Sunday, November 9, 2014

All Saints Day 2014 on the Island of San Michele, Venice

Grave of Ezra Pound & Olga Rudge
(Venice, Italy) That is what the grave of poet Ezra Pound and violinist Olga Rudge looks like on the Isola di San Michele, Venice's cemetery island. Nearly every time I go out there, someone asks me where the grave is, and even when I indicate the general direction, they still can't find it. That photo is from All Saints Day, so normally that many roses and other flowers aren't there. According to their wishes, the grave is embellished only with greenery. Perhaps people are expecting something more flashy and need to look down, not up, to find it.

Grave of Ezra Pound
By serendipity, I have run into Mary de Rachewiltz, the daughter of Ezra Pound and Olga Rudge, on All Saints Day before, and this year was no exception. Mary lives in Brunnenburg Castle up in South Tyrol, and comes down to visit her parent's tomb. I have had the good fortune to visit the castle a few times where Mary continues her father's work in her own elegant fashion. The woman is 89-years-old, and still radiates grace and charm.

Grave of Olga Rudge
Olga Rudge stood by Ezra Pound when he was arrested for being a traitor by the United States government during World War II, declared criminally insane and institutionalized in 1945 in St. Elizabeth's Hospital for more than twelve years. When Ezra Pound was finally released in 1958, he joined Olga here in Venice, where he died on November 1, 1972, All Saints Day. Two weeks before he died, at a reading he clarified his position:

 "re USURY / I was out of focus, taking a symptom for a cause. / The cause is AVARICE."

We can also thank Olga Rudge's advocacy of Antonio Vivaldi for much of his popularity today. I have written about Vivaldi before; here's a post from April 18, 2009:

Antonio Vivaldi - The Flaming Red Priest


Grave of Joseph Brodsky
Another grave I am often asked about is that of the Russian poet, Joseph Brodsky, who was also institutionalized by his government, the Soviet Union. (An amusing aside: After I, myself, had been institutionalized back in 2010 by an over-funded rogue section of the US government here in Italy, the sculptress, Joan Fitzgerald, who carved the headstones of Ezra Pound and Olga Rudge, comforted me: "All great writers have been institutionalized," to which I replied, "Well, I'd better write something great. They seem to be taking precautionary measures.")

The Barque of Dante by Georgy Frangulyan Photo: Alloggi Barbaria
Ezra Pound, Olga Rudge and Joseph Brodsky are buried among the cypress trees in the Evangelico section of San Michele, which looks like a graveyard right out of an Washington Irving story -- Ichabod Crane could be buried there. If you stand in the center with your back facing the entrance, turn left. About halfway to the end of the aisle, head into the section there on the left, and you will find Pound and Rudge. If you walk to the end of the aisle, on the right, you will find Brodsky.

I have written about All Saints Day and All Souls Day many times before. But for those of you who missed it, you might enjoy the post about when the Biennale Contemporary Music Festival ended on the Island of San Michele:

Cemetery Party in Venice - Music Amidst the Graves


Gods' aid, let not my bones lie in a public location
With crowds too assiduous in their crossing of it;
For thus are tombs of lovers most desecrated.
May a woody and sequestered place cover me with its foliage
Or may I inter beneath the hummock
of some as yet uncatalogued sand;
At any rate I shall not have my epitaph in a high road.
---from Homage to Sextus Propertius by Ezra Pound

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Friday, October 31, 2014

Dynamic Weekend in Venice - Lunch at Aman Canal Grande, Peace at Palazzo Ducale, Pianist Prizes at La Fenice

Cat Bauer at Aman Canal Grande
(Venice, Italy) The Aman Canal Grande, where George and Amal Clooney were married, would like you to know that you are very welcome to come in for lunch, drinks or dinner. I had heard some local gossip -- that Palazzo Papadopoli was only open to guests of the hotel; that the food was not up to par, etc. That was not the situation when I had visited in August of last year when I featured the Aman Canal Grande in CNN Travel. So when a friend recently expressed an interest in seeing the fabulous palace, I made arrangements for a tour and lunch on Monday so I could see firsthand what the situation was. I am pleased to report that the food was exceptional  -- fresh, delicious and reasonably priced, and the palace was as welcoming as I remembered, elegant and homey.

