This is the story of Giacomo Casanova, one of the most interesting and controversial figures
San Samuele Theatre painting
After these early adventures, Giacomo returned to Venice and, for a time, earned a living playing the violin in the theatre of San Samuele. No longer in existence, the Teatro San Samuele in Venice was one of the most prestigious theatres among those active in the lagoon city during the 18th century (there were seven in total), and it stood between Campo San Samuele and Campo Santo Stefano. The theatre was owned by the noble Grimani family, who, on the premature death of his father (1733), had officially assumed guardianship of the boy, corroborating the widespread rumour that one of the Grimani, Michele, was Giacomo’s birth father.
Things improved for Casanova when he met the Venetian patrician Matteo Bragadin, who substantially improved his condition. Stricken by an illness, the nobleman was rescued by Giacomo and convinced that he had been able to save his life thanks to that timely intervention. Consequently, he regarded him almost like a son, contributing to his support as long as he lived. In the agitated hours in which he attended Bragadin, Casanova came into contact with the senator’s two closest friends. They, too, became deeply attached to him and kept him under their protection as long as they lived. His association with the nobles attracted the interest of the Republic Inquisition, a magistrature of the Venetian Republic attached to the Council of Ten and charged with overseeing the disclosure of state secrets. Casanova, on Bragadin’s advice, left Venice to await better times.
In 1749, the young adventurer met Henriette, who was to be perhaps the greatest love of his life. The pseudonym probably concealed the identity of a noblewoman from Aix-en-Provence. Often, as they were married women, in his Memoirs, some are mentioned with initials or with fictitious names. Sometimes the age is altered a little out of gallantry or the vanity of the author who did not like to report adventures with women considered, by the criteria of the time, to be of mature age. In general, however, the persons are identifiable and the facts reported are also found to be correct and verifiable.
His most important and famous work probably enhanced his reputation as a great conqueror of women: “Histoire de ma vie” (Story of My Life), in which the author describes, with the utmost frankness, his adventures, his travels and, above all, his countless gallant encounters. The Histoire is written in French: this linguistic choice was mainly dictated by reasons of dissemination of the work, as at the time, French was the language most widely known and spoken by Europe’s elites.
Amidst courts and salons, Casanova found himself living, almost without realising it, a moment of an epochal turning point in history, not understanding the spirit of solid renewal that would make it veer in directions never travelled before. He remained anchored until the end of his days to the values, precepts and beliefs of the ancien régime and its ruling class, the aristocracy, from which he had been excluded by birth and of which he desperately sought to be a part, even when it was now irremediably on its way to its twilight.
Among the personalities of the time that he got to know personally, and of whom he left us direct testimony, are Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Voltaire, Madame de Pompadour, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Benjamin Franklin, Pope Benedict XIV, Catherine II of Russia and Frederick II of Prussia.