Queer Places:
Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, Dorsoduro, 701-704, 30123 Venezia VE, Italia
Villa San Michele, Viale Axel Munthe, 34, 80071 Anacapri NA, Italia
Villino Casati, Via Piemonte 51, Rome
32 Beaufort Gardens, Knightsbridge, London SW3, Regno Unito
Brompton Cemetery, Fulham Rd, Kensington, London SW10 9UG, Regno Unito

Luisa Casati, by Romaine Brooks, 1920Luisa, Marchesa Casati Stampa di Soncino (23 January 1881 – 1 June 1957), was an Italian heiress, muse, and patroness of the arts in early 20th-century Europe.

Luisa Adele Rosa Maria Amman was born in Milan, the younger of two daughters of Alberto Amman and his wife Lucia (née Bressi). Her father was of Austrian descent, while her mother was Italian and Austrian. Her father was made a count by King Umberto I. Her mother died when Luisa was 13, and her father died two years later, making his daughters, Luisa and her older sister, Francesca (1880–1919, married Giulio Padulli), reportedly the wealthiest women in Italy.

In 1900, she married Camillo, Marchese Casati Stampa di Soncino (Muggiò, 12 August 1877 – Roma, 18 September 1946). The couple's only child, Cristina Casati Stampa di Soncino, was born the following year. The Casatis maintained separate residences for the duration of their marriage. They were legally separated in 1914. They remained married until Marchese Casati's death in 1946.

In 1925, the couple's daughter Cristina (1901–1953), married Francis John Clarence Westenra Plantagenet Hastings, known as Viscount Hastings and later the 16th Earl of Huntingdon; they had one child, Lady Moorea Hastings (4 March 1928 – 21 October 2011), and divorced in 1943. The following year the Viscountess Hastings married Wogan Philipps; that marriage produced no children.

Luisa Casati's only grandchild, Lady Moorea Hastings, was the wife of politician and diarist Woodrow Wyatt from 1957 to 1966, and later married the adman Brinsley Black, named as one of the best-dressed Englishmen in the inaugural issue of Men in Vogue in 1965.[1] She had a son with each husband:

Moorea Hastings was so unmaternal that, on learning she was pregnant, she arranged with her first husband that childless cousins of his would care for the baby. When Wyatt later sued for divorce on grounds of her adultery, he was, unusually, given full custody of the child.[7]

Marchesa Casati 1919, photograph by Adolf de Meyer (1868–1946)

Luisa Casati, by Romaine Brooks, 1920
by Romaine Brooks, 1920

by Giovanni Boldini

Marchesa Casati (1881–1957) c.1942 Augustus Edwin John (1878–1961) Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales

Marchesa Casati (1881–1957) c.1918 Jacob Epstein (1880–1959) Southend Museums Service

Jean de Gaigneron, La marchesa Casati, 1922 – Collezione Lucile ...
La Marchesa Casati, by Jean de Gaigneron

Casati was known for her eccentricities that delighted European society for nearly three decades. The beautiful and extravagant hostess to the Ballets Russes was something of a legend among her contemporaries. She astonished society by parading with a pair of leashed cheetahs and wearing live snakes as jewellery.[8][9][10]

She captivated artists and literary figures such as Robert de Montesquiou, Romain de Tirtoff (Erté), Jean Cocteau, and Cecil Beaton. She had a long term affair with the author Gabriele d'Annunzio,[11] who is said to have based on her the character of Isabella Inghirami in Forse che si forse che no (Maybe yes, maybe no) (1910). The character of La Casinelle, who appeared in two novels by Michel Georges-Michel, Dans la fete de Venise (1922) and Nouvelle Riviera (1924), was also inspired by her.

In 1910, Casati took up residence at the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, on Grand Canal in Venice, owning it until circa 1924, in 1949, Peggy Guggenheim purchased the Palazzo from the heirs of Viscountes Castlerosse and made it her home for the following thirty years, it is the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, a modern art museum on the Grand Canal in the Dorsoduro sestiere of Venice, Italy.[12]

Casati's soirées there would become legendary. Casati collected a menagerie of exotic animals, and patronized fashion designers such as Fortuny[13] and Poiret. From 1919 to 1920 she lived at Villa San Michele in Capri, the tenant of the unwilling Axel Munthe. Her time on the Italian island, tolerant home to a wide collection of artists, gay men, and lesbians in exile, was described by British author Compton Mackenzie in his diaries.

Numerous portraits were painted and sculpted by artists as various as Giovanni Boldini, Paolo Troubetzkoy, Adolph de Meyer[14], Romaine Brooks (with whom she had an affair), Kees van Dongen, and Man Ray;[15][16] many of them she paid for, as a wish to "commission her own immortality". She was muse to Italian Futurists such as F. T. Marinetti, Fortunato Depero, and Umberto Boccioni. Augustus John's portrait of her is one of the most popular paintings at the Art Gallery of Ontario; Jack Kerouac wrote poems about it and Robert Fulford was impressed by it as a schoolboy.

By 1930, Casati had amassed a personal debt of $25 million. As she was unable to pay her creditors, her personal possessions were auctioned off. Designer Coco Chanel was reportedly one of the bidders.[17]

Casati fled to London, where she lived in comparative poverty in a one-room flat. She was rumoured to be seen rummaging in bins searching for feathers to decorate her hair.[18] On 1 June 1957, Casati died of a stroke at her last residence, 32 Beaufort Gardens in Knightsbridge, aged 76. Following a requiem mass at Brompton Oratory, the Marchesa was interred in Brompton Cemetery.[19]

She was buried wearing her black and leopard skin finery and a pair of false eyelashes. She was also interred with one of her beloved stuffed pekinese dogs.[19] Her tombstone is a small grave marker in the shape of an urn draped in cloth with a swag of flowers to the front. The inscription on the tombstone, which misspells her "Louisa" rather than "Luisa", is inscribed with the quote, "Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale her infinite variety", from Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra.

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  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Luisa_Casati