Luchino Visconti

Luchino Visconti di Modrone, Count of Lonate Pozzolo (Italian: [luˈkiːno visˈkonti di moˈdroːne]; 2 November 1906 – 17 March 1976), was an Italian theatre, opera and cinema director, as well as a screenwriter. He is best known for his films Ossessione (1943), Senso (1954), Rocco and His Brothers (1960), The Leopard (1963) and Death in Venice (1971).

Luchino Visconti
Visconti in 1972
Luchino Visconti di Modrone

(1906-11-02)2 November 1906
Died17 March 1976(1976-03-17) (aged 69)
RelativesEriprando Visconti (nephew)
AwardsPalme d'Or
1963 The Leopard
Golden Lion
1965 Vaghe stelle dell'Orsa


Luchino Visconti was born into a prominent noble family in Milan, one of seven children of Giuseppe Visconti di Modrone, Duke of Grazzano Visconti and Count of Lonate Pozzolo, and his wife Carla[1] (née Erba, heiress to Erba Pharmaceuticals). He was formally known as Count don Luchino Visconti di Modrone, and his family is a branch of the Visconti of Milan. In his early years, he was exposed to art, music and theatre: he studied cello with the Italian cellist and composer Lorenzo de Paolis (1890–1965) 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 Visconti's film The Damned. Berger also appeared in Visconti's Ludwig in 1973 and Conversation Piece in 1974, along with Burt Lancaster. Other lovers included Franco Zeffirelli,[2] who also worked as part of the crew in production design, as assistant director, and other roles in a number of Visconti's films, operas, and theatrical productions.

Visconti smoked 120 cigarettes a day.[3] He suffered a stroke in 1972, but continued to smoke heavily. He died in Rome of another stroke at the age of 69, on 17 March 1976. There is a museum dedicated to the director's work in Ischia.



He began his filmmaking career as an assistant director on Jean Renoir's Toni (1935) and Partie de campagne (1936) through the intercession of their common friend Coco Chanel.[4] After a short tour of the United States, where he visited Hollywood, he returned to Italy to be Renoir's assistant again, this time for Tosca (1941), a production that was interrupted and later completed by German director Karl Koch.

Together with Roberto Rossellini, Visconti joined the salotto of Vittorio Mussolini (the son of Benito, who was then the national arbitrator for cinema and other arts). Here he presumably also met 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 [5].

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, but he veered away from the neorealist path with his 1954 film, Senso, shot in colour. Based on the novella by Camillo Boito, it is set in Austrian-occupied Venice in 1866. In this film, 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".[6] He describes the film as the "most Viscontian" of all Visconti's films. Visconti 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. In 1961, he was a member of the jury at the 2nd Moscow International Film Festival.[7]

Throughout the 1960s, Visconti's films became more personal. Il Gattopardo (The Leopard, 1963) is based on Lampedusa's novel of the same name about the decline of the Sicilian aristocracy at the time of the Risorgimento. It starred American actor Burt Lancaster in the role of Prince Don Fabrizio. This film was distributed in America and Britain by Twentieth-Century Fox, which deleted important scenes. Visconti repudiated the Twentieth-Century Fox version.

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 better known works, concerns a German industrialist's family which begins to disintegrate during the Nazi consolidation of power in the 1930s. Its decadence and lavish beauty are characteristic of Visconti's aesthetic.

Visconti's final film was The Innocent (1976), in which he returns to his recurring interest in infidelity and betrayal.


Visconti was also a celebrated theatre and opera director. During the years 1946 to 1960 he directed many performances of the Rina Morelli-Paolo Stoppa Company with actor Vittorio Gassman as well as 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 Fenice in Venice. Beginning when he directed a production at Milan's Teatro alla Scala of La vestale in December 1954, his career included a famous revival of La traviata at La Scala in 1955 with Maria Callas and an equally famous Anna Bolena (also at La Scala) in 1957 with Callas. A significant 1958 Royal Opera House (London) production of Verdi's five-act Italian version of Don Carlos (with Jon Vickers) followed, along with a Macbeth in Spoleto in 1958 and a famous black-and-white Il trovatore with scenery and costumes by Filippo Sanjust at the Royal Opera House in 1964. In 1966 Visconti's luscious Falstaff for the Vienna State Opera conducted by Leonard Bernstein was critically acclaimed. On the other hand, his austere 1969 Simon Boccanegra with the singers clothed in geometrical costumes provoked controversy.


