Showing posts with label D'Annunzio. Show all posts
Showing posts with label D'Annunzio. Show all posts

23 January 2018

Luisa Casati – heiress and muse

Outrageous marchioness saw herself as a living work of art

The Marchesa Casati photographed by Adolfo de Meyer in 1912
The Marchesa Casati photographed by
Adolfo de Meyer in 1912
The heiress, socialite and artist’s muse Luisa Casati, known for her outlandish dresses, exotic pets and hedonistic lifestyle, was born on this day in 1881 in Milan.

Casati, born into a wealthy background, married a marquis – Camillo, Marchese Casati Stampa di Soncino – when she was 19 and provided him with a daughter, Cristina, a year later, yet the marriage was never strong and they kept separate residences from an early stage.

It was not long before she tired of a life bound by formalities and the strict rules of etiquette and everything changed after she met the poet, patriot and lothario Gabriele D’Annunzio at a society hunt.

They became lovers and D’Annunzio introduced her to the world of writers and artists.  Tall, almost painfully thin and with striking looks, she became a creature of fascination for many young artists, who craved the attention of this eccentric aristocrat and the chance to paint her.

Their interest only encouraged the Marchesa Casati to indulge her taste for the extravagant, posing in ever-more outlandish dresses, embracing the culture of the Belle Époque. Her wealth enabled her to throw lavish parties and in 1910 she moved to Venice, taking up residence in the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni on the Grand Canal, the palace that now houses the Peggy Guggenheim Collection.

Casati in 1922 in a typically outrageous dress
Casati in 1922 in a typically
outrageous dress
There she created a fantastical lifestyle, assembling an extraordinary menagerie of pets that included a pair of cheetahs, a boa constrictor, white peacocks trained to perch on her window sills, a flock of albino blackbirds and greyhounds whose coats she dyed blue.

She staged enormous, elaborate parties, in which she paraded herself in increasingly ridiculous costumes, such as a dress made entirely of lightbulbs, which at one point gave her such a powerful electric shock she was thrown backwards across the room. 

Naturally shy, the Marchesa concentrated on making an impression through how she looked. She contrasted her fiery red hair with skin that she kept a deathly white, dropped belladonna in her eyes to dilate her pupils and framed them with black eye liner and false eyelashes.  She delighted in prowling the atmospheric Venetian streets after dark, with her jewel-collared cheetahs on leads, herself often naked beneath a cloak embroidered with emeralds.

Her parties, in Rome and Paris as well as Venice, may have seemed like merely excuses for decadence and excess, with opium and cocaine a common indulgence among some of the guests, but were affairs that she choreographed carefully, with clothes, décor and entertainment precisely planned according to whichever theme she chose.  She saw herself as a living work of art.

She was certainly an inspiration for works of art.  Giovanni Boldini, Paolo Troubetzkoy, Adolph de Meyer and Romaine Brooks were among those painters who were in her thrall, along with Futurists such as Fortunato Depero and Umberto Boccioni. She had affairs with several. Augustus John's portrait of her is one of the most popular paintings at the Art Gallery of Ontario.

The Marchesa with a greyhound, painted by Giovanni Boldoni
The Marchesa with a greyhound,
painted by Giovanni Boldoni
D'Annunzio is said to have based the character of Isabella Inghirami in Forse che si forse che no (Maybe yes, maybe no) on Casati, while the character of La Casinelle, who appeared in two novels by Michel Georges-Michel, was also inspired by her. Plays and movies were written featuring characters based on the Marchesa, with actresses such as Vivien Leigh and Ingrid Bergman in the lead roles.

She patronised a number of fashion designers. John Galliano, Karl Lagerfeld and Alexander McQueen created collections based on or inspired by her, while the British designers Georgina Chapman and Karen Craig had her in mind when they opened a fashion house called Marchesa.

It was all a far cry from a childhood lived in a palace in Milan and villas in Monza and on Lake Como. Her father was Alberto Amman, a giant in the textile industry who was made a Count by Umberto I and whose death when Luisa was 15 made her and her sister, Francesca, the two wealthiest young women in Italy.

But her extravagances did not come cheap.  By 1920 she was living on Capri at the Swedish psychiatrist Axel Munthe’s Villa San Michele and moved out of the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni in the mid-1920s.  By 1930 she had amassed personal debts of $25 million and was forced to auction off her possessions.

