The year 1896 marked the coronation of Nicholas II as Emperor of Russia, and it just so happened that an Italian circus by the name of Grand Cirque Truzzi was touring Russia while the celebrations were taking place. Prominent among the artists performing in this circus were Alberto and Giulia Rastelli, a young couple who were showcasing their skills as jugglers and aerialists. Towards the end of that eventful year (19 December), their first son, Enrico, was born in Samara. He would go on to become the best juggler that ever lived.
There is no known record of whether Enrico spent time in Italy during his childhood. Even if he did, Rastelli spent most of his time in Russia, where he trained as an acrobat, aerialist, and juggler under the tutelage of his parents. Although he showed talent in all these disciplines, Enrico’s passion was juggling. He trained every day for up to 12 hours and became a consummate juggler who headlined the Grand Cirque Truzzi.
Unlike his contemporaries, who juggled everyday items such as plates, canes, and hats, Enrico decided to use objects specifically designed for juggling. Using custom-made balls, clubs, and rings, he managed to achieve unparalleled technical mastery, using different parts of his body to balance and bounce these objects. Enrico would regularly juggle eight balls at once with extraordinary ease, and only when his rival, Pierre Amoros, broke the record with nine, did he attempt and succeed at juggling 10 balls. He was also the first performer to throw a ball to the audience so that they would throw it back at him, and he would catch it with a stick held in his mouth.
At the age of 23, Enrico, still touring Russia, married Harriet, a highwire artist. In the meantime, World War I was underway, and so was the Bolshevik Revolution. These were tumultuous times, and two years after their wedding, the Rastellis decided that it was time to leave Russia and relocate to Italy, where they arrived in 1919. Unknown to the public, Enrico gained immediate success working at the Circus Gatti. Enrico soon became an international sensation.
Never tired of innovating the art, Enrico began to juggle footballs, amazing professional footballers with the clinical control he had of the balls. During this time, Enrico, Harriet, and their three children lived in a villa in Bergamo, the city where Enrico’s ancestors came from. In 1931, a mouthpiece made a cut in Enrico’s mouth during one of his performances. What seemed like a minor injury turned into a lethal infection, and by the end of the year, Enrico died, aged 35.
Thousands of people attended Enrico Rastelli’s funeral. He was buried at the Monumental Cemetery of Bergamo, where a statue of Enrico spinning a football on his finger makes his tomb immediately recognizable.