Giacomo Casanova has become known as a great lover and seducer of women. So much so that his name is often used as an adjective to describe other men with similar qualities. Born into a poor family, he used his charm and wit to ingratiate himself with the rich and famous. In his working life, he tried his hand as a lawyer, soldier, spy, writer, salesman and gambler, with varying degrees of success. He travelled extensively across Europe, seducing large numbers of women as he went.
He was born in Venice in 1725. His parents were actors and he was the first of six children. At an early age, he went to boarding school in Padua, where he lived with his teacher, Abbé Gozzi, and his family. It was here that he was first introduced to the charms of the opposite sex when Gozzi's younger sister, Bettina, fondled him at the age of eleven. Casanova later wrote: "It was she who little by little kindled in my heart the first sparks of a feeling which later became my ruling passion."
Graduating from the university of Padua with a law degree, he also studied moral philosophy, chemistry, and mathematics. A strong interest in medicine would serve him well in later life. The strong interest he developed in gambling however, would have mixed success.
He returned to Venice, which at the time was known as the pleasure capital of Europe.
The famous Carnival, gambling houses and large numbers of beautiful women made it the most eagerly anticipate stop on the Grand Tour for the young men of Europe, and Casanova embraced the opportunities with enthusiasm. In a move that would set a pattern for life, Casanova found himself a patron, a Venetian senator named Alvise Gasparo Malipiero, who introduced him to the highest Venetian society. Establishing another lifelong pattern, Casanova was caught with Malipiero's intended mistress, and both were expelled from the house.
It was around this time that Casanova had his first full sexual experience with two young sisters, Nanetta and Maria Savorgnan. Casanova claimed later that it was this experience that set him on his licentious path.
After a short but scandalous career in the church, Casanova decided to become a soldier. He bought a commission and a uniform and set off to join a regiment in Corfu. Bored by his lack of advancement and having lost most of his pay gambling, he returned to Venice. He tried the life of a professional gambler, but lost. He then became a violinist. It was at this time that his earlier interest in medicine enabled him to save the life of a Venetian aristocrat, a senator from the Bragadin family. In gratitude, he became Casanova's patron, enabling him to return to Venetian high society. For three years he worked as a legal assistant, spending most of his time gambling and pursuing women. Eventially, after a practical joke went wrong, leading to the victim's paralysis (from which he never recovered), and a young lady's accusation of rape (eventually shown to be false), Casanova was forced to leave Venice.
Moving initially to Parma, and from there to Paris and other European capitals, he worked to develop his network of contacts and his list of sexual conquests. He returned to Venice three years later in 1753. This time his activities became noticed by the authorities and he was arrested and placed, without trial, in the notorious prison in the Doge's palace.
With the help of other prisoners, Casanova escaped and made his way back to Paris, arriving in 1757. Under the patronage of an old friend who had become the French foreign minister, Casanova embarked on a remarkable series of activites, including working as a government spy. He also built a repution among the rich as an expert in the occult. He was a trustee of the first state lottery and was very successful at selling lottery tickets and then government bonds. All of these activities earned him a great deal of money which he used to buy a silk manufacturing company. Unfortunately, what money he didn't spend on gambling he spent on seducing most of his female workforce and he was soon broke again.
He was forced to leave France and was subsequently arrested several times over his debts. Casanova had tired of this lifestyle. After visiting a monastry, he was contemplating becoming a monk. The idea didn't last long as he ran into a new 'object of desire' on his way back to the hotel. For the next years he roamed across Europe. Using the name 'Chevalier de Seingalt', he tried to sell his idea for a state lottery and moved from one sexual romp to another. He even spent some time in England where his inability to speak English made it difficult for him to find sexual partners. He got round the problem by placing an advertisement in a newspaper to let an apartment, and then interviewed the applicants. His lottery idea was turned down, first by George III in England, then by Fredrick the Great in Prussia, Catherine the Great in Russia and finally Charles III in Spain.
In 1774, after 18 years in exile, he was finally given permission to return to Venice. But by now he was ill and exausted. With few friends, no money for gambling and few women interested in him, Venice was a different place for Casanova. He visited the deathbed of Bettina Gozzi, the girl who had first introduced him to sex, as she died in his arms. Turning back to writing, his bitterness brought him into conflict with the authorities and he was forced to leave again.
Castle of Dux - Photo: Bouquet
Casanova spent the last part of his life working as a librarian in the Castle of Dux, in Bohemia, now part of the Czech Republic. He was disliked by most of the other inhabitants and spent much of his time alone, writing his memoirs. In 1797 Napoleon conquered Venice and the Venetian Republic ceased to exist. Too late for him to return home, Casanova died in exile on June 4th 1798.