Venice, Caffe Florian and Casanova

Venice, Caffe Florian and Casanova – the extravagant beauty of this city is suffused in a history of glamour, intrigue and the pursuit of pleasure.

Florian's, st mark's square, venice

“Le Florian est tout a fois une bourse, un foyer de theatre, un cabinet de lecture, un club, un confessional et convient si bien a la multiplicite des affaires du pays que certaines femmes venitiennes ignorent completement le genre d’occupation de leur mari car, s’ils ont un lettre a faire, il vont l’ecrire a ce café.” Balzac

Caffe Florian was opened on December 29th 1720 by Floriano Francesconi under the name Venezia Trionfante, but soon became known as Florian’s. To the present day, Florian’s has continued to serve the finest coffee, tea and cakes, wine and cocktails and is one of the most beautiful interiors in which you can ever hope to sit and enjoy a coffee (so, of course, be prepared: not ideal for budget travel!).

Florian’s was a hunting ground for Casanova – at the time, it was the only café to admit women - and over the years has served the greatest artists of the day, including Byron, Goethe, Madame de Stael, Charles Dickens, Proust, Rousseau, Artur Rubinstein, Stravinsky, Modigliani, and of course, Balzac.


Portrait of Casanova by his brother Francesco

Giacomo Casanova (1725-1798) was a native of Venice and the city is linked strongly to the account of his notorious lifestyle in Histoire De Ma Vie (Story of My Life). At age 30 he was sentenced to five years for ‘public outrages against the holy religion’ and incarcerated in the ‘Leads’, a prison of seven cells on the top floor of the east wing of the Doges Palace reserved for prisoners of higher status and political crimes. However, he escaped within the year.

Casanova was permitted to return to the city in September 1774 after eighteen years of exile, but expelled again in 1783 after writing a vicious satire poking fun at Venetian nobility. Of himself he wrote:

"I have concluded that my conduct has depended more on my character than on my mind, after a long struggle between them in which I have alternately found myself with too little intelligence for my character and too little character for my intelligence."

The house where Casanova was born is on Calle Malipiero; many gondola rides pass the house.

Below: Palazzo Malipiero c. 1716. Below right: The Bridge of Sighs. The view from the Bridge of Sighs was the last view of Venice that convicts saw before their imprisonment.

Like a Virgin

Inspired by the image of glamorous decadence enjoyed by this city of masked carnival and gilded splendour, Venice was the location chosen for the video for Madonna’s Like A Virgin.

Palazzo Bembo

Bembo, for me, is the most beautiful and versatile of all fonts and is my first choice when setting classic text.

Bembo has its origins in the typeface cut by Franceso Griffo for the Venetian printer Aldus Manutius and first used in February 1495/6 in the setting for Petri Bembi de Aetna Angelum Chalabrilem liber, a 60-page text about a journey to Mount Aetna written by the young poet Pietro Bembo, later a Cardinal and secretary to Pope Leo X.

The Bembo we see today is a revival of the original typeface, designed under the direction of Stanley Morrison for the Monotype Corporation in 1929, now available in many different versions.

The Palazzo Bembo is on the Grand Canal, close to the Rialto Bridge. A fine example of the Venetian gothic style, it was built at the end of the fourteenth century by the Bembo family and is now a hotel.

Above: Manuscript page of Casanova's autobiography Histoire de ma Vie. He began writing his memoirs in 1789, close to the end of his life, as  "the only remedy to keep from going mad or dying of grief". Life as the librarian to Count Joseph Karl von Waldstein, in the Castle of Dux, Bohemia (now in the Czech Republic) he found less than stimulating.

He completed the first draft by July 1792, and spent the next six years revising it. The extent of the work, written in French rather than Italian because "the French language is more widely known than mine" meant that the original publication ran to twelve volumes.

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