Federico and Federico, the Emperor and his Biographer


A degree in economics from Bocconi, earned “calmly, when I already had three children”, an early career in banking, and a life that took him down other paths entirely: that’s Federico Rossi di Marignano, 71, theauthor of Federico Barbarossa e Beatrice di Borgogna(Oscar Mondadori, publisher) which inspired the controversial film Barbarossa.
Growing up in Milan, the young Federico had publishing in his blood. “In 1957, my first year at Bocconi, I founded and ran Milano Studenti, the first student newspaper to come out regularly. It was sold at 52 schools, and that was a decade before 1968.”
As a student he worked at Banca Commerciale Italiana, then at the International School of Milan, and the Oxford institute, but it wasn’t really his place.” I got back into publishing as a consultant in the socio-political field, working for Pierre Carniti at Fim-Cisl, the President of the Senate Vittorino Colombo, Minister Marcora and banker Roberto Mazzotta. I got into historical biography much later, after getting my Master in religious studies at ISSR in Milan”.

But what lit the spark to tell the life story of a figure about whom numerous biographies exist, and above all, what could he say that hadn’t already been said? “Having read Plutarch and Suetonius as a young man, I never have liked the modern method of doing history one topic at a time. I love to tell about the person’s life in chronological order because everything in life has a before and an after, a cause and an effect.”
Federico Rossi prefers the term “historiographer”, rather than historian, to describe himself. “I’ve been writing books about history for 10 years, but I don’t know everything about history, just the subjects I get into deeply. It’s ignorance that moves me and stimulates my curiosity, rather than competence. That’s why I write biographies of people I know little or nothing about at the start.”
After St. Paul, Martin Luther, Carlo Borromeo, Giangiacomo Medici, Pius IV, (published under his shortened name, Federico Rossi, it was Federico Barbarossa’s turn. He also acted as historical consultant for the movie.” I read seven screenplays for the film, made comments and suggestions, some of which were heeded and some not. I know the film is causing quite a bit of controversy, and I try not to write anything untrue or not credible. But then, the credits correctly state that it is loosely inspired by my book”.

Without even taking time to enjoy his latest success, Federico Rossi di Marignano is already thinking about the next, ambitious project. “I just handed in an expanded edition of my biography of Carlo Borromeo and I have started on Grand Chancellor of the Sforza, Girolamo Morone. When that’s done I’m going to write a book about St. Ambrose and his works, to complete a cycle about Milan’s three centuries at the geographical and historical center of the Western World, the fourth, the twelfth and the fourteenth centuries.”

by Davide Ripamonti
Translated by Richard Greenslade

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