In Casanova’s Footsteps: Rome–Villa Albani-Torlonia

To the east of the Tiber, outside the old city walls, past the Villa Borghese, lies the Villa Albani-Torlonia, known in Casanova’s era as simply the Villa Albani. Cardinal Alessandro Albani had it built, beginning in 1747, by architect Carlo Marchionni. Johann Winckelmann was involved in the planning because he was working with Albani to house an enormous collection of antiquarian marbles–busts, sculptures, and sarcophagi from ancient Rome and Greece. The Villa, which can today be visited by appointment, calls its collection “the most prestigious private collection of Greek-Roman sculptures in the world.”

Cardinal Alessandro Albani

In 1760 Casanova reunited with his brother Giovanni, who introduced him to people in higher society. After visiting the Palazzo Frascara (see details in a separate post), Giovanni and Johann Winckelmann accompanied Casanova to the Villa Albani “to see the Cavaliere Mengs, who was living there, being engaged in painting a ceiling” (Vol. 7, Ch. 8, p. 182). That ceiling became the famed “Il Parnaso” (seen below). Willard Trask tells us that Mengs had been made a Knight of the Order of the Golden Spur in 1758 “probably in recompense for 2 portraits of Clement XIII which he painted” (note 51). The commendation was quite prestigious in the 16th century but apparently was later handed out liberally until it lost some of its prestige. Still, it offered a recognition of Mengs’ artistic contributions. Casanova doesn’t say any more about their visit, so we’ll have to be content imagining what they saw by viewing some pictures of the grounds and artwork instead; enjoy this video tour as well.

Gated entrance to the villa
Drawing of the Villa Albani by Giovanni Battista Piranesi
“Il Parnaso” by Anton Rafael Mengs, painted from 1760-61, the same period when Casanova visited the villa

(Details about the villa come from its website: Images are from Google Maps, Wikipedia, and


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Voices from Venice Readings — Book Your Place!

You may remember from an earlier post my announcement about joining the Guild of St George, an organization inspired by John Ruskin and committed to sustaining the environment, traditional crafts, and more. I am particularly interested in their work regarding Venice, and I’m excited to share with you their upcoming series of events. Read on for this message from the Guild:

St George slays the dragon

Booking is now open for VOICES FROM VENICE, the sequence of four monthly readings from Ruskin’s writings about Venice, being hosted by the Guild between December 2021 and March 2022, culminating in a one-day public conference on 2 April 2022. The readings have been conceived by Peter Burman and Clive Wilmer and a wonderful roster of other speakers. Follow the links below to access full details of each Reading on Eventbrite, where you can reserve your free place(s). Do please share news of these with anyone you think would be interested; the more the merrier.

Friday 10 December 2021 5.30pm (UK time)
Readers Clive Wilmer & Peter Burman
Introduced by Peter Burman

Friday 7 January 2022 5.30pm (UK time)
Readers Arjun Jain & Anastasia Dowluru
Introduced by Mark Cleaver

Friday 11 February 2022 5.30pm (UK time)
Readers Michelle Lovric & Joseph Mydell
Introduced by Mark Frost 

Friday 11 March 2022 5.30pm (UK time)
Readers Emma Sdegno & Geraldine Ludbrook
Introduced by Rachel Dickinson 

Venice is wealthy in so many ways – the diversity of its inhabitants, its architectural and artistic treasures, its gardens and its food culture, its location in the precious ecosystem of the lagoon, its strong craft traditions – yet many pressures combine to make the lives of the resident community difficult to sustain and moreover put the cultural and social heritage of Venice at risk. A new kind of thoughtful tourism (such as Ruskin himself practised) is needed – gentle, slow and sustainable. A new kind of economic system is also needed, one that respects the fact that Venice is a living community rather than a stage set for visitors; and one that resets the damaging over-exploitation of the earth’s resources and provides for a more sustainable future for the city and the Venetian Lagoon. Before the end of the year we will share more details about the one day online conference, which will feature a wide diversity of voices, to be held on 2 April 2022.

