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 Post subject: infinite variety
PostPosted: Mon Aug 07, 2017 11:06 am 
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Location: Broomfield, Colorado
From the “interesting women” reading list. It’s argued that Marchesa Luisa Casati was the third most painted woman in history – after the Madonna and Cleopatra. She was certainly one of the most painted women of her time in another sense of the word – she favored extremely heavy makeup, with a chalk-white base, shocking red lipstick, and eyes darkened with kohl – she sometimes went as far as using 2” long false eyelashes, gluing velvet to her eyelids, and enlarging her pupils with belladonna drops.

She didn’t start this way; as a young girl she was fairly ordinary, overshadowed by her older sister Francesca. Her family were wealthy industrialists; they owned cloth mills in northern Italy, and sought to move up socially by marrying Luisa off to the Marchese Camilo Casati, a noble but impoverished Italian cavalry officer. Luisa apparently settled down to the typical life of a young Italian wife in the early 1900s, giving birth to a daughter, Cristina, and managing a rural household while her husband busied himself with hunting, hounds, and horses.

Then something happened – perhaps a long-suppressed desire to be different, maybe a stray cosmic ray interacting with a brain cell, or who knows what, and the previously drab and dutiful Marchesa suddenly went over the top. She cut her hair, dyed the remainder bright red, adopted her signature makeup style, bought a villa in Venice, and began throwing wild parties and having affairs. She picked up a menagerie – an assortment of large snakes, a monkey that guests described as “loud and smelly”, and several cheetahs. She entered parties wearing nothing but makeup, a fur coat, and a boa constrictor, and escorted by a pair of large, silent, black servants who wore loincloths and carried torches. Now and then she had the servants painted gold, for variety. She patronized artists, sometimes pestering them for weeks until they agreed to paint her. She picked up another villa in Paris and rented one on Capri, with all used for increasingly exotic fetes and masquerade balls. She recruited lovers of both sexes – the most famous being novelist, poet, aviator, war hero, and proto-Fascist Gabriele d’Annunzio. She traveled around the world – authors Scot Ryersson and Michael Yaccarino note it’s hard to keep track of her, as rumors would put her in several places at the same time, and because she never kept any diaries or wrote anything down, preferring the visual.

It couldn’t last, of course. By the 1930s, her wealth was depleted, exacerbated by her habit of paying bills with art objects and her complete horror of dealing with things like taxes. She fled to London and moved through a series of increasingly squalid houses and apartments, complicated by the Blitz and the fact that she was technically an enemy alien. Most of her old friends and lovers ignored her, although a few came through now and then to make sure she had enough to eat – and money for makeup. She died in 1957 at the age of 76; her remaining friends saw to it she was buried with a new set of false eyelashes, and a stuffed Pekinese. Her gravestone in Brompton Cemetery has an inscription from Antony and Cleopatra – “Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale her infinite variety”.


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