Thursday, April 12, 2018

Be the Flame, not the Moth: World's first Casanova Museum in Venice

Shadow installation at Casanova Museum & Experience
(Venice, Italy) The world's first Casanova Museum & Experience challenges what, exactly, constitutes a museum. The six-room museum housed in Palazzo Pesaro Papafava, a Gothic-style palace overlooking the Misericordia Canal, is crammed with the high-impact story of a complex man whose very name still seduces us nearly 300 years after his birth. It combines virtual reality, a shadow installation and an audio guide narrated in a potpourri of languages, together with 18th century fashion, gambling and much more.

"Be the flame, not the moth."
---Giacomo Casanova 

Giacomo Casanova was born on April 2, 1725 in Venice into a family of actors, the oldest of six brothers and sisters. He was sickly, and thought to be mentally deficit. His grandmother watched him while his parents were on tour; his mother gave birth to a second, more favored, son while in London. His father died when he was eight-years-old, but there is a question about his paternity -- rumor was that he was the illegitimate son of Michele Grimani, the aristocratic owner of the San Samuele Theatre where his parents worked.

Casanova was sent to a boardinghouse in Padua at age nine, where he finally kicked into gear and started to find his voice, and refused to accept his circumstances. He felt abandoned in the lice-ridden house, insisted on eating with his own silverware, and moved in with his primary instructor, a priest named Gozzi, who tutored him and taught him the violin.

It turned out that he was, in reality, supremely intelligent. Casanova obtained a law degree from the University of Padua at age seventeen, but would have preferred a career in medicine -- he also studied philosophy, mathematics and chemistry, and prescribed his own treatments for himself and his friends. Under the insistence of his guardian, he became an abbot, and began a career as an ecclesiastical attorney, which was was short-lived.

He bought a commission and became a military officer because he liked dressing up as a soldier, but found his duty boring, and lost most of his pay playing faro. He sold his commission and decided to become a professional gambler, but again lost all his money. To make ends meet, he next became a violinist who delighted in playing scandalous practical jokes with his fellow musicians. And he discovered women.

Casanova Museum & Experience
During Carnival, I highlighted one of Casanova's escapades in which he and his gang kidnapped a pretty young wife away from her husband, which gives you a taste of his personality in his own words:

Casanova & Friends - A Venice Carnival Seduction


In April 1746, at the age of 21, fate stepped in and flipped Casanova's life around. He was hired to play the violin during a three-day wedding celebration of two aristocratic families. On the third day, near the end of the festivities, just before dawn, he left to go home. He noticed a senator in a red robe reach into his pocket for a handkerchief and drop a letter. Casanova picked up the letter, caught up to the nobleman, and handed it to him just as he was about to get in his gondola. The senator thanked him, and offered him a ride home.

During the gondola ride, the senator suffered an apoplectic fit and seemed to be dying. Casanova stayed by his side when the senator was brought home to Palazzo Bragadin -- it turned out that the senator was the celebrated Matteo Bragadin, one of Venice's most eloquent statesmen. Two other patricians arrived; a doctor arrived and applied mercury to Bragadin's chest, and a priest was called to administer last rites.

The young Casanova, an obscure fiddler, refused to leave the senator because he felt that if he left Bragadin would die, but as long as he stayed, he would live. Around midnight, Bragadin could barely breathe. Casanova thought the doctor was a quack. He woke up the two other patricians, and washed the poisonous mercury ointment off Bragadin's chest. Immediately the senator improved.

Bragadin became convinced that Casanova had esoteric knowledge, and Casanova played the role to the hilt. The illustrious senator declared that he owed his life to Casanova, and offered to treat him as a son, giving him an apartment inside the palazzo, a servant and a stipend. And thus a legend was born.

Casanova Museum - Photo: Cat Bauer
Bragadin became his lifelong patron and introduced him to the aristocracy, a life that Casanova much preferred. He set off on his own Grand Tour, and joined the Freemasonry in Lyon, France, which provided him a network of connections. However, when he returned to Venice, his antics and escapades brought him to the attention of the Venetian inquisitors. He was arrested and thrown into the Piombi, or The Leads, the prison in Palazzo Ducale from which he made a daring escape.

