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Dictionary of World Biography


Uccello, Paolo (c.1400–1475). Florentine painter. He worked as a boy in *Ghiberti’s studio, and was later in Venice and Padua as well as Florence. In most of his paintings he is preoccupied with problems of perspective which he worked out by mathematical means. This is evident in the well-known fresco The Deluge done for S. Maria Novella in Florence. He won contemporary fame for three panels of the Battle of San Romano, painted for the Medici palace in Florence, but now dispersed. He was one of the first to draw plants and birds from nature, a sign of the spirit of innovation that marked the Early Renaissance.

Pope-Hennessy, J., Paolo Uccello. 2nd ed. 1969.

Uchida, Dame Mitsuko (1948– ). Japanese-British pianist, born near Tokyo. Trained in Vienna, she became a great specialist in *Mozart,*Beethoven, and *Schubert. She also toured, recorded extensively and taught.

Udall, Nicholas (1505–1556). English playwright and scholar. He was headmaster of Eton from 1534 until dismissed and imprisoned for misconduct (1541). He translated a number of classical and scholarly works but is remembered as the author of the earliest extant English comedy, Ralph Roister Doister (c.1553), inspired by *Plautus and *Terence and written in doggerel verse.

Ulanova, Galina Sergeyevna (1910–1998). Russian ballerina, born in St Petersburg. Her father was an artist, her mother a dancer. Prima ballerina assoluta in her time, she danced with the Kirov Ballet 1928–45 and the Bolshoi 1945–63, was held up as an icon by the Soviet regime and highly decorated but not allowed to travel until 1956 when she led a visit to London. *Prokofiev wrote Romeo and Juliet for her. After 1963 she taught at the Bolshoi.

Ulbricht, Walter (1893–1973). German politician. He joined the Communist Party in 1919 and was a member of the Reichstag 1928–33. On *Hitler’s accession he went to Moscow, but after the collapse of Germany in World War II he reappeared in Berlin and was Russia’s principal agent in East Germany. In 1946 he became first Secretary of the Socialist Unity Party formed by the merger of the Communists and Social Democrats. On the formation (1949) of the German Democratic Republic (East Germany), Ulbricht was one of the three deputy premiers, but virtual ruler of the country. In 1960 when the presidency was abolished on the death of Wilhelm Pieck, Ulbricht became Chairman of the Council of State. He retired in 1971.

Keller, J. W., Germany, The Wall and Berlin. 1964.

Umar I (Umar ibn al-Khattab) (c.581–644). Second caliph of Islam 634–44. Born in Medina, he succeeded *Abu-Bakr, and maintained the discipline and control of his armies as they advanced to the conquest of Syria, Mesopotamia (Iraq) and Egypt. He was the first caliph to be known as Commander of the Faithful. His descendant Umar II (Umar ibn ‘abd al-Aziz) (682–720), ninth Umayyad caliph 717–20, was born in Aleppo and ruled from Damascus. He imposed the ‘ordinances of Umar’ by which restrictions (e.g. of dress) were placed upon Jews and Christians.

Umayyad (Omayyad). Arab-Muslim dynasty, established by *Mu’āwiyah I during the civil wars that followed the death of *Uthman, and which dominated Islam 661–750, ruling from Damascus, until overthrown by the Abbasids. An independent Umayyad dynasty ruled in Spain 756–1031.

Umberto I (Humbert) (1844–1900). King of Italy 1878–1900. Son and successor of *Vittorio Emanuele II, he was poorly educated, hugely moustached and largely kept out of the affairs of government. His reign included the war with Ethiopia, ending with a disastrous defeat at Adowa (1896). Having escaped several earlier attempts on his life he was assassinated at Monza by Gaetano Bresci, an Italian anarchist from New Jersey.

Umberto II (Umberto Nicola Tommaso Giovanni Maria di Savoia) (1904–1983). King of Italy 1946. Son of *Vittorio Emanuele III and grandson of *Umberto I, he married (1930) Princess Marie José, a sister of King *Leopold III of the Belgians. He became King after his father’s abdication in May 1946, but in a referendum held in June a majority voted for a republic. Umberto left Italy ‘temporarily’ but in 1947 a ban was placed on his return or that of his descendants. He died in Geneva.

