Giorgio Cini, the influential figure behind a major cultural institution on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore in Venice, was born on this day in 1918 in Rome. He was the eldest child of Vittorio Cini and the celebrated silent movie actress Lyda Borelli.
Giorgio played a vital role in his father’s diverse business ventures, spanning finance, insurance, steel, electricity, maritime, and tourism.
Vittorio Cini, originally from Ferrara, chose Venice as his home, actively contributing to the city’s prosperity. A key figure in the development of the port of Marghera, he formed a close friendship and business partnership with Giuseppe Volpi, the founder of the Venice Film Festival. Giorgio’s life was tragically cut short at the age of 30 in a plane crash near Cannes in 1949, shortly after taking the controls following time spent with his fiancée, the American-born actress Merle Oberon.
Giorgio rescues his father from Dachau
Vittorio faced profound grief at the loss of his son, compounded by the fact that Giorgio had previously saved his life during World War Two. A businessman and politician, Vittorio joined Mussolini’s Fascist party in the 1930s, later resigning as minister of communications after urging the dictator to withdraw from a disastrous war. Arrested by the Gestapo and imprisoned in Dachau concentration camp after Mussolini’s fall, Vittorio’s fate became uncertain.
Giorgio, armed with funds from his mother’s jewellery sale, embarked on a perilous journey to Dachau, successfully securing his father’s release. Together, they sought refuge in neutral Switzerland, supporting the Italian Resistance against the Nazis and Fascists.
Foundation in honour of Giorgio
In the aftermath of Giorgio’s death, Vittorio redirected his efforts to philanthropy in honour of his son. In 1951, he founded the Giorgio Cini Foundation, granted a concession by the Italian state to develop the island of San Giorgio Maggiore.
The foundation restored the island’s convent, transforming it into a cultural hub, housing a library and archive of historical volumes, manuscripts, and documents related to history, music, theatre, and art. The foundation also serves as a venue for exhibitions, concerts, and meetings.
The Cini family’s philanthropy extended to gifting Venice the Palazzo Foscari on the Grand Canal, which became the Palazzo Cini in 1984. Donated by Vittorio’s daughter, Yana, the palace showcases her father’s collection of Tuscan paintings and decorative arts, serving as a space for exhibitions in collaboration with the Venice Biennale.