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Circopedia is an original project of the Big Apple Circus,
inspired and funded by the Shelley & Donald Rubin Foundation.

In The Spotlight

American Circus Poster (2003).jpg

THE TOGNI DYNASTY

The Togni family is one of the largest Italian circus dynasties still active today. It has produced, over a century, excellent acrobats, animal trainers, and several circus managers, who have created dozens of traveling circuses and have toured in about thirty countries. The Tognis have also always excelled in circus engineering: they are credited with several technical innovations, including the introduction of three of the world's most commonly used big topThe circus tent. America: The main tent of a traveling circus, where the show is performed, as opposed to the other tops. (French, Russian: Chapiteau) systems today: the round cupola (in the 1940s), the "Italian" oblong cupola (in the 1970s), the quarterpole(American) A support pole placed midway between the main poles and the sidewall of a circus tent.-free big topThe circus tent. America: The main tent of a traveling circus, where the show is performed, as opposed to the other tops. (French, Russian: Chapiteau) (also in the 1970s), and the round-cupola, quarterpole(American) A support pole placed midway between the main poles and the sidewall of a circus tent.-free "Florilegio" big topThe circus tent. America: The main tent of a traveling circus, where the show is performed, as opposed to the other tops. (French, Russian: Chapiteau) (in the 1990s).

The dynasty was founded by Aristide Togni (1853-1924), a university student who, in the 1870s, ran away and joined the Circo Torinese, a circus company headed by Giovanni De Bianchi, which performed on stage, in theaters. De Bianchi had married Maria de la Garenne (a.k.a. de Lagarein), a Sinti gypsy, who was said to be the granddaughter of a French nobleman who had fled to Italy during the French revolution.

Togni married Giovanni's daughter, Teresa De Bianchi. Together, they created a circus company of their own—which, as legend has it, consisted of a single wagon and a monkey—and headed for the South of Italy. Circa 1880, they had acquired a small, one-pole big topThe circus tent. America: The main tent of a traveling circus, where the show is performed, as opposed to the other tops. (French, Russian: Chapiteau) that could house an audience of forty: the first Circo Togni was born. The couple had eight children, and their circus grew quickly, soon performing under a medium-size big topThe circus tent. America: The main tent of a traveling circus, where the show is performed, as opposed to the other tops. (French, Russian: Chapiteau). It became so popular, apparently, that the King of Italy, Victor Emmanuel III, awarded Circo Togni the title of Circo Nazionale in 1919.... (more...)

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A Message from the Editor

CIRCOPEDIA is a constantly evolving and expanding encyclopedia of the international circus. New videos, biographies, essays, and documents are added to the site on a weekly—and sometimes daily—basis. So keep visiting us: even if today you don't find what you're looking for, it may well be here tomorrow! And if you are a serious circus scholar and spot a factual or historical inaccuracy, do not hesitate to contact us: we will definitely consider your remarks and suggestions.

Dominique Jando
Editor/Curator