In Casanova’s Footsteps: Rome–Palazzo Madama / The Bargello


Etching of the Palazzo Madama by Giuseppe Vasi, 1754.

This entry relates to the episode when Casanova met Betty and Sir B.M. on his way to Rome. See previous entries about Palazzo Decarolis for more of the story.

“The Bargello in Rome is a person who can do a great deal, who takes on all sorts of business, and who is very expeditious when he sees clearly and when his clients are not afraid to spend money.” The Bargello was a basically the Chief of Police in Rome, and Casanova offered this explanation when meeting with Rome’s Bargello in 1760. Casanova availed himself of the Bargello’s services immediately upon arriving in the city with Sir B.M. and Betty to bring justice against Count de l’Etoile who had so wrongly used the beautiful Betty.

“What we demand,” he told the Bargello, “is perfectly just, and you see that we could obtain it by the ordinary legal procedures; but, being in a hurry, I have come to ask you to take the whole matter in hand, and, to help you to look into it speedily, I offer you the fifty scud which we shall save in court costs.” Casanova explained in his memoirs that the Bargello lived in ease and “ceremony” due to such offerings.

Casanova gave the Bargello a bill of exchange that he believed was fraudulent, plus he arranged to turn over the Count’s trunk and letters. It turns out that the Bargello was already aware of this scheming character–where he was staying and that he had already visited the customs office to try to retrieve his trunk. Casanova adds, “He said that the thing was grave enough to send him to Civitavecchia (to the galleys), if we would give a hundred scud instead of fifty.”

The Bargello worked swiftly, informing Casanova and Sir B.M. that their prey had been imprisoned later that day. then the next day, “The Bargello had provided us with an advocate,” Casanova wrote, “who at once made out a document in which he summoned the prisoner to pay the costs of the journey and of his arrest, and a pecuniary compensation to the young woman he had deceived, unless he could prove within six weeks, on the testimony of the French Ambassador, that his title of Count was genuine; meanwhile he was to remain in prison.” Am I the only reader who bridles at this show of privilege? Why should man of rank be released when a “commoner” would have to fulfill his prison term?

Sir B.M. asked to speak with the actor “Count de l’Etoile,” actually wagering that his bill of exchange was a fraud. Various difficulties prevented this from being arranged, however, and Casanova joined Sir B.M. and Betty on a trip to Naples where they visited Lord Baltimore.

The Bargello most likely had his offices in the Governatorate of Rome, the same place as Rome’s Governor. The offices had been located in the Palazzo del Governo Vecchio. Before 1755, this would have been in Palazzo Nardini, but Pope Benedict XIV relocated the offices to the Palazzo Madama, which is where Casanova likely met with the Bargello in 1760. The palace is located on Piazza Madama, not far from Piazza Navona.  At the time of Vasi’s etching, the square hosted an open air market, selling wine in particular, which is evidenced by the small cart you can see in the lower left corner of Vasi’s drawing.


Contemporary photo of Palazzo Madama by Roberto Piperno.

(Quotes from C’s memoirs come from the translation by W. Trask, Vol. 11, Ch. 9, plus the notes. Research  on the Bargello and the Palazzo del Governo Vecchio plus information and photos of the Palazzo Madama come from with the assistance of Roberto Piperno.)

About seductivevenice

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