Born in 1755 in Fivizzano, Giovanni Fantoni was the son of Count Lodovico Antonio Fantoni and Marchioness Anna De Silva. A colourful character, he rebelled at a very young age after being sent to Rome to prepare for the ecclesiastical career befitting of a third son. When it became apparent that Fantoni and monastic life were never going to be compatible, he transferred to a nearby college, where he discovered the Latin classics. It was the Horatian odes in particular that attracted Fantoni, and they were to become his inspiration in later life.
After nine years in Rome, Fantoni, aged 18, was apprenticed to the Secretary of State in Florence. However, it was apparent that he was not interested in a regular job, earning himself a reputation as a lothario and drunkard, albeit a charming one. At this point, his concerned father asked the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Leopold I, to transfer the young Fantoni into the army. It is said that he even asked for his son to be locked up in the fort at Portoferrario to help cure him of his dissolute ways.
Fantoni hardly seemed a suitable candidate for military life, although after a serious illness that resulted in him being sent home, he did enter the prestigious Royal Academy of Turin, emerging with the rank of lieutenant in 1776. The same year, he entered the Academy of Arcadia, whose aim was to reform Italian poetry, adopting the name Labindo. Needless to say, despite his new rank, Fantoni’s military career was not a success, and he was forced to resign when his creditors had him arrested for not paying his debts.
February 1779 found Fantoni in Genoa, allegedly en route to his home in Fivizzano. A liaison with the Marchesa Maria Doria Spinola is said to have been the cause of his delay. It was at this point that he started to take poetry really seriously, continuing both his studies of the Latin classics and writing poetry.
In the following years, Fantoni spent time in Fivizzano, Florence, Naples (where he had a close relationship with the lady-in-waiting to the Queen), and Rome. He developed an interest in the Jacobin political schemes and became an advocate of a confederation of Italian republics. In 1796, he participated in the uprisings of Reggio Emilia, Modena and Bologna and was twice arrested. In 1800, he fought in the Siege of Genoa, part of the Napoleonic Merenga Campaign, alongside the French. In the same year, he became a professor at the University of Pisa, but was dismissed the following year because of his Jacobin leanings. Disillusioned, he turned down a position at the Academy of Science in Turin and retired to Massa. He later served as secretary and president of the Acadamia Carrarese – the Academy of Arts in Carrara.
There is no record of Fantoni marrying or of any offspring, although in the early 1780s Fantoni is said to have been devastated when, in Fivizzano, a family maid’s son, said to be his, died at birth.
Fantoni’s collection of Horation odes earned him the pretentious title of the “Tuscan Horace” from his contemporaries. His neo-classical odes express pre-Risorgimento sentiments, as well as an enthusiasm for the new, potentially revoluntionary political ideas emerging in Europe.
Giovanni Fantoni is said to have died, probably of typhus, in the room where he was born in Fivizzano, aged 57 years, on the first of November 1807. He is buried in the Oratorio San Carlo in Fivizzano, where his tomb can still be seen. There is also a statue of him in the town.
The troubled poet of Fivizzano – Giovanni Fantoni appeared on Ciao Lunigiana on 22 February 2013. All rights reserved.
Photo credits: Wikipedia.