The second of four posts on Casanova and the affair of Giustiniana Wynne.
Central to the blossoming of the pair’s romance was the wealthy English merchant and voracious collector and dealer Consul Joseph Smith (for several years he had been the agent for Canaletto). He had been a friend of Sir Richard Wynne, knew the family well and helped them out after his death. At this time, he was in his late seventies. He was a foreign resident who had lived almost his entire adult life in Venice and owned the magnificent Palazzo Balbi which he’d had redesigned in the style of Palladio. Palazzo Balbi was very much a cultural hub and one of the few places that Mrs Anna risked allowing her children to visit, acutely aware as she was of the reputational damage that could arise if her daughters socialised too freely. Her uncompromising quest for respectability reflected the family’s precarious circumstances. She was, for a start, a widow taking care of five children. Moreover, Venetians had long memories and her own past was hardly spotless: how far would Mrs Anna’s acorns fall from the tree? Not only would any scandal reduce the chances of her daughters on the marriage market but their residency permit itself could be revoked.
Now it so happened that Andrea was a near neighbour and particularly good friend of Consul Smith, frequently visiting Palazzo Balbi where he made use of Smith’s extensive library as well as studying his vast collection of paintings and sculptures. The Consul himself was childless and had developed a genuine affection for Andrea who became the elderly collector’s confidant and assistant. At this point in his life, Andrea had not yet served in any capacity as a member of the government but kept himself busy with family responsibilities, a project to open a new theatre and his passion for learning and the arts. Although he’d had a number of affairs none had been particularly serious. Marriage, when it happened, would be more a matter of family and state politics than love and it would be to someone of his own class. The idea that marriage could be a free choice regardless of social and economic family interests had become a serious issue of Enlightenment debate but for an Andrea Memmo it was out of the question.
It was during one of Giustiniana’s visits to Palazzi Balbi that Consul Smith introduced her to Andrea in 1753. The two quickly fell in love, much to the alarm of Giustiniana’s mother who moved to put a stop to it. The weight of public opinion amongst the English community and interested parties in Venice at large stood full-square behind Lady Wynne. Those interested parties included Andrea’s mother. Lucia’s concern, however, was the obverse of Mrs Anna’s. She had no problem with her son having a casual fling but to develop a deep attachment was altogether something else. The possibility of an unsanctioned marriage reared its head, with the danger that Andrea’s career and the fortunes of the Memmo family would be derailed. Andrea, nonetheless, persisted in seeing Giustiniana despite her mother’s wishes, whether at a theatre, during the traditional evening passeggiata in Piazza San Marco or even calling on Giustiniana from his gondola moored below the Wynne residence. Pushed into a corner, Mrs Anna had little option but to confront him directly. In a dramatic encounter in the winter of 1754 she banished Andrea from their house and forbade any form of communication between the pair, news of the fireworks spreading quickly around the city.
But Giustiniana and Andrea, borne onwards by the intensity of their love, were not going to give up without a fight. In Mrs Anna, however, they had a determined adversary. She was now obsessively suspicious. Giustiniana was kept under close surveillance and never allowed out unaccompanied. Her mother used spies and allies within the community to pick up any gossip and to keep an eye on any places that offered potential for the two to meet. Whether at home or abroad, the Venetian state was renowned for its subterfuge and sophisticated intelligence gathering, utilising extensive networks of informants and diplomats. In this respect, Giustiniana and Andrea demonstrated that they were true children of the Serenissima. Andrea marshalled his own network of spies and allies. He obtained regular updates as to Giustiniana’s whereabouts. He bribed one of Mrs Anna’s servants, Alvisetto, to pass on messages between the two. Gondoliers and a sympathetic local shopkeeper were also employed as part of their secret mail service. Andrea was good friends with the Tiepolo family (another of the great Venetian lineages) whose palazzo was conveniently situated opposite the Wynnes, across a narrow canal. Andrea would visit to catch a glimpse of his beloved who would be forewarned and instructed to go out onto her balcony at a certain time. They developed their own sign language to communicate at a distance as well as their own written secret codes. Their emotions bounced all over the place: the thrill of a stolen moment; joy at the receipt of a letter; the fear that their correspondence might fall into the wrong hands; the excitement of the risks they were taking; the frustration at misunderstandings and plans that went awry; doubts over the constancy and sincerity of the other (a particular worry for Giustiniana given Andrea’s far greater freedom). They wrote to each other constantly, sometimes several times in a day. For Andrea especially, organising their affair absorbed an enormous amount of his time and energy, to the extent that other responsibilities and aspects of his life, such as his plans for a new theatre, began to suffer. Here’s one of Andrea’s letters published in Andrea di Robilant’s account A Venetian Affair:
Yesterday I tried desperately to see you. Before lunch the gondoliers could not serve me. After lunch I went looking for you in Campo Santo Stefano. Nothing. So I walked toward Piazza San Marco, and when I arrived at the bridge of San Moise I ran into Lucrezia Pisani [a good friend]! I gave her my hand on the bridge, and then I saw you. I left her immediately and went looking for you everywhere. Finally I found you in the piazza. I sent Alvisetto ahead to find out whether you were on your way to the opera or to the new play at Teatro Sant’Angelo, so that I could rush over to get a new box in time. Then I forged ahead and waited for you, filled with desire. Finally you arrived and I went up to my box so that I could contemplate you – not only for the sheer pleasure I take in admiring you but also in the hope of receiving a sign of acknowledgement as a form of consolation. But you did nothing of the sort. Instead you laughed continuously, made loud noises until the end of the show, for which I was both sorry and angry – as you can well imagine.
After several months, believing that the danger had passed, Mrs Anna turned her attentions to the task of finding Giustiniana a suitable husband and lowered her guard. The lovers now took advantage of this more relaxed supervision to meet up in the apartments and casinos of friends, their relationship becoming a much more physical one. This secret affair continued throughout 1755. As successful as their scheming had been, however, there was always an underlying hopelessness about the relationship. The social gulf between them was simply too great. In some ways, Andrea had suggested, it would be easier for them if Giustiniana got herself married to someone else. They could then carry on their relationship without so many dynastic complications. Such arrangements were not uncommon amongst elite society in eighteenth-century Europe.
At the end of 1755, it then so happened that Consul Smith’s wife died. He was eighty-years-old but in very good health and was apparently keen to remarry. Mrs Anna was quickly on the case. Invitations to the Wynne abode followed along with various hints. There were competitors, however, and they lost no time making it clear to Consul Smith that Giustiniana was still sweet on Andrea. It was to be expected, however, that a rival would try to discredit her, so such a charge could be taken with a large pinch of salt. Understandably, Giustiniana had mixed feelings but she went along; marriage to the Consul might, after all, work in the lovers’ favour. Andrea himself was particularly keen on the idea and used his access to Smith to discretely promote her cause. Mrs Anna’s campaign gathered pace. The Consul invited the family to visit his villa to the north of Venice and then facilitated the rental of the nearby villa, La Scalette, where the Wynne’s could stay for the summer. All appeared to be going well and there were hopes that a proposal of marriage would be forthcoming, possibly by the September. Then everything came crashing down. Towards the end of the summer, Andrea settled in at the Tiepolo’s own villa which was not too far from La Scalette. Rumours began to surface that Giustiniana and Andrea were seeing each other. And worse was to come. Mrs Anna managed to get hold of letters written by Giustiniana intended for Andrea. This lead to a terrible scene, with Giustiniana’s mother threatening to sue Andrea and drag the whole affair through the courts. After some negotiation, much to Giustiniana’s consternation, Andrea agreed to Mrs Anna’s demand not to write or speak to her daughter until after she had married Consul Smith. It was all for nought, however. Smith had got wind of events and the marriage was off.
Meanwhile, Lady Wynne wasn’t alone in her frustrations in attempting to arrange an advantageous marriage for one of her children. Believing, as Mrs Anna had believed, that the relationship between Andrea and Giustiniana was over, Pietro and Lucia Memmo had entered into negotiations with the wealthy Bentivoglio family for the betrothal of one of their daughters to Andrea. For the cash-strapped Memmos it was a very advantageous match. Andrea, however, procrastinated and then refused, much to the anger of his family. What with this as well as the Consul Smith debacle he had a lot bridges to build and fences to mend. To add to his woes his sister Marina, to whom he was very close, died and old age was bearing down heavily on his father.
‘The Prologue’, and chapters 1 to 10 of ‘Casanova in Paris: The Shadows of the King’ are now freely available here.
6 long form articles on Casanova’s life and times are freely available here.
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