Giacomo Casanova ritratto dal fratello Giovanni - 1750

Giacomo Casanova and the escape from the “Piombi”

Giacomo Casanova e la sua fuga dai Piombi (Leggi versione in italiano)

He did a good life in spite of his humble origins. He was pursued by Venetian justice for his disorderly life. He was imprisoned in the “Piombi”, the prisons of Venice, from where he escaped. He was forced to live away from the Venetian lagoon for a good part of his life.

Suddenly, without knowing the reasons, he found himself locked up in the “Piombi”, the terrible prison located in the attic of the Ducal Palace. He had been sentenced, without his knowledge, to 5 years of imprisonment for amorous affair with married women. In Venice it was the norm that the convicts should not know the accusations against them and the length of the sentence they were condemned. It was July 1755. He organized his evasion with the help of a friar with which he shared the cell, Marino Balbi. The friar had long in mind an escape plan.

On October 31, 1756, the two made a hole in the ceiling. Passing through the hole, they entered the attic of the palace. From there they climbed on a cornice. They returned to the building through a windows on the roof. They found themselves in one of the ducal offices of the Registry. They crossed quickly the long corridors. When they arrived at the entrance gate they found it unblocked. They attracted the attention of a passer-by. They made him believe to be visitors closed inadvertently in the offices. The passer alerted the guard who, without any suspicion, opened the gate and released the two fugitives.

Giacomo Casanova was born in Venice on April 2, 1725. His mother was Zanetta Farussi, nicknamed “La Buranella“, an actress of some success. She was also quoted in the “Memories” by Carlo Goldoni as a great interpreter of his comedies. His father, Gaetano Casanova, was a modest actor in Parma, but with Spanish origins. Gaetano’s grandparents were Aragonese. Gaetano moved to Venice where he was hired as an actor in the San Samuele theater owned by the Grimani family. Working in that theater knew Zanetta, also an actress in the company of the theater. He married her shortly afterwards. Probably the true father of Giacomo was Michele Grimani, co-owner of the theater, belonging to one of the most noble Venetian families. Giacomo had five brothers, all born after him. The brothers Giuseppe and Francesco, who was said to have been born from a relationship of Zanetta with Prince George II of Wales, were painters of some success.

In 1733 Gaetano Casanova died for an abscess. He had close to his deathbed, many of his friends, including the Grimani brothers, whom he was highly valued. He had the promise of the two nobles that they would take care of his family. Due to the work of Zanetta, and his many trips, the Casanova brothers were brought on by the maternal grandmother. At school age Giacomo was sent by his guardian, abbot Grimani, brother of Michele, in Padua where he completed his studies. In Padua he had a good time. He has an amorous relationship with the sister of his tutor, Abbot Gozzi. He graduated in law at the local university. Returning to Venice, he was destined for ecclesiastical career, receiving the appointment to abbot. He began attending the Venetian nobility, where he excelled for his indisputable literary qualities and for his remarkable gaiety that he reserved for all the beautiful women, even those who were an older in age.

In 1744 he was hired as secretary by the bishop of Martirano, a desolate place in Calabria. Gone to Martirano he realized the mistake made in accepting the assignment. Martirano was a poor and resourceless village where his ambitions would be dead. He left his job as secretary of the bishop and went to Naples where he could resume his brilliant life. In this city he was able to know the marquis Galiani, brother of the famous abbot and Antonio Genovesi. He attended a Neapolitan milady, Lucrezia Castelli, with whom he had a fiery relationship. The fruit of this love was the birth of a daughter, Leonilde. Casanova was unaware of the child’s existence. He knew of his daughter years later, on his return to Naples. In the meantime, he had been able to obtain a task from Cardinal Acquaviva, ambassador of Spain to the pontiff. So he moved to the Cardinal’s Roman residence. Shortly afterwards, because of a young prostitute who imprudently he hosted in the embassy, he was fired by the cardinal.

Moving to Ancona he had the strangest adventures. He fell in love with a castrated singer named Bellino. In his memoirs: “Histoire de ma vie” Giacomo says he was convinced that Bellino was a woman. When he succeeded in conquering love of singer he realized that Bellino was really a girl, Angela Calori, who, for the sake of art, and because in the state of the church women were not allowed to work on the stage of theaters, pretended to be castrated singer. At least so Casanova tells in his memoirs. It has to be said that many times in telling the episodes of his life the Venetian did not hesitate to silence or make changes to the parts of his adventures that he felt most embarrassing.

