Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Divine Marchesa - Luisa Casati at Palazzo Fortuny in Venice - Autumn 2014 at Fortuny

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

CLICK FOR MORE INFORMATION

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

1 comment:

  1. 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."

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