Fortunato Vivante

Fortunato Vivante and his wife Emma Bessone – Archivio Fam. Iachia.

The last name Vivante, of remote French origin, is one of those that made Trieste’s history. Fortunato Vivante, baron of Villabella, son of Angelo Vivante and Isabella Luzzatto, is undoubtedly the most well known of the persons resting here. Born in Treviso in 1846, and a relative of the likewise well known Vivantes from Mantua who settled in Trieste in the late 1700s, he moved to the Adriatic shores together with his brother around 1860, living as a protagonist the city’s demographic and economic growth.

The sources in our possession paint the portrait of a very intelligent, resolute and ambitious man. At seventeen years old he was working in Creditanstalt’s Triestine offices. Just seven years later he was already managing the local branch of Unionbank. In Vienna this was a small institution, but thanks to Fortunato’s skill and almost legendary business acumen it would become extremely influential in the Triestine context.

A true self-made-man, he enshrined his rise following the typical script of the social class he was now belonging to. He integrated into the highest tiers of Triestine bourgeois sociability, becoming a member of the most exclusive clubs. He sought and received decorations and titles of nobility in Italy and in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He bought and renovated in present-day Largo Papa Giovanni XXIII the luxurious building that to this day carries the name of Palazzo Vivante. He was very active in charity and philanthropy in Trieste, in the Empire, in Italy. Like the majority of the city’s economic elite, he was on the best of terms with Austrian political power. Imperial authorities, indeed, always felt safe about his loyalty, even during the First world war.

Article by «Corriere Israelitico» congratulating Fortunato Vivante, just bestowed of the title of Cavaliere della corona d’Italia – Corriere Israelitico, 1880-1881, p. 99.

Sometimes, however, Fortunato proved to be very capable of breaking off from the social conventions of his class and his time. Most strikingly was his relationship with Emma Bessone, a catholic prima ballerina at the Scala theatre in Milan. After twelve years – to use the language of the times – as «lovers», the two tied the knot in the summer of 1899. The couple did not have children, and after Fortunato’s death in 1926, most of their possessions were inherited by his brother Giuseppe and his nephews.

Giuseppe had a respectable career as well, even without reaching the same heights as Fortunato. In 1881 he married Natalia Schmitz, the sister of writer Italo Svevo, and was active in many industries: import-export, jute and citruses fruit trade, restaurant business, manufacturing, being eventually appointed Commendatore of the Kingdom of Italy in 1924.

Giuseppe and Natalia had four children. This monument remembers two of them, tragically killed by human cruelty. In 1944 Angelo Fortunato and Carmen Allegra, both around 60 years old, were hospitalised in Trieste’s Psychiatric Hospital. On March 28th the SS launched one of their most tragic and infamous stings. Both fell into the net: deported the very next day, they were most likely killed as soon as they reached Auschwitz.

Pianta del vecchio cimitero ebraico (1907). Civici Musei di Storia ed Arte - Trieste
Banquet for the 25th anniversary of Circolo dell’Unione’s foundation. This was one of the city’s most exclusive clubs. Fortunato Vivante is the fourth from the right, sitting – Civici Musei di storia ed arte, Trieste.
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