Two years later, in 1746, he returned to Venice where, to earn a living, he played the violin in the theater orchestra of Michele Grimani. One day he saved life to the noble Venetian Matteo Bragadin who felt sudden illness and was rescued by Casanova. The noble enthused the young Giacomo. He even legally adopted him and granted him a monthly allowance. Through Bragadin’s friendship he had free access to the most exclusive parties in Venice, where his verve and intelligence was able to be noticed. It was in this fortunate period of life that Giacomo met Henriette, one of the important relationships of his life. Henriette, so cited in the memoirs, was actually Jeanne-Marie d’Albert de Saint-Hippolyte, a French noblewoman. With Henriette Casanova spent a beautiful time. It was a bit like all the “liaison” of the Venetian gentleman.

In 1750 he went to Paris. In the French capital he attended the environments of Comedie Francaise and Comedie Italienne. He joined the local Masonic lodge to take advantage of the entrances the secret society could secure him. He took part happily in numerous parties by making friends and caring for relationships. It was in that city that he wrote his first literary work, the “Zoroastro“. In 1752 he went to Dresden where his mother, Zanetta Farussi, was the first actress of the stable company of the Italian Comedy. Farussi lived the rest of his life in Dresden, along with two of his children. The court of Saxony granted her with an annuity of 400 thaler. She died in Dresden in 1776. After a few months of staying in the German city, Casanova moved to Vienna where he met Pietro Metastasio. Bored by the not too high life of the Austrian capital, he returned to his hometown in 1752.

He resumed her usual and brilliant life tin Venice. He had a very beautiful nun in his loves, whom he identified in the memories with only early M.M. From the talk that circulated at the time and the researches made by the historians, the nun in question seemed was the noble Venetian Marina Morosini, belonging to the most powerful family of the lagoon city. Marina Morosini was also the lover of the French ambassador in Venice. Entering the convents and making love stories with the Nuns was the most popular sport among gentlemen of the age, who then boasted about their achievements. The power of the Morosini family, who was certainly not enthusiastic about the adventures of its Nun, determined the intervention of the justice attorney. Giacomo was already under surveillance for the suspicions he had caused because of the expensive life he led. On the night of July 25, 1755, he was arrested and imprisoned in the “Piombi”, the terrible prisons of Venice. He escaped the following year, on October 31, 1756.

Interno dei Piombi nel palazzo ducale di Venezia - Виктор Омский - 2012
Interno dei Piombi nel palazzo ducale di Venezia – Виктор Омский – 2012

After the escape Casanova managed to reach Bolzano. He was aware of the long arm of Venetian justice. Other cases culminated with the wanted man killed by the Venetian spies even outside the borders of the republic. So he hastened to Paris where he could count on many friends in high places too. In 1757 he came to the Seine. With the help of his friend De Bernis, who was Minister of Foreign Affairs, he organized, in company with other people, a lottery that had a quite successful. Then De Bernis entrusted him with some official assignments in Dunkirk and Amsterdam, which Casanova did with intelligent abilities. He had a bad adventure with writer Giustiniana Wynne, who was in Paris, pregnant of Andrea Memmo, a Venetian friend of Giacomo. Wynne asked Casanova to help her get rid of her pregnancy. The Venetian gentleman went out to help but he was involved in the denunciation that the midwife, who was supposed to make to abort the writer, submitted to the authorities. It was a denunciation made for extortion. The midwife wanted to get a lot of money from that situation. In the end, Giustiniana regularly gave birth to her little daughter.

Tired of accusations of Wynne’s tempted abortion, Casanova left Paris. After being in London and Berlin, he stayed in Warsaw where he had a contrast with a local nobleman, Count Francis Branicki, because of Venetian dancer Anna Binetti. The dispute resulted in a duel with the gun. Casanova was slightly injured to his hand, while the count was hit in the abdomen. The same Count invited Casanova to leave Warsaw quickly to avoid the revenges of his friends. The wound of the count was not mortal and the same healed after some time. The Venetian adventurer arrived in Petersburg, where he stayed for nine months. In that city he fell in love with a 16-year-old girl, the beautiful Zaira, of peasant origin.

In 1760 he came to Geneva where he wanted to meet the philosopher Voltaire in the castle of Ferney. It was not a particularly affable interview. Voltaire acted with the air of superiority, of course justified, being the greatest intellectual of the time. Casanova began to argue a bit about all the philosopher’s claims. They almost did not agree on anything. Giacomo wrote in his memoirs that he was so reluctant to talk that he always found to be ridiculed of all the ideas of the philosopher.

After leaving Switzerland, he went to Rome where he met his brother. Giovanni Casanova was a well-known painter, student of Anton Rafael Mengs. He worked with the master and with archaeologist Johann Winckelmann. Through his brother’s friendships, especially Winckelmann, who had many acquaintances among the high prelates, Giacomo Casanova was able to obtain a private audience from Pope Clement XIII.

