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  • Writer's pictureValeria Pugliese

'Infiniti Auguri alla Nomade'

A celebration of Luisa Casati 142th birthday


Memento Mori

Sunday 22nd January 2023.

It is an arctic early morning in Brompton Cemetery.

The graves are covered in a hoarfrost, the luminous sun rays make them sparkle; I hear my throbbing heartbeat, I see my breath as a smoky cloud: I am wonderfully alive, I am alone in the great garden of the dead.

Adolf De Meyer's photo with inscription from Gabriele D'Annunzio, 06/08/1913

Adolf de Meyer, 1912

'Flesh is merely spirit betrothed to death'

This is what Gabriele D'Annunzio, Ariel to the Marchesa only, wrote as an inscription to her photo.


And then her Shakespearean epitaph:

'Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale her infinite variety'


I keep on walking; on another tombstone, the phrase 'From death to eternity' is engraved.


Memento mori flaneuring makes me ponder: I attempted to return to Catholicism yet I am back to spiritual nihilism. I used to be fascinated by death and decay, now I am secretly denying it with petulance and a hint of terror; aging well here, I know.


Flesh, age, stale: her draped urn is hidden, negligible, insignificant compared with the grandeur of the cemetery.

Infinite, eternity: I am here bringing peacock feathers to a Marchesa born 142 years ago after all. I was 18, my Italian and Latin literature professor initiated me to her: flamboyancy became the armor against the plebs who dared bully me for my big nose and my 'unripe' body; I learned the art of artifice, I preciously adorned it, not knowing yet how many men would celebrate it bare.


'Eccentricity is thought a crime and is actually the most démodé and unfashionable thing a woman can indulge in nowadays!': this is what Baron de Meyer said about Luisa in her post-war decline years and, surely, what slovenly lazy 'Karens' think about ostentatious women like me.


What is my memento mori rumination about then?

If ephemeral flamboyancy saved me, is it really that futile?

If eccentricity is so evocative, why is uniqueness such a sin?

If death is not the perpetual oblivion I believe is, what is the path to eternity?


'Endless birthday wishes to the wanderer'

Plenty of writing about her life exists AND I am working on making my articles less verbose (I promise); this piece of writing is a brief celebration, not a biography.


Essentials part of my collection:


It is Monday 23rd January 2023, we will celebrate her 142nd birthday as you would do with a dear friend: languid, inebriated (with absinthe), flipping through a photo album, contemplating, secretly longing for the bygone.

Unknown, 1899

Wealthiest new-money single heiress in Europe: what a catch.

Unknown, 1905

Married Camillo, Marquess Casati Stampa di Soncino in 1900; the 'Marchesa' noble rank is hers.

Unknown, 1901

Maria Cristina Casati Stampa di Soncino is born; Cristina as Cristina Trivulzio Belgiojoso, notable Italian muse in the 1800s.

Never maternal by nature, this makes me remember the short story 'The Decadent Mother' by Rowan Pelling: interesting reading if, like me, you are pondering whether the debated maternal instinct will ever come to you.


Gabriele D'Annunzio met the Marchesa in 1903 during a hunting trip; a tempestuous affair between the two decadent mythomaniacs lasted until a few years before his death.

In their cryptic correspondence, 'Ariel' and 'Corè' (Persephone) became their sobriquets.


Ah, affair rendezvous at the opera...


'Casati was a devotee of fetishism who proudly displayed the bruises and teeth marks of her love games with D'Annunzio' (Thurman, 2003).


09th August 1913: a perfumed letter from Gabriele, petals inside it, the motto 'Do not sleep':

'Do you love me? Do you love me? Do you recall when, in last evening we spent together, intoxicated by you, inebriated by wine and fate, as if your sudden return freed me by all of my vain laws, I spoke to you as a lover does, deluding myself, oh dear, without deceiving you?

Cheli

Among the innumerable gifts they exchanged, the taxidermied tortoise Cheli is still at the Vittoriale degli Italiani; dying of tuberose overdose, it became an admonishment to temperance; well, temperance in eating only, carnal excesses still remain necessary.


The liaison with Gabriele made her abandon any of the bourgeois wife conservative pretensions left: a newly awoken bewitching eccentricity made her the Muse of Decadence

Unknown, 1912

Cheeta chic.

Adolf de Meyer, 1912

Adolf de Meyer, 1912

Unknown, circa 1913

Unknown, 1920

With boa constrictor.

Unknown, 1920

'Casati’s totem animal, like Medusa’s, was the snake: a creature that sloughs its skin and mesmerizes with its stare. She prided herself on the freshness of the shocks her appearance delivered. Her contemporaries couldn’t decide if she was a vampire, a bird of paradise, an androgyne, a goddess, an enigma, or a common lunatic. Her clothes were as esoteric as the symbols on a wizard’s hat—formulas for improving on nature' (Thurman, 2003).


