In Casanova’s Footsteps: Rome–Barbaruccia’s House

Last time I took you to Rome, we visited the Spanish Embassy, where Casanova had an apartment for a short time. If he were to walk out the front door of the embassy, he could cross the piazza to building #31. This was where he took French lessons. Abate Gama advised C to learn French as soon as possible and then directed him to a Roman lawyer named Dalacqua who lived in #31.

Initially, Dalacqua gave the lessons, but Casanova tells us in his memoirs, “My French teacher had a pretty daughter named Barbara; the first times I went to take a lesson she was always present, and indeed she sometimes gave it to me herself, and even better than her father.” Thereafter this first mention, C refers to her as “Barbaruccia,” the diminutive of Barbara. “A handsome youth who also came for lessons was her lover,” C adds. C and this young man sometimes spent time visiting away from Barbaruccia’s house, and C found them both quite pleasant. But he was to rue this friendship.

IMG_3317 2

House #31, where C went for French lessons, is the yellow house in the middle.

You see, Dalacqua disapproved of the young man, as he had no real income to be able to wed and support a wife. He was banished and C eventually ran into him and learned of his grief at being separated from Barbaruccia. Then C writes, “It was Barbarucci who gave it to me, for her father was seriously ill.” Gave her what?! “As I was leaving she slipped a letter into my pocket, then ran away so I should not have time to refuse it.” Casanova had a premonition at this point that he should not get involved, and he should probably have followed that hunch. He unhappily became the go between for the lovers until Barbarucci’s father hired a new maid who then helped out the couple.

Casanova tried to stay out of it all, as he was settling into secretarial work for Abate Gama and was engaging in a love affair with a woman named Lucrezia. Then one fateful night, the young man comes to C’s apartment with a young abate–only C discovers that it is Barbaruccia in disguise. He fears that someone saw them enter the embassy and he’ll be ruined, but the young man assures him they are safe. The young man and Barbaruccia will elope that night with her maid and go to Naples.

However, as Barbaruccia leaves her building, #31, she stops to adjust her shoe and is delayed behind her maid. Just then, sbirri surround the carriage where the young man and the maid are waiting, and a terrified Barbaruccia runs into the embassy and then to C’s room. C wants her to leave but is undone by her tears: “…she burst into sobs for which I can find no comparison,” he writes. “Realizing the full horror of her situation, I thought it far worse than mine; but that did not prevent me from seeing that I was on the verge of ruin, guiltless though I was.”

“Do you know, my dear reader, the power of tears falling from the lovely eyes of a young, pretty girl who is respectable and unfortunate? Their power is irresistible,” he continues. “…What tears! Three handkerchiefs were soaked with them in half an hour. I have never seen tears shed so uninterruptedly.”

Finding that he doesn’t have the heart to turn her away, C lets Barbaruccia stay the night. The next day he hides her on the roof. It has become known that an abate snuck into the building the previous night, and the place is in a frenzy. C must feign no knowledge of the story. But he manages to tell Barbaruccia that her only hope is to throw herself on the mercy of Cardinal Acquaviva. He instructs her to write a note in French to him, that reads, “I am, Monsignore, a decent girl disguised as an abate. I implore Your Eminence to permit me to tell you my name in person. I trust in your magnanimity to save my honor.”

The plan worked. The Cardinal kept Barbaruccia in his rooms and protected her from the sbirri and her angry father. Everyone believed that C had played a role in this story, as they knew her father was his French teacher. But C was resolute in his denials, even when Abate Gama said, “Everyone is certain…that you knew about the whole affair and they naturally think that the poor child spent the night in your room. I admire the prudence you demonstrated in your behavior towards me yesterday.” (Abate Gama actually lived in this same house, #31, in 1745-46 and 1750-51.)


“Portrait of a Capuchin Friar” by Giacomo Ceruti, c. 1740

Rome gossiped about this affair for days, and though C denied any involvement, people were convinced that he had helped the girl admirably. Alas, any involvement with an elopement brought ignominy onto Casanova, and this could not be countenanced by his mentor Father Giorgi, who told C so. Then Cardinal Acquaviva, who held such a high position in the Church and in Rome, called C in to see him at the beginning of Lent. The scandal had died down, and Barbaruccia had been sent to a convent. Still, he told Casanova, “…though I scorn all talk of the kind, I nevertheless cannot remain entirely indifferent to it.”

The Cardinal told C he must leave Rome.

Casanova chose to go to Constantinople, and Cardinal Acquaviva gave him money and letters of introduction to ease him on his way. He actually thought that C had done the right thing by Barbaruccia, but C could not remain in the city and near to these clergymen after this affair.

Casanova was not to make his fortune in Rome. And this all took place here at #31 and the Spanish Embassy in 1744.

screenshot #31 piazza di spagna


About seductivevenice

Teacher, writer, traveler, dancer, reader, photographer, gardener.
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