He was not to return to Venice for eighteen years. During that time, he met everyone in Europe who was anyone, including Benjamin Franklin and Catherine the Great. He made and lost millions, and had numerous licentious and ardent love affairs. The affairs that fascinated him the most were the ones with intelligent women.

"Let anyone ask a beautiful woman without wit whether she would be willing to exchange a small portion of her beauty for a sufficient dose of wit. If she speaks the truth, she will say, 'No, I am satisfied to be as I am.' But why is she satisfied? Because she is not aware of her own deficiency. 

Let an ugly but witty woman be asked if she would change her wit against beauty, and she will not hesitate in saying no. Why? Because, knowing the value of her wit, she is well aware that it is sufficient by itself to make her a queen in any society."
---Giacomo Casanova 

Mayor Luigi Brugnaro & President Carlo Parodi
Carlo Parodi, President of the Casanova Foundation is passionate about his subject, and plans to invest a lot of time and money into further research of the seductive Venetian's life. Parodi said, "The museum is just the beginning. What we know about Casanova is only the tip of the iceberg. Most of the information is still hidden beneath the surface."

The Casanova Museum & Experience opened on April 2, 2018, the 293rd anniversary of Casanova's birthday. The sun was shining for the inauguration on April 6th, which had the blessing of Luigi Brugnaro, the Mayor of Venice. 

Garden at Palazzo Pesaro Papafava - Photo: Cat Bauer
The museum pulses with sound and dramatic lighting. It is divided into six different rooms, with seven different categories -- "Gambling in Society" segues through a hall:

  1. Birth, Family, Youth
  2. Travels, Society, Europe
  3. His Return to Venice, Prison, Escape
  4. Gambling in Society
  5. Poet and Writer
  6. Cinema
  7. Eighteenth Century Fashion: The Bedroom

Casanova Museum & Experience
Casanova started his famous 3,700-page memoir and autobiography, Histoire de ma vie or Story of My Life by 1789, written in French, at age 64 while he was working as a librarian to Count Joseph Karl von Waldstein in the Castle of Dux, Bohemia, now the Czech Republic. The first complete and authentic edition was published between 1960 and 1962. Prior to that, censored and pirated editions existed; wars got in the way, and the manuscript was hidden.

The memoir was originally titled The Story of My Life until the year 1797, but stopped abruptly in the middle of the year 1794. Today, the last four chapters are still missing, and it is not known if Casanova didn't finish it, or whether he destroyed the chapters himself, or whether the pages were destroyed by others, or whether they still exist and are still hidden. In 2010, The Story of My Life was bought for the French government for a record-breaking $9.6 million by an anonymous donor and is now at the National Library of France in Paris. It has been digitized, and you can read it for free.

Giacomo Casanova died on June 4, 1798 at the Castle of Dux. The whereabouts of his grave are unknown. Even though centuries have passed, the freedom and passion with which he lived his life still fascinates us today. Thanks to his memoir, Casanova has left plenty of breadcrumbs that we can follow.

"I will begin with this confession: whatever I have done in the course of my life, whether it be good or evil, has been done freely; I am a free agent."
---Giacomo Casanova  

Go to the Casanova Museum & Experience for more information.

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog
I will begin with this confession: whatever I have done in the course of my life, whether it be good or evil, has been done freely; I am a free agent.
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/giacomo_casanova_316376
I will begin with this confession: whatever I have done in the course of my life, whether it be good or evil, has been done freely; I am a free agent.
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/giacomo_casanova_316376
I will begin with this confession: whatever I have done in the course of my life, whether it be good or evil, has been done freely; I am a free agent.
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/giacomo_casanova_316376

3 comments:

  1. The world's first Casanova Museum & Experience challenges what, exactly, constitutes a museum. The six-room museum housed in Palazzo Pesaro Papafava, a Gothic-style palace overlooking the Misericordia Canal, is crammed with the high-impact story of a complex man whose very name still seduces us nearly 300 years after his birth. It combines virtual reality, a shadow installation and an audio guide narrated in a potpourri of languages, together with 18th century fashion, gambling and much more.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Only to show you that I really do read your posts, Casanova died in 1798, not 1978.:) Thanks for sharing his story!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Dear Helen,

    Thank you for catching that typo, though sometimes I wonder if I don't have number dyslexia:-) And thanks for reading my posts. I greatly appreciate knowing that you're out there!

    ReplyDelete