What does a Suspicious Husband taste like?
That’s what I had for lunch last weekend in the museum cafe. I finally made the trip to San Francisco to see the exhibit “Casanova: The Seduction of Europe” at the Legion of Honor Museum.
I used the exhibit as an excuse to gather the local Venetophiles who are working on an upcoming super secret special project with me. We chatted over lunch first, and Rita provided us all with rum-filled chocolates to energize us.
We then tackled the special exhibit, trying to stay together, but getting pulled first one way, then another, eager to see all the artwork on offer. Here are some highlights.
In a room full of Canaletto paintings, this one stood out for its story: JoAnn told us that only one of these boats exists now, and a crowd funding project is raising money to restore it.
Details from these other Canaletto paintings show fabric vendors in the Piazza, visitors from other countries, and a few of the many Venetian boats.
This Canaletto painting of the Grand Canal at the Rialto Bridge contains a small house that mystified us until we read that it was a hut where lottery tickets were sold.
Cecelia suggested that I add this lovely piece to my “gondola stuff” collection at home. Sadly, it wouldn’t fit in my purse.
Quotes like these were placed high on the walls to enhance our understanding of Casanova’s world. This one made me think of the time Casanova had his jailor in the Leads serve up a steaming dish of macaroni, delivered atop a book that hid the metal pike he used to dig through the ceiling of his cell.
One room was filled with serving dishes, tureens, platters, and the like. The one shaped like a boar’s head would put me off my meal.
Two paintings by Casanova’s brother Francesco were included. Though he’s often known for his battle scenes, these two show the dangers of travel in the 18th century.
Seeing this painting excited me (no, get your mind out of the gutter!). I remember the story that Casanova claimed he had seen a painting like this, quite possibly this exact one by Francois Boucher, which inspired him to commission a portrait of Marie-Louise O’Murphy resting in the same pose. He delivered the painting to King Louis XV, and, as the story goes, the King was so smitten that he made the girl his new mistress.
This painting by Jean-Marc Nattier was purchased by the San Francisco Museums of Fine Art for this exhibit. It shows “Thalia, Muse of Comedy,” who seems to capture so many elements of this age–costumes and masks and hidden identities, playfulness, sumptuous finery, and of course the theater. I was surprised that the museum didn’t comment that Casanova once wrote a newsletter titled the “Le Messager de Thalie” when he was manager of the Teatro Sant’Angelo in Venice in 1780.
A case was filled with snuffboxes. Casanova wrote of these often. They were not only used to carry snuff, but were often given as gifts between friends, lovers, and diplomats. Portraits, also known as miniatures, often adorned them, as you can see from the portrait of Catherine the Great on #7. Casanova wrote of using snuffboxes as a form of his wealth; he carried them on his travels and could pawn or sell them when he needed cash.
These two portraits by Jean-Marc Nattier were some of the show’s highlights for me. They depict Manon Balletti, who Casanova was engaged to marry, and her mother Zanetta, who Casanova always referred to as Sylvia, her stage name. See the resemblance? C writes about this family often and stayed with them in various parts of Europe. The exhibit’s information cards claimed that Manon was the woman Casanova probably most regretted not marrying, but I think we could have a very lively debate about this question! In fact, I’m ready to invite everyone over to a long meal with much wine to discuss which woman Casanova loved best. Better yet, let’s meet up in Venice….
The other portrait that excited me was this one by Claude Arnulphy: “Adélaïde de Gueidan and Her Sister at the Harpsichord.” Though the true identity of Casanova’s great love Henriette was never revealed, one theory contends that she was Adélaïde, pictured here as a teenager, standing behind her sister. C’s descriptions of the great love he shared with Henriette are some of my favorite passages in his memoirs, so to see the portrait in person, rather than only in books, was quite a treat.
One room outlined C’s time in London. Here you can gather his opinion about the food and tavern life there.
A number of recreations highlight the clothing of the time. This one also displays a card game in a typical drawing room. I liked the detail that the standing man has just overturned his chair. Did he catch his opponent cheating?
My mom Rita and Cecelia appreciating another painting.
A room titled “In the Company of Great Minds” featured portraits of some of the famous people Casanova met in his travels. Born a humble son of actors, Casanova later found entry into the homes of some of the greatest people in 18th century Europe.
We all needed a rest after two and a half hours appreciating the art!
Our merry band of nine were all seduced by this exhibit. Marco Zecchin is an architectural photographer. He and I first met when we were selling our books side by side at an Italian Heritage Center event. Marco’s family comes from Venice, and he tells me stories of recent visits to his uncle and cousins there, and his family home on the mainland. Christine Volker is the author of Venetian Blood and a recent contributor to my interview series “Venice, My Muse.” Cecelia Pierotti is a violinist and music teacher who has the rare good fortune to house sit in Venice for one of the city’s celebrated singers. Rita Bottoms has written a number of books of poetry and vignettes about her time spent in Venice; look for Riffs and Ecstacies or Venice: Writing Under the Influence from Edizionidamocle.
At the end of the exhibit, we lost JoAnn and Braeda and sadly were not able to hug them goodbye. JoAnn Locktov is the creator of the series of books Dream of Venice and Dream of Venice Architecture. Her new book of black and white photos is now available.
I spoke to the bookstore folks (again) requesting that they carry my book Seductive Venice: In Casanova’s Footsteps, but again they declined, though one clerk told me that many patrons have been asking for more books about Casanova’s life. The store is selling Laurence Bergreen’s recent biography; Laurence used my research in his writing, and I got to meet him a couple years ago at the UCLA Casanova Conference.
Here I am holding Bergreen’s book and the exhibit’s catalogue, which also lists my book, the edition published by Supernova Edizioni in Venice. Curator Frederick Ilchman told me he carried my book around Venice as he followed my walks, dreaming up this very exhibit. If you’re in the US and want to read my book, you can still purchase it via my website.
So back to that original question: What does as Suspicious Husband taste like? Asian noodles over lettuce, with ginger, chili flakes, and a light dressing. Casanova would have been mystified.
This exhibit will remain at the Legion of Honor until May 28 and then moves to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, July 1 to October 18. I hope you get to see it! But if not, I hope this tour gave you a good taste of Casanova’s 18th century.