Italy’s Renowned Casanova
Casanova, the infamous 18th century Venetian womanizer and adventurer, epitomized Venice as the “Pleasure Capital” of the world. Venice, a must stop on the European “Grand Tour” of the nobility and landed gentry, was not only a haunt for pleasure but also a destination in the quest for the cultural legacy of classical antiquity and the Renaissance. Any eighteenth century man who could not speak with knowledge of Venice, Rome, or Paris was simply no gentleman. There was even a special name for the traveling Englishman in Italy. They were called “the milordi”.
Casanova earned his law degree from the University of Padua where he also learned to gamble, a pastime which became a lifelong passion. Ironically, Casanova was expected to become an ecclesiastical lawyer and he even studied moral philosophy!
When he was a teenager, Casanova lived in the Palazzo Malipiero, a grandiose palazzo where he learned about fine food and fine wines as well as how to conduct himself in high society. His carnal knowledge of the opposite sex was initiated by two sisters, Nanetta and Maria Savorgnan, when they were 14 and 16 years of age, respectively. Casanova claimed his lifetime pursuit of women was rooted in this early encounter.
Casanova worked for a powerful cardinal in Rome. He took the blame for the cardinal’s personal love affairs. He also composed love letters for yet another cardinal. These experiences might be the causes of his immoral lifestyle later on.
Casanova traveled across Europe as a violinist and a gambler and he became a Mason, which allowed him to meet some of the most powerful and interesting people of the time, such as Madame de Pompadour, Rousseau and Benjamin Franklin. He even had a career as a magician and an alchemist. In Venice and every city he visited, he had liaisons with innumerable ladies as well as many encounters with the law. He simultaneously moved from one sexual conquest to another and from coffeehouses to salons, talking about love and romance and ideas of the Enlightenment. Casanova once proclaimed, “Cultivating whatever gave pleasure to my senses was always the chief business of my life.” In the eighteenth century, Venice was a city of opulence and decadence. It was the Las Vegas of its day.
In Venice, Casanova was accused of and arrested for crimes against religion. He was put into the notorious Venetian prison in the Doge’s Palace, “The Leads”, where he became the only prisoner to ever escape. He later made amends with the Venetian state and became an official spy for the Venetian Inquisitors of State. Giacomo Casanova, also known as Chevalier de Seingalt, established his infamous reputation as one of the “greatest lovers” of the 18th century. His life was full of excitement which included duels, elaborate cons, espionage and diplomatic missions. Casanova ended up as a librarian in Bohemia’s Chateau of Dux where he wrote his autobiography, “Histoire de Ma Vie” (History of my Life), which became the most authentic source of European social life of the 18th century.
In the nineteenth century, another world famous womanizer, Lord Byron, chose Venice as the place for his self-imposed exile. Byron was one of the greatest English poets in the Romantic movement. He amused himself as did Casanova in the Venetian salons, coffeehouses and opera houses. His escapades, especially with married women, might have even exceeded Casanova’s. It was Lord Byron who coined the name “the Bridge of Sighs”, but he had only seen it from the outside while Casanova had walked on the inside. Lord Byron and Casanova together helped to give Venice its infamous reputation as the land of Don Juan.
“Quarantine” is an enforced isolation employed to prevent the spread of infectious diseases. It comes from the Italian word “quaranta”, which literally means forty days, the period ships were required to wait at anchor outside of Venice before the crews were allowed ashore during the Black Plague of the 14th century.