Unlike Don Juan, with whom he is sometimes confused, Giacomo Casanova is not an author’s creation, but an actual person who travelled throughout Europe during the 18th century and whose life was transformed into an adventure novel. 

As implausible as they were true, these adventures sought to achieve a single goal: to find happiness through experiencing all of life’s pleasures. The son of two actors, Casanova was born in Venice in 1725. Within a city of frivolity and celebration, he gradually acquired various weapons of seduction: elegance, erudition, wit, and eloquence. Such weapons were essential for those who were not of high standing, but who nevertheless sought to introduce themselves into the circles of the powerful and make themselves more desirable to women. The legend is true: Casanova was a heartthrob. Did he really seduce more than 120 women? Only he could tell us. ‘I have loved women even to madness’, he confessed, ‘but I have always loved liberty better’

Good Fortunes

Just like with women, he was never able settle down in one place or position. He left Venice but returned on several occasions, travelling the Old World and undertaking all kinds of work. Having failed to join the priesthood or take up a military career, he became a violinist, professional gambler, alchemist, diplomat and, finally, a librarian. For him, taking to the road meant setting out in search of good fortune: a job, a patron, a gallant love affair. It also occasionally meant running away, with this adventurer of ours having proven himself to be a cheat, a spy, a crook, a duellist and a kidnapper. Despite not always succeeding in avoiding jail, he certainly knew how to escape when he needed to. Locked up in the Venetian Piombi prison, he will forever remain the only prisoner to have ever escaped. But how? Casanova managed to break through the ceiling and escape onto the roof, where he travelled down through a skylight and into the palace. Once inside, he found some clothes that would allow him to disguise himself as a gentleman, before sweet-talking his way straight out of the gates. 


‘Cultivating whatever gave pleasure to my senses was always the chief business of my life’. Sensitive to the pleasures of the flesh, Casanova was also susceptible to the pleasures of rich victuals, and it was not uncommon to find a glass of champagne on his table. Convinced that sharing pleasures only serves to enhance them, he enjoyed treating his friends. One such example is the 24-course meal he hosted in Brühl: ‘They were eating oysters right up until the arrival of the twentieth bottle of champagne, and once the dinner began, the whole group was alight with conversation. The dinner could easily have been classed as superb, and I noticed with great pleasure that not a drop of water was drunk (…)’. 

People Magazine is calling…

Had he had access to today’s technologies, Casanova probably would have kept a travel blog, offering advice on where to stay, from Venice to Paris, Rome to London, Prague to Madrid, Saint Petersburg to Amsterdam and Vienna to Constantinople; taking selfies with Rousseau, Voltaire, Frederick II of Prussia, the Empress of Russia and Pope Benedict XIV; posting stories on Instagram, such as ‘the day I whispered the idea of a lottery into Louis XV’s ear‘; and, finally, writing his memoirs. But this is precisely what he did in his old age, in French, under the title ‘Histoire de ma vie’ (Story of My Life), in which he recounted the most important moments – candidly, skilfully and unashamedly. The indelible memory of Casanova, a free, pleasure-seeking and cultured man, continues to permeate the Serenissima to this day.

Text : Catherine Rivière
Image : Casanova by Raphaël Mengs, 1760