Ruskin was also an adept painter

Some of the speakers at the conference will be familiar voices, as they wrote for my 2020 anthology Venice Rising: Aqua Granda, Pandemic, Rebirth. I’ll keep you posted as the list becomes available.

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Dear Venice, Wish You Were Here #16

Okay, employ a good British accent as you read this postcard sent to London. It was apparently sent from the Ferrovia station in Venice, but the text of the postcard references spending the day in Milan, so I’m not sure how that worked out. I try to imagine what travel was like in 1922 when this was sent. Though travel today, especially during a pandemic, requires some fortitude, I imagine that travel nearly one hundred years ago was a lot more challenging.

As best as I can make out, here’s the text of the postcard:

Dear Jeanie–

Venice was simply fascinating and I wish all of you could have been with us there. The last night (yesterday) we were there, there was a beautiful full moon, which we couldn’t resist so we went out in a gondola for an hour. It was so lovely and quiet. Sometimes we could hear singing across the water and it sounded heavenly. We came to Milan today & saw the cathedral. Tomorrow we go to Geneva. I hope you’re getting along splendidly.

Love, _____ (illegible)

This postcard is so incredibly evocative! The full moon, the late night gondola ride, the singing. My heart aches to think of it! Thank you, mysterious British person, for recording this brief moment in your life so that I could daydream about it in 2021!

Are you, like me, wondering who Laura “Jeanie” is and why she was left behind? Who are the “we” who are enjoying this lovely sojourn in Italy? When I looked up the address, it seems to be quite far north of London proper. Maybe my British readers can provide some context. The Drive is next to a patch of open space, and Google doesn’t even zoom in close enough to show the buildings there. So we’ll have to sit with some mystery regarding this location.

Is this the bridge in front of the Carmini church in Dorsoduro? It may say “Carmini” under the black ink text, but it’s hard to tell. The bridge and the campo on the left are a fairly close match, but I can’t figure out the church tower on the right. Any ideas?

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Molecules / Molecole

I heard about this film Molecole (Molecules) about Venice as the pandemic began. It’s streaming for free (in the US) until Sunday evening, hosted by the Istituto Italiano di Cultura in Washington DC. I hope you get a chance to watch it!

The director, Andrea Segre, muses about his relationship with his father, and being alone, and Venice as it empties out. He intersperses his own footage with his father’s films from the 1950s. After you watch it, please leave a comment trying to describe the mood that the film creates.

An image of Segre as a child, with his father

Segre is rowed around Venice by Elena Almansi, a rowing teacher with Row Venice–and a contributing author to my anthology Venice Rising: Aqua Granda, Pandemic, Rebirth. Elena was wonderful to work with as she wrote her chapter, but I still haven’t met her! So it was an added bonus to see her in this film.

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Venetian Emoji #9

What do you think, folks? Which emotion is this Venetian emoji expressing?

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Street Art / Venetian Stylin’ #3

The rats are not only in the canals–they’ve also infiltrated the art scene.

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Where Am I?

I haven’t posted one of these in a long time! But this past August I found myself inside a gorgeous building. Can you guess where I am?

The view from the terrace
The view out the window of the sitting room
View from the top of the stairs overlooking the garden.
View from the garden.
Interior sitting room.
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Dear Venice, Wish You Were Here #15

Most of my postcards are quite old, but this one is more recent (in comparison to the others). 1981 doesn’t seem that long ago to me because I was a teenager then! But to many people I guess it’s still vintage! (What does that say about me??)

The photo quality certainly looks more like the ’70s or ’80s. You can see from the banner hanging on the Rialto Bridge that the Palazzo Ducale was showing an exhibit of Venetian “vedutisti” or landscape painters. I always choose postcards that include gondolas. I wonder if any of the gondoliers pictured here are still alive? The guy on the right looks a little like one of the gondoliers I know, but maybe it’s his father!

I asked a couple of my students from Germany to help me decipher and translate the writing on the back. We believe it says “Aus Jesolo senden liebe” or “From Iesolo sending love.” The next bit is near inscrutable. What do you all make of it?