At the close of the 19th century, Vera Papadopoli Aldobrandini married Count Giberto Arrivabene, with Palazzo Papadopoli as part of her dowry. Today, the palazzo is owned by her grandson, Count Giberto Arrivabene Valenti Gonzaga; he and his wife, Bianca di Savoia Aosta, and kids still live on the top floor.

Alcova Tiepolo Suite - Aman Canal Grande
We were graciously showed around the palace, which was originally built in 1550 by the architect and follower of Sansovino, Gian Giacomo de Grigi, as commissioned by the Coccina Family. The palazzo was sold to the Tiepolo family in 1718 after the death of Francesco Coccina, the last descendant. The Tiepolos were avid art collectors, and also employed the painter Giambattista Tiepolo to decorate rooms with frescoes, which still remain to this day. (Of course, I had to know if the Clooneys had stayed in the famous Tiepolo Suite, which is complete with a genuine Giambattista Tiepolo ceiling, and the answer was: Yes, they did.)

Yellow Dining Room - Aman Canal Grande
There are two piano nobile floors, and one rumor could have started because the fourth level of the palazzo is reserved only for hotel guests. But the public is absolutely welcome to enjoy the dining rooms and bar in the first piano nobile with stunning views of the Grand Canal. Also, there is a new chef from the oldest Michelin-starred restaurant in Italy, so any kitchen concerns have been addressed. My friend and I each ordered the most expensive thing on the menu (€35), grilled fish -- a sea bass and a sole -- which were grilled to perfection and shared for us at the table, and accompanied by a generous assortment of grilled vegetables. There are not many places in Venice on the San Polo side of town where you can have a reasonably-priced lunch in such magnificent surroundings, so don't be shy -- just ring the bell and go on in!


1760, marzo 15. Venezia.
Francesco Loredan, doge di Venezia, rilascia la commissione a Giovanni Domenico Almorò Tiepolo, eletto ambasciatore ordinario a Luigi XV re di Francia.
There is an incredible exhibition over at Palazzo Ducale entitled FOR THE SAKE OF PEACE - The Long Walk from the Peace of Bologna to the Declaration of Human Rights (1530-1789). Dario Franceschini, the Italian Minister of Culture, and Gianpaolo Scarante, the Italian Ambassador to Turkey, were among the luminaries present at the inauguration on October 25th. On show are about 70 documents that illustrate that the quest for peace is the supreme value of European culture.

I have known Alessandra Schiavon of the Archivio di Stato di Venezia for about 15 years, back from the time I first visited the immense Archives next to the Frari when I was writing for the International Herald Tribune's Italy Daily. It was deeply moving to see how hard she had worked to gather such pivotal documents together to illustrate the value Europe places on peace. Schiavon said it used to be that wars had beginnings, and wars had ends, and wars had specific territories -- not like today when we find ourselves constantly at war with enemies who have no borders, in wars against a concept like "terror," in wars that stretch on without limits. Ambassadors and diplomats worked hard for peace -- that was their occupation. (That image above is a March 15, 1760 document issued by Francesco Loredan, the Doge of Venice, commissioning one of those wealthy Tiepolos -- Giovanni Domenico Almorò Tiepolo -- to be the ambassador to Louis XV, King of France.)


1641, 24 gennaio-2 febbraio. Costantinopoli.
Capitolationi rinovate sotto sultan Ibraim, re al presente degli Ottomani.
Archivio di Stato di Venezia
The documents and names involved are riveting, and the captions have been translated into English. Some examples: January 5, 1530: "Emperor Charles V solemly ratifies the peace treaty concluded during the Congress of Bolona with the Pope and the rulers of Europe." March 5, 1684: "The plenipotentiary ministers of Pope Innocent XI, the Hapsburg Emperor Leopold I, King of Poland, John III Sobieski, Doge of Venice, Marc Antonio Giustinian sign a defense treaty." February 8, 1697, "Peter the Great, the Czar of Russia, Leopold I, the Hapsburg Emperor, Frederick Augustus II of Saxony and Silvestro Valier, Doge of Venice stipulate a reciprocal non-aggression and peace accord."


                                                                         1755, marzo 14. Vienna.
Maria Teresa imperatrice e Francesco Loredan doge di Venezia stipulano accordi in materia di confini e servizio postale.
Archivio di Stato di Venezia
Wars over territories. Wars between religions. One side groups up against another side, changes sides, changes back again. After viewing all those documents inside the Doge's Palace, and the many powers behind those documents, and the very serious disagreements and battles that had been hammered into compromises to achieve peace, it really made me wonder why we are having such a difficult time today just getting a moment to catch our breath.

