Ever cruel, I’m still not going to tell you which History Girl or which lover. Instead, I’ll I take you straight to Casanova-ville, the San Samuele stretch of the Grand Canal. Visible from the water at the left are the church of San Samuele and Ca’ Malipiero, both the settings for formative scenes in the life of Giacomo Girolamo Casanova, including his birth in 1725 in a narrow alley behind the Malipiero palace. (In those days it was called the Calle delle Commedia).
|plaque marking the birthplace of Giacomo Girolamo Casanova
|picture courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
The picture at right was made by Casanova's brother, Francesco. It shows Casanova in his twenties.
I recorded some of the boy Casanova's San Samuele shenanigans in my earlier History Girls blog, There goes the neighbourhood.
Let us avert our eyes hastily from this scandalous behaviour and look right to Ca’ Rezzonico, an imposing structure started by Baldassare Longhena 1667 and finished by Massari in the 18th century.
|Ca' Rezzonico, photo by Wolfgang Moroder, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Robert Browning had his own apartment in Ca’ Rezzonico. There he kept a parrot called Jacko who liked cake. Browning loved to feed pomegranates to the elephant at the Giardini Pubblici, often accompanied by his sister Sarianna. The pair used to go to walk or ride on the Lido in the afternoons. Pen was also an animal lover, who kept dogs and parrots and large snakes. (I’d have divorced him, too.)
“I have been," she wrote, "between heaven and earth since our arrival at Venice. The heaven of it is ineffable. Never had I touched the skirts of so celestial a place.”
So it was perhaps fitting that her widower died in the city on December 12, 1889, after a cold swiftly turned nasty.
Robert Browning's funeral service held in Ca’ Rezzonico’s imposing portego with expatriate Venetian royalty in attendance: the Layards, Mrs Bronson, the Curtises. The poet had not be averse to giving readings and recitals of his works in their palazzi. And he had assisted in their campaign to set up an English church in Venice.
At this time, the American portrait painter John Singer Sargent also had a studio in the palazzo.
Later Cole Porter would rent Ca’ Rezzonico for 4000 dollars a month, engaging 50 gondoliers to act as footmen.
A few yards away from Ca' Rezzonico is a palace that always enchants visitors to Venice, seeming a perfect rosy little jewel of the Gothic. It is now a very pleasant hotel.
|Palazzetto Stern, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
|Renaissance and Gothic side by side.
The red shoes are gratuitous.
This was where a good Englishman would go to pray up until the late 19th century. In 1842, the Diocese of Gibraltar was established to provide visiting clergy for English-speaking communities in the Mediterranean. At the time of the unification of Italy, Rev. John Davies Mereweather, Cavaliere della Corona d’Italia, settled in Venice. He officiated at Anglican services in his apartment in Palazzo Contarini degli Scrigni for 33 years until 1887.
As explained in the previous blog, many of our Edwardians would be clutching their Ruskins, and would look upon these sibling palaces with well-informed eyes. Ruskin’s The Stones of Venice championed the earlier palace’s Gothic style over that of its Renaissance neighbour. Long story criminally short, he favoured the curlicued trefoiled Gothic because it mimicked the wild perfection of God's natural creation, exemplified in the acanthus leaf, whereas Renaissance architecture showed only the hard and pitiless perfection of human geometry. Also, the Gothic style gave dignity to its artisans, who might fashion individual beauties. To Ruskin, the builders of the Renaissance were anonymous toilers with no more creative contribution allowed than to the men who built the pyramids.
|a building with liagi in Muscat Old Town. Picture by Hin-Yan Wong
We are now in sight of the Accademia Bridge. The current curved wooden structure is from the 1933. Our Edwardian travellers would have seen a much less romantic, flat iron bridge constructed by the Scottish engineer Alfred Neville in 1854. He built it at his own expense, charging tolls. For a brief period there were two bridges, while the new one was under construction.
At the foot of the bridge, travellers in 1913 might have found rest at the Albergo Universo, inside the Palazzo Brandolin Rota. Indeed, Robert Browning used to stay here with his sister in 1880 -1, before the grandeur of Ca’ Rezzonico was available to him.
|Ca' Barbaro, second on the left, at night
|Whistler by Ralph Curtis
Ca’ Barbaro was a great gathering place for literary and high society, though the Curtises were stern judges. Violet Piaget (also known as Vernon Lee) was another interesting character who was part of the community. She fell out with the Curtis family over her story about the community in Venice.
The Barbaro circle included Bernard Berenson, Isabella Stewart Gardner,
|Henry James in 1913
by John Singer Sargent
courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
The Wings of a Dove (1902) was partly set there, though not written there, as is frequently supposed. Palazzo Leporelli in the novel is Palazzo Barbaro, and parts of the 1997 film adaptation were made here.
John Singer Sargent, a relative of the Curtises, painted in Venice every autumn from 1902 to 13. He created an atmospheric portrait of the palace and his hosts in in 1898.
photo of Arianna and Daniele Curtis
in the drawing room of Ca' Barbaro,
courtesy of Wikipedia Commons
Later Harry Belafonte would perform at the Palazzo Barbaro, and more recently the Venetian scenes from the 1981 television adaptation of Brideshead Revisited were filmed here too.
Across the other side of the canal we see the pretty Ca’ Contarini Polignac.
At the beginning of the 20th century, it hosted the salon of Princess Winnaretta de Polignac, a patron of the musical avant-garde in Europe. One can imagine the guests draped over the wonderful loggia and stairs on the left. Igor Stravinsky was among the guests here.