Pursued by creditors, she fled to London and lived in a one-bedroom flat. It was just around the corner from Harrods in hardly the least salubrious part of the city, yet placed her reduced circumstances by her standards.

Casati's grave in London
Casati's grave in London
She died in London in June 1957 at her address in Beaufort Gardens in Knightsbridge at the age of 76, having suffered a stroke.  She was buried at Brompton Cemetery, one of her few remaining friends having seen to it that she was dressed in a leopard skin and black outfit and false eyelashes, with one of her taxidermied Pekinese dogs at her side.

Among just a handful of mourners at her funeral was an elderly man who had travelled from Venice, where half a century earlier he had been her personal gondolier.  Her grave is marked with a small tombstone shaped like an urn draped in cloth, bearing the inscription ‘Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale her infinite variety’ from Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra.

An autumnal scene in Milan's Parco Nord
An autumnal scene in Milan's Parco Nord
Travel tip:

The Marchesa Casati’s married home in Milan was the Villa Casati, a stately mansion on the edge of what is now Parco Nord, a suburban park that was once an airfield, in Cinisello Balsamo, then a town in its own right, now more of a suburb. It is on the northern edge of the Milan metropolitan area, about 10km (6 miles) from the city centre. More than 75,000 people now live there.

The Grand Canal frontage of the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni
The Grand Canal frontage of the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni
Travel tip:

The Palazzo Venier dei Leoni is a palace on the Grand Canal in Venice once owned by a noble Venetian family of the 14th to 16th century, three of whom – Antonio Venier, Francesco Venier and Sebastiano Venier – were Doges.  It was bought by the American socialite and arts patron Peggy Guggenheim in 1949 and she lived there for 30 years, opening her collection of artworks to the public for the first time in 1951.  It is in the Dorsoduro quarter of Venice, near where it emerges into the lagoon, accessed from San Marco via the Accademia Bridge.

12 November 2017

Treaty of Rapallo 1920

Agreement solves dispute over former Austrian territory

Members of the German and Russian delegations meet at the Rapallo negotiations
Members of the German and Russian delegations meet
at the Rapallo negotiations
The Treaty of Rapallo between Italy and the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes was signed on this day in 1920 in Rapallo near Genoa in Liguria.

It was drawn up to solve the dispute over territories formerly controlled by Austria in the upper Adriatic and Dalmatia, which were known as the Austrian Littoral.

There had been tension between Italy and the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes since the end of the First World War when the Austro-Hungarian empire was dissolved.

Italy had claimed the territories assigned to it by the secret London Pact of 1915 between Italy and the Triple Entente.

The Pact, signed on 26 April 2015, stipulated that in the event of victory in the First World War, Italy was to gain territory formerly controlled by Austria in northern Dalmatia.

A dinner menu from the Grand Hotel in Genoa signed by members of the Russian and German delegations
A dinner menu from the Grand Hotel in Genoa signed by
members of the Russian and German delegations
These territories had a mixed population but Slovenes and Croats accounted for more than half.

The London Pact was nullified by the Treaty of Versailles at the end of the war after pressure from American President Woodrow Wilson. Therefore the objective of the Treaty of Rapallo two years later was to find a compromise.

At the end of discussions, Italy was granted parts of Carniola, the whole of the former Austrian Littoral, which included the important city of Trieste, the former Dalmatian capital of Zadar, known as Zara in Italian, and two small Dalmatian islands.

The city of Rijeka, known as Fiume in Italian, was to become an independent free state, ending the military occupation of Gabriele D’Annunzio’s troops. He was forced to evacuate Fiume after Italian forces bombed the city on December 27, 1920.

The Castle at Rapallo
The Castle at Rapallo
Travel tip:

Rapallo, which gives its name to the important 1920 treaty, is a seaside resort on the Riviera di Levante near Portofino and Genoa in Liguria. It has a castle overlooking the sea built in 1551 to repel pirate attacks, a 12th century church, the Basilica of Saints Gervasius and Protasius, two historic towers and a ruined monastery. Max Beerbohm, Ezra Pound and Jean Sibelius all chose to live in Rapallo for part of their lives.