Per il bene della Pace
Il lungo cammino verso l’Europa dalla pace di Bologna alla Dichiarazione dei diritti dell’uomo (1530-1789)
Venezia, Palazzo Ducale, Sala dello Scrutinio
25 ottobre 2014 – 12 gennaio 2015
Alessandro Marchetti - winner Premio Venezia
One of my favorite annual events is the PREMIO VENEZIA, a national pianist competition held by the Fondazione Amici Della Fenice at La Fenice. Every year, young pianists throughout Italy compete for the top prize, which includes substantial sums of money to continue their studies, as well as concerts in prestigious venues. The Premio Venezia is funded entirely with private money, and is one of the most important events of the season, always drawing a full-house invitation-only crowd. This year the Premio Venezia was won by Alessandro Marchetti, who was born in Pavia, Italy in 1998, the year I arrived in Venice, which makes him, astonishingly, only 16-years-old. Adrian Nicodim, who was born in Galati, Romania in 1992, won second place, which also includes a good chunk of money and concerts. Both young men exhibited composure, grace and talent, and performed admirably.

In a planet filled with chaos and strife, it is an honor to have the privilege of living in La Serenissima, a city that still focuses on the highest principles the civilized world has to offer.

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Friday, October 17, 2014

Top International Museum Directors Meet in Palazzo Ducale, Venice

Palazzo Ducale - Sala dello Scrutinio
(Venice, Italy) The directors of some of the most prestigious museums in the world met at Palazzo Ducale, the former headquarters of the Venetian Republic, on Monday, October 13, 2014 to compare notes about how they ran their institutions -- how they are funded, where their focus lies, and the responsibilities of museums in today's changing world -- in a conference entitled, CULTURAL HERITAGE: INTERNATIONAL EXCELLENCE AND THE CHALLENGE FOR ITALY. All agreed that museums belonged to the people, places where visitors come looking for answers. In addition to our own Gabriella Belli, the Director of the Fondazione Musei Civici here in Venice, present were Michail Piotrovskij, Director of the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia; Martin Roth, Director of the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, UK; Gabriele Finaldi, Associate Director of the Museo Nacional del Prado in Madrid, Spain, and Paolo Baratta, the President of Fondazione La Biennale in Venice. It was fascinating to learn how museums are organized in different parts of the world, and how tangled the bureaucracy can become.

Up from Rome was Dario Franceschini, the Italian Minister of Cultural Heritage himself, who recently changed a bunch of laws about how State museums in Italy are run -- for example, they are now free the first Sunday of each month; the major museums are open until 10:00PM on Friday nights; you can now take photos; people over 65 now must pay; there are new tax credits, and more.

State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg
Museums around the world have acquired their treasures by different means. Russian Empress Catherine the Great laid the foundation for the State Hermitage Museum, purchasing a huge amount of Western European works of art in 1764, seeking to bridge the gap between Russia and the West. The Victoria & Albert Museum had its origins in the first World Expo, "The Great Exhibition of 1851" in London, an idea of Prince Albert, the husband of Queen Victoria. The beginnings of Prado in Madrid were due to Queen Maria Isabel's passion for art; she died in 1818, a year before Museo Nacianal del Prado opened. And when it comes to Italy... well, Italy was not even a united kingdom until 1861, and Venice itself was not annexed into the Kingdom of Italy until 1866, and add to that the Vatican... so Italy, as usual, is complicated. 

Back in the days when I wrote for the International Herald Tribune's Italian supplement, Italy Daily, about 15 years ago, I had to navigate between the different museums and cultural centers here in Venice, and sometimes it was baffling. Back then, each museum had its own bureaucracy, and just finding the person who had the power to streamline my mission was a labyrinth. However, in 2008, a foundation was created called Fondazione Musei Civici with just one founding member, the Comune of Venice, which has made an unbelievable difference in the ability of the immense artistic wealth of Venice to become more accessible.

Gabriella Belli, Director Museo Civici in Venice
According to their site: "The Foundation manages and promotes a museum system that is detailed, complex, but rich and financially sound; it enjoys total administrative and managerial independence – under the control of the Steering Commitee – thus allowing operational and planning agility, considerable transparent entrepreneurial motivation, an efficient and rational corporate structure, and the ability to unite and recruit resources."