U Nu see Nu, U

Unaipon (né Ngunaitponi), David (1872–1967). Australian inventor, writer and preacher, born in Point McLeay. From the Portaulun branch of the Ngarrindjeri people, he became a bootmaker and, from 1924, was the first indigenous author to be published, with books on Aboriginal legends. He invented a sheep shearing tool that applied rotary motion, but despite being widely adopted he received no royalties. He is commemorated on the $50 banknote.

Unamuno y Jugo, Miguel de (1864–1936). Spanish-Basque philosopher and writer, born in Bilbao. He became professor of Greek language and literature at the University of Salamanca 1891–1901 and rector 1901–14, 1915–24, 1931–36, being removed three times for his political stances—in favour of the Allies in World War I, against *Primo de Rivera’s dictatorship and against *Franco’s extremism. A pioneer existentialist, in the sense that he tilted against dogmatism and hypocrisy, he was a modern Don Quixote, the hero or anti-hero whom he came to regard as the symbol of the nobility and tragedy of man (see Life of Don Quixote and Sancho, 1905). Yet even such a generalisation was alien to him as he propounded no general system and was above all an analyst and critic. His longing for eternal life and his realisation that reason and scientific thought stand as bars to the acceptance of immortality are the theme and substance of The Tragic Sense of Life (1913) and other of his numerous poems, essays and novels. His passionate love of Spain was shown not only in his books but in his political opinions and acts. He became known outside Spain for his opposition to the dictator *Primo de Rivera and the monarchy. He returned triumphantly from exile when the republic was formed but was soon as disillusioned with the new Socialist regime as with the old, though he strongly protested against the Falangist state foreign intervention in the Civil War.

Undset, Sigrid (1882–1949). Norwegian novelist. She was the daughter of a well-known antiquary who inspired her fascination with medieval Norway, the setting of several of her best novels culminating with Kristin Lavransdatter (3 volumes, 1920–22) and Olav Audunssön (1925–27) for which she was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature (1928). Treating the characters and themes with modern realism she brought a remarkable sense of conviction to her picture of life in 14th-century Norway. Of her many contemporary novels, the tragedy Jenny (1911) is among the best known.

Updike, John Hoyer (1932–2009). American novelist and critic, born in Pennsylvania. Educated at Harvard and Oxford, he was a staff writer (1955–57) on the New Yorker, which published many of his poems, short stories and essays. His novels witty and inventive, explore human tensions arising from conflicts of flesh v. spirit, freedom v. responsibility in a rapidly changing world of family life in the United States. His novels include Rabbit, Run (1960), The Centaur (1963), Couples (1968), Bech: A Book (1970), Rabbit Redux (1971), A Month of Sundays (1975), Marry Me (1976), The Coup (1979), The Witches of Eastwick (also filmed, 1984), Roger’s Version (1986), Rabbit at Rest (1990) and Memories of the Ford Administration (1992). He won Pulitzer Prizes in 1981 and 1991. He became the chief book critic for the New Yorker and published collected reviews: Hugging the Shore (1984), Just Looking (1989) and Odd Jobs (1991).

Begley, A., Updike. 2014

Urban II (Odo) (1042?–1099). Pope 1088–99. In 1095 he proclaimed the 1st Crusade at the Council of Clermont. He followed this up with letters, sermons and exhortations, the result being the capture of Jerusalem (1099) and the establishment there of a feudal kingdom.

Urban VI (Bartholomeus Prignanus) (1318–1389). Pope 1378–89. In the year of his election the College of Cardinals, claiming that they had chosen Urban under pressure from the Roman mob, chose *Clement VII. The latter went to Avignon, where he was recognised by France and her political associates, while Urban remained at Rome. So began the Great Schism (1378–1417), with two rival popes competing for the allegiance of Christendom.

Urban VIII (Maffeo Barberini) (1568–1644). Pope 1623–44. As papal envoy to France he showed his diplomatic ability and was created cardinal in 1606. As Pope he was led by fear of the Habsburgs to support *Richelieu and the German Protestants in the Thirty Years’ War. He befriended writers and scholars and only reluctantly sanctioned proceedings against *Galileo. The Barberini, the Florentine merchant family to which he belonged, rose to princely prominence with his support.