'I want to be a living work of art'


Casati proclaimed: the only art she ever created may have been the collages made in 32 Beaufort Gardens, Knightsbridge, aged, close to blindness, clippings she may have found while rummaging through trash bins in London as witnessed by Philippe Jullian.

Her siren enchantment was better suited to a picture frame after all; she infatuated a number of important artists of the period who captured her 'infinite variety'.

Giovanni Boldini, 1908

Giovanni Boldini,

Alberto Marini, 1906

Alberto Martini, 1925

Alberto Martini, 1931

Leon Bakst, 1912

Unknown, 1920

Alastair, Baron Hans Henning Voigt, 1914

Federico Armando Beltran-Masses, 1920

Postponing my visit to the Star Sainty gallery in London, I missed this: SOLD.

Shame on me!

Kees Van Dongen, 1917

Kees Van Dongen, 1918

Augustus Edwin John, 1919

Augustus Edwin John, 1919

Romaine Brooks, 1920

My personal favourite.

'Brooks described her vision of Luisa as "a sort of fantastic bird on the rocks or a fallen angel with nothing human about her." When confronted by the finished portrait, Casati's only criticism was "You did not make me beautiful." Brooks replied, "No, but I made you noble." (Secrest, 1974)

Capri, 1920, a summer of drug abuse, necromancy and lesbianism.

Giacomo Balla, 1919

Joseph Paget-Fredericks, 1940

Ignazio Zuloaga, 1923

Ted Coconis

Jacob Epstein, 1918

The eyes of Medusa


'We all hurried under the tables to retrieve the pearls and it was under one table that I found myself face to face with her and saw for the first time, close up, her immense eyes'

(E. Cardona, Boldini Parisien d’Italie, 1952, p. 136)


Boldini recalls her first encounter with Luisa; the intensity of her eyes devoured her face.

Belladonna drops made her achieve the watery eyes look; pupils were constantly 'orgasmic', brightened, dilated, almost concealing the green iris. Kohl (black shoe polish in the years of bankruptcy) contoured them, mink eye lashes and strips of black velvet blackened the entire lids; the terrible eyes of Medusa against the pallor of her livid skin.


Man Ray's photos captured the essence of her sphinx gaze making it eternal.

Man Ray, circa 1920

Man Ray, 1922

Man Ray, 1922

Man Ray, 1922

'Marchesa Casati with the languid satisfied eyes of a panther that has just devoured the bars of its cage'

Filippo Tommaso Marinetti

'

Carnevale


Carnevale is approaching, with Fat Thursday on 16th February.

London never cared about it, how depressing.

Fantasising about her iconic balls, her costumes remain still breathtaking.

Empress Theodora, 1905

Arlecchino Bianco, 1913

XVIII century fancy dress, 1913

Indo-Persane Costume, 1913

Fountain Costume, circa 1920


Queen of the Night, 1922

Empress Elisabeth of Austria, 1935

Fashion priestess

Dressed by Erté, Leon Baskt, Paul Poiret and Mariano Fortuny in life, Luisa still holds tight on her 'fashion priestess' notoriety.


By 1930 Luisa was in debt by over $25 million and was forced to auction off her most beloved pieces of couture; some, it is rumored, have been purchased by Coco Chanel.


The Marchesa Casati inspired and keeps inspiring countless fashion designers such as Marchesa (brand name), John Galliano (s/s 1998), Alexander McQueen (s/s 2007), Karl Lagerfeld (cruise wear 2010), Dries van Noten (f/w 2016) and singers such as Lady Gaga and Achille Lauro.

John Galliano, s/s 1998

Dries van Noten, a/w 2016

Among the most recent collections, Alberta Ferretti limited edition collection (f/w 2016) is the one more impressed upon me.

The short film is stupendous and makes me intensely long for Venice:


Upon completing my writing, I reached for the red wig, the back eye shadow, the pearls: I shall start 2023 entirely possessed by the Marchesa.


I will be 28 in May, I had a Muse for 10 long years; her story never ceased to intoxicate me, never will.


Back to memento mori resolution:


Could the real and only path to eternity be becoming a Muse?

Yes, yes, absolutely although...

'To be different is to be alone'



Reference list

Secrest, M. (1974) Between Me and Life: A Biography of Romaine Brooks. Doubleday; 1st edition

Thurman, J. (2003) 'The Divine Marquise'. Available at: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2003/09/22/the-divine-marquise (Accessed: 25/01/2023)


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