I think Gabriella Belli, the Director of the Musei Civici, is terrific. She seems to be everywhere all the time, with an energy that is indefatigable. Venice has a whopping 11 civic museums, each with their own unique treasures and personalities: the Palazzo Ducale, the Correr, Ca' Pesaro, Palazzo Mocenigo, Palazzo Fortuny, Ca' Rezzonico, the Clock Tower, Carlo Goldoni's House, the Natural History Museum, the Glass Museum on Murano, and the Lace Museum on Burano. Overseeing all those institutions takes an enormous effort, and Belli does it with grace and efficiency. In addition, Venice has private foundations and museums with its own collections, as well as museums run by the State and the Church, and after a period of adjustment, most of the cultural institutions in the city now have a genuine spirit of cooperation and comradeship.

The conference opened with greetings from Walter Hartsarich, the President of the Fondazione Musei Civici. He spoke about how it was a crucial time for cultural heritage in Italy, and how courage was necessary to meet the new pace, and new needs. Next up was Vittorio Zappalorto, who was appointed Special Commissioner to Venice after our mayor was arrested for corruption. Zappalorto said that now that the division of labor between the comune, province, region and state is clear, there are no more excuses to perform badly, and that Venice wants to provide an example to the world for sustainable tourism.

Doge's Palace - Venice
Gabriella Belli said that Venice is really different from any other city. Its very beauty is caused by its frailty. There are more than 500,000 works of art in its collection, a huge concentration in a small area. Belli said that they wanted to get away from the approach that exhibitions are the same for years -- Venice's visitors are visitors of the world, and they compare Venice to museums all over the world. Venice now has the capability to change its headline exhibitions quickly, and has reorganized the permanent collections. Belli stressed that the Civic Museums belonged to Venetians; that it was their heritage, and they were encouraging more visits from residents in Venice and the mainland.

The Winter Palace - State Hermitage, St. Petersburg, Russia
Michail Piotrovskij, the Director of the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg in Russia spoke next. Venice is the new headquarters for "Ermitage Italy" located right in Piazza San Marco, the result of a cultural exchange between State Hermitage and Italy. Piotrovskij said he was glad they were in Venice. He said, "We are in St. Petersburg, founded by Peter the Great. We are not in the center of Europe, but we are part of European culture."

We should remember that St. Petersburg was the imperial capital from 1713-1728 and again from 1732-1918, created by Peter the Great beginning in 1703 on barren marshland (much like Venice) to integrate Russia into Western Europe and seize a Baltic port, his "Window on the West." So, for more than 200 years St. Petersburg was the capital of Russia, until the communist revolution. Then, the  Bolsheviks, lead by Vladimir Lenin, stormed the Winter Palace -- which is now part of the State Hermitage Museum -- during the October Revolution of 1917, moved the capital to Moscow, and changed the name of the city to Leningrad after Lenin's death in 1924. It was not until the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 that Leningrad changed back to St. Petersburg, which is still recognized as the cultural capital of Russia.

Piotrovskij said he was concerned that there was a new Iron Curtain being erected between Russia and other countries. He said that museums need to be defended from conflicts, and they were building bridges even if all other bridges are destroyed. They have a good relationship with Venice, and he wished that the UK and France would follow suit -- that we needed to maintain bridges of friendship. He said, "The government tells me, 'You can't live in a museum.'" Piotrovskij replied, "Better to live in a museum than a shipyard." He said he loved living in a museum. "Living in a museum is beautiful."

Museo Nacional del Prado - Madrid, Spain
The Museo Nacional de Prado is Spain's national art museum, and has spent the last 15 years in transformation, expanding its structure and the number of employees, according to Gabriele Finaldi, the Associate Director. In the early half of the 1990s it was the "Inferno of Europe," and now is a sleeping lion ready to wake up. It contains the royal collection -- Titian's works purchased by the Spanish crown are housed there, in addition to the finest collection of Spanish art on the planet. In the mid 1990s it changed its legal status; all its officers became direct employees, and it now can participate in business, similar to the Bank of Spain. Finaldi said that 60% of foreigners visit the permanent collection as opposed to 40% locals, whereas a temporary exhibit attracts 60% locals and 40% foreigners. He said it is also a contemporary museum. "Goya was still alive when his work was put into the museum."

