Notorious today for his amorous pursuits, Giacomo Casanova (1725–98) was esteemed by his contemporaries as a charming conversationalist, expert on many topics, and an international man of letters. He traveled widely throughout the continent, with extended sojourns in his native Venice, Paris, London, and much of Eastern Europe, mingling with royalty, popes and luminaries such as Voltaire and Benjamin Franklin along the way. This exhibition combines more than 250 paintings, sculptures, works on paper, decorative arts objects, period costumes and musical instruments drawn from European and American museums and private collections to illustrate the splendor of 18th-century Europe.
Structured by the chronology and geography of Casanova’s life, the exhibition addresses such themes as travel; courtship and seduction; theatre and identity; and the pleasures of dining. The visual riches Casanova would have encountered are evoked by masterpieces by Canaletto (1697–1768), François Boucher (1703–70), Jean-Honoré Fragonard (1732–1806), Jean-Antoine Houdon (1741–1828), William Hogarth (1697–1764) and others. Three tableaux—set in Venice, Paris and London—employ period furniture and mannequins in 18th-century costumes to vividly convey scenarios from Casanova’s world. Casanova:
The Seduction of Europe is co-organized by the MFA, the Kimbell Art Museum and the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, and is accompanied by an illustrated catalogue produced by MFA Publications.
Exhibition Catalogue: Casanova: The Seduction of Europe
Edited by Frederick Ilchman, Thomas Michie, C. D. Dickerson III and Esther Bell; with contributions by Meredith Chilton, Jeffrey Collins, Nina L. Dubin, Courtney Leigh Harris, James H. Johnson, Pamela A. Parmal, Malina Stefanovska, Susan M. Wager and Michael Yonan
Published by MFA Publications, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston Hardcover: $45 ISBN: 978-0-87846-842-3 343 pages
In 18th-century Europe, while the old order reveled in the luxurious excesses of the Rococo style and the Enlightenment sowed the seeds of revolution, the shape-shifting libertine Giacomo Casanova seduced his way across the Continent. Although notorious for the scores of amorous conquests he recorded in his remarkably frank memoirs, Casanova was just as practiced at charming his way into the most elite social circles, through an inimitable mix of literary ambition, improvisational genius and outright fraud. In his travels across Europe and through every level of society, from the theatrical demimonde to royal courts, he was also seduced by the visual splendors he encountered.
This volume accompanies the first major art exhibition outside Europe to lavishly recreate Casanova’s visual world, from his birthplace of Venice, city of masquerades, to the cultural capitals of Paris and London and the outposts of Eastern Europe. Summoning up the people he met and the cityscapes, highways, salons, theaters, masked balls, boudoirs, gambling halls and dining rooms he frequented, it provides a survey of important works of 18th-century European art by masters such as Canaletto, Fragonard, Boucher, Houdon and Hogarth, along with exquisite decorative arts objects.
Twelve essays by prominent scholars illuminate multiple facets of Casanova’s world as reflected in the arts of his time, providing a fascinating grand tour of Europe conducted by a quintessential figure of the 18th century as well as a splendid visual display of the spirit of the age.
The exhibition is on view at the Kimbell Art Museum through December 31, 2017.