“A passport that belonged to Casanova?! How did you get such a wonderful thing?? That must be worth a fortune! I’m in complete shock. Are many of C’s papers and belongings in private collections? I don’t know much about these things, but I expected them to be in museums.”
This was my reaction when my wonderful friend Marco, who likes to surprise me with gifts from across the sea, recently sent me a copy of Giacomo Casanova’s passport. I overreacted, not surprisingly, so excited at the idea that I somehow thought Marco might be sending me the actual passport! Impossible, of course!
“I forgot to type the words ‘copy of,'” he replied to me. That makes quite a difference!
Here you can see the whole page. Nowadays, we think of a passport at a little book that contains our identifying information and then visas and stamps for the places we visit. While people in the past had booklets like these, they also needed to have a larger, full-page document authorizing their travel. This one allowed Casanova to travel from France to Flanders on August 27, 1757.
Here is a close up of the middle section, where Casanova’s looks are described:
Marco had typed it out for me, but, as I don’t speak French I took it to the French teachers at the high school where I work. Ruth worked out that Casanova was 32 years old and stood at roughly 5 feet 10 1/2 inches tall. (It says “thumbs” rather than inches, but we’re guessing it’s about the same thing.) I’ve read that Casanova was an anomaly for his era at that height. He had a long, full, bronzed face, a long and large nose (as his portraits attest to), a large mouth, and brown eyes. The word “Bazanne” is an unusual choice, but we think it comes from “Basane” and refers to bronzed skin coloring. Other reports on Casanova match this. In fact, his friend the Prince de Ligne once described Casanova as having an “African tint.”
But the next line is where we ran into trouble. The line reads, “Les yeux bruns a fleure de teste.” Brown eyes and a flower head? Oops, that’s my small knowledge of Italian getting in the way of trying to translate a language I don’t speak. Ruth wasn’t sure, so we consulted Hessen, who also consulted her brother, who she said knows all sorts of small details like this. But none of them had heard this phrase before. If any of my readers out there can help us out, please write to me and let me know!
What do you think–Does this description match the portrait painted by Anton Raphael Mengs?
By the way, the real passport is in Prague, in a branch of the National Museum.
Okay, so after I posted this entry, I heard from a couple friends who shared information with me. As I mentioned below in a comment, Marco wrote to say that “a fleure de teste” means bulging eyes.
Then I heard from my friend Adriano in Rome, who confirmed that definition with this forum:
les yeux à fleur de tête:
Adriano pointed out that there are similar phrases in Italian, such as “a fior di pelle” or “a fior d’acqua.” These refer to things that are just on the surface, here meaning on the surface of the skin or water, respectively. Or this interesting idiom: “Ho i nervi a fior di pelle” means nerves on edge = I’m extremely nervous. (Adriano adds, “The interesting thing is that we normally say ‘fiore’ but in these idioms we use the short form ‘fior.'”)
To connect it to the phrase on the passport, Adriano says, “In Italy we don’t say, like French people, ‘occhi a fior di testa’ = ‘eyes on the edge of the head,’ but the construction of the sentence is identical to French because the two languages are very similar.”
Thanks, everyone, for sharing this information and broadening my knowledge!
Adriano also sends this information, about one of the officials listed on the passport:
- Nicolas II Potier de Novion (1685-1720), conseiller au Parlement, comte de Novion, marquis de Grignon, mort en octobre 1720 au château de Courances. Epouse le 11 décembre 1708, Anne-Marguerite-Catherine de Gallard.
- François-Joachim Potier (1692-1757), marquis de Gesvres, fils de Bernard Potier, marquis de Gesvres. marié à Marie-Madeleine de La Verrière. Reçoit le gouvernorat de Paris en survivance de son père.
5↑ La duchesse de Créquy décrit son entrée chez la duchesse de La Ferté : « A peine étions nous assises, qu’on entendit ouvrir les deux battants de toutes les portes de l’enfilade avec un fracas inconcevable, et que nous vîmes apparaître une petite figure qu’on apportait sur un grand fauteuil de velours vert galonné d’argent. C’était une sorte d’image enluminée, grimaçante et peinturlurée comme un joujou de Nuremberg, avec la bouche en cœur et deux petits yeux languissants. Cette étrange figure était habillée d’une étoffe d’argent brodée en chenille verte, et, de plus, elle avait un gros bouquet de verveine à la main. Le fauteuil était porté par quatre géants, habillés en valets de pied ; il était environné par cinq ou six petits pages, les plus jolis du monde, et c’était visiblement des enfants de bonne maison, car ils avaient tous la croix de Malte ou celle de Saint-Lazare. Un de ces pages était chargé d’un coussin pour mettre sous les pieds (toujours vert et argent) ; un autre portait une grosse gerbe de verveine et de rhue verte, afin de purifier l’air ; et la petite figure était celle de Monseigneur François Potier de Blancmesnil de Tresme, Duc de Gèvres et gouverneur de Paris. ».