Feature films

Year Original title International English title Awards
1948La terra tremaThe Earth Will TrembleWon – Special International Award (Venice Film Festival)
Nominated – Grand International Prize of Venice
1954SensoSenso or The Wanton CountessNominated – Golden Lion
1957Le notti biancheWhite NightsWon – Silver Lion
Nominated – Golden Lion
1960Rocco e i suoi fratelliRocco and His BrothersWon – Special Prize (Venice Film Festival)
Won – FIPRESCI Prize (Venice Film Festival)
Nominated – Golden Lion
1963Il gattopardoThe LeopardWon – Palme d'Or
1965Vaghe stelle dell'OrsaSandraWon – Golden Lion
1967Lo stranieroThe StrangerNominated – Golden Lion
1969La caduta degli deiThe DamnedNominated – Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay
1971Morte a VeneziaDeath in VeniceWon – 25th Anniversary Prize (Cannes Film Festival)
Nominated – BAFTA Award for Best Direction, Best Actor Dirk Bogarde
Nominated - Academy Award for Best Costume Design
1974Gruppo di famiglia in un internoConversation Piece
1976L'innocenteThe Innocent

Other films


Year Title and Composer Opera House Principal cast / Conductor
1954 La vestale,
Gaspare Spontini
La Scala Maria Callas, Franco Corelli, Ebe Stignani, Nicola Zaccaria
Conducted by Antonino Votto[8]
1955 La sonnambula,
Vincenzo Bellini,
La Scala Maria Callas, Cesare Valletti, Giuseppe Modesti
Conducted by Leonard Bernstein[9]
1955 La traviata,
Giuseppe Verdi
La Scala Maria Callas, Giuseppe Di Stefano, Ettore Bastianini
Conducted by Carlo Maria Giulini[10]
1957 Anna Bolena,
Gaetano Donizetti
La Scala Maria Callas, Giulietta Simionato, Nicola Rossi-Lemeni
Conducted by Gianandrea Gavazzeni[11]
1957 Iphigénie en Tauride,
Christoph Willibald Gluck
La Scala Maria Callas, Franceso Albanese, Anselmo Colzani, Fiorenza Cossotto
Conducted by Nino Sanzogno[12]
1958 Don Carlo, Verdi Royal Opera House,
Jon Vickers, Tito Gobbi, Boris Christoff, Gré Brouwenstijn
Conducted by Carlo Maria Giulini[13]
1958 Macbeth, Verdi Spoleto Festival William Chapman & Dino Dondi; Ferruccio Mazzoli & Ugo Trama;Shakeh Vartenissian.
Conducted by Thomas Schippers[14]
1959 Il duca d'Alba, Donizetti Spoleto Festival[15] Luigi Quilico, Wladimiro Ganzarolli, Franco Ventriglia, Renato Cioni, Ivana Tosini.
Conductor: Thomas Schippers[16]
1961 Salome, Richard Strauss Spoleto Festival[15] George Shirley, Lili Chookasian, Margarei Tynes, Robert Anderson, Paul Arnold.
Conductor: Thomas Schippers[16]
1963 Il diavolo in giardino,
Franco Mannino (1963)
Teatro Massimo, Palermo[15] Ugo Benelli, Clara Petrella, Gianna Galli, Antonio Annaloro, Antonio Boyer.
Conductor: Enrico Medioli.
Libretto: Visconti & Filippo Sanjust[16]
1963 La traviata, Verdi Spoleto Festival Franca Fabbri, Franco Bonisolli, Mario Basiola
Conducted by Robert La Marchina[17]
1964 Le nozze di Figaro,
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Teatro dell'Opera di Roma[18] Rolando Panerai, Uva Ligabue, Ugo Trama, Martella Adani, Stefania Malagù.
Conductor: Carlo Maria Giulini[16]
1964 Il trovatore Bolshoi Opera, Moscow (September) Pietro Cappuccilli, Gabriella Tucci, Giulietta Simionato, Carlo Bergonzi
Conducted by Gianandrea Gavazzeni[19]
1964 Il trovatore, Verdi Royal Opera House, London (November)
(Sanjust production)
Peter Glossop, Gwyneth Jones & Leontyne Price, Giulietta Simionato, Bruno Prevedi
Conducted by Carlo Maria Giulini[20]
1965 Don Carlo, Verdi Teatro dell'Opera di Roma Cesare Siepi, Gianfranco Cecchele, Kostas Paskalis, Martti Talvela, Suzanne Sarroca, Mirella Boyer.
Conducted by Carlo Maria Giulini.[21]
1966 Falstaff, Verdi Vienna Staatsoper Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Rolando Panerai, Murray Dickie, Erich Kunz, Ilva Ligabue, Regina Resnik.
Conducted by Leonard Bernstein[22]
1966 Der Rosenkavalier, Strauss Royal Opera House, London[18] Sena Jurinac, Josephine Veasey, Michael Langdon.
Conductor: Georg Solti[23]
1967 La traviata, Verdi Royal Opera House, London Mirella Freni, Renato Cioni, Piero Cappuccilli.
Conducted by Carlo Maria Giulini[24]
1969 Simon Boccanegra, Verdi Vienna Staatsoper Eberhard Wächter, Nicolai Ghiaurov, Gundula Janowitz, Carlo Cossutta
Conducted by Josef Krips[25]
1973 Manon Lescaut,
Giacomo Puccini
Spoleto Festival[18] Nancy Shade, Harry Theyard, Angelo Romero, Carlo Del Bosco.
Conductor: Thomas Schippers.[16]

