dante is also called the “Father of the Italian language”.
Catherine of Siena (1347–1380), Dominican tertiary, mystic, and patron saint of Italy who played a major role in returning the papacy from Avignon to Rome (1377).
Christopher Columbus (1451 – 1506) An Italian explorer, Columbus made four ground-breaking voyages to the Americas (1st journey was in 1492 to the Bahamas). Sailing in uncharted seas, Columbus greatly extended knowledge of crossing the Atlantic and paved the way for the Spanish conquest of the Americas.
Leonardo Da Vinci (1452 – 1519) Renaissance painter, scientist, inventor, and more. Da Vinci is one of the most famous painters for his iconic Mona Lisa and Last Supper. Da Vinci is considered to have had one of the greatest minds the world has ever produced.
Niccolo Machiavelli (1469–1527), political philosopher and writer; best known for his The Prince (1532); one of the world’s most famous essays on political science. Machiavellian politics has become a term to describe a type of political intrigue.
Michelangelo (1475 – 1564) Renaissance sculptor, painter and architect. Famous paintings include The Sistine Chapel. Famous sculptures include: ‘The Pieta‘ and the Statue of David.
Raphael (1483 – 1520) Italian painter and architect from Urbino, Marche. Raphael was a prolific and influential artist of the High Renaissance trinity.
Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (c. 1525 – 1594) Italian Renaissance composer of sacred music. Palestrina was a prolific composer of masses, motets, madrigals and offertories. An influential work was Missa Papae Marcelli (Pope Marcellus Mass)
Galileo (1564 – 1642) Creating one of the first modern telescopes, Galileo revolutionised our understanding of the world supporting the work of Copernicus. His work Two New Sciences laid the groundwork for the science of kinetics and strength of materials. He also suffered house arrest for going against the prevailing teachings of the church.
Caravaggio (1571-1610) – Renaissance artist. Born in Milan, he gained a reputation for supremely talented artists with his radical naturalism.
Gioachino Rossini (1792 – 1868) Italian composer from Pesaro on the Adriatic coast. Rossini wrote 38 great operas, transforming the opera into its modern form. Great Italian works include The Barber of Seville (1816) and La Cenerentola. Sympathetic to the French Revolution, he also moved to Paris and wrote for the French theatre.
Giuseppe Mazzini (1805-1872) – Italian political activist. Campaigned for a united Republic of Italy. Mazzini supported several insurrections against the foreign rule of Italian states. He played a key role in cementing support for a united Italy.
Giuseppe Garibaldi (1805 – 1872) – National hero of Italy. Garibaldi led a volunteer army in the Italian Wars of Independence. He played a key role in uniting Italy. He also fought in Latin America and became known as ‘The Hero of Two Worlds.’
Giuseppe Verdi (1813–1901) A leading Italian composer of opera in the 19th century. Verdi was widely regarded as a musical genius for elevating the quality of opera. Verdi was an influential figure in the reunification of Italy
Victor Emmanuel II of Italy (1820–1878), king of Sardinia–Piedmont who became the first king of a united Italy. With the help of Giuseppe Garibaldi, he was proclaimed the first King of Italy, paving the way for the modern state of Italy.
Guglielmo Marconi (1874-1937) Italian inventor of the radio. Marconi developed wireless transmitter signals using electromagnetic waves. This developed into the radio.
Benito Mussolini (1883-1945) Fascist dictator. Mussolini was head of the Italian government from 1925-43. He sought to create a new Roman Empire by allying himself with axis powers. He was executed by partisans during the fall of Italy to the Allied forces.
Padre Pio of Pietrelcina (1887–1968), Capuchin priest. He is renowned among Roman Catholics as one of the Church’s modern stigmatists. He is widely revered as a modern-day saint, canonized by Pope John Paul II in 2002.
Fausto Coppi (1919 – 1960) Italian cyclist. Coppi – nicknamed ‘Il Campionissimo‘ was the most dominant cyclist before and after WWII. Coppi won the Giro d’Italia five times and the Tour de France twice. Also excelled in one-day classics, such as Milan-San-Remo (*3) and World Championship *2. His rivalry with Bartoli divided Italy with Coppi representing a more secular northern Italy.
Sophia Loren (1934 – ) actress. One of Italy’s great 20th-century iconic female actresses.
Alberta Tomba (1966 – ) Italian skier. Tomba was the dominant skier of the 1980s and 90s. Three times Olympic gold medallist and two times World Champion.
Other famous Italians
Silvio Berlusconi (1936), media tycoon who served three times as prime minister of Italy and has suffered numerous scandals and criminal investigations.
Romano Prodi (1939), a politician who was twice prime minister of Italy (1996–98; 2006–08) and who served as president of the European Commission (1999–2004) One of the leading critics of Berlusconi.
Umberto Eco (1932), novelist; best known for his novel The Name of the Rose (1980)
Luciano Pavarotti (1935 – 2007) – Operatic tenor singer. Pavarotti became one of best known operatic and popular singers of the Twentieth Century.
Valentino Rossi ( 1979), one of the most successful motorcycle racers of all time
Frankie Dettori (1970), probably the best-known jockey in the world
Mario Balotelli (1990), footballer.
Gianluigi Buffon (1978), footballer. One of the most dominant and successful goalkeepers in history
Alessandro Del Piero (born 1974) regarded as one of the best footballers of his generation
Citation: Pettinger, Tejvan. “Famous Italians”, Oxford, UK www.biographyonline.net, 01/12/2013
Italian history and the Italian people
Italian history and the Italian people at Amazon
People of the Renaissance (1350s to 1650s) The Renaissance covers the flowering of art and culture in Europe. Primarily in art, but also in science.
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Ancient Greeks (8th Century BC to 0 AD) Famous people of the classical Greek period. Poets, statesmen and the fore-runners of democracy.