Redefining Beauty: Elena Cornaro Piscopia


Palazzo Loredan, home of Elena Cornaro Piscopia

Remarkable women have been thwarted throughout the centuries. One story that never fails to break my heart is the story of Elena Cornaro Piscopia, the first woman in the world to earn a university degree.


Watch this video to learn her story and why it pains me to tell it to you, or click on this link if you are viewing this blog on your phone: Elena Cornaro Piscopia video

But I shouldn’t open with that sad introduction to her life. Really, she should be lauded and applauded and remembered for her accomplishments. She was a deft mathematician, spoke numerous languages, was an accomplished singer and musician, studied philosophy, theology, astronomy, and so much more. After becoming a Benedictine oblate in her teens, she devoted her life to study and to doing good works for others, often giving her meals and clothing away to those less fortunate than her.

To tell her story, I’m standing in front of her family’s palazzo on the Grand Canal in Venice, the Palazzo Loredan.


Palazzo Loredan (Cornaro Piscopia)

One of Elena’s joys was to go with her Nonnina (her nurse Lorenza) to the nearby Church of San Luca to pray. It’s not too hard to picture her there.


S Luca


If you would like to learn a fuller story of her life, I have a chapter on Elena Cornaro Piscopia in my book A Beautiful Woman in Venice, which you can learn more about here:
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Dancing the Casanova Dance


33161_fullScantily-clad ballet dancers? Okay!

Casanova’s life has been depicted as numerous films, TV dramas, graphic novels, fiction, and cartoons. The latest–a ballet.

Check out the website here: Casanova by Northern Ballet

There’s a trailer, behind the scenes video, some stills shots, and more, and finally the plot outline.

Choreographer Kenneth Tindall has taken parts of C’s life and created a new narrative in dance. As someone who has spent years reading and writing about Casanova, my first reaction is annoyance that they’ve taken such liberties with C’s story. The website outlines the ballet’s plot, and, while principle characters and some events are true, great liberties are fabricated. So the purist in me rebels.

But the dancers and costumes and scenes look so lush and sexy, that it’s hard to not be pulled toward them.  Besides, what is art if it is not about creation? Tindall was inspired by C’s life and used it as a starting point to create his own work of art. In this podcast where he is interviewed, he shows his admiration for Casanova, particularly pointing out that Casanova was about so much more than just seduction (though the ballet website’s images only promote the sexy part). In fact, the ballet ends with Casanova yearning to pursue writing.

Here’s a link to the podcast. The first 20 minutes is about Tindall himself and his start as a dancer; if you wish to hear just about the Casanova ballet, skip ahead to 19:05.

Podcast: interview with choreographer Kenneth Tindall

Kenneth Tindall also talks about working with Ian Kelly, who wrote the biography titled Casanova: Actor, Lover, Priest, Spy. Tindall initially only knew of Casanova as the great seducer, which is where most people’s knowledge ends. He then learned C’s full story and became fascinated by the man, the times, and the place, which he tries to bring to life through dance.


How I wish I could see the production in person! It premieres in March and runs through May. I’m pretty sure there’s no way I can get there to see it, given the cost of a plane ticket and my limited time off from work during that period. Those of you who do go, please write and tell me what you think. I’d also love to hear from you all about your opinions regarding the creative process of art–Is it okay to take a real life and deviate so drastically from the facts? What is gained and what is lost? Should we all be purists or should we sometimes shut off that voice and let a different part of us take over?

Thanks to my friend Linda for telling me about the podcast.

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New Book About Our Man C!

Laurence Bergreen’s new book about Casanova is finally available! It’s titled Casanova: The World of a Seductive Genius (just a little reminiscent of my own title, Seductive Venice: In Casanova’s Footsteps.) I got my copy a couple days ago and have dived right in. Looks like he organizes the information around the women in Casanova’s life, reminiscent of Judith Summer’s book Casanova’s Women. The book is also divided into the first half of C’s life, primarily in Venice, and the second half, primarily outside Venice. Bergreen quotes liberally from Casanova’s memoirs–always a good choice considering that C could turn a phrase with wit and erudition.