The Palazzo Balbi Valier Molin delle Trezze was the original home of Horatio Brown, an institution for educated British visitor. As mentioned in the previous blog, Horatio took over from Rawdon Brown as general fixer for British travellers Venice. He also took over from his namesake the historical research on the Calendar of State Papers and Manuscripts relating to English Affairs existing in the Archives of Venice and Northern Italy. Horatio Brown was an author in his own right of various interesting books about the city. My favourite is Life on the Lagoons, 1884, which explores the customs, folk tales, superstitions and mating practices of the Venetians.
Horatio Brown moved to Ca’ Torresella on the Zattere, where he lived till 1926 when he when died, apart from a temporary evacuation during WW1. Every Monday evening (so as not to clash with Lady Layard) he gave a salon there and British visitors armed with letters of introduction could meet all the great and good.
Perhaps it was because of Horatio Brown that Walter Sickert claimed that the Zattere smelled ‘of the British and the Church of England and of Ruskin.’
One of Horatio Brown’s great friends was the writer John Addington Symonds.
Both had close relationships with Venetian gondoliers. Horatio Brown’s was Antonio Salin; Symonds loved Angelo Fusato – described in his explicitly homoerotic memoirs that were not published till 1984. Horatio Brown, acting as his executor, had suppressed much unpublished material after Symonds' death.
At right we see the open square of San Vio and the English church of Saint George. Its stern walls give the clue that the building was originally secular.
More and more Anglo Saxons were coming to Venice … there was a steamer service from India and from USA, and the huge English tourist boom. By the early 20th century, there were around 200 people wanting an Anglican service in the city every Sunday. So, as previously mentioned, Horatio Brown, Robert Browning, Henry Layard and others collected funds to buy a mosaic and glass warehouse in San Vio that became the Church of Saint George in Venice in 1892. There's a window dedicated to Browning.
Helen, Countess of Radnor, lived in the Palazzo Morosini in San Vio, and was the choir mistress of Saint George. The chaplain from 1905 till 1912 was the Rev Canon Lonsdale Ragg.
|Palazzo Barbarigo. Photo by Leandro Neumann Giuffo, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
The Edens also owned a private steam launch for excursion into the lagoon. Visitors to the Garden of Eden included Isadora Duncan, Gertrude Stein and Marcel Proust, who came to Venice when researching his hero, Ruskin, whom he was translating into French. He stayed in Venice from October to May of 1900.
|Giovanni Boldini's portrait of Luisa Casati with
peacock feathers, from 1912
|Luisa Casati in 1912
by Adolf de Meyer
|Luisa Casati in 1912
by Alberto Martini
Among those who endorsed her artistry were Jean Cocteau, Cecil Beaton and her lover Gabriele D’Annunzio, who from 1914 lived just a gondola ride across the Grand Canal at the Casetta delle Rose.Luisa Casati was known for walking around with a pair of cheetahs on leashes. She wore living snakes as jewellery.
She moved into the palazzo in 1910, and immediately began a series of legendary soirées with artists, writers, fashion designers and musicians of the time. Naturally she was a patron of Fortuny, whose dresses were featured in part one of the blog. Forty years after her death, she was the inspiration for John Galliano’s 1998 summer collection for Christian Dior. Alexander McQueen revisited her style in his 2007 collection, as did Karl Lagerfield in 2009.
During her lifetime, artists were encouraged to paint Casati’s portrait or sculpt her likeness. Augustus John, among many others, obliged. In spite of her old money, and evident love of decadence, she was a muse to the Futurist Marinetti.
|Luisa Casati in 1922
Just a little further up on the left hand side we see the austere contours of the Hotel Gritti. Ruskin and his wife Effie stayed here in five rooms at eastern end of first floor, during 1851 -2 while he was researching the second and third volumes of The Stones of Venice. At the beginning of the twentieth century, the palace was converted into a hotel.
Later Somerset Maugham would write on its terrace, ‘Few things are equally wonderful as sitting here, while the sun goes down and immerses the Canal in bright colours.’
Hemingway also favoured this hotel, as would Winston Churchill, Graham Greene, and Orson Welles.
|Virginia Woolf by
Geoge Charles Beresford,
courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
The Hotel Europa Regina on the left was the site of George Elliot’s honeymoon in Venice, 1880. At 60 the writer had married John Cross, 20 years her junior, who jumped out of the hotel window. Much unfortunate hilarity has been expended on this incident which presumably resulted from intense private pain and probably illness.
as Desdemona's palace.
Two palazzi up is the somewhat austere Ca’ Alvisi. It was the home of the redoubtable Mrs Katherine de Kay Bronson, American society hostess in Venice from the 1880s almost until her death in 1901, when it was inherited by her daughter, by then Countess Rucellai.
In her time Mrs Browning entertained Whistler, Browning, Sargeant and Henry James. Whistler wrote, 'Venice is only really known in all its fairy perfection to the privileged who may be permitted to gaze from Mrs Bronson's balcony'.
In fact, Pen and Fanny Browning rented it while doing up the Rezzonico, and I have seen no untoward reports of their time there. The poet Henri Regnier also enjoyed his time there. Claude Monet made this painting of it in 1908, when a guest at Ca' Barbaro (of course). Painting courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. And Lady Enid Layard recorded that in May 1912 she went to visit the Bournes, a pleasant French family who had recently taken up residence at Ca' Dario.
San Gregorio, visible from the Canal on the right, was an antique warehouse in 1913.
Overbearing, outsize cruise ships of today, not to mention the pollution they bring, make such a delightful installation impossible today. And more, for so many reasons, is the pity.
So this is where we leave the Grand Canal and our last wave of pre-war Grand Tourists.
I hope you’ve enjoyed the ride.
Great Continental Railway Journeys
The True & Splendid History of The Harristown Sisters will be published by Bloomsbury on June 5th 2014
Unattributed photos are by the author or her sister, Jenny Lovric. Venetian etchings and ephemera from the author's own collection.