For the postscript, my students thought it said, in translation, “My card from Paris in May …something something… Here there are many nice people.” “Menschen” is underlined. Is there a secret meaning there? Maybe the sender met a particularly nice man? I can’t make out who the sender is, so it’s hard to make sense of the message let alone any coded message!

This postcard went to Vienna, Austria, to the Family of E. Dobner on Anzengruber strasse 54. According to Google, this is what the place looks like.

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In Casanova’s Footsteps: Rome–Palazzo Frascara

Image of the Palazzo Frascara from Google maps

When Casanova returned to Rome in 1760, he found his brother Giovanni living there and studying under the painter Rafael Mengs. Giovanni took him to visit old friends from his first trip to Rome, and introduced him to new people as well. “My brother then took me to call on Signora Cherufini, and this time I enter a house of the highest fashion,” Casanova wrote. “He introduces me, the lady receives me in the Roman manner, I find her charming and her daughters even more so; but their swains of every description are too numerous, there is a glitter which annoys me, and the young ladies, one of whom was as pretty as a Cupid, seem too polite to everyone. I am asked an interesting question, I reply in a manner which should inspire a second, and I am not asked it. I do not care. I see that in this house I should lose something of my intrinsic value, and that the reason for it was the rank of the person who had brought me there.”

Clearly this visit, though at such a fashionable and noble house, was not sitting well with Casanova; he didn’t feel he was being accorded the respect he deserved.

He continued, “I hear an abate saying to another who is looking at me: ‘He is Casanova’s brother.’ I tell him he should have said it was Casanova who was my brother, and he replies that it makes no difference. An abate says that it does make a difference, we talk, and we become good friends. It was the celebrated Abate Winckelmann, who twelve years later was murdered in Trieste” (Vol. 7, Ch. 8, p. 181).

Portrait of Winkelmann by Mengs (Wikipedia)

So the visit was not a waste, considering that Casanova met Johann Winkelmann, known for his important work on ancient art, including the book The History of Art in Antiquity. Winkelmann, born in Germany, came to Rome and, though some claimed he was pagan, he joined the Catholic Church. He gained access to papal libraries, which aided his research. Winkelmann was friends with Raphael Mengs, and there is an infamous tale of a fresco painted by either Mengs or Giovanni Casanova, meant to deceive Winkelmann, that caused a lot of grief for all three of them, particularly Giovanni. But our man Giacomo enjoyed Winkelmann’s company and also remarks on his murder in Trieste in 1768.

Casanova was also introduced to Cardinal Albani, who, upon learning that Casanova was the man who had famously escaped the Leads in Venice, Casanova added, “he is amazed that I have the effrontery to come to Rome, where at the least request from the Venetian State Inquisitors an ordine santissimo would oblige me to leave” (182). Casanova felt insulted and jibed back at the Cardinal, leaving soon after this exchange. “I never again set foot in the Casa Cherufini,” he declared.

Countess Francesca Cherufini (née Gherardi) (1709 – 1778) hosted a literary salon, “among the most brilliant literary and social functions in Rome,” Willard Trask tells us (Vol. 7, Ch. 8, note 43). These soirees also included musical entertainments. Though she was married to Count Ranuccio Cherufini (or Cheruffini, depending on the source), at this time the Countess was the mistress of Cardinal Alessandro Albani. The daughters that Casanova mentions were Vittoria and Maddalena Cherufini; according to Art in Rome in the Eighteenth Century, these two daughters were fathered by Albani (not the Countess’ husband) and Albani was also their godfather.

The Countess lived at Piazza Pilotta 3, currently home to the Pontificia Università Gregoriana, which hosts a Gregorian choir as well. Trask writes that her home was known as the Palazzo Frascara (or Palazzo Ciogni Frascara); “Frascara” is engraved above the doors.

Below: from Art in Rome in the 18th century, p. 92, a few more details about the Countess.

(Research from Casanova’s History of My Life, edited by Willard Trask, Vol. 7, Ch. 8. Images from Google Maps and support provided by Adriano Contini. Additional research from Art in Rome in the 18th Century.)

