Photos of Opera’s Greatest Beauty: Lina Cavalieri (1874-1944)

Lina Cavalieri was born on Christmas Day at Viterbo, some eighty kilometers (50 miles) north of Rome. She lost her parents at the age of fifteen and became a ward of the state, sent to live in a Roman Catholic orphanage. The vivacious young girl was unhappy under the strict discipline of the nuns, and at the first opportunity she ran away with a touring theatrical group.

At a young age, she made her way to Paris, France, where her appearance opened doors and she obtained work as a singer at one of the city’s café-concerts. From there she performed at a variety of music halls and other such venues around Europe, while still working to develop her voice. Lina took voice lessons and made her opera debut in Lisbon, Portugal, in 1900 (as Nedda in Pagliacci), the same year she married her first husband, the Russian Prince Alexandre Bariatinsky.

After retiring from the stage, Cavalieri ran a cosmetic salon in Paris. In 1914, on the eve of her fortieth birthday — her beauty still spectacular — she wrote an advice column on make-up for women in Femina magazine and published a book, My Secrets of Beauty. In 1915, she returned to her native Italy to make motion pictures. When that country became involved in World War I, she went to the United States where she made four more silent films. The last three of her films were the product of her friend, the Belgian film director Edward José.

After marrying her fourth husband Paolo d’Arvanni, she returned to live with her husband in Italy. Well into her sixties when World War II began, she nevertheless worked as a volunteer nurse. Cavalieri was killed on February 7, 1944 during an Allied bombing raid that destroyed her home in the countryside of Fiesole, a small town near Florence.

In 1955, Gina Lollobrigida portrayed Cavalieri in the film Beautiful But Dangerous (also known as The World’s Most Beautiful Woman).

Piero Fornasetti was an Italian painter and sculptor who used the face of  Cavalieri as a motif on many items including sculpture, plates and vases.  Today her iconic image has become one of the best known ‘faces’ to feature in interiors.

Lina Cavalieri

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Lina Cavalieri

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Lina Cavalieri

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Lina Cavalieri

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Lina Cavalieri

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Lina Cavalieri by Rudolf Eickemeyer, Jr.

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Lina Cavalieri by Aime Dupont

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Lina Cavalieri

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