Urey, Harold Clayton (1893–1981). American chemist, born in Montana. He studied in California and in Copenhagen with *Bohr. He discovered (1931) deuterium, the heavy isotope of hydrogen, and this led almost at once to the commercial production of heavy water. He subsequently worked out methods for separating the heavy isotopes of carbon, oxygen, nitrogen and sulphur. He won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1934. He was professor of chemistry at Colombia 1934–45 and Chicago 1945–58, then continued research at La Jolla, California. His work in separating isotopes was essential in the development of the atomic and hydrogen bombs. In 1953, with Stanley *Miller, he explained the creation of amino acids. Urey campaigned for an international ban on atomic weapons, wrote extensively on geochemistry and the development of the solar system, and consulted for NASA.

Usama (Osama) bin Laden see Laden, Osama bin

Uspensky, Gleb Ivanovich (1840–1902). Russian novelist. His themes are generally concerned with the impact of industrialisation on peasant life treated realistically as in The Power of the Soil (1882). Depressed by social conditions, he committed suicide.

Ussher (or Usher), James (1581–1656). Irish prelate and scholar. Famous for his calculations of biblical chronology, he arrived at the long accepted date of 4004 BCE for the Creation. He was ordained in 1601 and appointed professor of divinity in Dublin (1604), Bishop of Meath (1621) and Archbishop of Armagh (1625).

Ustinov, Sir Peter Alexander (1921–2004). English actor, producer and playwright. Of Russian descent, he first appeared on the stage in 1938 and soon became well known for his versatility and skill in a wide variety of roles both on the stage and in films. Among his plays the most successful were The Love of Four Colonels (1951), Romanoff and Juliet (1956) and Overheard (1981). He also produced operas, was an active Ambassador for UNICEF, wrote an autobiography Dear Me (1977) and My Russia (1983).

Ustinov, P. A., Dear Me. 1977.

Utamaro Kitigawa (1753–1806). Japanese graphic artist. The first great artist of the ukiyo-e (‘floating world’) school, his works illustrated everyday scenes in Japanese towns. His prints appeared in book form, e.g. Insects, Types of Love and Book of Birds and Flowers. His striking use of colour, especially red and gold, and his sensuous portraits of women were much admired by European collectors. He was followed by *Hokusai and *Hiroshige.

Uthman (Uthman ibn Affan) (c.575–656). Third caliph of Islam 644–656. Born in Medina to the *Umayyad clan, he was the first of his rank to accept Islam and married an unnamed daughter of *Muhammad. A council chose him as a compromise to succeed *Umar as caliph. He published an authorised version of the Qu’ran, reducing the influence of scholars who preached their own variants. Rebellions broke out in Egypt and Iraq, the army opposed him and he was murdered.

Uthman (Othman or Osman) I (c.1258–c.1326). Turkish ruler. Regarded as founder of the Ottoman empire, named for him, he established a sultanate in northwest Anatolia about 1300. Within a century the Ottoman or Osmanli Turks had conquered Anatolia and Bulgaria, confining the Byzantine Empire to the enclave of Constantinople until its fall in 1453.

Utrillo, Maurice (1883–1955). French painter. The adopted son of Miguel Utrillo, a Spaniard, his mother, the French painter Suzanne Valadon, encouraged him to take up art, partly to combat the alcoholism of which he was a victim at an early age. The pictures that won him fame in the 1920s were much influenced in their colouring by the Impressionists, notably *Pissarro, but his freshness of vision resulted from an almost naive affection for his subjects, mostly the narrow streets of Montmartre and little French towns near Paris. Success and his way of life soon dimmed his powers and many of his later pictures display an exaggerated style almost like caricature. Collectors have been embarrassed by the frequent forgery of his works.

George, W., Utrillo. 1960.

Utzon, Joern (1918–2008). Danish architect. A pupil of Alvar *Aalto, he won (1956) an international competition for designing the Sydney Opera House. Construction began in 1957 but, after major disputes with the construction authority, he resigned in 1966 and returned to Copenhagen. The external sail configuration was completed in 1967 (after a 10-fold escalation in cost) and the opera house complex opened in 1973. He became an honorary AC in 1985.

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