Fredi Chiappelli, nationally recognized Renaissance scholar who spearheaded UCLA's ambitious research and planning for the 1992 quincentennial of Christopher Columbus' discovery of America, has died two years before the world anniversary that dominated his last decade. He was 69.
Chiappelli died Thursday in UCLA Medical Center as the result of a stroke, heart disease and pneumonia, the family announced Friday.
Director of UCLA's Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies for 16 years, Chiappelli had served since 1987 as special adviser to UCLA Chancellor Charles Young for the quincentennial program.
Nearly a decade ago, Chiappelli set out to make UCLA a leader in global research on Columbus when he conceived a set of programs to translate the complete writings of the Italian explorer, study his intellectual and cultural origins, and exhibit landscape paintings of Italy, Greece, Spain and the Caribbean where the former pirate spent his life.
The programs include seminars, lectures and displays about Columbus himself, his journey in search of a new route to Asia which was aborted by the discovery of a new continent, and the chain of major cultural and political changes that his discovery triggered.
"When I started talking about 1992, some people asked me, 'What is 1992?' " Chiappelli said in a 1987 interview. "They needed a moment to focus that it is in fact a half-millennium of America."
Chiappelli hoped to direct public attention not only to what he called the "obscure figure" of Columbus, but to what Columbus' discovery of the New World meant to world civilization.
"The old European civilization was fertilized by the discovery," he said. "And the New World became, not a combination of the old and new worlds, but something new for everybody."
Chiappelli worked so hard on the quincentennial programs after his retirement in 1988, his staff claimed, that he aggravated a recurring heart problem.
He received the National Award for Columbus Studies from Columbus Countdown in 1988 and official recognition in 1989 by the Presidential Commission for the Quincentenary of the Discovery of America.
The scholar, professor and author of 218 books and articles was born Jan. 24, 1921, in Florence, Italy, the son of Francesco Chiappelli, president of the Florence Art Institute, and Maria von Zdekauer. He held the title Baron Chiappelli Zdekauer.
Chiappelli was educated at the University of Florence, with postdoctoral work at the University of Zurich. As a member of the Italian liberation army, he served as guide and liaison officer to the American 5th Army during World War II.
Chiappelli taught at the Universities of Florence, Zurich, Lausanne and Neuchatel until 1959, when he moved to California. He first taught Italian at UCLA and in 1972 became director of the Renaissance center.
His first marriage, to Aymerica Bollati in 1945, which produced two children, ended in divorce in 1970. He married Gabriella R. Carboneschi, who survives him, in 1980.
A funeral Mass is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Monday at St. Martin of Tours, 11967 Sunset Blvd., Brentwood.
The family has asked that any memorial contributions be made to the Fredi Chiappelli Fellowship Fund, UCLA Italian Department, Los Angeles 90024.