The Italian Almanac

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Tazio Nuvolari

The Secret Passion of Tazio

An upcoming exhibition explores a little-known side of Italian motor-racing legend Tazio Nuvolari, who nurtured a secret passion for photography. The exhibit in Mantua`s Palazzo Te puts 250 photos by Nuvolari on public display for the first time, as part of a broader event devoted to the Italian racer. Nuvolari, the man German automaker Ferdinand Porsche described as ``the greatest driver of the past, present and future``, was world-famous for his racing exploits but his skill at photography was only recently uncovered. A collection of 2,575 negatives was discovered by experts studying Nuvolari. After months of cleaning up and digitizing the images, the best have been chosen for the exhibit.

According to organizers the shots scan an array of subjects. There are a great many private, intimate images of his wife and two sons, both of whom died of disease in their late teens, leaving Nuvolari devastated. However, there are also many photographs documenting his travels and the races he attended. The curators of the exhibit, two automobile historians, Gianni Cancellieri e Adolfo Orsi, said Nuovolari first fell in love with photography as a teenager. However, his racing career took over until 1936, when he briefly rediscovered his first passion. This initial revival was short-lived, shelved entirely during several desperate months after the death of his first son and a serious racing accident. But he returned to his camera during a long, transatlantic sea voyage in 1938, en route to a race in Indianapolis, and from then on, took dozens of pictures everywhere he went.

Alongside this personal record of Nuvolari`s later years, entitled Lo Sguardo di Nuvolari (Nuvolari`s Viewpoint) Cancellieri and Orsi have organized a celebration of the racer`s life and achievements. Photographs, trophies, cars and motorbikes will document Nuvolari`s exploits over the years. Many motor-racing buffs say Nuvolari, who amazed the sports world with his exploits on two and four wheels, embodied better than anyone else the courage and daring of racing.

Between 1920 and his last race in 1950 he won 124 motorcycle races and 229 car races. `Nivola`, a nickname meaning `he flies`, started his career racing motorcycles at the age of 28, just after World War I. He quickly became Italian champion but in 1924, he switched to cars. World War II interrupted the Italian`s glorious career. When the war was over, Nuvolari was 53, but he still returned to racing and continued to win. But age and acute asthma, the result of years of inhaling exhaust fumes and heavy smoking, finally began to take their toll and he died in 1953, at 61, after suffering a stroke. More than 50,000 people attended his funeral.