In March, news broke about a rare find–a notebook written by Giacomo Casanova when he was six years old. It’s being referred to as the quaderno amongst the Casanovists I’ve been talking to. I didn’t post anything earlier because I waited to speak with some of the experts to learn more information.
The quaderno was discovered by Luigi Pistore, the new director of the new Accademia Giacomo Casanova di Venezia. According to this article from a newspaper in Padua, it was found in a Venetian home among other papers. It was purchased by Giuseppe Bignami, who is a collector and owns other casanoviana, including one of the portraits. He authenticated the quaderno, he said, by comparing it to other samples of Casanova’s handwriting and dates the papers at 1731. It is believed that C’s grandmother, Marzia Farussi, oversaw his education at this time, as C’s father was dead and his mother often traveled as an actress. Here’s another article that also discusses the quaderno and mentions the existence of C’s desk where he sat to write his memoirs.
I know a few folks who have seen the quaderno already, and I’ll go check it out this summer. From what I’ve seen, it consists of three pages, one of which shows the name “Giacomo Girolamo Casanova” copied out numerous times in large handwriting, like a child practicing writing his own name. Another page shows letters of the alphabet.
I shared this video a few posts back, but I’ll link it here again, as it pans across the pages of the quaderno. Visitors to the museum are not allowed to take photos of the pages, though I know that the director may grant access in special cases.
These pages raise many questions, besides just those of their origin. The biggest question I have is about Casanova’s age at the supposed time of this writing. I’ve heard that he was six when he produced these pages, though I’m unsure just how they determined this. But Casanova reports that he was an ill child, with many nosebleeds that often left him incapacitated and unable to learn. It wasn’t until age eight, he writes in his memoir, that he became a more sensible child after his grandmother snuck him away to visit a “witch” on Murano. Only after that did he begin schooling in earnest and develop his reasoning faculties under the guidance of Antonio Gozzi. Of course, we only have C’s own memoirs to go on, so we must trust his description of his childhood and what others said about him at this age, which we also know only through his memoir.
About his childhood, Casanova relates, “And now I come to the beginning of my existence as a thinking being. In the beginning of August in the year 1733 my organ of memory developed. I was then eight years and four months old. I remember nothing of what may have happened to me before that time.” He then tells the story of his visit to the “witch” on Murano, and adds that before this visit “My disease had made me dull, and very poor company; people felt sorry for me and left me alone; everyone supposed that I would not live long. My father and mother never spoke to me.”
And here’s a particularly interesting detail. Casanova adds that after this incident, “…my memory developed and in less than a month I learned to read.” This implies to me that he didn’t read before this. I suppose it’s possible that he could write his name and the alphabet without being able to read, though taken with the other facts of his early life, it seems unlikely. Not long after this, Casanova’s father died, and C was sent to board in Padua and begin his education.
An interesting fact about the houses where Casanova grew up. There is a plaque on Calle Malipiero stating that Casanova was born in a house on that street. As I write in my book, and based on the research of Helmut Watzlawick, it’s more likely that C was born in his grandmother’s house around the corner (see picture above), though his family later lived in the house on Calle Malipiero. But this “house” on Calle Malipiero has changed dramatically; according to the city plans that Watzlawick looked at, the interiors of many of these edifices were gutted and renovated so that the “houses” are no longer in their original format. If this quadernowere found in a house in Venice, it’s likely it would be a family house, because why would anyone else keep some random papers of a sick child? It’s not reported which house the papers were found in, but it’s probably not the Malipiero house.
I know basically nothing about certifying the authenticity of a document. I leave that to the experts. But I thought I’d share some of the details we know of C’s life in light of this new document.