Portrait of Marchesa Luisa Casati by Adolf de Meyer
|Born||Luisa Adele Rosa Maria Amman
January 23, 1881
|Died||June 1, 1957
Knightsbridge, London, England
|Cause of death||Stroke|
|Resting place||Brompton Cemetery|
|Other names||Luisa, Marchesa Casati Stampa di Soncino|
|Occupation||Socialite, artists' model, art patroness|
|Spouse(s)||Camillo, Marchese Casati Stampa di Soncino (m. 1900; wid. 1946)|
Luisa, Marchesa Casati Stampa di Soncino (23 January 1881 – 1 June 1957), also known as Luisa Casati, was an Italian heiress, muse, and patroness of the arts in early 20th-century Europe known for her eccentricities. As the concept of dandy was expanded to include women, the Marchesa Casati fitted the utmost female example by saying: "I want to be a living work of art".
Luisa Adele Rosa Maria Amman was born in Milan, youngest 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. Alberto Amman father was made a count by King Umberto I. Countess Amman died when Luisa was thirteen, and Count Amman died two years later, making his daughters, Luisa and her older sister, Francesca (1880–1919, married Giulio Padulli), reportedly the wealthiest women in Italy.
Marriage and descendants
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, 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 Honourable 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. She had a son with each husband:
- The Hon. Pericles Plantagenet James Casati Wyatt (born 1963), became an owner and operator of water parks and recreational-vehicle camps in Arizona; half-brother to journalist Petronella Wyatt.
- Octavius Black (Octavius Orlando Irvine Casati Black, born 1968), the founder of The Mind Gym, a mind-development system based in London; was at Eton with David Cameron, to whom he remains close; married to Tory barrister Joanne Cash.
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.
Muse and patroness
A celebrity and femme fatale, the Marchesa's famous eccentricities dominated and 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.
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, 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 (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. 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.
Her numerous portraits were painted and sculpted by artists as various as Giovanni Boldini, Paolo Troubetzkoy, Romaine Brooks (with whom she had an affair), Kees van Dongen, and Man Ray; 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.
Later years and death
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. On 1 June 1957, Marchesa Casati died of a stroke at her last residence at 32 Beaufort Gardens in Knightsbridge, aged 76. Following a requiem mass at Brompton Oratory, the Marchesa was interred in Brompton Cemetery.
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. 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.
In popular culture
In 1998, John Galliano based his Spring/Summer Christian Dior collection on her. Gowns from this collection have been displayed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art Fashion Institute. Casati served as inspiration for another of Galliano's ensembles created for his autumn/winter 2007/2008 Bal des Artistes haute couture collection for Dior.
Designer Alexander McQueen's Spring/Summer 2007 collection was inspired by Casati.
In May 2009, Karl Lagerfeld debuted his 2010 Cruise-wear collection on the Lido in Venice, for which Casati was once again a major muse.
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- Official website
- Peggy Guggenheim Collection: Palazzo Venier dei Leoni (Venice) where La Casati gave her most memorable extravaganzas.
- Luisa Casati at dandyism.net
- Villa Lysis of Baron Jacques d'Adelswärd-Fersen, one of the "Sinners' Paradises" in Capri, very much frequented by Marchesa Casati.
- Luisa Casati at Find a Grave