The Piazza dell'Unita in Trieste looking out towards the sea
The Piazza dell'Unita in Trieste looking out towards the sea
Travel tip:

The beautiful seaport of Trieste officially became part of the Italian Republic in 1954 and is now the capital of the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region, one of the most prosperous areas of Italy. The city lies towards the end of a narrow strip of land situated between the Adriatic Sea and Slovenia and is also just 30 kilometres north of Croatia. Trieste had been disputed territory for thousands of years and after it was granted to Italy in 1920, thousands of the resident Slovenians left. The final border with Yugoslavia was settled in 1975 with the Treaty of Osimo. This is now the present day border between Italy and Slovenia. Today Trieste is a lively, cosmopolitan city and a major centre for trade and ship building.

3 October 2017

Eleonora Duse – actress

Performer 'became' the person she played with her whole being

Eleonora Duse began acting at the age of four.
Eleonora Duse began acting at the age of four.
Regarded as one of the greatest acting talents of all times, Eleonora Duse was born on this day in 1858 in Vigevano in Lombardy.

Often simply known as Duse, she was admired for her total assumption of the roles she played. In 1947, the film, Eleonora Duse, was made about her life.

She began acting at the age of four, joining her father and grandfather in the profession. She worked in a troupe with her family, travelling from city to city. Duse became famous for creating Italian versions of roles made famous by the actor Sarah Bernhadt.

Duse toured South America, Russia and the US, beginning the tours as an unknown actor, but leaving in her wake a general recognition of her genius.

She had an affair with the Italian poet, Arrigo Boito, who was the librettist for the composer, Giuseppe Verdi. They carried out their relationship in a clandestine manner, but the letters they exchanged have survived and they remained on good terms until Boito’s death in 1918.

Duse had a romantic relationship with the writer and poet Gabriele D'Annunzio
Duse had a romantic relationship with the
writer and poet Gabriele D'Annunzio
In 1895 Duse met the writer Gabriele D’Annunzio and they became involved romantically as well as professionally.

D’Annunzio wrote four plays for her but when he gave the lead in La Città Morta to Sarah Bernhardt instead of her, Duse ended her relationship with him.

Duse had a relationship with the dancer, Isadora Duncan and spent several weeks with her at Viareggio in Tuscany, shortly after Duncan’s two children drowned in a tragic accident.

Her biographer, Frances Winwar, recalled that Duse wore little make-up but made herself up "morally." She meant that she used her body to express her grief and joy.

Duse, who had a history of ill health, died of pneumonia at the age of 65 in the US while on a tour. Her body was returned to Italy and she was buried in Asolo in the Veneto at the cemetery of St Anna.

The beautiful Piazza Ducale in Vigevano
The beautiful Piazza Ducale in Vigevano
Travel tip:

Vigevano, where Duse was born, is a town in the province of Pavia in Lombardy. It is well-known for the beautiful Piazza Ducale in the centre of town. The piazza was completed in 1493 and was planned to form the forecourt to the castle built for Ludovico Sforza, who was Duke of Milan between 1452 and 1508.

Porticoes line the Via Browning in Asolo
Porticoes line the Via Browning in Asolo
Travel tip:

Asolo, where Duse was buried, is a town in the Veneto region, known as ‘the pearl of the province of Treviso’. It is famous for being the home of the English poet, Robert Browning. Duse lived there for part of her life and is now buried in the hillside cemetery of St Anna.

21 August 2017

Emilio Salgari – adventure novelist

Author’s heroes and stories are still part of popular culture

The novelist Emilio Salgari, photographed  in the early 20th century
The novelist Emilio Salgari, photographed
 in the early 20th century
Emilio Salgari, who is considered the father of Italian adventure fiction, was born on this day in 1862 in Verona.

Despite producing a long list of novels that were widely read in Italy, many of which were turned into films, Salgari never earned much money from his work. His life was blighted by depression and he committed suicide in 1911.

But he is still among the 40 most translated Italian authors and his most popular novels have been adapted as comics, animated series and films. Although he was not given the credit at the time, he is now considered the grandfather of the Spaghetti Western.

Salgari was born into a family of modest means and from a young age wanted to go to sea. He studied seamanship at a naval academy in Venice but was considered not good enough academically and never graduated.

He started writing as a reporter on the Verona daily newspaper La Nuova Arena, which published some of his fiction as serials. He developed a reputation for having lived a life of adventure and claimed to have explored the Sudan, met Buffalo Bill in Nebraska and sailed the Seven Seas. He actually met Buffalo Bill during his Wild West Show tour of Italy and never ventured further than the Adriatic.

He turned his passion for exploration and discovery into adventure fiction, signing his stories, Captain Salgari.