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When Venice Lives: It Looks Like This–Venezia Stampa

The entrance to Venezia Stampa. Notice that it’s two steps down, which led to worse flooding in 2019.

Inspired by Monica Cesarato’s Live in Venice Week last May, when I went to Venice in August I sought out a number of the artisans that she and her team interviewed. After watching this interview video, I found my way to Venezia Stampa, located in Campo Santa Maria Mater Domini. The shop is run by Luca Valonta and Michele Costantini who have resurrected vintage printing presses to carry on Venice’s rich tradition of printing since Aldus Manutius ran the Aldine Press in the 1400s.

Michele Costantini has been working in printing for 31 years, though he has a diploma as a Tour Operator and also studied piano at the Venice Conservatory. At Venezia Stampa, he deals with pre-press, editing, graphics, digital printing, administration, and many other tasks that arise. He was born in the Castello sestiere at Campo Ruga but now lives in Quarto d’Altino due to the high cost of living in Venice, though, as he says, “Thanks to my work in Venice I always see it and live it.”

Luca Valonta grew up on the Lido with his family and father who was a typographer, passing down his knowledge to Luca when he was quite young. Michele adds, “Luca’s father taught us a lot and we will always be grateful to him.” Luca has been working as a printer and typographer for 42 years. In 1989, Luca and Michele founded Venezia Stampa when they both still lived in Venice. Luca especially loves working with lead or wood movable type doing letterpress printing. Together their skills complement each other and offer customers a full range of printing options.

Enjoy getting to know more about Michele and Venezia Stampa from this interview. Thank you to Luisella Romeo for translation help.

These wonderful “ex libris” cards feature dozens of occupations that used to be common in Venice. (I bought two sets!)

When Venice lives fully as itself, what does it look like?

It is not always easy for Venice to fully experience itself. Fifty years ago, before the advent of mass tourism and the free and wild creation of shops and small shops with cheap goods, the city could count on many neighborhood activities, from the bakery to the butcher, from the foodstuff to the green grocer, from the haberdasher to…  It was a Venice first of all for the Venetians who lived it fully. Venice should be first of all for those Venetians who love it. So the ideal aspect is, for example, that of the Rialto market that lived and prospered for all citizens and visitors or that of the Redentore festival on a boat as we are still trying to do (excluding this bad period of Covid and the variants). Perhaps Venice is fully itself in November, during the Feast of the Madonna della Salute, still very much felt by the Venetians who pay homage and feel like a community in the process.

Bookmarks, posters, and more prints to choose from, all printed on site.

How does your work preserve the culture or history of Venice?

We are lucky to have a job that dates back centuries. The press and Venice have gone hand in hand for hundreds of years and contribute to maintaining culture, curiosity, despite all the difficulties involved. Nowadays, printing as it once was done is snubbed by many, who prefer speed and digital quality (albeit excellent) to slowness and artistic passion with its strengths and weaknesses. We try with very old printing presses to preserve the history of printing and the old printing methods even at the expense of our earnings.

These colorful cards show classic images from Venice.

What are one or two aspects of the culture of Venice that you prefer?

The internationality of Venice leads art to want to exhibit itself in this wonderful living room. Just think of the countless exhibitions or the Biennale d’Arte, but also the palaces or churches steeped in knowledge and which inevitably lead to being curious and interested. In short, as in many other historic cities, even in Venice it is enough to move around as a visitor to find unlimited cultural features.

Which Venetians (living now or in the past) are you inspired by?

I can’t say I’m inspired by any Venetian in particular. I was just born and raised in Venice by a Venetian father.

Luca shows me the cabinet filled with letters for creating type.

What is your favorite place in Venice to be alone? To share with others? That nobody should miss?

The first place is undoubtedly the Grand Canal to be crossed by boat or even vaporetto but only at night, with the lights that illuminate the buildings and the absolute quiet as well as the almost still water. And this applies to the first and third questions also.