Victoria & Albert Museum - London, UK
Martin Roth, the Director of the Victoria & Albert Museum, declared, "I believe in museums." He said a museum is never the same, and changes with the culture and politics. He said the V&A was a brilliant idea by Prince Albert, an ongoing World's Fair, and that a museum is an open institution for everyone; it belongs to us all -- from the taxi drivers, to the Queen, to the green grocer. Since the UK has had such a huge influx of refugees, they have created exhibits to reflect those cultures -- "If you are a refugee, come to the V&A." He said their Board of Trustees is completely independent, and he didn't like the US system where you buy yourself onto the Board. He said he had a friend in the US who was going to retire from a Board because it was "too dangerous." Roth said, "It's not supposed to be that way!" He said the V&A was a local museum for a global audience, and that it attacted a lot of young people who came just to hang out. All museums in the UK are free. He said, "A museum is never a business, but you can run it business-like."

La Biennale - Venice, Italy
Paolo Baratta, the President of La Biennale, Venice's Contemporary Art Festival, said "No monarch left me a legacy." He said that Italy's history was completely different. Italy was once composed of many city-states, and the various monarchs collected art. When the small states fell, there was widespread pillage. Unlike the V& A and the Hermitage, which were aimed at creating museums, in Italy, the goal was to keep the objects safe.The government appointed superintendents who had prefecture-like powers. They protected assets owned by third parties, and the focus was on the monetary value of the work.

The Venice Biennale was the first Biennale in the world, created by a group of farsighted thinkers in 1893. There are now 157 Biennales worldwide. The focus is on research and discovery, and the relationship with the past -- to read the present with historical depth. Baratta calls La Biennale a "Wind Machine," a machine of desire whose primary urge is to give form to the curtain that has been thrown over us. The focus is not on the monetary value of the work, but on cultural research.

Dario Franceschini at Palazzo Ducale, Venice
Dario Franceschini is the Minister of Cultural Heritage under Italy's newest, and youngest, Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi, who is set on making sweeping changes to a country wracked with corruption and stifled by bureaucracy. Former Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, was forced to resign over numerous scandals in 2011; his Minister of Culture, Giancarlo Galan, was just sentenced yesterday, October 16, to 34 months in prison and a €2.6 million fine for charges of corruption linked to MOSES, Venice's flood barrier.

Franceschini said there needs to be a central role for culture, which, at the present, does not exist. He said there must be a common European identity that can only take place through culture. He said we must build a union, an institute for dialogue, when politics can't talk and borders are difficult. He said we must convince the decision makers that investment in creative institutions can overcome the crisis. Art collections are closely linked to territory, and investments need to be made in their unique nature.

He said we should adopt sustainable tourism, and that we are temporary owners of a heritage that belongs to humanity. He said that before businesses had no incentives to invest in art and museums -- now they do.

The conference continued all afternoon with speakers on the local level. Pierpaolo Forte, the President of the Museum of Contemporary Art Donnaregina in Madre, Naples summed it up: "We are dwarfs on the shoulders of giants. There is a danger to worship our history more than our future."


As it has throughout the centuries, Europe needs to stand firmly and courageously on its rich cultural heritage as the foundation in moving toward the future. The future is now.

Beni Culturali: le eccellenze internazionali e la scommessa italiana
Venice, Palazzo Ducale
Sala dello Scrutinio
Monday, October 13, 2014

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Divine Marchesa - Luisa Casati at Palazzo Fortuny in Venice

John Galliano for Christian Dior - Ball gown - Tribute to Luisa Casati
(Venice, Italy) A video of John Galliano's 1998 tribute to Marchesa Luisa Casati for Christian Dior rocks as you enter the ground floor of Palazzo Fortuny. Kohl-eyed fashion models vamp down marble stairs, draped in divine creations that were inspired by a woman who was born more than a century before. A green ball gown dominates the center of Palazzo Fortuny, the large crystal image of Marchesa Casati by Anne-Karin Furunes pensive in the background. Welcome to the world of The Divine Marchesa - Art and life of Luisa Casati from the Belle Epoque to the spree years. It's Autumn at Fortuny.