The New York Times ran this review, which is a bit more of a summary of C’s life than it is a review of Bergreen’s book:

Or click on this link if you’re viewing this on your phone:

Book review

I met Laurence almost exactly a year ago at the Casanova conference at UCLA. (In fact, you can see my blog post from then, showing how Laurence signed his Marco Polo book for me.) And here’s some happy news: My book appears in Bergen’s bibliography! He had contacted me a few years ago and used my research. I also got a brief mention on his acknowledgements page. I’m the last name in the next-to-last paragraph. Woohoo! I may be a small fry writer, but it turns out that my research has been useful!



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Venice Wins a Medal!


What is it??

That’s what I was wondering when I received this gift from my generous friend Marco. He sent it as a birthday gift all the way from the Netherlands. It’s heavy, it’s abstract, it’s about Venice….but really, what is it?


After a bit of searching, I finally found this link with details. The text is in blue.

Unesco medal

The devastating floods in Venice and Florence in 1966 rendered thousands of people homeless and destroyed priceless works of art, a disaster to which UNESCO immediately responded by launching an international campaign. When its numismatic programme started in 1974, UNESCO minted one of its earliest medals to mark this event.

Founded in the fifth century and spread over 118 small islands, Venice became a major maritime power in the tenth century. The whole city is an extraordinary architectural masterpiece in which even the smallest building contains works by some of the world’s greatest artists. Venice and its lagoon were inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1987. 

The medal was designed by Italian sculptor Pietro Consagra, many of whose works are closely identified with Venice. The obverse side shows an abstract spiral, characteristic of Consagra’s style. The reverse features another abstract rendition of man’s role in a changing environment, with the inscription Pro Venezia, UNESCO.


Thanks, Marco, for sharing this medallion with me that I might share it with others.

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Quattro Minuti con Casanova: Ramo de le Case Nove

Case Nove 3

What is the story behind Casanova’s last name? “Casanova” means “new house,” and today’s blog post is about the street of the new houses, which is just a coincidence. Will this video give you any answers about etymology? Probably not, but I hope you will find it interesting nonetheless!

We tend to think of Casanova as a great seducer, and many people don’t realize he was many other things and had many other talents. Today’s video will tell you a bit about his  translation skills.

Thanks to the nice young couple who filmed me on this day last summer. We did not have a language in common, but pantomime and the fact that “video” is understood in many languages saved the day. I didn’t quite make it to “quattro minuti” on this one because I rushed a bit so I didn’t keep these kind folks from their sightseeing.

Click on this link: Ramo de le Case Nove

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The Next Event

I’ll be making a presentation about my book A Beautiful Woman in Venice, on Sunday, January 29, 4:30, at the Museo ItaloAmericano. It’s at Fort Mason center in SF. I hope you’ll come join me, and also tell your friends! This is a different presentation than the one last fall, which was the recital with Tina Paulson. Instead, I’ll talk about as many of the Venetian women as I can fit in, letting the audience guide me about who I should describe.

If you plan to go, please rsvp; the Museo might cancel the event if they think that not enough people are coming. Here’s a link with details:

Museo ItaloAmericano

And a couple photos of me in action at my last event at the Jewish Community Library:

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No Strings Attached

Don’t your hands just itch to bring these marionettes to life?

Ca’ Goldoni is full of treasures. The museum was at one time the home of Venetian playwright Carlo Goldoni. Exhibits depict scenes from some of his plays and hit the highlights of his life. But one of my favorite things is the room full of marionettes. They’re wonderfully preserved, hanging along the walls behind glass, but also on display in a marionette theater.

Next time you’re in Venice and you buy the museum pass, don’t toss it partially used! That pass will get you into the major museums, but be sure to make time for Ca’ Goldoni as well.

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