- Jasmijn van Wijnen
- 27 Mar 2020
- Read time: 5 minutes
23 facts about Luisa Casati
Ritratto revolves around the Lady Gaga of the 1920s, Luisa Casati. She was destined to become a "larger than life" icon from birth. From her glamorous highs to her tragic lows, we bring you the Luisa Casati phenomenon in 23 remarkable facts (and rumours).
1. Rich beginnings
Luisa Casati started her life in anything but modest circumstances. She was born in the fashionable city of Milan on January 23, 1881 and her father was Alberto Amman, a count at the court of King Umberto I of Italy.
Her wealth could not save Luisa Casati from tragedy. Her mother died when she was only 13 years old and her father followed two years later. Luisa and her sister Francesca were left orphaned.
Father Amman left his daughters with a generous sum of money, transforming Luisa and Francesca into the richest and most desirable young women in all of Italy.
4. "A head like a dagger"
From an early age, Luisa was considered a striking personality in Milanese social life, but not always in a positive way. She was described as "exceptionally large, with a dagger-shaped head and a small, feral face."
5. Green eyes
Her dark green eyes were Casati's most expressive feature. She accentuated them with fake eyelashes, eye pencil and - rumour has it - an even more dangerous remedy. Sources state that she regularly dilated her pupils with toxic belladonna.
6. Desirable bachelor
The wealthy Luisa was expected to find a suitable husband. In 1900, at the age of 19, she married Marquis Camillo Casati Stampa di Soncino. She soon grew tired of him. After the birth of their child, the two soon went to live separately. Yet they remained married until Camillo's death in 1946.
7. Gabriele D'Annunzio
Casati was engaged in an affair with the handsome writer (and seasoned lover) Gabriele D'Annunzio. Full of passion, intense, and extravagant: D'Annunzio was everything Casati's husband Camillo was not.
Like many other writers before and after him, D'Annunzio incorporated Casati into his work. In his novella Maybe, Maybe Not he describes the character of Isabella Inghirami, reminiscent of Casati and her dark allure.
9. Golden leaves
Casati quickly became famous across Europe for more than just her beauty. Dark rumours circulated about her eccentric, extravagant behavior. For example, she would have her servants walk around naked, while providing for her needs. A few tactically placed golden leaves were all they were wearing.
10. Wax figures
Another tall tale about Casati's private life is that she had wax dolls seated on the chairs around her dinner table. These wax figures are said to have the ashes of her ex-lovers inside them.
11. Double vision
During her atmospheric, candle-lit dinners, Casati sat next to a waxed replica of herself, confusing her guests: who was the real Casati?
12. Exotic animals
Casati had a fondness for exotic animals. She owned several of them. White peacocks were her crown jewels. She trained the birds to sit on her windowsill and show themselves to guests and other passers-by. She also had albino blackbirds, which she painted in different colors according to the theme of her lavish parties. She was also known for her nightly walks with two cheetas by her side and once appeared at a party with a drugged boa constrictor around her neck.
13. Crystal ball
Casati looked for spirituality in various ways. Sources say that she never went anywhere without her crystal ball.
The art scene became obsessed with Casati, and artists like Kees van Dongen and Man Ray wanted to portray Casati to capture a glimpse of her essence. She became the muse of early twentieth-century art and she nurtured that reputation: she regularly paid for her own portraits, which she regarded as a contribution to her own immortality.
15. Marchesa Medusa
One day, when she was photographed by Man Ray, Casati just couldn't sit still. It resulted in, according to the famous photographer, a "surrealistic version of Medusa". The photo became Casati's favourite work and is now one of the best-known images of her.
Casati's palazzo in Venice was a place of wealth and scandal. The house, where various masquerades and garden parties were organized, now houses the Guggenheim Museum.
Casati loved dressing up in striking costumes. She often wore pieces designed by costume designers from Les Ballets Russes. One day, when she was wearing a very special dress consisting of hundreds of small light bulbs, a technical defect put her under current.
18. A living work of art
The parties that Casati organized were choreographed performances, where the crème de la crème of the European art world gathered. Casati was aware of her position in the community and wanted to become a "living work of art".
19. Huge debt
Casati's disproportionate spending and the economic depression of the 1930s led to a massive $25 million debt - an amount impossible amount to pay off, even for Casati. Her belongings were put up for auction. Coco Chanel attended the auction.
After her bankruptcy, Casati lived in a small apartment in London. She was regularly seen dumpster diving for feathers or other materials to spice up her outfit. At this stage in her life she shied away from any kind of interest and covered her face when pictures of her were taken.
Despite her tragic demise, Casati remained an inspiration to many. The fashion label "Marchesa" is named after "Marchesa Casati" and many other fashion brands take Casati's extravagance as a source of inspiration.
In the summer of 1957, Luisa Casati died of a stroke at the age of 76. Shortly after her death, one of Casati's best friends did something rather macabre. In her apartment, he went looking for her Pekinese dog and some fake eyelashes, so that she could be buried with them.
Unfortunately, the latest public expression of Casati's existence was not flawless: her name was misspelled on her gravestone. Under the name "Louisa" instead of "Luisa" she will rest forever.