John Galliano for Christian Dior - Tribute to Luisa Casati
The Divine Marchesa, Luisa Casati, proclaimed: "I want to be a living work of art!" and succeeded in her goal. Born in 1881 into one of the wealthiest families in Italy, she was electric, outrageous and eccentric, ahead of her time. For the first three decades of the 1900s, she was Europe's most astonishing celebrity, a muse and inspiration to some of the most important artists, fashion designers and thinkers of the era. Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, the founder of Futurism, called her, "The greatest Futurist in the world."

Bronze of Marchesa Casati with Greyhound by Paolo Troubetzkoy, 1914
Luisa Amman was born in Milan on January 23, 1881 to an aristocratic family; her father, Count Alberto Amman was of Austrian descent and made his fortune in cotton; her mother, Lucia Bressi was Austrian and Italian; her older sister, Francesca, had been born almost exactly one year earlier on January 22, 1880. Early photos reveal a perfectly proper aristocratic family, spending their time doing perfectly proper aristocratic things. Then, on April 15, 1894, Luisa's mother died (I have yet to uncover the reason how) when Luisa was just 13-years-old, and then, on July 11, 1896, her father died when she was 15-years-old, making Luisa and Francesca the richest orphans in Italy -- at impressionable ages.

In 1900, Luisa continued her proper aristocratic life by duly marrying Marchese Camillo Casati Stampa, and producing her only child, Cristina, the next year. Then, in 1903, Luisa met the flamboyant writer, poet and playwright, Gabriele D'Annunzio at a fox hunt; he was 18 years her senior and lover to Eleanora Duse. Luisa became his lover, and started her transformation into a living work of art.

Luisa Casati as Empress Theodora
The English-speaking world first met Luisa Casati in a 1906 gushy travel memoir called Glimpses of Italian Court Life - Happy Days in Italia Adorata written by a wealthy Bostonian socialite with the heavy handle of Tryphosa Bates-Batcheller, who fancied herself a singer. Tryphosa published a series of letters dated December 26, 1904 through April 20, 1905 that she wrote to her mother, father and an "intimate friend" while on holiday in Italy. In the introduction, Tryphosa explains to her fellow Americans why European titles should be paid attention, even though the young country has done away with them. 

"I venture to add a few lines of introduction, as it seems to me there exists among a certain class of people, particularly in America, a misapprehension as to the value and meaning of titles. True it is, that in a democratic country like our own, there is little place for the consideration of this subject; but democratic as we Americans are theoretically, practically it is well known that we all respect a foreign title without any definitely expressed reason to ourselves. ...Had George Washington been made an emperor, the signers of the Declaration of Independence might have been made dukes or princes; but our forefathers began with other names: hero, patriot, statesman are the titles of the New World, for we are a New World and a young country."

Tryphosa was a well-connected Catholic, even scoring an audience with Pope Pius X and an invitation to meet Her Majesty, Queen Elena of Italy, complete with instructions on what to wear ("visiting dress with hat" and, for her husband, "morning dress, frock coat"). Her memoir flits from visits to the estates of this countess or that princess, interspersed with an occasional visit to an historic site. She first sets eyes on Luisa Casati at a Bal de Têtes at the Grand Hotel in Rome. 

Luisa Casati as Empress Theodora
On March 2, 1905, Tryphosa writes:

"It was supposed to be a ball characterized by the fancy dressing of the head and hair, but, as a matter of fact, most of the women came in elaborate and beautiful costumes. Far and away the most elegant and most beautiful costume was worn by the Marchesa Camillo Casati, of the famous Casati family of Milan. She was dressed as the Empress Theodora, in a perfect fitting princesse gown of cloth of silver heavily embroidered in gold. The costume was an exact reproduction of one worn in Paris by Sarah Bernhardt a short time ago. The Marchesa wore on her head a crown formed of eagles, and had some of her diamonds set up in a large diamond eagle, which was her only corsage ornament. Two or three ropes of her wonderful and famous pearls hung loosely about her beautiful neck, and altogether she was quite the most stunning persona at the ball. She is a handsome woman, tall and slight, with a beautiful figure and splendid carriage. Her hair is a light chestnut color, and she is always pale, though her paleness is of that attractive sort that does not indicate ill-health. She is said to be one of the best dressed women in Rome on all occasion."



Our American socialite runs into Luisa Casati again on March 23, 1905, writing: "We have just come in from the last hunt of the season, and a very pretty and brilliant sight it was, too. ...You remember about my speaking of the Marchesa Casati with her lovely gowns and jewels, but I forgot to say then, that she is one of the finest horsewomen in Italy. I am sending you a little picture that shows her in her long leopard-skin coat, just as she rode out in her carriage to the meet before mounting."

