‘I want to be a living work of art’ said The Marchesa Luisa Casati

Luisa Casati
Luisa, the Marchesa Casati Stampa di Soncino (23 January 1881 – 1 June 1957) was an eccentric Italian heiress, muse, and patroness of the arts in early-20th-century Europe.
The younger daughter of Alberto Amman, a wealthy cotton manufacturer and his wife, the former Lucia Bressi, Luisa Adele Rosa Maria Amman was born in Milan to a life of luxury. Luisa’s father was of Austrian descent, while her mother was Italian and Austrian. Luisa’s father was made a count by King Umberto I for his contributions to the cotton industry, which he largely controlled. Countess Amman died when Luisa was thirteen, and Count Amman died two years later, making his daughters, Luisa and her elder sister, Francesca (1880-1919, married Giulio Padulli), reportedly the wealthiest women in Italy.

Luisa married, in 1900, Camillo, the Marchese Casati Stampa di Soncino (Muggiò, 12 August 1877 – Roma, 18 September 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), first married Francis John Clarence Westenra Plantagenet Hastings, known as Viscount Hastings (later 16th Earl of Huntingdon), in 1925; they had one child, Lady Moorea Hastings (born 1928), and divorced in 1943. As her second husband, Cristina, Viscountess Hastings married, in 1944, the Hon. Wogan Philipps.
Marchesa Casati’s only grandchild, Lady Moorea Hastings became the third wife of Labour politician Woodrow Wyatt and later wed Brinsley Graham Black.

Marchesa Casati presently has three living descendants, Lady Moorea Hastings and her sons:
The Hon. Pericles Plantagenet James Casati Wyatt (born 1963), became an owner and operator of water parks and recreational-vehicle camps in Arizona. Octavius Orlando Irvine Casati Black (born 1968), the founder of The Mind Gym, a mind-development system based in London
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, Augustus John 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, and Umberto Boccioni. 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. 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. She is also the namesake of the Marchesa fashion house started by British designers Georgina Chapman and Keren Craig. And in May 2009, Karl Lagerfeld debuted his 2010 Cruise-wear collection fittingly on the Lido in Venice, for which Casati was once again a major muse.
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”.
By 1930, Casati had amassed a personal debt of $25 million. Unable to satisfy her creditors, her personal possessions were auctioned off. Rumors has it that among the bidders was Coco Chanel.
Luisa fled to London, where she lived in comparative poverty. She was rumored 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 leopard skin 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.


The book – The Marchesa Casati, Portraits of a Muse
The web-site all about her life and more photo.
Actress Tilda Swinton shot as Luisa Casati by Paolo Roversi for Acne Paper Sweden, click here.

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