Luisa Casati  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

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


Early life

The younger daughter of a wealthy cotton manufacturer, Alberto Amman, and his wife, the former Lucia Bressi, Luisa Adele Rosa Maria Amman was born in Milan to a life of luxury. Her father was made a count by King Umberto I for his contributions to the cotton industry. Countess Amman died when Luisa was 13, and Count Amman died two years later, making his Luisa and her elder sister, Francesca (1880-1919, married Giulio Padulli) reportedly the wealthiest women in Italy.


Luisa married, in 1900, Camillo Casati Stampa di Soncino, Marchese di Roma (1877-1946). A year later, their only child, Cristina, was born.

After the early years of their marriage and the birth of their daughter, the Casatis maintained separate residences for the duration of their marriage. They were legally separated in 1914, and the marriage ended upon the marchese's death.

The couple's daughter, Cristina Casati Stampa di Soncino (1901-1953), married, as her first husband, Francis John Clarence Westenra Plantagenet Hastings, known as Viscount Hastings (later 16th Earl of Huntingdon), in 1925; they had one child, Lady Moorea Hastings (b. 1928, who became the third wife of Labour politician Woodrow Wyatt and later wed Brinsley Graham Black), and divorced in 1943. As her second husband, Cristina, Viscountess Hastings married, in 1944, the Hon. Wogan Philipps.

Marchesa Casati presently has three descendants, Lady Moorea Hastings and her sons:

  • The Hon. Pericles Plantagenet James Casati Wyatt (b. 1963, who became an owner and operator of water parks and recreational-vehicle camps in Arizona)[1][2][3]
  • Octavius Orlando Irvine Casati Black (b. 1968, the founder of The Mind Gym, a mind-development system based in London).[4][5]

Muse and patroness

A celebrity and femme fatale, the marchesa's famous eccentricities dominated and delighted European society for nearly three decades. She captivated artists and literati figures such as Robert de Montesquiou, Erté, Jean Cocteau, Cecil Beaton, and Jack Kerouac. She had a long term affair with the author Gabriele D'Annunzio. The character of Isabella Inghirami from D'Annunzio's Forse che si forse che no (Maybe yes, maybe no) (1910) was said to have been inspired by her, as well as the character of La Casinelle, who appeared in two novels by Michel Georges-Michel, Dans la fete de Venise (1922) and Nouvelle Riviera (1924).

In 1910 Casati took up residence at the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, on Grand Canal in Venice (now the home of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection). Her soirées there would become legendary. Casati collected a menagerie of exotic animals, and patronized fashion designers such as Fortuny and Poiret. Later, when she had lost her immense wealth, the marchesa retired to England, spending her last years in London, where she died at age 76. Characters based on Casati were played by Vivien Leigh in La Contessa (1965) and by Ingrid Bergman in the movie A Matter of Time (1976).

The beautiful and extravagant hostess to the Ballets Russes was something of a legend among her contemporaries. She astonished Venetian society by parading with a pair of leashed cheetahs and wearing live snakes as jewellery. Her numerous portraits were painted and sculpted by artists as various as Giovanni Boldini, Paolo Troubetzkoy, Romaine Brooks, Kees van Dongen, Man Ray and Augustus John; many of them she paid for, as a wish to "commission her own immortality".

She was muse to F. T. Marinetti, Fortunato Depero, Umberto Boccioni and, more recently, to Dita Von Teese. John Galliano based the 1998 Spring/Summer Christian Dior collection on her. Gowns from this collection have been displayed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art Fashion Institute. And Casati served as inspiration for one of Galliano's ensembles created for his autumn/winter 2007/2008 Bal des Artistes haute couture collection for Dior.

As the concept of dandy was expanded in the 20th century to include women, the marchesa Casati fitted the utmost female example by saying: "I want to be a living work of art".

Debt, flight and death

By 1930, Casati had amassed a personal debt of $25 million. Unable to satisfy her creditors, her personal possessions were auctioned off. Rumour has it that among the bidders was Coco Chanel.

Luisa fled to London, where she lived in comparative poverty. She was rumoured to be seen rummaging in bins searching for feathers to decorate her hair.

She died in London on 1 June 1957, and was interred in Brompton Cemetery. The quote "Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale her infinite variety" from Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra was inscribed on her tombstone.

She was buried wearing not only her black and leopardskin finery but a pair of false eyelashes. She also shares her coffin with one of her beloved stuffed pekinese dogs. 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 strangely mis-spells her name as 'Louisa' rather than 'Luisa'. It's a very hard grave to find and despite her fame, wealth and notoriety is very modest compared to the thousands of grand monuments within Brompton Cemetery.

Directions to her tombstone

For those who wish to visit the Marchesa's grave, here are the directions to find it.

Enter through main gate at the Brompton Road end. Straight ahead (south) in the distance is visible the chapel, a circular building with a dome. Turn left (sast) and take the third right (south). This goes on a path parallel to the one leading straight to the Chapel.

Continue down this path until you see a structure on your right. This is the building beneath which are the catacombs. You'll see that if you continue the colonnade then forms a semicircle and as you look right there will be a gap through which you can see more monuments.

Here there is a crossroads in the path. Left (east) leads to the higher path, and right leads into the circle. Walk straight ahead and look to your left. You will see almost immediately that the graves thin out a bit. In this more sparsely populated area you should see her marker. It is actually about 10 to 12 metres to the left of this path.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Luisa Casati" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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