In Casanova’s Footsteps: Rome–Palazzo Ottoboni-Fiano

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Facade of the Palazzo Ottoboni-Fiano

This is the site of the Palazzo Ottoboni-Fiano, at the Piazza di San Lorenzo in Lucina address #4, which Casanova visited in 1770. He had received a letter of introduction written by the Venetian nobleman Signor Zulian to his sister, the Duchess of Fiano, who lived there. Lucrezia Ottoboni-Buoncompagni-Ludovisi (née Zulian) had married the Duke of Fiano in 1758.  When Casanova presented his letter of introduction and first met the Duchess, he explains, seemingly with admiration, “She was an extremely ugly woman, not at all rich, but with an excellent heart; having very little wit, she had taken the course of being amusingly malicious to prove that she had a great deal of it.”

The Duchess hosted sumptuous dinner parties, with seven to eight intimate guests each time. “I was not admitted until a week or ten days later,” Casanova writes, “when, all of them having met me, they seemed to value my company.” The Prince of Santa Croce served as the Duchess’ cavalier servante, her escort and admirer (a common practice in Italy at that time); Casanova writes that “the Prince was a handsome man, elegant in his manners and with a sufficiency of intelligence….” The Prince’s wife was thus served by Cardinal de Bernis, whom Casanova knew well from his time in Venice and again in Paris. But we’ll come back to that story later.

In his memoirs Casanova says that the Duchess, upon their third meeting, told Casanova that her husband was impotent, “babilano” in Roman dialect, he explains (though Trask’s footnote states that the term is borrowed from Babilano Pallavicini, a Genovese man whose marriage was annulled for his impotence). “But she did not say it in a a way to make me conclude that she did not love him or that she wanted to present herself as a woman to be pitied,” Casanova added, “for it appeared that she said it only to make fun of a confessor she had who had threatened to refuse her absolution if she continued to do everything she could to make him potent.” This fun witticism shows how quickly Casanova was allowed into the Duchess’ confidence and treated to her sense of humor.

All of these characters and more attended dinners at the Palazzo Ottoboni-Fiano. It’s also known as the Palazzo Peretti Ottoboni Fiano, adding the previous owner’s name, or later the Ottoboni-Boncompagni, displaying heraldic symbols of the two-headed eagle and the dragon for those two families.

Another view of the Palazzo on the day I visited it in 2018.

(Quotes from Casanova’s History of My Life, translated by Willard Trask, Vol. 12, Ch. 1.)

About seductivevenice

Teacher, writer, traveler, dancer, reader, photographer, gardener.
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3 Responses to In Casanova’s Footsteps: Rome–Palazzo Ottoboni-Fiano

  1. Fascinating. Mille grazie.

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