Claudio Bisogniero's Creative Diplomacy

The Italian ambassador and his wife, Laura Denise, are celebrating Italian culture in America this year.

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WASHINGTON — Italian history defines the art of flaunting high culture to win commercial success — from ancient Rome to Marco Polo to Cosimo de’ Medici, who hired Michelangelo to help build support for his city-state. But these days, with Italy’s government in a state of constant crisis, feting Italian design can test even the savviest Roman’s devotion to “la bella figura.’’

That’s the challenge facing Ambassador Claudio Bisogniero and his wife, Laura Denise, who this year are celebrating Italian culture in America.

“Washington is a special city,’’ says Bisogniero, who operates around the clock to woo friends in high places. “If an ambassador comes here and thinks he can do his work in the old traditional way, to stay in his office and send diplomatic notes and wait for an answer, I don’t think he has a chance. That isn’t how this city works. You need to go out to meet people in think tanks, opinion makers. It is so important to be active, present and visible on the D.C. scene.”

He’s certainly that. One of Bisogniero’s newest gambits is the Twitter account he opened in March. So far this year with 2,700 tweets, he’s lined up close to 2,300 followers — almost 50 percent more than British Ambassador Sir Peter Westmacott.

While Westmacott finesses the benefits of a common language, multiple defense alliances and an able crew of high-profile royal visitors, Bisogniero deploys his own advantages, including a palatial city residence, a politically active Italian-American community and a committed and entertaining wife.

As comfortable pouring tea for two as hosting a dinner for 500, Laura Denise packs the stamina and charm needed to make every guest feel special. “The diplomatic life is all about creativity,” says Laura Denise, whose favorite designers include Renato Balestra, Giorgio Armani and Beatrice di Borbone. “You have the chance to create rooms, tables, beautiful events. But if you take off all the trimmings, what matters most is meeting people.”

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At an embassy event celebrating Elle magazine and Gucci last March, the couple welcomed Vice President Joseph Biden’s wife Jill, along with White House deputy chief of staff Alyssa Mastromonaco and New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand. Two weeks later, Biden was back for the Opera Ball, this time accompanied by her husband, who delighted the crowd by reminiscing about his wife’s Italian-American father.

With friends and events like these, what could the Bisognieros possibly have to worry about?

Lots. In between those two high-profile parties, Italy’s foreign minister, Giulio Terzi di Sant’Agata, Bisogniero’s boss and embassy predecessor (Terzi took the embassy’s chief of staff with him when he returned to Rome), resigned unexpectedly in March.

As Italian ambassador to Washington from 2009 to 2011, Terzi is credited with initiating the year of Italian culture in America. In December, he made a special trip to Washington as foreign minister to launch the program with a reception at the National Gallery of Art to celebrate a three-month exhibition of Michelangelo’s marble masterpiece “David-Apollo.”

Three months later, Terzi exited in a blaze of recriminations. His resignation, he said, was a protest against then-Prime Minister Mario Monti’s refusal to extradite two Italian sailors accused of murder in India. That charge prompted the beleaguered technocrat famously to declare to parliamentary investigators looking into the Indian affair, “This government can’t wait to be relieved of its duty.” (Monti still had to wait a month for Enrico Letta to succeed him in April.)

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