See also



  1. "M/M Icon: Luchino Visconti", Manner of Man Magazine online at, 2 November 2010. Retrieved 18 November 2012
  2. Silva, Horacio, "The Aristocrat", The New York Times, 17 September 2006. (Overview of Visconti's life and career) Retrieved 7 November 2011
  3. Thomson, David (15 February 2003). "The decadent realist". Retrieved 26 December 2017 via
  4. Bacon, Henry (1998). Visconti: Explorations of Beauty and Decay. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 6. ISBN 9780521599603.
  5. Bacon, Henry (1998). Visconti: Explorations of Beauty and Decay. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 14. ISBN 9780521599603.
  6. Nowell-Smith, p. 9.
  7. "2nd Moscow International Film Festival (1961)". MIFF. Archived from the original on 16 January 2013. Retrieved 4 November 2012.
  8. Ardoin 1977, p. 89
  9. Ardoin 1977, p. 93
  10. Ardoin 1977, p. 96
  11. Ardoin 1977, p. 120
  12. Ardoin 1977, p. 123
  13. Viscontiana 2001, p. 113
  14. Viscontiana 2001, pp. 62–63
  15. Viscontiana 2001, p. 142
  16. "Lirica": Operas directed by Visconti on
  17. Viscontiana 2001, p. 64
  18. Viscontiana 2001, p. 143
  19. Viscontiana 2001, p. 65
  20. Viscontiana 2001, p. 65–66
  21. Viscontiana 2001, p. 66
  22. Viscontiana 2001, pp. 66–67
  23. Royal Opera House performance archive for 21 April 1966 on
  24. Viscontiana 2001, p. 67
  25. Viscontiana 2001, p. 68


  • Ardoin, John, The Callas Legacy, London: Duckworth, 1977 ISBN 0-7156-0975-0
  • Bacon, Henry, Visconti: Explorations of Beauty and Decay, New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998 ISBN 0-521-59960-1
  • Düttmann, Alexander García, Visconti: Insights into Flesh and Blood, translated by Robert Savage, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2009 ISBN 9780804757409
  • Glasenapp, Jörg (ed.): Luchino Visconti (= Film-Konzepte, vol. 48). Munich: edition text + kritik 2017.
  • Iannello, Silvia, Le immagini e le parole dei Malavoglia Roma: Sovera, 2008 (in Italian)
  • Nowell-Smith, Geoffrey, Luchino Visconti. London: British Film Institute, 2003. ISBN 0-85170-961-3
  • Visconti bibliography, University of California Library, Berkeley. Retrieved 7 November 2011.
  • Viscontiana: Luchino Visconti e il melodramma verdiano, Milan: Edizioni Gabriele Mazzotta, 2001. A catalog 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 88-202-1518-7
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