Also known as the 1920s Lady Gaga, Marchesa Casati transcended in history for her extravagancy and particular taste in art.
Women in art history are usually portrayed as muses that, in one way or another, inspired the pieces of hundreds of artists, but there’s nothing more to these mysterious ladies. Very few of them hide an interesting anecdote or secret, which is usually one of the reasons why they have captivated pictorial and literary creators. But most of the time, they don’t have any backstory with them (that we know of). They're left as beautiful sirens that ended up being immortalized through the finest works of art. However, this wasn’t the case of Luisa Casati. If this name doesn’t ring a bell, don’t worry. After reading this, I guarantee that you’ll never forget who this woman was.
Luisa Adele Rosa Maria Amman was born in Milan, back in 1881. Her father was an Austrian count, named by King Umberto I, and her mother was an Italian born high-class woman. When both of them died, Luisa became an orphan and was left with no family but her older sister Francesca. Little did they know that both would suddenly become the wealthiest women in Italy.
Being so young and rich led to a world of eccentricity and oddity that only Luisa was able to afford. She had a menagerie of pets at her palace on the Grand Canal (today’s Guggenheim Museum), which included a boa constrictor, two cheetahs, peacocks, and a very particular flock of tamed albino blackbirds, which were dyed in different colors to match her outfits and themes of her multiple parties. People in the streets often found her strolling with her cheetahs on St. Mark's Square wearing nothing but a fur coat. If that’s not eccentric, I sure don’t know what is.
But wait, there’s more. Regarding the fashion area, she used to go with the costume designers of the Ballets Russes and commissioned the most quirky outfits they could come up with. Some of the results were the weirdest pieces of clothing. Among them, there was a dress that had light bulbs attached to it (which from time to time gave her electric shocks). And as if this wasn’t enough, she even used feathers from one of her peacocks and managed to create a decorative outfit specially made for her social events.
She was very keen in the occult and macabre topics. As a matter of fact, she took a crystal ball wherever she went. But putting aside all of these odd interests, there was one particular object that stood out above all. It was a life-sized sculpture of herself that, oddly enough, came with a wig made from her own hair. This creepy doll had a seat reserved at important dinners that Luisa hosted regularly. She even sat the lifeless statue next to her and tried to confuse her guests into guessing which one was the real one.
She had everything in life, but there was just one thing left to do: look for “the one” and fall in love. In 1900, Luisa got married to Camillo Casati Stampa di Soncino, a Roman nobleman that admired her authenticity. They had one child together, Cristina Casati.
Unfortunately, by 1914 they were legally separated. But this didn’t stop Luisa (now Casati) from loving and enjoying nice company. At a very young age, she met a charismatic artist named Gabriele D'Annunzio, who fell hopelessly in love with her. For many years, their relationship was kept in secret, and as passionate lovers as they were, they fed each other’s quirkiness and eccentricities. This affair kept on going throughout her life, and while she was the inspiration behind D'Annunzio’s artwork, he filled her with expensive jewelry and yes, more exotic pets.
As established crazy art lovers, they both shared the idea that “one must make one’s own life as one makes a work of art.” This is how she suddenly became the spotlight in several paintings that were ahead of her time. Her style and his technique were so different from anything at that moment that a lot of these artworks feel much more modern.
As a matter of fact, among the many artists who were inspired by Casati, the famous Spanish painter, Pablo Picasso, found her fascinating. Luisa also participated in the most important artistic experiences for that time. She became friends with people like Robert de Montesquiou, and frequently took part in his snobbish yet artsy gatherings. In fact, Montesquiou dedicated a couple of sonnets to her, which were so cheeky she decided to keep them to herself. Also, the Italian poet Filippo Marinetti spoke of her in his book L’alcova d’acciaio (The Steel Alcove) written in 1918. And as much as this seemed as a pretty glamorous life, all things came to an end.
At the end of the 1950s, Luisa was living in a one-bedroom flat near Harrods, in London, without a penny to her name. Her endless fortune was gone, and so was her lucidity. By this point in her life, Casati believed that she could communicate with others through telepathy, so she stopped writing her friends and carried out intense spiritual and private sessions. A few years later, she died of a stroke and was buried in Brompton Cemetery, London.
If there’s a lesson to this story, it's that when life gives us an opportunity to enjoy ourselves freely, you should definitely take that chance. It’s safe to say that she lived a life worth-sharing, with all with her oddities and eccentricities. In our own way, we should also put this into perspective, and think about how can we live our own weirdness, and make the most of it (even if it includes peacock-inspired outfits!).
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