“The door to the room where we sat chatting suddenly opened. A dead woman entered. Her superb body was modelling a dress of white satin that was wrapped around her like a shroud and dragged behind her. A bouquet of orchids hid her breast. Her hair was red and her complexion livid like alabaster. Her face was devoured by two enormous eyes, whose black pupils almost overwhelmed her mouth painted a red so vivid that it seemed like a strip of coagulated blood. In her arms, she carried a baby leopard. It was the Marchesa Casati. ” – Gabriel-Louis Pringué (7)
If you guessed Marchesa Casati, you are correct! So, who was she?
“Who is Luisa? … The one woman who ever astonished D’Annunzio, the one woman who was painted by Boldini, Van Dongen, Augustus John, and dozens of others…Luisa, who wore necklaces of snakes and rested on pillows of leopards—all of them alive, of course. Luisa, who had a palace in Milan and another in Venice, who owned the most beautiful of emeralds, who wore chinchilla on the Lido and lamé in St. Moritz … Luisa, who ordered the likeness of her lovers modeled in waxen figurines. Luisa, who once had everything and who now has nothing, apart from the few friends she continues to astonish. In a word—Luisa Casati.” – Tony de Gandarillas, 1950 (3)
What did she wear? These quotes, from the Vogue article, “People are Talking about: Extravagant Casati”, describe four of her extreme outfits:
“She herself arrived last, a kind of Tiepolo goddess, wearing a crown of ostrich feathers, a hoop-skirted gown of gold cloth, her train borne by small blacks [sic] bedecked with plumes, her cheetahs at her heels and held in leash by ropes of turquoise.”
“…The Marchesa appeared in the piazza San Marco in Venice in a cloak of antique red brocade, a gold chain around her neck, a fur cap on her head, accompanied by two Afghans with collars of turquoise and follow by a turbaned Moor.”
“In Paris, she appeared in her box at Opera with the tail of a white peacock unfurled around her head. She was Andarte, Salambô; and she was Lady Macbeth the night she made her entrance after having had the neck of a chicken slit above her right hand.”
Casati continues to inspire us today. According to http://www.marchesacasati.com, more than a few recent collections have been inspired by Casati’s life and legend. Here are a few examples:
A strong voice can be found among the multitude of interesting quotes and descriptions of the Marchesa. It is her own! The letters she left behind, with their esoteric language and romantic imagery, add to her mystique. After beginning her affair with Gabriele D’Annunzio, an Italian poet, Casati’s extreme behavior and costume evolved, incorporating the fur, feathers, and jeweled elements for which Casati become so famous. D’Annunzio gave Casati the nickname Kore, in memory of the Parthenon’s archaic statue, and it is as Kore that she appears as in his poetry (3). In the text of the following telegrams, found in the Vogue article, “People are Talking about: Extravagant Casati”, we see Casati’s own clever use of poetic language:
“I have a ferocious turtledove.”
“Kore is dead because she wished to draw near the gods, her heart is asleep forever.”
“The waxen figure is in the house of crystal and come see the lagoon through the windows of gold.”
And finally and most famously, here is Casati’s wish:
“I want to be a living work of art!”
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