You can read Tryphosa's exuberant tome, Glimpses of Italian Court Life, online here.

La marchesa Casati by Lorraine Brooks, circa 1920
That stodgy aristocratic world would soon be either shocked or delighted by Luisa Casati's antics. By hooking up with D'Annunzio as a lover and a father figure, things were bound to get freaky, and they did. The "light chestnut" hair described by Tryphosa became flaming red locks. Luisa darkened her eyes with black kohl, dilated her pupils with belladonna and wore lives snakes around her neck for jewellery. She began a whirlwind existence between Paris, Venice, Saint-Moritz and Rome.

Marchesa Casati with Giovanni Boldini and a man in masquerade at Ca' Venier dei Leoni, Sept 1913
In 1910, she rented Palazzo Venier dei Leoni on the Grand Canal in Venice (the next dynamic diva to move in would be Peggy Guggenheim) and threw outrageous parties where the guests smoked opium as she carried on openly with D'Annunzio -- who said she was the only woman who astonished him. She walked her pet cheetahs with diamond-studded collars around Piazza San Marco, completely naked underneath her furs.That same year, D'Annunzio published his novel Forse che si forse che no (Maybe Yes, Maybe No), basing the character Isabella Inghirami on Luisa Casati.

La marchesa Casati by Augustus Edwin John, 1919
Was the Marchesa Luisa Casati simply a spoiled heiress, a Madonna or Lady Gaga-type who lived a century ago, all style and no substance? The exhibition suggests that The Divine Marchesa was, in actuality, a performance artist ahead of her time:

"But she was not only bizarre and over the top, theatrical and chameleonic, megalomaniac and narcissistic: new studies published for the first time in the exhibition catalogue duly recognize a more consciously “artistic” aspect by tracing her activity as a collector and acknowledging the aesthetic scope of her actions and masquerades, which anticipated performance and body art."

La marches Casati by Man Ray, 1922
In the circles Luisa was keeping, populated by some of the most fascinating artists, writers and thinkers of her day, perhaps using her wealth to outfit herself with costumes by people such as the great Russian scenic and costume designer Léon Bakst of the Ballets Russes, the French fashion designer Paul Poiret, and, of course, Fortuny himself, allowed her to pal around with the avant-garde.

Luisa Casati wearing Paul Poiret, 1913
One of the most fascinating things at the exhibition was a book of photos entitled LUISA'S PRIVATE ALBUM compiled by Daniela Ferretti, the Director of Palazzo Fortuny, from the archives of The Casati Archives, overseen by Scot Ryersson and Michael Yaccarino, authors of two books about Luisa, Infinite Variety: The Life and Legend of the Marchesa Casati, and the family-authorized The Marchesa Casati: Portraits of a Muse. LUISA'S PRIVATE ALBUM gives an intimate look at the Marchesa's life through personal photos. The chapter headings are: "Childhood Fantasy," "Wife and Mother," "Luisa Alone," "Dream Houses," "Friends and Lovers," "Fur, Fang and Snakeskin," "Role of a Lifetime," "Media Darling," and, finally, "Last Act in London." The album is the most revealing thing about a woman who seemed bold and outrageous in public, but in private moments appears timid and shy. LUISA'S PRIVATE ALBUM is upstairs on the second floor on the long table.

Serpent Necklace by Cartier - yellow gold, white gold, diamonds and turquoise
Luisa blew her entire fortune transforming herself into a "Living Work of Art," and died poor in 1957 in London at age 76, with only a few friends. However, if a work of art is something that last through the ages, The Divine Marchesa still inspires artists, performers and fashion designers today, from Cartier's line of jewels, to John Galliano's fashions for Christian Dior -- the high-end Marchesa fashion line by Georgina Chapman and Keren Craig is a direct homage to her -- and many, many others.

Luisa Casati, The Divine Marchesa, was a comet that collided with Earth, then orbited out into the Solar System, leaving behind a trail of cosmic dust that reverberates today.

The Divine Marchesa
Art and life of Luisa Casati from the Belle Époque to the spree years

From October 4th, 2014 to March 8th, 2015
Palazzo Fortuny, Venice

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Ciao from Venezia,
Cat
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog