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Verona, Italy: Cangrande- a Fascinating Historical Figure

Updated on August 30, 2016

Equestrian statue of Cangrande with dog at his back.

Intrigue & betrayal set in 15th c. Florence. For those who admire the Medici (by C. De Melo)

Inner courtyard of Castelvecchio


The smiling face of Cangrande della Scala


Cangrande wearing his family coat of arms (ladder)

A Templar knight must choose between God and the woman he loves in this edgy 12th c. historical fiction (by C. De Melo)

Ghibiline bridge leading to Castelvecchio

Crossing the moat to the Castelvecchio

Pretty and deadly: Foxglove

Some people truly stand out in history.

Anyone who has read my Florence articles on Hubpages- or my book SABINA- knows that I am enamored of the Medici family. As an author, I enjoy performing "CPR" on historical figures and writing about them in a manner that excites the reader.

Over the years I have become quite chummy with Lorenzo de' Medici, and now I am making the acquaintance of yet another interesting man- Cangrande della Scala, Signore di Verona (Lord of Verona).

In case you're wondering about his name, ccane grande means big dog in Italian. You'll notice he has a dog on his back when you visit the Castelvecchio and see his equestrian monument. Notice how I wrote when and not if?

Once Cangrande's home, the Castelvecchio is now a museum with an incredible collection spanning early medieval to late Renaissance periods. After viewing the artwork, I highly recommend walking the battlements and enjoying the spectacular views from atop the fortress.

On March 9, 1291 Can Francesco della Scala (Cangrande) was born into the Scaligera, a dynastic family that ruled Verona from 1262 to 1387. You will no doubt notice their coat of arms all over Verona depicting a scala or ladder- a fitting symbol for a family that climbed their way to the top. Like the Medici, these noblemen were progressive and generously patronized many buildings and artworks.

Cangrande had no interest in playing with toys or other children during his youth, preferring instead to play with swords and daggers. Many boys dreamed of being brave knights during the medieval period and he was no exception. For this reason, his father, Alberto, knighted him at an early age and provided him with a military education.

When Alberto died in 1301, Cangrande was entrusted to the care of his eldest brother, Bartolomeo, who took over as Lord of Verona. Although a skilled fighter, Bartolomeo preferred peace over war. It was during his brief rule (1301-1304) that Dante came to stay in Verona after being exiled from Florence.

When Bartolomeo died in 1304, the next in line to rule was Alboino, who also maintained peace as Lord of Verona. Cangrande was never far from his brother's side, but unlike Alboino, the 14 year old knight lusted for war and glory.

After being made Captain of the Guard at age 18, the ambitious young man wasted no time in consolidating his family's power through military exploits. His success eventually earned him the title of Head of the Ghibelline faction in Verona.

FYI: The Guelfs supported the pope and the Ghibellines supported the Holy Roman Emperor. The crenelations on the Castelvecchio's ramparts as well as on the bridge are of the Ghibelline style. Guelf crenelations are flat across the top. If you travel through Italy, you will frequently notice these two styles on civic buildings. Their purpose was to communicate to travelers which faction the city supported.

Cangrande fought a series of battles in Ferrara and Parma before Alboino decided to make him a co-ruler of Verona in 1308. When Alboino died in 1311, Cangrande became the official Lord of Verona, and immediately set off on a military campaign against Padova.

What makes him such a compelling figure is that (like Lorenzo de' Medici), he could be a formidable and dangerous when the need arose, yet display remarkable sensibility toward the finer things in life.

In addition to being a military strategist, he was a shrewd politician and an effective administrator.

Historians describe Cangrande as exceptionally jovial (thus the smiling effigy) but quick-tempered. He was also what Italians refer to as mecenante, which means that he avidly supported the artistic and cultural endeavors of the city, providing funds for building projects.

He was known for being deeply devoted to the Virgin Mary, and his affection for her prompted him to fast two days a week in her honor.

In the spring of 1329 he conquered Treviso after obtaining the title of Imperial Viceroy of Mantova. This victory came after a long and arduous battle. Four days later he became violently sick and died on July 22, 1328. Rumors of poison began circulating throughout the region.

The mystery of Cangrande's death was resolved in 2004 when his remains were exhumed and his mummified body was examined. An autopsy revealed that he died from digitoxin, which comes from the foxglove plant.

Many great men and women have died of poisoning throughout history. It is the price paid for power and glory.

I hope this enriches your visit to Verona. As always, thank you for reading.

C. De Melo
Author & Artist


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