Jeanne Marquise d'Urfé
Jeanne Marquise d’Urfé

Back in Paris, he met the Marquise d’Urfè, a wealthy older woman. Casanova boasted to Madame of his abilities in the occultism she was passionate about. The Marquise made Casanova an incredible request. He wanted to be transferred to a young boy’s body to return young. The Venetian adventurer, without blinking an eye, made her believe he was able to satisfy her. Of course the preparation for rejuvenation was long and difficult, very expansive for the Marquise. Casanova, for better encircling her, became his lover. He continued for a long time to pump up the bubble, which allowed him to have a high standard of living and to squander the play and women considerable sums, about a million French francs, as the niece of the elderly Madame d’Urfé told.

In 1769 Casanova resumed his wandering in Italy. He went to Naples where he resumed contacts with his friends, known during his first stay in the city, in 1744. He went in search of his old love, Lucrezia Castelli. He traced Lucrezia to Salerno, where she was staying in the palace of Marquis Carrara. The Marquis had married Leonilde, the daughter Lucrezia had had since the previous relationship with Giacomo Casanova. Leonilde, her father’s daughter, had joined the Elder Marquis for the immense riches he possessed. She was not scrupulous to be unfaithful to him at every turn, perhaps with the consent of her husband. Casanova was hosted by the Marquis. During his stay in Salerno he resumed the relationship with the now-mature Lucrezia but did not despise other adventures, it also seems with Leonilde, as well as her young maid.

When he went to Bologna, he contacted his Venetian friends Marco Dandolo and Pietro Zaguri, asking them to be interested in obtaining grace from the Serenissima, and then to return to the city. The his friends, foreseeing a long time for grace, advised him to go to Trieste, a city that, for its position and history, enjoyed countless links with the lagoon city.

He was able to be helpful of the Venetian Republic by facilitating relations between the same and the Austrian authorities of Trieste. He devoted literature to the writing of some historical works, such as “The history of the turbulence of Poland from the death of Elizabeth Petrowna to the peace between Russia and the Ottoman Gate”, of which only four volumes have been found. On September 10, 1774 the grace was granted him and Giacomo Casanova returned to Venice.

He found the city very much changed. Many of his friends had died, other friends had abandoned him. The authorities continued to oversee him. To earn money, which he most needed, he published several books. He also engaged in the translation of the Iliad. Not knowing the Greek, he founded his writing of Homer’s masterpiece, starting with a Latin edition. Always to earm money, he became an informant of the Venetian police. Her relationships were, however, quite good, and he was obviously unwilling to hurt the guarded people.

In 1778 he met the Count of Cagliostro with his wife Serafina. He had known him years ago in France. Cagliostro talked to him of his ideas about religion and Casanova advised him not to go to Rome, where he was certainly under the care of inquisitorial authorities. Sadly, the Count did not listen to him. When he went to Rome he was arrested, tried and locked in the secret prisons of San Leo, where he died.

Driven by the need for money, he became a publisher of a magazine “Opuscoli Miscellanei“, but he did not have much luck. He also improvised theatrical manager, engaging a famous company of French theaters, whose mastermind was Madame Clairmonde. After the first performances at the S. Angelo Theater that sold out, the Venetians’ interest in Clairmonde diminished and the theater company failed miserably.

In 1782 he had a violent lite with the marquis Carlo Spinola, for a percentage on a loan that had not been paid. His friend Giovan Carlo Grimani took the defense of Spinola. In revenge for his friend he published a booklet which, in the guise of a mythological story, discosed his own bastard origen, the son of Zanetta and Michele Grimani, and that of Giovan Carlo, conceived by the wife of Michele Grimani with the brother of the same, Sebastian. Because of the scandal raised by this affair, he was forced to move with some urgency to Vienna.

He was employed as secretary of Venetian ambassador Sebastiano Foscarini in the Austrian capital. But the following year, in 1785, he needed to find a new occupation due to the ambassador’s death. Count Giuseppe Carlo of Waldstein offered him, and Casanova accepted, the job of librarian in his castle in Dux, Bohemia.

Giacomo Casanova spent the last years of his life in that small town. He spent his time studying the library’s volumes. He wrote many of his books here, including the famous “Historie de ma fuite” (History of my escape… from the “Piombi”) and “Historie de ma vie” (History of my life). In this sad period, a victim of ailments and ills, he maintained relations with his old friends through a vast correspondence. He died in the castle of Dux on June 4, 1798. He was buried in the nearby church of Santa Barbara.

Bibliography:
it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Giacomo Casanova
treccani.it/enciclopedia/Giacomo Casanova (Dizionario-Biografico)/
Pietro Chiara, Il vero Casanova, Milano, Mursia, 1977
Giacomo Casanova, L’histoire de ma vie, a cura di Michele Mari, Quaderni di Acme 100, Milano, Cisalpino, 2008
it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zanetta_Farussi