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    Curated: Casanova’s World Is Now in San Francisco



    Casanova: The Seduction of Europe at the Legion of Honor through May 28

    “Those who have not lived in the eighteenth century, in the years before the revolution, do not know the sweetness of living and cannot imagine what it was like to have happiness in life.”
    Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord

    The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco (FAMSF) invite audiences to journey into the world of eighteenth-century Europe with one of its most colorful characters, Giacomo Casanova (Italian, 1725–1798), as guide. Casanova was considered by his own contemporaries to be a witty conversationalist, autobiographer, gambler, spy, and one of the greatest travelers of all time. More than 80 works of art, including paintings, sculptures, works on paper, period furnishings, delicate porcelains, and lavish period costumes, re-create this luxurious and sparkling world of masked balls, palaces, theaters and operas.

    “The cosmopolitan Casanova is a fitting guide to lead our tour of the glittering art capitals of eighteenth-century Europe, from Venice to Constantinople, from Versailles to St. Petersburg,” says Max Hollein, Director and CEO of FAMSF. “He knew the greatest figures of the age, from monarchs like Louis XV of France and Catherine the Great of Russia, to popes, to intellectuals like Voltaire and Benjamin Franklin.”

    Visitors are immersed in a visual world of Rococo finery, examining artworks not only as individual pieces, but also as combined and cumulative expressions of wealth and prestige. Although often exhibited in isolation, these works are best understood as parts of luxurious environments that also included architecture and interior design. To achieve the effect of eighteenth-century opulence, the exhibition stages several tableaux enlivened by mannequins dressed in period costume and surrounded by paintings, sculptures and decorative arts.

    “This theatrical display of artworks is fitting for Casanova, who was not only the son of an actress but also an occasional theater musician and playwright,” explains Melissa Buron, Director, Art Division for FAMSF. “These tableaux show how Casanova lived a life immersed in the many pleasures of art and they feature amorous, mythological, and pastoral scenes by some of the most important painters of the time, including François Boucher, Canaletto, Jean-Honoré Fragonard, and William Hogarth.”

    Paintings of Venetian masquerades and idealized gods and goddesses cavorting amid swirling clouds are paired with an opulence of decorative arts. These include delicate and playful porcelains from the royal Polish Meissen factory and from as far as China; gilt candelabra and silvered mirrors; and lavish furniture made from silk-embroidered velvet, worked leather, marble, alabaster, and gold.

    “Objects like these would have been part of the cumulative display of luxury found in the show palaces of Europe,” says Martin Chapman, Curator-in-Charge of European Decorative Arts and Sculpture for FAMSF. “The Legion of Honor houses the magnificent French period room the Salon Doré, which was recently conserved and reinstalled to the delight of our visitors. Casanova brings the eighteenth century to life in just as opulent a fashion.”

    These stunning artworks are on loan from institutions including the Musée du Louvre; the National Portrait Gallery, London; the National Gallery of Canada; the National Galleries of Scotland; the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Rennes; and several prominent private collections.