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Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Teodora, imperatrice di Bisanzio (1954)

The biographical sources about Byzantine Empress Theodora (Θεοδώρα), wife of Justinian, are highly contradictory. Sometimes the same author gives in different books opposite descriptions (the most striking example being of Procopius, the ultimate historical source for the 6th century: in the Wars of Justinian she appears as courageous and influential; in the Secret History she comes as vulgar and insatiably lusty, while shrewd and mean; in the Buildings of Justinian she is a pious and beautiful dame). One thing is clear: any of these hypostasis we choose, she remains in the Byzantine history for better or worse as a very strong and influential personality.

L'Imperatrice Theodora au Colisée
by Jean-Joseph Benjamin-Constant
oil on canvas, private collection
no copyright infringement intended

No wonder she raised the interest of writers, and painters, and filmmakers. In 1938 Robert Graves featured her in Count Belisarius. In 2010 Stella Duffy published Theodora: Actress, Empress, Whore. The same Stella Duffy came back on the Byzantine Empress in 2012: The Purple Shroud. Stephanie Thornton came in 2013 with The Secret History: A Novel of Empress Theodora. And there are some other books as well.

Sarah Bernhardt in Victorien Sardou's Théodora
photographiée par Félix Nadar, 1882
no copyright infringement intended

The first movie dedicated to Theodora came in 1909: the 242 minute Teodora imperatrice di Bisanzio, directed by Ernesto Maria Pasquali. It was followed in 1921 by Leopoldo Carlucci's Theodora, with a screenplay written by Victorien Sardou: after the former courtesan and slave girl, marries the emperor, a love affair with a handsome Greek leads to revolution in both Byzantium and Rome (Jim Beaver). Rita Jolivet was in the role of the Empress. Ferruccio Biancini played Justinian.

Rita Jolivet and Ferruccio Biancini in Theodora, 1921
(11 East 14th Street)
no copyright infringement intended

Another Theodora, the most recent so far, was made in 1954: Teodora, imperatrice di Bisanzio, with Gianna Maria Canale, Georges Marchal, and Irene Papas, directed by Riccardo Freda. This time the twist was rather political: the divide between nobility and slave is too great and Theodora seeks justice for her people; revolution erupt in both Byzantium and Rome (Jim Beaver)

The 1954 movie came also in Bucharest theaters, I was a kid by then and didn't watch it. I found right now the movie on a youTube video.And I had a discussion with a friend my age just today: he was convinced that the main role had been played by another Italian actress. No, it was played by Gianna Maria Canale.

(Italian Movies)


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