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Casanova Is Getting a Museum

The womanizer and Enlightenment polymath will be memorialized with an interactive museum in Venice opening April 2

smithsonian.com

Today, the word Casanova has become a shorthand for a world-class seducer (if you're feeling charitable) or a playboy (if you want to be blunt about it). But most people know nothing about the man who made the name legendary—some might not even be aware that he existed at all.

A new museum in Venice, the city of his birth, called the "Giacomo Casanova Museum & Experience" hopes to change that when it opens its doors in April.

According to Henri Neuendorf at artnet News, the museum is the brainchild of Carlo Parodi, the founder of Giacomo Casanova Foundation. An ardent fan of the 18th-century polymath, he wanted to share more about him with the public.

“It won’t be just a dusty museum where you will be able to discover paintings, memorabilia, and more, but it will be a unique experience with high technologies and multimedia, which will let you revive the romantic adventures of Giacomo Casanova, feeling the sensation of the life of this eclectic man,” he writes in a crowdfunding campaign.

The idea is to make the visitor the "protagonist of the story of Casanova," through virtual reconstructions, interactive exhibits and artifacts, reports Arte.Go.

You can see for yourself when the museum opens April 2nd in Venice’s Palazzo Pesaro Papafava. If you're not in Italy for the unveiling, never fear. Future Casanova pop-ups might appear in London, New York, Tokyo and in other world capitals.

So why is Casanova worthy of all this attention? Writing for Smithsonian.com, Tony Perrottet reports that people often mistake him as a fictional character or dismiss him as a seducer or a scoundrel. And he was a seducer and something of a scoundrel, but he was also a Benjamin Franklin-like child of the Enlightenment. He wrote 42 books, including a five-volume science fiction novel. He was a gambler, a spy, and an astrologer. He wrote pamphlets supporting feminism and tracts on mathematics. He was once convicted of witchcraft and was one of the most traveled people of his day.

Born Giacomo Girolamo Casanova in Venice in 1725, as a child he was sent to a Padua boarding house after the death of his father. He studied law at the University of Padua but dabbled in medicine, philosophy and other subjects. He tried his hand at being a musician and a professional gambler. But when he saved the life of Venetian senator Don Matteo Bragadin who was having an apoplectic fit, the man became Casanova’s patron, allowing him to taste what life was like as a nobleman.

At age 30, however, his life changed after he was thrown in jail for various crimes such as being a card shark, con man and for committing general blasphemy. He escaped after 15 months, which brought upon his first exile from Venice. For the next 18 year he traveled throughout Europe, a bon vivant making a living off of playing cards and seducing young ladies as he dodged a continent's-worth of gambling debts and angry husbands.

But as he aged, his looks and bank account gave out. After a slow decline, Casanova ultimately ended up as a librarian in the Czech city of Duchcov. There he penned his magnum opus, Histoire de ma vie (​The Story of My Life), an autobiography that cinched his reputation as a playboy. Published posthumously, the book recounted in shocking detail his travels and sexual conquests, making the almost forgotten courtesan world famous. The book was so scandalous an uncensored version was not printed in French and English until the 1960s.

The manuscript itself did not surface until 2007, reports Perrottet, when the French government bought it for declared it a national treasure. It's now held at the National Library in France, which has put the tell-all tale online for all to read.

About Jason Daley

Jason Daley is a Madison, Wisconsin-based writer specializing in natural history, science, travel, and the environment. His work has appeared in Discover, Popular Science, Outside, Men’s Journal, and other magazines.

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