The cover of Salgari's 1900 novel, Le Tigri di Mompracem (The Tigers of Monpracem
The cover of Salgari's 1900 novel, Le Tigri
di Mompracem (The Tigers of Monpracem)
He once had to defend his pen name by fighting a duel, after his claim to the title was questioned.

Salgari married Ida Peruzzi, with whom he had four children, but despite his popularity in Italy and many countries abroad, he earned little money from his books and the family had to live hand to mouth.

In 1889 Salgari’s father committed suicide, then in 1903 Ida became ill and Salgari struggled to pay her medical bills. He became increasingly depressed and attempted suicide in 1910.

After Ida was committed to a mental hospital in 1911, Salgari took his own life by imitating the Japanese ritual of seppuku, disemboweling himself in the style of a samurai warrior.

He left a letter for his publisher, saying: ‘To you that have grown rich from the sweat of my brow while keeping myself and my family in misery, I ask only that from those profits you find the funds to pay for my funeral. I salute you while I break my pen. Emilio Salgari.’ One of his sons was also to commit suicide in 1933.

By the time he died, Salgari had written more than 200 adventure stories and novels set in exotic locations, inspired by reading foreign literature, travel magazines and encyclopediae.

His major series were The Pirates of Malaysia, The Black Corsair Saga and the The Pirates of Bermuda. He also wrote adventures set in the west of America. His heroes were pirates and outlaws fighting against greed and corruption.

Sergio Leone is said to have been a fan of Salgari's books, said to have been the inspiration for his Spaghetti Westerns
Sergio Leone is said to have been a fan of Salgari's books,
said to have been the inspiration for his Spaghetti Westerns
He opposed colonisation and his legendary hero, the pirate Sandokan, led his men in attacks against the Dutch and British fleets.

His books had been so popular that his publisher hired other writers to produce stories in Salgari’s name after his death, but no other Italian adventure writer was ever as successful as Salgari.

His style spread to films and television, with Sergio Leone’s outlaw heroes in his Spaghetti Westerns being inspired by Salgari’s characters.

Among the 50 film adaptations of Salgari’s novels is Morgan the Pirate, starring Steve Reeves.
His books were enjoyed by celebrities such as Federico Fellini, Pietro Mascagni, Umberto Eco and Che Guevara.

In the late 1990s, new translations of his novels began to be published and in 2001 the National Salgari Association was founded in Italy to celebrate his work.

It has been suggested that the first film adaptation of a Salgari novel was Cabiria, directed by Giovanni Pastrone, which bears many similarities to Salgari’s 1908 adventure novel, Carthage is Burning.

Federico Fellini was another fan
Federico Fellini was another fan
Gabriele D’Annunzio was billed as the official screenwriter but he came on board only after the film had been shot to change some of the names and captions.

Vitale di Stefano then brought Salgari’s pirates to the big screen in the early 1920s with a series of films that included The Black Corsair and The Queen of the Caribbean.

Salgari’s popular character, Sandokan, was played by Steve Reeves in Sandokan the Great and The Pirates of Malaysia. A Sandokan television miniseries later appeared throughout Europe starring Kabir Bedi in the title role.

Earlier this year, Neapolitan anti-mafia investigators announced plans to indict Francesco 'Sandokan' Schiavone, for the killing of a policeman in 1989. The gangster’s nickname shows Salgari’s character still has influence today, more than a century after his creator’s death.

The Arena at Verona, the city's most famous landmark
The Arena at Verona, the city's most famous landmark
Travel tip:

Emilio Salgari was born in Verona, which was made famous by another writer as the city of Romeo and Juliet. He began his writing career on the daily Nuova Arena newspaper, now called L’Arena, which was founded in 1866 before the Veneto became part of the Kingdom of Italy and is one of the oldest newspapers in Italy. Named after L’Arena, the Roman amphitheatre in Piazza Bra that hosts concerts and operas, the newspaper is now based in San Martino Buon Albergo, a small town just outside Verona.

The imposing entrance to the Cimitero Monumentale
The imposing entrance to the Cimitero Monumentale
Travel tip:

After his dramatic death, Emilio Salgari was laid to rest in the Cimitero Monumentale just outside the city walls of Verona in Piazzale del Cimitero. Designed by Giuseppe Barbieri in 1829, the cemetery has an impressive neo-classical façade with two carved lions on each side of the steps. These have prompted the Veronese to refer to the cemetery as Hotel dei Leoni, the hotel of the lions.