To answer the second question, to share with others, I would say be on a boat, in the lagoon, in the company of friends and loved ones and with good food and wine!

If you could ask visitors to Venice to do a thing or two to be better visitors, what would you ask?

I would ask first of all what some are already putting into practice: respect. For the Venetians, for the people, for the workers of the city, for the monuments, in the streets, in the campi (small squares). I would ask precisely not to behave as mere tourists, but as visitors.

A variety of artwork prints are available at the shop. I also loved the fun presentation using a vintage scale.

Here is the interview with Venezia Stampa presented in Italian.

Quando Venezia vive pienamente come se stessa, che aspetto ha?

Non è sempre facile per Venezia vivere pienamente se stessa. Cinquant’anni fa, prima dell’avvento del turismo di massa e della creazione libera e selvaggia di negozi e negozietti di merce scadente, la città poteva contare su moltissime attività di vicinato, dal panificio alla macelleria, dal biavarol (alimentarista) al fruttivendolo, dal merciaio al… Era una Venezia prima di tutto per i Veneziani che la vivevano pienamente. Venezia dovrebbe essere prima di tutti di quei Veneziani che la amano.

Quindi l’aspetto ideale è quello per esempio del mercato di Rialto che vivesse e prosperasse per tutti i cittadini e visitatori o quello della festa del Redentore in barca come si tenta di fare ancora (escluso questo brutto periodo del Covid e i divieti var)i.

Forse Venezia è pienamente se stessa in novembre, durante la Festa della Madonna della Salute, ancora moto sentita dai Veneziani che in processo rendono omaggio e si sentono comunità.

A detail from one of the vintage Heidelberg printing presses.

In che modo il tuo lavoro preserva la cultura o la storia di Venezia?

Noi siamo fortunati a svolgere un lavoro che risale a secoli fa. La stampa e Venezia vanno a braccetto da centinaia di anni e contribuiscono a mantenere la cultura, la curiosità, pur con tutte le difficoltà del caso. Ai giorni nostri la stampa come si faceva una volta viene snobbata da molti, che preferiscono velocità e qualità digitale (seppur ottima) a lentezza e passione artistica con i suoi pregi e difetti.

Noi tentiamo con le nostre vecchissime macchine da stampa di preservare la storia della stampa e i vecchi metodi di stampa anche a discapito dei nostri guadagni.

Quali sono uno o due aspetti della cultura di Venezia che preferisci?

L’internazionalità di Venezia porta l’arte a volersi esibire in questo meraviglioso salotto.

Basti pensar alle innumerevoli mostre o alla Biennale d’Arte, ma anche ai Palazzi o chiese intrisi di conoscenza e che portano ad essere per forza curiosi e interessati. Insomma, come in tante altre città storiche, anche a Venezia basta muoversi da visitatori per trovare aspetti culturali illimitati.

Luca with another Heidelberg printing press.

A quali veneziani (viventi ora o nel passato) ti ispiri?

Io non posso dire di ispirarmi a qualche veneziano in particolare, sono solo nato e cresciuto a Venezia da un padre veneziano.

Qual è il tuo posto preferito a Venezia per stare da solo? Da condividere con gli altri? Che nessuno dovrebbe mancare?

Il primo posto senza dubbio è il Canal Grande da solcare in barca o anche vaporetto ma esclusivamente a notte fonda, con le luci che illuminano i palazzi e la quiete assoluta nonché l’acqua quasi ferma. E questo vale per la prima e terza domanda.

Per rispondere alla seconda, direi in barca, in laguna, in compagnia di amici e cari e di buon cibo e vino!

Se potessi chiedere ai visitatori di Venezia di fare una o due cose per essere visitatori migliori, cosa chiederesti?

Chiederei prima di tutto quello che alcuni già mettono in pratica: il rispetto. Per i Veneziani, per le persone, per i lavoratori della città, per i monumenti, nelle calli, nei campi. Chiederei appunto di non comportarsi da semplici turisti, ma appunto da Visitatori.

Plates used in the printing process.
More stamps, all made by hand.
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