The term casino is derived from Venetian and was akin to a club which could be rented out for social gatherings. Some were highly respectable meeting places for intellectual debate. Others were far more sordid. Alongside gambling were reports of rape, prostitution, fraud, violence and sexual depravity.
Casanova has left us an account of a particularly elegant casino that he rented for several months from 1753 to 1754 and which had once belonged to the English ambassador Lord Holderness:
I had five rooms furnished in the most elegant style, and everything seemed to be calculated for love, pleasure, and good cheer. The service of the dining-room was made through a sham window in the wall, provided with a dumb-waiter revolving upon itself, and fitting the window so exactly that master and servants could not see each other. The drawing-room was decorated with magnificent looking-glasses, crystal chandeliers, girandoles in gilt, bronze, and with a splendid pier-glass placed on a chimney of white marble; the walls were covered with small squares of real china, representing little Cupids and naked amorous couples in all sorts of positions, well calculated to excite the imagination; elegant and very comfortable sofas were placed on every side. Next to it was an octagonal room, the walls, the ceiling, and the floor of which were entirely covered with splendid Venetian glass, arranged in such a manner as to reflect on all sides every position of the amorous couple enjoying the pleasures of love. Close by was a beautiful alcove with two secret outlets; on the right, an elegant dressing-room, on the left, a boudoir which seemed to have been arranged by the mother of Love, with a bath in Carrara marble. Everywhere the wainscots were embossed in ormolu or painted with flowers and arabesques.
(Casanova’s Memoirs, To Paris and Prison, Chapter XVII)
Casanova in Paris: The Shadows of the King’ is freely available here.
27 long form articles on Casanova’s life and times are freely available here.
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